From the Front Line: Smart Choice Magazine, Issue III

From the Front Line
[From the 2018 Smart Choice Magazine, Issue III]

By: Luke Royal, Indiana State Director

According to Pew Research center, anyone born between 1981 and 1996, who will be ages 22-37 in 2018, is considered a Millennial. As a millennial working in insurance, my age is actually something I avoid bringing up, like the plague. With all of the labels my generation has acquired, both good and bad, most millennials, including myself, actually don’t identify as one. After working with hundreds of agencies and dozens of carriers, one thing is for certain – I see a shortage of millennials sticking around in our industry. To help curve this trend, I would like to highlight some key moments that have helped shape my career, as examples of ways, together, we can support more millennials in this business.

Like many others, working in insurance wasn’t something I originally planned, but it has been a great decision for me. Starting a new career in the industry did allow me to create, let’s say, several “coachable” moments. It can be appealing to change gears and try something else before you have a book of renewals. A week without progress can be tough. Receiving a cancellation is tough as well, but something we all must go through. Fortunately, I have been blessed to have great encouragers and mentors along the way that have helped make those moments not as bad. If you notice hardship or not, it never hurts to inspire and encourage those around you. All of us can likely relate to a deal that fell through for reasons that may or may not have been our fault. Encouraging the millennials in our industry will help maintain their interest, boost their efforts, and ultimately add to your bottom line.

To help millennials be successful in our industry, I suggest you take the time to coach and invest in them. With the amount of change occurring and something new around every corner, it takes time to learn everything. Millennials can spend their life reading tutorials, blogs, articles and even magazines like this, but 90 percent of what I learned came from individuals who purposefully coached me and were available as open resources for when I had questions – so many questions.

One lesson that my generation could benefit from is consultative selling. How many agents do you know who sell solely based on price, and leave out the value they provide as their local expert? Millennials are accustomed to buying basically everything online, without any personal interaction, and as a result, carriers are progressively marketing their products as commodities. The need for a true insurance adviser is greater than ever, as a result, and all it takes is a little coaching to make a profound difference in the effectiveness of what you do.

Coaching a millennial to help them set their foundation in insurance is still separate from being a true mentor. Mentoring is a long-term commitment and encompasses a larger breadth of involvement. It’s not necessarily a monetary commitment as much as a time commitment. For example, a mentor helps elevate professionalism and character, while a coach equips someone for the task at hand. There is no shortage of exemplary character around and the best way to mentor is by holding yourself to a higher standard that others see. Being a sounding board of reason, sharing experiences, lessons, and communicating what has made a difference for your career, so that the next generation doesn’t fall into the same ruts, makes all the difference to someone new to the business. You can be a mentor to anyone, but a millennial in this industry might be the most in need of your time and expertise.

With the pressure of new technology and the shift in how consumers want to transact, we need millennials to help us stay relevant and to keep the local agency alive.  As a result, millennials that chose to make a career out of insurance have a great future ahead of them. But, they won’t be able to do it without your help. You can be instrumental in bringing new talent into the industry and perpetuating the role of an agent by being an encourager, a coach and a mentor. I believe it could be a mutually rewarding experience for every generation and age group in our industry.

Sources:

Defining generations: Where Millennials end and post-Millennials begin

Managing and Marketing to Millennials: Why It’s Worth Getting to Know Your Younger Customers and Employees

Managing and Marketing to Millennials: Why It’s Worth Getting to Know Your Younger Customers and Employees

By: Michael Miller, State Director Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa

Lazy. Narcissistic. Entitled. The way they’re often portrayed in the media, it’s no wonder that Millennials sometimes get a bad rap. And while there are of course individual exceptions, these broad generalizations about Millennials simply aren’t true. There’s a lot to like about the Millennial generation as customers and employees. Which is good, because they’re quickly dominating the marketplace and the workplace.

A Look at Millennials

A Millennial is one of 71 million individuals born between 1981 and 1996. Most Millennials are the children of Baby Boomers, and the Pew Research Center estimates Millennials will surpass Baby Boomers in population by 2019.

