An ancient Japanese proverb says, Vision without execution is a dream and execution without vision is a nightmare. That proverb is reminiscent of how many independent agents run their businesses. As business owners, agents are often looking for the next sale or the next client. That might provide the next meal, but it is not enough to build a business.
Everyone who goes into business wants their venture to become successful. Someone might read blog articles like this one https://www.ronensimantov.com/how-to-create-a-successful-business/ before starting to see what makes up a good business but, sometimes, these things can be hard to achieve once you’ve got started. Perhaps the most critical driver of building and sustaining a successful business is a well-designed and executed marketing plan. A good plan is often the difference between growing a sustainable business or limping along, hoping for the next sale. While creating an effective marketing plan might sound complicated, it really boils down to just three things: (1) defining the value you create for customers, (2) planning the work, and (3) working the plan.
Defining the Value
Defining value starts with a dream. Ask yourself: “What is my dream for what my business should be?” To get yourself excited about turning your dream into a reality, think about what achieving it would entail. One of the most successful agents I have ever worked with, Mark, put it simply: “Every dream can be broken down into making more money, saving more time or having more fun.” What would achieving your vision do for you?
In my experience few agents have clearly defined what their vision is for their business. We get so caught up in the day-to-day challenges and activities that we don’t think enough about why we do those activities and what we’re ultimately trying to achieve.
Once you have clarified your vision, you need to consider that no one can be all things to all people. Top agents focus resources on specific markets to which they can deliver something unique that competitors can’t or won’t deliver.
Do you have a unique knowledge or understanding of a particular market? Do you cater to clients who are looking for a high level of service? Regardless of the particular market or service, the important thing is to focus.
I have worked closely with a very successful agent in Colorado named Steve. He seeks out clients who demand top-notch service because he is willing to do what other agents won’t do. For example, he corresponds with all of his 1,000-plus clients every month by phone, email or mail to make sure he is always top-of-mind and available for them. He also contacts them on their birthday, their spouse’s birthday, and even their pet’s birthday! The lesson is to focus on delivering something your client covets most.
Once you have determined your niche, you need to quantify the value of your proposition to your prospects. What is in it for them? If everyone values more money, time and fun, then how are you providing one or more of these things to them?
Planning the Work
An effective marketing plan clearly defines goals and specifies quantifiably how they will be achieved. There are two critical questions to ask:
?What are my goals for this year (or shorter period)?
?What initiatives are needed to achieve my goals?
Specific goals could be how much more income you want to make or how many new clients you want to bring on. Initiatives to achieve your goal could include generating referrals from your best clients, conducting reviews with clients that can lead to incremental sales, or adopting new sales ideas that can bring value to your clients and drive new sales. You can also think about different ways you want to put yourself out there, like creating informative videos using free and easy tools such as this video editor to let potential clients get a glimpse of the value you provide. The key is to quantify each initiative to ensure it matches your goal.
To use a simple example, let’s consider an agent named Jim, whose goal is to grow his prior year commission income by $50,000 this year. Let’s assume the following:
?Jim’s average commission per sale is $5,000.
?Jim has had success in the past finding new clients via his best current clients.
Given Jim’s $50,000 growth goal and $5,000 average sale, he needs 10 new sales this year. He will generate the 10 new sales through referrals from his best clients. Jim plans to take top clients to lunch and ask them to introduce him to their friends and colleagues.
Jim uses basic math to determine how many client lunches he should schedule to generate 10 sales. He works backward from the result (10 sales) to the activity (client lunches):
1.?Jim often closes about 80 percent of prospects once he has secured an appointment, so he feels he must secure about 12 or 13 prospect appointments to achieve 10 sales.
2.?Jim typically secures appointments with 50 percent of prospects who are referred to him by clients, so he must generate 25 referrals to secure 12 to 13 appointments.
3.?Jim expects each client lunch to yield one qualified referral, so meeting with 25 clients should generate 25 referrals.
This math suggests that 25 client lunches should generate 25 referrals, which should generate 12 to 13 appointments, and ultimately should generate the 10 sales Jim is seeking. The math is basic and Jim knows exactly what he must do to achieve his goals! He plans to take three clients to lunch each week for the next eight weeks and he will be on his way to success.
This example is very simple. Planning should not be complicated-its purpose is to keep you organized and focused on the activities that will have the greatest impact on your success. A solid marketing plan can be generated in well under a day-and it saves days and weeks in increased productivity and effectiveness.
Working the Plan
All tactics in a marketing plan serve one purpose-to drive growth in a business. Fundamentally, there are only two ways to drive growth-through finding new clients or selling more to current clients.
