Page 1


Spring 2017

Destination Growth

Staffing to win Page 4

Struggling to grow? Page 10

a first financial bank company


Spring 2017

We’ll get you there.

Publisher Oak Street Funding Editorial Director Stefanie Neer Contributing Editors Sharon Robbins Beth Saxen Graphic Designers Aidreen S. Hart Beth Rogers

10 6 Data in the Details

Prevention is the best tool against cyberattacks

12 CRM Integration

CRM technology provides insight into customer profiles

of 14 Habits Successful Leaders Learn the traits of highly successful business people


RE lis SP ten ON ing SIV E




The Bridge is a newsletter produced by: Oak Street Funding 8888 Keystone Crossing, Suite 1700 Indianapolis, Indiana 46240 844-370-5757

Loans and lines of credit subject to approval. Potential borrowers are responsible for their own due diligence on acquisitions. California residents: Loans made pursuant to a Department of Corporations California Finance Lenders License (#6039829). The materials in this paper are for informational purposes only. They are not offered as and do not constitute an offer for a loan, professional or legal advice or legal opinion and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining professional or legal advice. The use of this paper, including sending an email, voice mail or any other communication to Oak Street, does not create a relationship of any kind between you and Oak Street.

© 2017 by Oak Street Funding LLC. All rights reserved. Any duplication without prior written permission is strictly prohibited.

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Destination: GROWTH

It is no secret: growing businesses not only generate greater profits for their owners, but are also among the most attractive to potential buyers. Do you have growth goals this year? Are you making progress

Don't miss our next issue of

towards them? Oak Street Funding recently conducted a survey in which we asked insurance businesses to tell us about their recent growth efforts, challenges and results (read more on page 10). One common theme: discovering new and better ways to sell, service and manage operations is critical to continual growth. Having task specific goals to achieve growth, and appropriately monitoring them is also critical. Aligning compensation with

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those goals is necessary. This edition of The Bridge highlights many of these shared growth challenges, providing guidance on how to effectively enhance these elements of your business. We hope you find the content 844-370-5757

beneficial as you strive to meet your goals in 2017. Many growth strategies require an investment. Oak Street Funding provides insurance agents and brokers with capital for growth, acquisitions, successions and more. Whether you are maturing, expanding, or planning to exit your agency, growth should be a common theme. We’ll get you there.

Oak Street FundingŽ Vision Statement Oak Street Funding utilizes industry knowledge, well-developed technology and passion to deliver best-in-class service and capital products to insurance and finance professionals nationwide. Our customer-focused mindset and access to capital will allow us to continue to fulfill customer needs, identify growth opportunities and provide an empowering work environment for employees. 844- 370- 5757 • w w w. o a k s t re e t f u ndi n g.c o m | 3

Creating a Team to Maximize Growth

Staffing to Win As

an insurance agency owner, you may find yourself pulled in many different directions, without enough time in the day to complete your endless to-do list. Having the proper team in place to support your daily activities and ongoing customer needs is crucial to your agency’s growth. It starts with hiring the right staff, but must continue with training, leadership and the right resources to maximize performance, production and efficiency. In the end, a good support team can alleviate much of the daily stressors of running your agency, while allowing you time to enjoy some of the benefits of agency ownership.

Consider the Big Picture

When we surveyed agency owners about the most difficult challenges in their growth process, more than half of them indicated that time and staffing resources were at the top of the list. While some agencies seek funding to acquire other agencies, others want to hire additional licensed sales producers for their own teams. Alternatively, some seasoned agency owners want to continue to grow as part of an exit strategy and succession plan. Before hiring additional staff, it’s important to take time to look at the overall strategy for your agency. Where do you see the company growing in the next year, five years or decade? Have you been recently acquired or did you merge with another agency? Is your goal to acquire another agency or simply grow your own agency? If you are a seasoned agent, do you have an exit strategy in place? Determining your goals first will ensure that you make the right hiring decisions to supplement your existing team, as well as your future agency needs. When hiring additional staff or even acquiring another agency’s staff, you may be concerned about the financial resources needed to bring on new employees. A working capital loan might be a good option for you, allowing you to hire confidently. Lower interest rates and payments can help agencies save cash flow, freeing it up to use in the agency. Producers and account executives typically take only a few months to get up and running before they can essentially pay for themselves and start contributing to the profitability of the business.

Evaluate your Current Team Assets

Once you have a good idea of the structure of your current agency, make a list of all the resources you have within your current team. This would include skill sets and strengths, industry and product experience, as well as employee interests and 4 | w w w.oakstree tf un di • 8 4 4 - 3 7 0 - 5 7 5 7

passions. Completing this exercise can help you uncover your agency’s shortfalls so that you can either re-direct existing staff to fill in those gaps, or find a new team member that can take on these responsibilities. Identify potential new hire positions to supplement your existing staff, and use the information gleaned during this process to flesh out job descriptions for your new hires.