Millennials grew up using technology. The older ones remember a time when the internet didn’t exist; the younger ones don’t. Millennials came of age during the Great Recession and either experienced financial challenges themselves or watched their parents struggle (or both). Most who earned college degrees have student loan debt. All of these factors contribute to the way Millennials buy insurance and how they approach employment.

Selling to Millennials

Experts project Millennials will increase spending by 15 percent annually over the next few years, while Baby Boomers will increase spending by just 5 percent. This is a great opportunity for your agency if you know how to sell to the younger generation.

Make It Easy

Amazon invented one-click ordering for a reason, and it had nothing to do with Baby Boomers. Millennials value an efficient, streamlined buying process. That’s why your agency must have an online quoting system that makes it easy to shop for insurance without providing pages of information. It also pays to provide policy documents electronically. Make sure your carriers offer automatic withdrawal for payments, too.

Expand Communication Options

Millennials prefer to communicate via email, text, and social media and consider talking with people on the phone the nuclear option. So how do you build customer relationships with Millennials? Reach out over email or by text to set up in-person appointments. Have a presence on social media and interact with your customers there regularly.

Show Your Value

You know you face lots of competition online from the Geicos of our industry. Take a look through their websites and you’ll see how easy these companies make it to quote a policy and how little information they provide to buyers so they can make informed purchasing decisions. Millennials may buy online, but they also tend to do their research and read reviews. Make your website a resource for potential customers and ask your current customers to review your agency online. A few positive reviews can turn shopping Millennials into buyers.

Hiring Millennials

Yes, it’s possible to work with Millennials without them driving you crazy (at least most of the time). And with 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day, you’ll need to work with Millennials to continue to grow your agency.

Take Advantage of Their Tech Skills

Does the idea of incorporating social media, texting, email, and online quoting into your agency fill you with dread? Then hire a Millennial! Millennials are digital natives, and communicating online comes naturally to most of them. Millennial producers and CSRs will be comfortable communicating over email and text. They may also be able to help you add valuable content to your website and interact with customers on social media platforms for you.

Understand What Motivates Them

Having grown up during the Great Recession, many Millennials are simultaneously seeking to make more money and wary of traditional retirement benefits. They saw these products fail their parents and are cautious about experiencing similar financial pain. Working at an insurance agency on commission may be the perfect set-up for self-motivated Millennials. But don’t rely on your 401(k) plan to attract and keep Millennial employees. Instead, show them how selling insurance helps them protect families and businesses (Millennials generally want to feel like their work is making a difference). Then, give them some flexibility in where and when they work. Many agency tasks can be performed remotely.

Remember That Everyone Wants to Hire Them

Millennials may work a little differently from Gen X and the Baby Boomers, but they still work hard, have expert tech skills, and bring energy and new ideas to their workplaces. This makes them highly attractive to employers. If your agency doesn’t hire the Millennial who walks through your door, your competitor might.

Soon, the Millennials will outnumber Baby Boomers. You fail to market to and hire the younger generation at our agency’s peril. With a little knowledge and some flexibility, you’ll find that marketing to and working with Millennials is easier than you think.

Smart Choice® Resources for Attracting Millennials

Smart Choice® offers several resources to help your agency attract Millennial buyers and employees, including:

  • Affordable, professionally designed websites with the Smart Choice® Web Builder
  • Deals on three online rating and agency management systems to streamline agency processes
  • Online CE training through CEAuthority for internet-savvy and time-conscious agents
  • Smart Start™ internal brokerages to help new producers learn the ropes
  • Express Markets™ to help your new agents earn 100 percent commissions with low or no production requirements

To Make The Sale, Leave

To Make the Sale, Leave

By: Josh Seibert, Sandler Training®
  

The STORY:

Nick was having trouble trying to close the prospect. Still never having attended any company sales training courses, he hit upon a solution to the problem. One of the most experienced salespeople was in the back, and Nick decided to go and ask his advice.

“If you could excuse me for one moment,” Nick said, “I just remembered that I have an important message for one of the other fellows who is in the back room . . . I forgot to give it to him earlier.”