In our industry, virtually no growth has come in recent years from finding new clients. It is reported that the average financial advisor adds only two new clients each year. And LIMRA confirms that life insurance ownership is at a 50-year low. However, finding new clients is critical to any business, and every plan must include tactics to grow a client base. Having proper SEO strategies for your website can benefit your business, particularly in marketing and finding new clients. It increases the quality and quantity of your website traffic and gives good exposure to your brand/business. However, if your business does not have the resources to carry out the strategies, you should consider getting the aid of a digital marketing company that can target clients online.
Referrals have always been-and always will be-the most effective way to generate new clients. However, life insurance agents often fall short in the quantity and quality of referrals generated. In fact, research indicates that 91 percent of clients say they are somewhat or very comfortable providing a referral, yet only 29 percent of them do so.1
Critical to your marketing plan is commitment to generate warm introductions from individuals who trust you and who have the trust of prospects you want to meet. There are some basic questions you should ask to assess how well you are currently generating warm introductions:
?Are you obtaining at least one introduction per year from at least your top 20 clients?
?Are the referrals qualified? In other words, do the referred prospects fit your profile of a high quality client?
?Are your current clients making the introductions on your behalf in person or by phone?
?Do you have a network of professionals (CPAs, attorneys, etc.) that clearly understand the value (to them) of referring their clients to you?
It is worth noting that the professional network takes time to develop and must continually be nourished over time. If you do not have relationships with CPAs, attorneys or other professionals and are interested in developing them, consider that their currency is billable hours, not commissions or asset fees. Integrate into your approach how developing a relationship with the professional will help them identify new sources of revenue for their firm, translating into more billable hours or higher rates. If you already have strong relationships, consider whether you are appropriately giving back to them. Is your relationship equitable such that you are referring them as often as they are referring you? The most profitable partnerships always maintain a quid-pro-quo in sharing referrals, ideas and opportunities.
There are many ways to successfully generate growth with current clients. However, I have found that three elements are critical to any marketing plan: annual client reviews, annual satisfaction surveys and strong client service.
Annual reviews are frequently mentioned in the context of insurance carriers continually offering better rates and product features, suggesting an opportunity for a client to benefit from a lower cost policy or better coverage at the same cost. While that is often true, the greatest opportunities are typically found by uncovering new needs that have not yet been discussed with a client.
Many life insurance agents have sold clients life insurance policies based purely on an expense and liability based needs analysis, while overlooking other needs like supplemental retirement income planning or college planning. Also often overlooked are clients who have assets that are not anticipated to be used, yet life insurance has not been considered as an alternative option to pass assets along more efficiently to heirs upon death. Meeting with clients at least annually provides an opportunity to deliver a great service to clients by reviewing policies and uncovering unmet needs-which often leads to new sales.
An annual satisfaction survey is something that very few life insurance agents conduct. When asked why, most respond that it does not seem worth the effort. Unfortunately, few recognize how easy it is to create a survey and how profitable it can be to their business.
Creating and executing a survey requires no more than one hour, $50 or less and client email addresses. Typing “create survey” into any search engine will yield results for several online tools that enable users to create email-based surveys in less than 30 minutes-often for free.
Client satisfaction surveys can also drive enormous benefits for agents who utilize them. Survey results will indicate that either your clients are satisfied (or very satisfied) or are less satisfied than you expected. Highly satisfied clients are an incredibly rich source for warm introductions and are often the most receptive to new ideas. For unsatisfied clients, use the survey intelligence as a door-opener to re-engage them and to determine what must be done to strengthen your relationship.
Agents who use client surveys better understand how their clients feel about them and are armed to leverage existing goodwill or create goodwill where it is lacking. The insights and relationships gained translate into handsome profits.
Client service is critical. Service is about generating strong relationships with clients and differentiating from the competition. Successful agents leverage hundreds of different practices to deliver great service: handwritten thank you cards, client appreciation events, responding to client questions within specified timelines, and providing value-added information are some popular methods. The important thing is to listen to your clients’ needs and deliver accordingly on a consistent basis.
For an effective marketing plan, there are three key items to remember:
?Define how value is delivered to clients.
?Articulate and quantify goals.
?Describe specific initiatives that will achieve the goals.
Whether you are new to the business or a 30-year veteran, it is never too early-or too late-to sharpen your marketing plan as a critical step toward realizing your dreams.
1.?Advisor Impact, “Anatomy of the Referral: Economics of Loyalty,” December 7, 2010.