Eliminate Under-Performers

While letting go of employees can be a tough exercise, it’s important to keep the growth of your agency in mind as you round out your team. If any current employees are not pulling their weight, or are not a good cultural or personality fit, you may be better off letting them go to make room for more ideal candidates. Before you make this decision, first make sure that you have properly trained each employee, given them clear expectations, and provided feedback and an opportunity to meet your agency’s standards. The insurance business isn’t for everyone, and recognizing that fact can help you provide the proper support your under-performers may need to change or find success in a different career.

Finding the Right Producers or Account Executives

Hiring a new producer or account executive for your agency is a big step, and making the right hire can be crucial to your agency’s success. While there are many methods for finding the ideal candidate, it’s important to keep in mind the qualities you are seeking as well as the agency’s needs and current market demand. If your goal is to increase your agency’s current book of business, you’ll need to hire a producer. If your goal is to improve the service to existing clients, you’re better off hiring an account executive. Get creative while looking for your new sales candidate. Aside from reaching out to your network directly, you may find new candidates via a professional recruiter, an online job board, an industry association, or even via social media. Some popular methods of finding sales talent include finding candidates from carrier representatives, brokerage firms, salespeople in other industries, or new graduates with a marketing or business degree. How you advertise your open candidate position can make a difference in what kind of talent you attract. When developing the job description, create language that talks about the growth opportunities and really sell the position’s benefits, rather than simply listing the skill requirements or responsibilities. Remember: you are competing against other agencies as well as other job opportunities, so make sure that your job listing makes the job sound appealing to the ideal candidate.

How you advertise your open candidate position can make a difference in what kind of talent you attract. Reviewing Sales Candidates

Once you have attracted several candidates for your position, it’s time to evaluate them. Consider hiring someone close to home who will get involved in the local community you service and will be more invested in growing the business. And don’t forget about the necessary personality traits a successful salesperson will need, such as good people skills, confidence, the ability to handle rejection, and a willingness to listen, among other things. Ask questions during the interview to make sure that the candidate will be a good fit for the position and meet your requirements. Feel them out in a social setting after you’ve completed the first interview, so you can make sure they will be a good fit with your company culture and that he or she will integrate well with the rest of the team. Consider a realistic and balanced compensation plan that allows new producers to earn commissions for bringing in new business, while continuing to generate revenue for the agency. You may even want to consider hiring salespeople on a part-time, temporary or contract basis until they can prove themselves on the job. Put producers on a short- and long-term program with targeted revenue goals to ensure that they are going to be the right fit for your agency before you commit to hiring them full-time.

Train them Well

Every new hire should have the opportunity to participate in some sort of employee onboarding process, allowing them to understand their responsibilities and functions within the agency. Invest in training and development for every employee. This is particularly important for new hires who don’t have any background in the insurance or sales industry. In addition, you may need to offer to pay for any licensing your team members may need to perform their jobs. Encourage all your employees to attend regular continuing education programs to update their industry skill set. Recommend a few good business books, and mention popular networking, industry and community events your salesperson can attend to meet new people. For new or younger team members, connect them with a mentor in your network or organization who can help them succeed.

Offer a Feedback Loop

After having spent the time to hire your ideal employee, it’s important to make sure to retain them and keep them happy on

the job. Having a process in place to provide regular feedback to your employees allows you to improve morale and can also increase efficiency throughout the agency. This could be in the form of weekly status meetings or quarterly and annual reviews. These meetings give both the employee and the employer the chance to re-affirm commitment levels and expectations, and provide feedback on how the job is progressing. An open-door policy encourages transparency and discussions about anything of importance. Having an open feedback loop will ensure that your employee feels valued and appreciated, meaning that the employee will be less likely to leave the company.

Invest in the Right Technology

Make sure you have the right technology in place to allow your new hires to perform their jobs successfully. Some candidates, particularly among the younger generations, may decide which agency to join based on factors such as work environment and available technological resources. Consider purchasing new computer and phone equipment, desk and office supplies and any software applications necessary for maximizing your employee’s performance. You may want to ask your new team member if there is anything you can purchase for them to allow them to work more efficiently, and they may have suggestions based on previous job experience. Some ideas for new software could include a new sales lead management or customer relationship management (CRM) application. Survey others in your industry for recommendations and reviews of technology they have used that has been beneficial in their agencies. If new equipment or software isn’t in your budget, a working capital loan can get your new hire up and running until they are able to produce more business for your agency and offset the cost of equipment.

New Hires—A Necessary Path for Growth

Agencies understand that they can only achieve continued growth and success in the business with the right people in place. Analyzing your existing team can help you determine the ideal team to lead you to future growth. Using a little creativity, you can find new team members that will round out your current staff and integrate well with your company culture, and best represent your agency’s brand in the community. While attracting the best talent can prove to be challenging, training and nurturing them to succeed is just as important. Make sure you have the right infrastructure in place with the tools and resources for your new hire to perform efficiently, and give them encouragement and support for ongoing success. 844- 370- 5757 • w w w. o a k s t re e t f u ndi n g.c o m | 5

TECHNOLOGY there’s data in the details!