“You are going to come back, aren’t you?” asked the prospect.

“Of course,” responded Nick, “why would you think I wouldn’t?”

“Oh, I know I’m a royal pain in the butt when it comes to making a decision about buying something,” responded the prospect. “Most of the time, the salespeople get tired of trying to convince me and wander away, and I never see them again.”

Nick wasn’t sure what to say. He really needed to get the experienced salesperson’s advice so he turned and headed toward the back room.

“Wait a minute,” said the prospect, “I don’t want you to leave. I’ll buy it.”

“You’re sure?” asked Nick, hoping he hadn’t said too much.

“Definitely. Wrap it up.”

When the customer is out the door, thought Nick, I’ll go back and ask the experienced salesperson what to do the next time this happens.

The RESULT:

Nick did something very important for the wrong reason. From the prospect’s point of view, which is the only one that counts in selling, Nick was getting up to leave, never to be seen again. Again, the prospect would be left standing alone, not having bought anything. This pressure on the prospect, which Nick applied without realizing it, was enough to make the prospect give up and buy. Unfortunately, if Nick does ask for advice, he’ll probably be told the wrong thing.

DISCUSSION:

Getting up and leaving a prospect is almost impossible for a salesperson to consider. Why would you ever want to give the impression that you are going to walk out the door?

The reason for getting up and leaving is to let the prospect know it is time to make a decision.

The pressure is now on the prospect where it belongs.

This is not a tactic that you want to try with every prospect you come across. But if you have reached the “end of your rope” with one, you have nothing to lose by trying. The worst that could happen is you won’t make the sale. But then, you had no chance anyway.

APPROACH:

There are many ways to get up and leave. One approach is to physically start to move away.

Another is to simply look at the prospect and say, “Off the record . . . I get the impression that you haven’t come to a decision. Let’s assume that you decide it’s over. You don’t buy. What happens now?”

This verbal getting up and leaving forces the prospect to see a future in which he does not have your product/service. If he is in enough pain to be seriously considering buying, then looking at a future without buying is more painful. The only catch to the verbal leaving is that you MUST wait for a response. Do not rescue him or physically leave him.

Do not change “What happens now?” to “What happens then?” The word “now” brings the future, without your product/service, into the present, and as a result, pressure to decide becomes overwhelming.

THOUGHT:

“Leaving” the prospect makes the prospect want to come to a decision.

 

Josh Seibert is the president of Training & Development Solutions, Inc., Sandler Training located in the Piedmont Triad.  He can be reached at 336-884-1348 or www.training.sandler.com

©Sandler Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.

One Year Later: Progress and Potholes In Cyber Risk, The Most Dangerous Threat No One’s Talking About

One Year Later: Progress and Potholes in Cyber Risk, the Most Dangerous Threat No One’s Talking About
By: Michael Miller, State Director Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa

A year ago in this magazine, I introduced the most dangerous threat no one is talking about in the insurance industry—cybersecurity—and why that was great news for your business. For every four business owners who walk into your agency, three will not be protected against cybersecurity risks. It’s a staggering number, and one that gave you a valuable opportunity to help your clients.

Now, a year has passed, and I wanted to update you on the state of cybersecurity risks today and the progress—and potholes—our industry is making to help protect individuals and businesses.

Notable Cyber Risks in 2017

More data breaches occurred in the first half of 2017 than in all of 2016. Misconfigured security settings, out-of-date software, and lack of strategy on how to prevent and stop data breaches were largely to blame. Uber, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), and Verizon all experienced cyber-attacks and data thefts, affecting millions of consumers.

But the largest breach of 2017 occurred at Equifax. In September 2017, Equifax announced 145.5 million consumers were affected by a data breach. That’s nearly half the US population’s sensitive information, including addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and credit card information. The breach was absolutely massive, and experts believe it will cost consumers and Equifax around $4 billion to ameliorate.

