GA, BGA, IMO…the list of acronyms can vary depending on who you’re talking to. Opinions on which brokerage general agency or independent marketing organization to work with can vary even more. The decision can be almost as important as deciding who you’re going to marry! In my four years as a field support representative for an IMO, I’ve had a front row seat to witnessing what truly makes a difference in a successful relationship between and independent advisor and the IMO/BGA they’re working with, how the right relationship can increase an advisor’s production, and how a symbiotic relationship between the two can provide the best solutions for clients. Understanding this has been the reason behind the passion I have to help my advisors in every aspect of their business.
Before we get into the benefits of working with the right IMO/BGA, I’d like to take you back to 1967 in Fort Worth, Texas, when an independent advisor named Bill Zimmerman started his journey into the industry and to what would become the proving ground for the IMO he would build years later.
Like many of you reading this, Bill started off with a fresh new life insurance license and looking to go out into the world and start selling. But where to start? It was recommended to Bill that he sell to his friends and family and then work his network from there. Each person he talked to would then provide a referral which would continue to fill his pipeline. As the months went on Bill realized that he had sold all of his friends and their families policies and the referrals seemed to have dried up. That’s when he realized he needed to create another opportunity for prospects. It was time to hit the streets and start talking to people he had never met before and to make himself an insurance authority in his community. But before he started knocking on doors, Bill knew that he needed something in his arsenal that would make him stand out from any insurance agent around and make sure the people he spoke to would never forget him.
This is when the “cassette tape marketing plan” was born.
Bill stormed into his office (that was in his garage) and started writing a script on how life insurance can “make your life better.” After weeks of fine tuning the script, Bill went out and purchased a tape recorder and hundreds of blank cassette tapes. He took the microphone and recorded his own voice on those cassette tapes and created an audio presentation that would win over his future clients. The tapes were around 10 minutes long and opened a door of vulnerability that created a sense of trust and rapport to everyone who listened. Bill knew that his message of helping families and making lives better would lead to more people to talk to and earn him a great reputation in the insurance industry.
Bill hit the streets every day of the week and started knocking on every door and small business in his neighborhood. If you answered the door you were greeted with a smile, a handshake, and great conversation. If you were not home, you were left an envelope with Bill’s contact information and one of his famous cassette tapes. After weeks of talking to everyone in his local area, Bill had a full calendar of meetings and appointments.
Then the real work started…
Having an endless supply of clients is the dream of any insurance agent. What the dream does not present is all the work and time management that comes with the clients. Each meeting came with a unique problem that Bill had to solve. The biggest issue was that he was doing this all by himself! If there was ever a new carrier with a better product, Bill would have to get himself contracted and follow up to make sure his contract was active before submitting business. Each family needed quotes run for every member which led to hours of his day spent running quotes. Whenever there was a need to make more cassette tapes, Bill would have to take time out of his day to duplicate, package, and drop them off to each house and business. The epiphany moment was when Bill realized he was working more in his business than on his business–that’s when he realized there was an opportunity to create his own IMO/BGA that could work with other top advisors to relieve them of these “no pay zone” activities so they could focus on meeting new clients and submitting business.
This was the beginning of our IMO/BGA, now known as LifePro Financial. Four years ago, I had the great privilege to walk into LifePro’s doors and begin my career helping advisors with those “no pay zone” activities, and work hand in hand with them to build their business. The culture that Bill taught me, and our team, carries on throughout our company, allowing us to deliver top quality service and create lifelong relationships with all our advisors. Having known Bill Zimmerman and seen firsthand the fruits of his efforts, I understand from a microscopic view how a symbiotic and client-centric partnership can help.
Technology and Service
A true test of how a BGA adapts to new technology and services was when COVID-19 hit our country, and everyone had to work from home. Every advisor in our industry was wondering “How am I going to be able to sell from my house?” The IMO/BGAs we saw that stood out were those that were able to funnel prospects directly from social media platforms to the computer screens of their advisors. The most popular platform was turning the in-person dinner seminars to online educational webinars. This was a way for advisors to create a predictable pipeline of clients to generate business. The next iteration of technology was content creation and trackable marketing campaigns.