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Cyber insurance begins where standard liability coverage leaves off. Cyber insurance: does your agency need it? In addition to selling insurance, your agency is a customer for some types of coverage. Your office is protected against losses, as is the vehicle you use when visiting clients and prospects. You probably carry life insurance and possibly a disability policy. But is your agency protected from one of the fastest-growing threats? It used to be that the biggest danger to an agency like yours was the burglar who would break in during the night and cart off your computers and the cashbox. Today, hackers based anywhere in the world probe the computer systems of businesses large and small in an attempt to steal identities and other information. Some of America’s largest companies have suffered highly publicized attacks that put customer information at risk and injured their reputations. A new protection Recognizing the threat to businesses, some insurance carriers developed policies to offer protection in the event of cyberattacks. Typically referred to as cyber insurance, this coverage isn’t intended to block threats, but to protect your agency’s financial health and your liability if one occurs. Cyber insurance begins where standard liability coverage leaves off, covering types of risks that don’t fall under traditional policies. Examples include coverage related to data breaches, ransomware, hacking, and so-called denial of service attacks. Policies may also provide funds to assist with investigations, offer rewards, and audit your current security measures. Most importantly, cyber insurance protects you and those you serve. For example, if your office computers are hacked, private information about your clients and their businesses may be obtained. If that information is then used to steal from your clients, you might be held liable for damages. Cyber insurance could reimburse your clients for any losses. Specific coverages Because cyber insurance is a relatively new product, and because coverages are evolving along with the nature of threats, there’s no “standard” form of coverage. Thus, it’s not as easy to compare two cyber policies as it would be to measure two auto policies against each other. However, these are some of the coverages available in today’s policies: Business loss. Just as an errors and omissions policy protects against losses caused by negligence and other missteps, cyber insurance protects you if something you failed to do creates a loss for a client. It may also cover lost revenue resulting from business interruptions, network failures, and the need to recover lost data. Privacy issues. If your system suffers a data breach, this coverage helps you offset the work and cost involved with notifying those who are affected. It may also cover the cost of providing credit monitoring service to affected customers for a set period of time, so they can make sure there aren’t any lasting effects. *Cyber Insurance 101: the Basics of Cyber Coverage," Woodruff Sawyer & Company's website (

Investigation and forensics. Solving a breach may involve the need to hire an investigator or other forensics expert, and the coverage will provide for or offset the cost of a third-party provider. Ransom and extortion. If your business is the target of a ransomware attack or other attempt at cyber extortion, the coverage may offset the costs to deal with the criminal and restore your security. Legal actions. The coverage may help you defend yourself against lawsuits and similar actions resulting from releases of confidential information. What isn’t covered Most of the policies that are available to smaller businesses such as insurance agencies are not broad. They do not include coverage for some of the types of damage that can result from a cyberattack. For example, many plans will not reimburse you for damage done to your professional reputation, any improvement you have to make to your computer system, and revenue you might lose in the future because your clients worry about a repeat of the breach or other attack. Do you need it? Recent statistics from IBM state that more than 91 million security events happen each year.* In addition, as large companies improve their security systems, cyber criminals are likely to shift their efforts to smaller targets that have less protection. That means the potential for becoming a victim of some type of cyberattack is increasing. Informed decisions about any type of insurance coverage begin with an assessment of your potential risk. Start by developing a risk profile of how your agency could be affected by an attack such as a breach, and estimate what that might involve in expenses. That information will make it easier to compare policies to see which offers the right level of protection. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all cyber policies are alike. Carriers may offer multiple policies with very different coverage, so compare each to your assessment. Examine the specific types of attacks that are covered. Some may have standalone policies while others offer riders for their P&C or E&O coverage. Review the deductibles and the coverage limits for your losses and those that may be experienced by your clients. Create a safety net While you’re studying policies, expect the carriers to be studying your business. A carrier will expect to see that you’ve created a risk profile and are already taking steps to protect your systems and your data from attacks. They’ll want to see evidence that you’ve installed anti-virus and anti-malware software, and that you’re regularly updating those programs. They’ll also look for an aggressive backup effort that includes off-site backups (such as through a cloud-based provider). If you aren’t doing all those things already, that’s your first step. Prevention is the best tool against cyberattacks. Make sure your employees are educated about the dangers, too, because attacks frequently result from employees unwittingly downloading an infected file or clicking on a link in a phishing email. You don’t have to be terrified of cyberattacks. Just be aware of the real risks and make sure you’re properly protected. 844- 370- 5757 • w w w. o a k s t re e t f u ndi n g.c o m | 7

:industry news

Social engineering fraud – today’s hot topic in crime insurance. A major risk facing all businesses, social engineering fraud is the hottest topic in crime insurance. Criminals impersonate company employees by accessing information from social media platforms. Then vendor information is accessed through hacking or other means in order to illegally obtain funds. Social engineering fraud is more common than you might think so making sure that your business has the right coverage is important. Combining coverage with employee education and internal training is the best defense. 