Progress and Potholes within the Insurance Industry

Fortunately, the insurance industry continues to develop products to protect consumers and businesses from cyber risk. More than 60 carriers now write monoline cybersecurity policies, with gross premiums into the billions of dollars. Popular carriers include many in the Smart Choice® program, such as Travelers, Burns & Wilcox, Liberty Mutual, CNA, and Crump. Experts at the NAIC believe the number of carriers who offer cyber risk policies and the types of liability those policies cover will increase over the next few years.

However, protecting against cyber risk with insurance is still relatively novel for consumers and businesses. Many continue to learn the hard way that their general liability policies don’t cover losses from a data breach, hack, or other cyber-attack. This puts businesses and consumers at risk of having sensitive information stolen, held ransom, or used against them. Businesses face their own set of cyber risks, from damaged reputations to loss of valuable assets such as customer lists and trade secrets.

What 2018 Has in Store for Cyber Risk

While cyber insurance and cybersecurity regulations will grow stronger and more numerous this year, so will the intensity and frequency of cyber attacks. Sophisticated attacks using artificial intelligence will be increasingly difficult to identify and prevent. Bad actors will continue to hijack consumer and business networks and hold them ransom. Cryptocurrency technologies will sustain attacks, too.

With these threats on the horizon, you can’t afford not to offer cyber insurance to your consumer and business clients. This year, learn about the cyber insurance policies your carriers offer and develop a plan on how to cross-sell them to your current commercial insurance clients. Once you have your pitch down, start promoting cyber insurance in every conversation you have with potential commercial insurance clients. Become the local resource on cyber risk and offer solutions that empower businesses to protect their own data and the personal information of their customers.

What Cyber Insurance Covers

Cyber insurance policies cover liability and property losses that occur when a business is hit with a cyber attack.

Coverage may include:

  • Business interruption from cyber attack
  • Computer fraud
  • Costs of credit monitoring, fines, and loss after a data breach
  • Cyber extortion
  • Data loss and destruction
  • Funds transfer loss
  • Liability from data breaches
  • Liability from web content
  • Notification costs in the event of a data breach

Sources:
Burns & Wilcox
CSO
NAIC
Property Casualty 360

Take Responsibility For Your Performance

Take Responsibility for Your Performance 

Josh Seibert, Sandler Training®

 The STORY:

Mark had been making a decent living for ten years as a salesperson. Always in the middle of the sales charts, Mark was comfortable with his selling skills. At least he was until taking his most recent sales position three months before. In his new position, he was at the bottom of the sales chart.

I don’t understand, thought Mark. I’m doing the same things here that I did in the other companies and I can’t get anywhere. Maybe it’s the quality of the prospects; they are pretty dismal.

No, he thought, they’re pathetic.

Particularly rankling was the situation with Susan. Hired on the same day as Mark, with six months of sales experience, she was consistently climbing up the sales chart. She probably does better because she’s a woman, he thought. The prospects aren’t expecting a woman, and that’s her edge. Yeah, that’s it.

Of course, he decided to himself, the other reason I’m not doing as well is because the territory

I’ve been given is mined out. Nobody could sell to these idiots.

Feeling somewhat better, Mark closed up his briefcase and decided to drop in at the mall.

Perhaps I need a new suit to bring my luck back.

On the way over to the mall he wondered for a moment if he should have signed up for the sales skills seminar the company was offering. No, he decided, that’s only for people who don’t know which end is up. The only salespeople there would be the newbies and the company brown noses.

 

The RESULT:

Mark is equating the length of his selling history with quality. In addition, he has convinced himself that his current situation is not his responsibility. Will a new suit help Mark?

 

DISCUSSION:

While Mark may seem to have an over- abundance of excuses for not performing well, it is not unusual to hear many of these same ones from the majority of salespeople. The common thread through all of these excuses is the total refusal to accept any responsibility for current performance.

“It’s not my fault I’m doing (fill-in one of the following: poorly, marginally, about average), it’s because of (fill-in anything that the salesperson has no control over).”

The number of years someone has spent in sales does not guarantee success today with a prospect who has just walked in. Success with a prospect is guaranteed when the salesperson accepts responsibility for performing in a professional manner. If the prospect buys, great.