The best advisors I see are ones that are constantly sending out communication to clients and prospects. IMO/BGA’s that stand out are the ones that generate the content and track the results for their advisors. Anybody can send an email on behalf of your team, but what happens after the email is sent? The advisor would now need to cold call their list and remind them to read an email that might have defaulted to their junk folder. An IMO/BGA that has email campaigns with trackable results can make all the difference in the world in this part of the process. The email should contain captivating content that grabs the attention of your prospect and includes branded landing pages with downloadable marketing pieces. After the email is sent you, as the advisor, should be able to see who opened the email, clicked the funnel to the branded landing page, and who downloaded the deliverable marketing pieces. It’s with this help that you can now optimize your time on the follow up for higher appointment rates.
Other considerations to look for in an IMO/BGA partnership is where your marketing dollars are being spent and feeling that they deliver on their promises. I have heard the false promises of high appointment rates and high average cases for a nominal fee with guarantees of a certain number of people in your appointment book. However, once you start meeting with these appointments, you realize all the prospects do not fit the mold of your client base and/or you cannot help them. Now the IMO/BGA has pocketed your money and told you to pay for another campaign with more promises that it will be made better if you do so. This is a nightmare story that happens time and time again. You want your BGA to not see your dollars as their profit center. Make sure that you know exactly how your money is being put to work. The ethical IMO/BGAs do not split commissions with advisors but get paid directly from insurance carriers when they help you place cases. An advisor’s success and an IMO/BGA’s success should go hand in hand.
Partnering with Niche Product Experts
As an advisor you want to partner up with an IMO/BGA that specializes in specific product markets. I see IMO/BGAs offer every type of insurance under the sun and become a “jack of all trades, master of none.” You want to work with a company that allocates their marketing material and product experts to a finite amount of insurance products. For example, think of an IMO/BGA that specializes in only fixed indexed universal life, fixed indexed annuities, and assets under management. All the reports and marketing material that are generated relate to these products and assist advisors in helping close the sale. Think of this as more of a boutique vs a big box store approach.
You want to have a BGA that has employees and product experts that can help you sell the products that they offer. Instead of just a carrier specific illustration, you should have a branded report that is more of a presentation that can compare the specific product to different taxable buckets and brokerage scenarios. This helps educate the client and provides an easy-to-follow approach in even the most technical of sales. Now the client can see you as their guide and coach and understands that you have scoured the market for solutions tailored to them.
Agency Growth and a Service to the Industry
The main goal of an IMO/BGA should be helping to grow an advisor’s business. Advisors should be able to scale up their practice after working with their IMO/BGA. I have seen the stages of advisor growth broken down into three main parts. First, every advisor begins in the “startup” phase. This is where you are selling the majority to your friends and family and trying to build your brand and your unique sales process. This would be the “cassette tape” lead system for Bill Zimmerman. Bill found his way to stand out from the competition and was able to scale his practice from an independent advisor to a business making advisors successful. At some point in this process, you are going to hit the “capacity wall.” That is when you’ve realized most of your daily tasks are focused on non-revenue generating activities. This could be broken down into areas such as learning new software to run quotes, calling into insurance carriers to check on case statuses, filling out contracting paperwork to get appointed with a new carrier, being a product expert to find the best solutions for your clients, etc. All these tasks help your business, but do not help grow your business.
At this point, the decision needs to be made to create an infrastructure that can alleviate you from performing non-revenue generating activities in order to spend your time focusing on meeting with clients and submitting applications. Many advisors will hire a team to handle those tasks, but I am here to tell you that by finding the right IMO/BGA to partner with and rely on to do those tasks for you, you can then still scale your business. An IMO/BGA should integrate their services into your already successful business. Now that you can focus solely on revenue generating tasks and developing a successful business, you are going to run into a “size wall.” This is where you are taking on so much business that you as a solo advisor cannot handle it all on your own. You have now turned your business into an enterprise/brand. At this stage you have developed a proven repeatable process and have built a solid reputation in your community. This is the goal for all our advisors. We want to take each advisor through the three stages of growth from individual to business, to enterprise.
Lastly, you want to partner with a BGA that provides a service to the industry. Make sure they have core values that they live by that also line up with your beliefs. A good indicator is knowing how many families the IMO/BGA has helped and how many advisors they are currently working with. It is always great to ask for testimonials from advisors who work with that IMO/BGA and ask how the IMO/BGA has helped them to scale their practice? Do they follow through on their promises? Do they have their best interests in mind?
As you look at your business today and where you would like to be in the future, is your current IMO/BGA fulfilling promises they’ve made to you? Have they helped you increase your business and provide better solutions for you and your clients? Do you feel like they are a true partner in your business? With those questions in mind, along with the insight from inside an IMO/BGA, I hope you too can take your business to the next level.