Proposed merger to create new wholesale, specialty and surplus lines association The American Association of Managing General Agents (AAMGA) and the National Association of Professional Surplus Line Officers (NAPSLO) are working toward a merger that would create the Wholesale and Specialty Insurance Association (WSIA). WSIA is designed to represent all of the wholesale, specialty and surplus lines industry and create a competitive advantage in the marketplace for those who are actively involved in the association.

Environmental insurance remains strong despite climate change debate In spite of the new administration questioning the link between pollution and damage to the environment, the environmental insurance market continues to be strong. While some clients choose to gamble on the potential risk of their pollution, all should be encouraged to consider environmental insurance to limit possible exposure now and in the future. According to Tom Williams, North American environmental practice leader for Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, “Environmental coverage is as important now as ever – despite [EPA head Scott] Pruitt’s public assertion. The market for pollution insurance hadn’t changed since President Trump-appointed Pruitt took over the regulatory body.” 

10 Ways the Digital Signature Option Impacts Small Businesses While lagging behind other accepted digital technology, digital signatures have finally gained wide acceptance for how contracts are signed. However, digital signatures can do more than just change the way businesses sign contracts. They can also increase efficiency, save money and improve business operations in terms of legality, security,

Customers, Competition Flood the Cyber Insurance Market

controls, audits, company image, corporate social responsibility and more. 

The cyber insurance market is growing rapidly. Awareness that attacks are no longer targeted at just large, multi-national companies means that small businesses are also

Small Businesses Hone Skills Online

looking for protection. According

In order for businesses to become more competitive, they must teach

mean that all the policies and all the

employees new skills and enhance existing ones. Business training videos

offerings are equal. They’re certainly

can be an effective, convenient and efficient way to train and develop

not… And as an industry, that allows

teams. From courses in business and technology, to creating polished

us the opportunity to increase our

presentations and developing creative skills, these ten sites provide an

role and help businesses become

endless variety of video tutorials and trainings for little or no cost. 

more resilient.” 

to Mike Palotay, chief underwriting officer at NAS, “If you’re running an insurance company and you don’t have a cyber solution, there’s some, I think, career risk. But that doesn’t

      844- 370- 5757 • w w w. o a k s t re e t f u ndi n g.c o m | 9

Struggling to grow? We’ll get you there.

Data as of January 1, 2017. Individual loan results may vary and revenue growth is not guaranteed.

Most Difficult










Least Difficult BUSINESS DEBT


Most insurance agencies would use a loan to initiate growth via:

1. Acquiring an agency (35%) 2. Hiring staff (19.7%) 3. Consolidate business OTHER 10 | w ww.o akstree tf un di • 8 4 4 - 3 7 0 - 5 7 5 7 debt (10.2%) HIRE STAFF



25% +















How much growth has 25% your agency 15% experienced 10% in the last 5% 2 years?



What are the most difficult struggles insurance businesses faced in 2016 while trying to grow?

Survey respondents

58% 42%

How do owners grow their agencies despite challenges? Discover what we learned from our most recent survey. Who Responded

Over 68% of all respondents have been in business for nine or more years with 58% of the respondents operating an independent agency and 42% being captive.*



# years in business

The Challenges


Technology, business debt and marketing strategy were cited as the biggest challenges facing agencies today. An infusion of cash can help meet these challenges and, if applied strategically, can lead to growth. While banks are often the first lender agents consider, banks are often hesitant to lend capital to insurance agencies and insurance agency buyers. An insurance lender, however, will allow future commissions to serve as collateral for financing.


4-8 1-3

50.99% 17.43% 18.09% 13.49%

Marketing Tactics for Growth

Referral programs were the most highly-rated marketing tactics at 64%*, reinforcing that satisfied customers are one of the best sources for new leads. Following close behind are all things digital – email marketing, web presence and social media. If you haven’t already, now is the time to brush up on your online skills. Numerous quality courses are available. See page 9 “Small Businesses Hone Skills Online” for a link to a wide variety of course providers.

Planning for Success

Does your agency have a business plan that is regularly evaluated and revised to meet the results you desire? Results show that just 60%* of all respondents have a plan. And as the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. Whether you’re a small business or fairly large, planning is critical. Too often, business owners make the mistake of thinking business planning is more suited for larger, complex organizations, but it’s just not true. Planning is not only about defining a destination - but planning in business equals results and results equal value. What’s more, having a direction aligns people, provides success benchmarks, and provides a sense of accomplishment when targets and goals are achieved.

Loan Applications

If your agency were to receive a loan, how would the funds be used? Acquiring another agency is a popular growth strategy. 35% of respondents named acquisition as the number one use for loans funds. Hiring staff came in second at 20%. Keep in mind that taking the time to hire the right people is essential for growing your agency. Finally, consolidating business debt came in third at 10%.* *S  URVEY METHODOLOGY: In December of 2016, Oak Street Funding sent an online survey via email to over 20,000 insurance agency owners throughout the United States. The names were randomly selected from Oak Street’s database and the results presented are from 300+ professionals who responded to the survey.