If the prospect doesn’t buy but gives you five warm referrals, great.

 

APPROACH:

Ask a consistently successful salesperson, in any product area, what he attributes his success to, and you will hear many different things. The common thread will be, “I take complete responsibility for my success or failure in sales.”

Every salesperson knows he should have a positive mental outlook. The only problem with that phrase is that it is meaningless. But it sounds good.

Either a salesperson takes complete responsibility for his or her sales, or the sales will not be made. They will not be made because there is always an excuse for why not.

 

THOUGHT:

A salesperson’s sales are a result of his taking complete responsibility for performance.

 

 

Josh Seibert is the president of Training & Development Solutions, Inc., Sandler Training located in the Piedmont Triad.  He can be reached at 336-884-1348 or www.training.sandler.com

©Sandler Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.

Life In The Fast Lane

Life in the Fast Lane By: Pat Wedeking

Life insurance is important…we all know that.  Life insurance rates have gone down significantly over the past 10 years as people live longer…many of us know that. Now life insurance is easier to transact… I know some of us might even challenge that one.  This article seeks to update you on the latest advancements in life insurance underwriting and how Smart Choice® is embracing this change making life insurance easy.

Americans are dangerously underinsured when it comes to life insurance; the opportunity to do the right thing for your clients and earn a significant income doing so has never been greater than it is today.  One of the largest life insurance growth markets in the world is the U.S. middle market and companies across the globe are recognizing this and investing in the effort to deliver life insurance to the masses.  As a result, there is more competition and prices have come down consistently for a decade. Recently, more and more companies are introducing new, better ways to get life insurance in force quickly.

Accelerated Underwriting Programs are hitting the market in a big way right now with different carriers introducing their version of Accelerated Underwriting each month.  These programs rely on data to assess risk as opposed to what used to be invasive bodily fluid draws asking your clients to give blood and urine to a medical professional they’ve never met in order to determine the proper underwriting class.  “What kind of data?” you ask, the list includes driving records, prescription data, credit scores, lifestyle index scores and the life insurance industry’s centralized database they call the medical information bureau (MIB.)  Add it all up and many actuaries are saying this is an equivalent way of assessing risk.

What was a 6, 8 or 10-week process can now be done in a matter of moments. Policies that used to be issued quickly at rates that are 200% to 500% of fully underwritten rates are now being issued at the same lowest rates available.

This is an evolution – or a revolution – so still most policies are underwritten the “old way” but more and more we are seeing products and processes that accelerate the process.

One of the carriers on the Smart Choice Quick Life platform, for example, has eliminated the need for blood and urine for all cases with face amounts of $500,000 and under.   Another carrier on this platform is offering some applicants the chance at the best prices without blood and urine up to $1 million and still another is reviewing all cases that fit a certain profile and giving us pleasant surprises with “Issued as applied for, underwriting requirements waived” messages often within hours of submitting the case to underwriting.

Yet another carrier has gone one-step further… the furthest of any carrier in the market today.  This carrier is instantly issuing policies up to $1 Million in face amount for all applicants who fit a certain profile and where data is available for consideration.  These are policies are issued on the spot, delivered electronically, with electronic payment and at a price that is most competitive.

Smart Choice has embraced this evolution and offers access to instant coverage through the expansion of the Smart Start program that we call Smart Start Life.  This makes Smart Choice among the select few in the country to have access to this product.  In partnership with InsureNOW, part of the largest distributor of life insurance in the United States, this program is available to Smart Choice offices nationwide.

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How to Sell (More) Life Insurance:

  1. Create awareness that you offer this type of insurance. We call this one “State Farm Sells Life Insurance” because this company is one of the top sellers of life insurance in the country simply by letting it be known that life insurance is available to their policy holders. No commercials, no pushing or pressing, just awareness.  Let your clients know that you offer life insurance.  Ask us, we can help you with email signatures, announcement letters and emails and even a customer friendly shopping mechanism you can link from your website.