Top reasons for wanting to grow – beyond increasing revenue 

 Meet carrier expectation:


Position for sale:


Position for successor:


Growth in revenue in last 2 years >25%



2-4% <2%




18.09% 13.49%

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Boosting your sales, marketing efforts with a CRM system Agency owners always have growth on their minds. They know that new customer acquisition and retention are keys to that growth, but often struggle with the method for acquiring new customers, upselling existing customers, and improving customer loyalty. They need a way to hold the sales team accountable for performance. And they want to select the best advertising and marketing methods to boost sales while not exceeding their marketing budgets.

While having a rock star agent/owner, producer or account executive is crucial to sales, and knowing the ideal ways to market can make a difference, many agencies need more than that to compete today. Fortunately, there is one type of technology available that can help agencies better organize their sales and marketing programs: customer relationship management (CRM) software. The cost and investment in a CRM is minimal compared to the potential returns. CRM software can act as an additional sales and marketing resource by helping your team organize all of their activities from one centralized application. So, before you start your massive effort to grow, consider implementing a new CRM system. 12 | w ww.o akstree tf un di â&#x20AC;˘ 8 4 4 - 3 7 0 - 5 7 5 7

Understanding Sales and Marketing Needs

Agents, producers and account executives need a way to keep track of customer touch points, which include the number of prospect calls, emails sent or face-to-face interactions. They have the tedious job of updating detailed records for each customer or prospect, including demographic information, personal preferences, call notes, and future needs. They need to keep track of future appointments, as well as remember when and how often to nurture a lead into a sale -- all while building a personal relationship with their customers. Most independent agencies do not have a dedicated marketing team, and choose to handle their own marketing. While many of these agents come from a business or sales background, they may not have expertise in marketing, making it more challenging for them to understand what it takes to grow the agency. Thus, agencies struggle with where, when and how to market themselves. Without a clear plan, they choose instead to mass market to their entire database, which can result in mediocre results. For the agency to reduce advertising and marketing spend, while maximizing profit, agents need to ensure they are getting the right message to the right prospect, using the right medium. They also need to be able to track the results of their advertising and marketing expenditures so that they can adjust and focus on the tactics that are truly working.

Helping Sales and Marketing Teams Work Together

A CRM solution helps sales and marketing teams work cohesively so that the sales and marketing efforts supplement one another. It is a much more complex way of storing customer information, as opposed to using a spreadsheet or other list, and allows you to keep all your customer records updated in one

place. Agents can store contact information for potential clients, current clients, partners, vendors and other colleagues. But beyond simply storing the information in a spreadsheet, a CRM solution gives you complete visibility into your sales pipeline.

Selecting a CRM Solution

To integrate a CRM application, start by researching some common solutions for businesses of your size. You may want to use an industry-leading CRM solution, such as, or find an industry-specific CRM with focused solutions for insurance industry. For further advice, ask a colleague or technology partner to help assess the best CRM product for your agency's needs. One of the things you will need to determine is how many team members will be using your system, as many software-asa-service models charge based on a per user rate. While you may need accounts for your salespeople, you may also need them for your administrative team to allow them to login and update the accounts with claims or other events. Another option to consider would be the potential size of your database, as CRM companies also charge based on the level of storage you will need for your entire customer list. Weigh the options above to determine which product will be right for your agency, now and in the future. Keep in mind that you can start small and upgrade with more features and functionality later.

Getting Started with your CRM Tool

Once you have chosen a CRM solution to implement, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s time to gather and upload any contacts you have from your current database into the new system. There are often tutorials or customer service representatives from your selected CRM company who can help walk you through this process. You may want to consider doing this during a slow period of your business and allow several days to get your system in place. Once you've done the initial data upload, you can segment and categorize groups of people using certain criteria. Depending on the complexity of the system you have chosen, you can add any number of details to track for everyone in your database. The more specifically you segment your database, the better you will be able to market and communicate to your prospects based on their individual needs and wants. You can add multiple categories for demographics such as geographic region or income level, lead source, and more. You can also assign accounts to specific sales representatives, and designate administrators of your CRM account.

CRMs Offer Truly Customized Marketing

One of the benefits of a CRM system is that when you are ready to communicate with your database, the CRM system can help you reach out to them in groups or even individually, rather than en masse. This can help you cut down on marketing costs tremendously, as you are focusing on specific target audiences, rather than sending out a communication to your entire list. Targeting your audience by need may result in a greater marketing ROI. If you have your prospects categorized in detail, you can experiment with different marketing messages and vehicles to see which ones work the best. You can also track all your marketing results in your CRM system, which can automatically

record any responses from ad placements or online leads. Tying back into the sales process, the salesperson now knows when the prospect received a marketing message or touch point, and whether they responded, and can further personalize any follow-up calls or emails for faster results. Being able to track marketing touches to your database means that you can nurture certain clients or prospects to move them along the decision path. Through insight gained in the CRM solution, your salesperson can send an email, initiate a phone call or send a personalized mailing that will hit the specific needs of the customer, making them feel understood and valued.