Life Happens Pro ( https://lifehappenspro.org/ ) offers a simple, cost effective way to leverage best-in-class life insurance marketing resources to drive business to you.

  1. The one sentence that works. “Life insurance rates have gone down. Part of our service is to see if we can save you money so I am going to have our life insurance expert give you a call. Okay?”     When you get a “yes” to that simply enter the name and contact information into the Smart Start Life online form and you will hear from our life insurance expert that will act on your behalf.  Wait for commissions to arrive.
  2. Offer a Policy Review. “When is the last time you reviewed your life insurance progam?”  is another great question to ask.  They either say “Recently” in which case you can ask if you can review to see that they got the best price available – or they say, “It’s been a while” to which you can respond with an offer to do it right away – or they say, “I don’t have life insurance” which is your queue to help that family.
  3. Ask all Business Owners about Life Insurance. What can be an emotional, slow decision for families becomes a simple economic decision for most business owners. Buy Sell agreements and Key Person policies are some of the easiest life insurance sales you will ever make.
  4. Use a Quick Entry Process. Make your life easier with a new breed of processes that take the processing burden off your task list.  Smart Choice Quick Life and Smart Start Life are two of the best available.

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Brief Bio

Pat Wedeking is the Founding President of the Life Insurance Direct Marketing Association (LIDMA.org) and the Chair of the Life Happens. He is the founder of two life insurance distribution companies and now operates Crump’s InsureNOW platform.  Pat lives in

Front of the Pack: Coming Out Ahead in an Everchanging Financial Landscape

Front of the Pack: Coming Out Ahead in an Everchanging Financial Landscape

by Michael Miller, State Director Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa

The stock market has climbed to new heights over the last few months. Recently, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed over 26,000 points, a record high. While this is great news for the country, it overshadows some serious challenges the insurance industry faces.

While stocks climb, insurance companies are hurting after billions of dollars in losses after several major hurricanes last fall and wildfires and ensuing mudslides in California in December and January. The latest tax bill gave businesses substantial breaks, but left a wake of uncertainty regarding healthcare. Meanwhile, distracted driving is a persistent problem, driving claims and premiums up.

How does an independent insurance agent stay ahead of the game, despite the multiple financial challenges facing our industry? Here are a few ideas I’ve shared with my agents to help them get ahead and stay ahead.

Diversify your offerings and demonstrate your value.

One of the first things I recommend agents do is review the range of insurance products they offer. Many independent agents get into the business writing personal lines, but few expand into commercial, life, and health markets. They do so at their peril. Selling personal lines insurance is a great way to learn the insurance business, but there’s heavy competition from online brokers and captive agents. Adding commercial carriers and learning how to write a great life insurance policy can help you stay in the black, even when the personal lines market is in a downturn.

Regardless of what insurance products you offer, make an effort to demonstrate your value to every client and potential client who walks in your door. Your agency isn’t just a place to buy insurance, it’s a risk management consulting firm. Help your clients understand the risks they face as homeowners, business owners, spouses, and parents, then offer them custom insurance solutions that cover that risk. That’s a level of expertise and service the online brokers simply can’t provide.

Identify your lead generation strategy . . . and work it.

The most successful agents will all tell you that they never take their foot off the gas. They are always sourcing and reaching out to new leads, even when they’re running at or near capacity. Creating and implementing a consistent lead generation process ensures you’ll never run out of new business.

Where is your current business coming from? What opportunities are you ignoring? Identify them and create a plan. Will you join a networking group to get referrals or buy a list of leads? Once you have leads, will you reach out to them by phone, mail, or email marketing? How often? The answers to these questions will help you develop a lead generation strategy you can use all year.

Don’t leave talent on the table.

No agent is successful all on their own. We all rely on teams to grow our agencies, whether they’re outstanding producers and CSRs at our office or our families at home. Who are you underutilizing on your team? On the flip side, are you so overwhelmed with work that you need to hire someone? Make the most of the human talent available to you—your own and that of your team.

Think a year ahead.