Reaching the Younger Market

With the millennial generation growing up with technology, they have come to expect that the businesses in which they interact also embrace technology. A CRM solution can bridge that gap between the agency and the young consumer who prefers to communicate virtually. Most consumers research, communicate and buy online, so insurance agencies who can accommodate those demands will be the ones to secure those new customers. While relationships were much simpler in the pre-digital era, CRM software can drastically improve the relationships that agents, producers and account executives build with their customers. Enhancements in technology can help agencies improve efficiencies, manage processes, and improve marketing and sales results. As many agencies move toward digital with activities such as risk assessment, claims processing, renewals and customer complaints, having a CRM system to document all this detailed information becomes even more crucial. With an integrated system for storing data, agencies can get a more complete picture of a customer, which will in turn help them to service their customers better.

More Agents are Investing in CRM Solutions

According to a recent study by Strategy Meets ActionÂŽ, one third of North American insurers have key initiatives planned for CRM integrations. The study also notes that many of these same insurers plan to increase spending on CRM Solutions through 2018. This number continues to increase for smaller companies who have been slower to implement these type of solutions as compared to larger agencies. With an investment in a CRM solution, agencies have a greater opportunity for achieving growth. They can use these solutions to manage leads better, sell more policies per salesperson, and improve customer loyalty and satisfaction. On the operational side, a CRM solution improves efficiencies and streamlines processes throughout the organization. With a better understanding of the customer, marketing becomes more customized and delivers better results with the same budget. These benefits all help to drive overall revenue for the agency.

Keeping it Personal

While the insurance world will always be very personal in nature, the more that insurers understand their customers, the more they can offer them tailored products and coverage for their individual wants and needs. Implementing a CRM solution for your agency can not only help you organize and improve your communication with customers, it can also help you build lasting trust and loyalty through more frequent and meaningful interactions. 844- 370- 5757 â&#x20AC;˘ w w w. o a k s t re e t f u n d i n g.c o m | 1 3

10 Success Habits for Business Leaders Go places with these

Working in the insurance industry can be both a challenging and a rewarding experience. That’s why it’s even more important to have the right qualities and habits to succeed. Here are ten of the most common traits of highly successful business men and women:

1. AMBITIOUS AND DETERMINED: The most successful

businesses do not rely on luck, but work hard and focus on sales, while understanding that there will be rejections and setbacks along the way. Even if you are a natural-born salesperson, or have the right business skills and connections in place from the start, thriving in this industry takes grit, energy and perseverance. Your passion, along with a willingness to work hard and build relationships, will help you grow. Successful business men and women also keep the big picture in mind, setting short- and long-term goals for themselves and for the business to achieve.


often have an outgoing, gregarious personality, making it easy for them to make lasting connections as they are networking and speaking with potential customers on the phone. Sales involves developing a great rapport with the customers you serve. Customers want to feel as if they know, like and trust you, and that you have their best interests in mind. Aside from getting to know them, you must also be able to truly understand your customers so that you can tailor the right product offering for their needs.


With the competitive nature of the insurance industry, one must work to stay top-of-mind as potential customers weigh their options. Effectively marketing your business should include a combination of several forms of communication, from outbound sales activities to advertising, social media marketing, direct mail and event sponsorship. Communicating your message through a variety of marketing channels will ensure that all your potential customers hear about your agency and that you are in the right place at the right time when the customer is ready to buy. Staying visible through marketing and sponsorship also helps your follow-up activities become more successful if your prospect is familiar with your agency before you call.


The insurance business requires a different level of customer service than other industries. On the retail agency level, when customers call you to submit a claim, they are typically dealing with a stressful event, and their level of emotion escalates. They want to know that you are there when they need you, whether it’s answering a quick question about coverage or responding to a quote. If you find ways to make you or your business more available, even after normal business hours, you will impress your customers and increase your perceived value to them.


No matter how many years of experience you have, you can always learn from others who may have had success in a different market or using a different tactic. Learn from a more experienced professional, asking them to become your mentor. Find at least one individual who has demonstrated success in the industry and take them out for lunch or coffee once a month. Or 14 | w ww.o akstree tf un di • 8 4 4 - 3 7 0 - 5 7 5 7

create a mastermind group to collaborate online or in person regularly to motivate, share success tips and encourage each other. When you surround yourself with successful people, you will quickly find yourself more motivated to succeed, too.


While successful businesses can make a comfortable living from earning great commissions, the most fruitful businesses genuinely care about the customers they serve, and it shows. Serving others first will earn you lasting loyalty from your customers, and will help you earn even more valuable referrals from your most enthusiastic fans.








Being well-connected in your community can help you stand out among other agents in the geographic area you serve, and give you opportunities to meet and get to know potential customers. Whether you decide to sponsor the little league team, donate to a nonprofit organization close to your heart, or donate your team’s time toward a worthy project, understand that staying community-focused can help your business grow as well.


These traits are especially important as the business expands. Great leaders know that they can’t do it all, and are willing to allow other employees to take on some of the day-to-day activities and less-critical tasks. Outsourcing some of your responsibilities will free up time for you to focus on other areas of the business, such as relationship management or customer retention.


While some businesses have survived the last few decades without the benefit of digital tools and software, the future of success must include adapting to the new way of online communication. Whether it’s improving your website, using a customer relationship management application for your sales process, or becoming active on social media, businesses must realize that prospects are using the Internet to research and assess potentially working with them. Staying visible online and embracing new technology shows that your business is efficient, nimble and has staying power.

10. DISPLAYS INTEGRITY: The most successful business leaders

truly stand out in terms of their heart and willingness to go the extra mile to help their customers and staff. Honesty and trustworthiness also go a long way in the insurance industry, so be upfront with customers to earn their trust. Those who display integrity are rewarded in the form of improved loyalty and customer retention. Integrity also extends to your support staff, so make sure you are hiring people who understand and live out your company culture. While successful business leaders possess many of the core qualities mentioned above, finding ways to incorporate even a few of these habits into your current business practice will move you closer to the success you deserve.

Tommy McDonald, Vice President – MarshBerry WRITE 20% NEW BUSINESS. In our experience, understanding the metrics needed to produce predictable profitable organic growth is #1. Less than 10%* of the industry can produce new revenue in excess of 20% of prior year commission and fees. The simplest answer to the question starts with setting a goal. HAVE SALES PEOPLE THAT SELL. If you dissect the industry, break down all of the variables of insurance brokers, employee benefits consulting firms and agencies all over the country, analyze performance, run ratios, dig deep on numbers, compensation, successes, challenges, weaknesses, and everything in between, the answer to the growth question may be as simple as “hire, develop and retain” great sales people. DON’T HAVE SALES PEOPLE THAT DON’T SELL. What does it take to grow? Top performers understand the importance of protecting your sales culture from non-performance. VALUABLE VALUE PROPOSITION. What makes your firm different and how does the client see value in this difference? Simple question with complex answers. If you have tools and resources that your clients value, and it actually creates value (results) for your customer, then growth will come. Niche development, unique tools and resources, taking underwriting risk, developing technology, integrating outside resources into the platform and hiring internal resources to help drive these initiatives all fall under the blanket of “delivering value differently.” NON-SALES TALENT MATTERS. Look around your service and resource staff. How many of these people can go see your best customer without a sales person in the room? Who leads your service team? How valuable are they to your growth machine. Your sales team is only as strong as the leadership and service team allows them to be. Upgrade throughout. NEW TALENT. If you aren’t hiring today, you aren’t growing tomorrow. It doesn’t just have to be producers. Invest in new talent for future growth. MARKECHNOLOGY. Relying solely on sales people to drive organic growth is old school insurance. Leveraging technology, marketing, and pulling together a plan on how to supplement “producer pushed opportunity” with “marketing pulled opportunity” will help keep the 20% new business sustainable. *Based on Marsh, Berry & Company, Inc.’s proprietary, formalized financial management benchmarking system, Perspectives for High Performance (PHP). PHP utilizes more than 400 key ratios that are designed to analyze insurance agency performance. The PHP database represents more than $5 billion in aggregate agency revenue and we have more than 1,000 independent insurance agencies and brokers across the United States and Canada providing data for benchmarking services. Source: MarshBerry Opinion and Experience. Individual results may vary.

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Waiting for the Right Signal? Timing is everything when making an acquisition.

One of the most effective ways to expand your agency’s business is to acquire another agency. Whether you purchase a local competitor or an agency in a nearby town, an acquisition instantly increases the size of your book of business and gives you new opportunities for cross-selling to customers. If the agency you buy has top-quality producers who are willing to stay on, your agency will continue to grow. As with so many other things in life and business, timing is everything when it comes to making an acquisition. Try to buy at the wrong time, and you might end up hurting your business. Fortunately, there are plenty of signs that can suggest the time is right.

Start with a plan. Have you noticed that nearly every piece of business advice points to the value of planning? There’s good reason for that. If you pursue acquisitions without clear, concrete goals in mind, you may buy the wrong agencies or start the process at the wrong time. Your plan doesn’t need to be lengthy or elaborate, but it should spell out what you hope to accomplish by expanding through acquisition. Include an honest appraisal of what you can afford and how you’ll finance the purchase. Then run your plan past your accountant and your attorney. They’ll provide an objective review and offer valuable insight. Having a plan can also put your employees at ease. Transactions like acquisitions create uncertainty for employees, especially if they don’t know your goals. Sharing the goals (without the financials) will reassure them that you’re not acting impulsively. So what are the signs that now may been a good time to pursue an acquisition? Customers really love you. If you’ve been able to build up a strong, loyal base of customers, it’s a sign that you’re doing something —actually, a lot of things—right. You may be getting referrals from customers for friends in another part of town, another community, or even for a business line you don’t yet offer. That’s a way that customers are telling you that they want you to expand the scope of your business, add to your team, or open a new location—and acquisitions allow you to do all three. You’re flush with cash. You’ve done a great job of managing cash flow, and your bank account is growing. That money isn’t doing much for you sitting in a checking account or a CD. 16 | w ww.o akstree tf un di • 8 4 4 - 3 7 0 - 5 7 5 7

By investing it into an expansion, you’ll put it to work and use it to fuel additional growth. Your team is hungry. You’ve assembled an outstanding group of hardworking employees, and they enjoy their jobs. Yet you’re sensing that they’re getting a little bored and set in their ways. People like to be challenged and succeed. An acquisition can take those employees out of the daily routine and encourage them to do more. That’s especially true if you link incentives to the acquisition. You have a winning strategy. There’s plenty of competition in your town, but you’ve come up with a way to outpace the rest of them. Maybe you’re a dazzling salesperson, perhaps you’re a savvy marketer, or maybe you’ve just hired the best customer service people in the state. If you can duplicate or expand upon that strategy in another neighborhood or nearby community, you can accelerate your growth while diversifying your customer base. You can’t meet demand. Your agency is constantly so busy that your current staff struggles to keep up with the volume. You could add another person, but there’s no extra space in the office. Maybe what you really need is another office or two to help you keep up with the customers. For example, you may be able to buy the business of another agent who’s ready to retire, so you’ll get his book of business and his employees. Your system is efficient. It’s taken some time to get there, but your agency is a well-oiled machine. It wouldn’t be hard to feed 50 percent more policies into that machine. If you’ve developed a highly efficient system for selling to and taking care of customers, an acquisition is the quick way to scale up your volume. Your research says it’s time. Perhaps you’re one of those people who studies everything at length. It may have taken you three months of article research and test drives before you were ready to buy your car. Similarly, you may have been studying your numbers and those of your market for months, and you’re convinced that now’s the right time. Make sure your accountant agrees. You’re ready to move up. You’ve built your agency from the ground up, and made more cold calls than anyone you know. Now you’re ready to let trusted employees do the groundwork while you focus on developing a long-term strategy for the business. Having more employees and a larger book of business can help you move away from day-to-day concerns so you can manage the bigger picture. The other advantage of moving up is that it may free up more time to do the things you enjoy. And isn’t that why you started your agency in the first place?

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components, you can see 20 to 300 percent more referrals than the previous year. Here is a summary of the concepts that can help your agency achieve the ultimate referral program.

COMPONENT #1: Nurturing

COMPONENT #3: Promotion

Use some of the common tools that are available for nurturing (i.e., email, newsletters, value added education, a genuinely strong and useful web presence, authored books and account reviews). Although you may be tempted to take an easier route and copy generic content from various marketing sources, take the extra steps to provide customized content that refers to your clients, community, agency and other interests. Customized content can make a difference.

COMPONENT #2: Program Most referral programs include a special offer or incentive which I like to call a ‘game’ element (think of a gas card, book of free car wash coupons or Starbucks® gift card). The incentive is the first thing the client sees. Because it’s promoted and is the most visible part of the program, agents mistakenly think the incentive is the program. But it’s not. It’s only one part of the entire formula for the referral program. You reward the behavior you want repeated, however the key motivation for referrals should clients' approval of your business.

An incentive gives you the opportunity to promote your referral program. You can talk about it in conversations; include it in every outbound mailing and more. The options for promoting your program are endless, but consider incorporating some new ideas into emails, electronic newsletters, website content, articles with local publications, and flyers inserted in mailings (see the full version of this article for ideas you can incorporate).

COMPONENT #4: Persona A human connection is one of the biggest missing elements I’ve noticed in almost all retail agency marketing. Many large insurance carriers have created mega marketing personas that represent their companies — Progressive® has quirky and perky Flo and GEICO® has the charming and cute gecko. What you can glean from them is the strong impact a likeable and memorable persona can have on your business. Carefully select the unique characteristics that will help your marketplace connect with you and build your persona based on who you really are.

About the author Michael Jans is the President of Agency Revolution( He has written and created over 50 books, programs and courses to help insurance agencies grow. In the past 20 years Michael has trained and consulted with over 11,000 insurance clients on five continents.

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MARSHBERRY learn. improve. realize.

$28 Billion is the aggregate annual revenue of the organizations that consumed MarshBerry’s content at our executive symposiums in 2016. That’s roughly 20% of the United States insurance market. 1

Data-fed relationships grow MarshBerry Solutions: • Merger & Acquisition Advisory* • Capital Raising* • Perpetuation Planning • Valuations • Sales Performance Consulting • Talent Acquisition • Executive Peer Exchange Networks • Business Strategy & Planning • Proprietary Financial Benchmarking • Industry Analytics & Perspectives

Insurance Consulting & Advisory For: • Independent Agents & Brokers • National Brokers • Private Equity Firms • Banks & Credit Unions • Insurance Carriers • Specialty Distributors

800.426.2774 • Based on total 2015 Net Premiums Written. *Securities offered through MarshBerry Capital, Inc., Member FINRA and SIPC, and an affiliate of Marsh, Berry & Company, Inc. 28601 Chagrin Blvd., Suite 400, Woodmere, Ohio 44122 (440.354.3230).


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The Bridge: Spring 2017  

Information, insight and industry news for insurance agents.

The Bridge: Spring 2017  

Information, insight and industry news for insurance agents.