The most successful agencies think long-term. It helps them stay focused on their goals and whether short-term financial downturns. Envision where you want your agency to be this time next year. What will you do to reach that goal? Consider subscribing to trade magazines and newsletters to stay ahead of trends in the insurance industry. Use these insights to recalibrate your goals and adjust your plan.

When It’s Time to Move On

You’ve spent your career helping families and businesses mitigate risk and protect their assets and loved ones. You have a full book of business, wonderful staff, and a great office. Have you ever wondered what will happen to the insurance agency you’ve worked so hard to build once it’s time to move on?

You’re in the risk management business, so chances are you’ve thought about this quite a bit. But if not, here are a few tips to take the mystery out of selling your agency:

  1. Get an insurance agency valuation to determine its actual worth, including your book of business, location, the markets you offer, and your phenomenal staff.
  2. Create a plan to sell your agency at least three years before you plan to leave the business with the help of a good business attorney.
  3. Know your sale options, from selling your agency for free through Smart Choice® to identifying a buyer within your agency, your family, or your professional connections.

 

Source:

Insurance Journal

Off The Record

Off The Record
By: Josh Seibert, Sandler Training

The STORY:
Tim had mentally decided that the prospect he was talking to was never going to buy. For the past 20 minutes Tim had tried all of the trial closes that had worked in the past.

“I have to tell you Tim, I don’t know that this will do what I need.”

Tim had already tried the “what do you really need” response with no luck. Figuring he had nothing to lose and might learn something that he could use on other prospects, he innocently asked the following.

“Off the record . . . since you have decided not to buy . . . what are you really looking for?”

For Tim, the resulting silence was painful, but he really wanted to know the answer. If I can get this information, he thought, I can use it. So I’m just going to outwait the prospect.

Finally, and much to Tim’s relief, the prospect responded.

“Well, since you asked, off the record as you put it, here’s what I’m trying to do,” responded the prospect for the next five minutes.

At the conclusion of the prospect’s response, still convinced that he’d never close this one, Tim answered.

“That’s very interesting. So I suppose since we’re still off the record, you’ll never see yourself purchasing this . . .” and as Tim struggled to find the words to continue, the prospect jumped back in.

“Hold on a minute, Tim. I didn’t say I’d never buy it . . . and now that I talked out what I was looking for, well, you know, what you have might actually do it for me.”

The RESULT:
Perhaps Tim will make this sale. What Tim did do by going off the record was to subtly pressure the prospect into defining just what he needed. And by adding the assumption that the prospect was never going to buy, Tim was forcing the prospect to see a future where Tim’s product was not part of the solution. Either the prospect would view this future as good, in which case Tim never had a chance to make the sale, or bad. If bad, then Tim had an opportunity to make a sale. Off the record, how do you see it?

DISCUSSION:
Tim did not act like most salespeople. How many salespeople have the guts to state, “Off the record, since you have decided not to buy . . . what are you really looking for?” What is the salesperson afraid of when he makes this statement? Simple — the prospect is going to walk out the door. Consider this, if the prospect does immediately leave, then he never had any intention of purchasing. You’ve just saved yourself a lot of time.

The prospect who remains after hearing this question has no option other than to respond. What he says at this point will help you in determining whether he is a serious potential buyer or someone to follow up in a phone or mail sales effort.

APPROACH:
Pairing “off the record” with “since you have decided not to buy” accomplishes two goals for you.

First, “off the record” suggests that now you and the prospect can talk freely. Neither of you will use what is said to make or break the sale. Of course, this is ridiculous. Anything the prospect says will be used by you to either pursue the sale or end it. But just the phrase, “off the record,” often achieves the goal of getting the prospect to reveal what his concerns are.

Second, “Since you have decided not to buy” forces the prospect to bring the future into the present. In other words, he perceives right now what it will be like without your product. If his concerns are painful enough, seeing the future today is often enough to get a prospect moving toward purchasing.

THOUGHT:
Giving the prospect a way to see the future often helps the prospect buy today.

Josh Seibert is the president of Training & Development Solutions, Inc., Sandler Training located in the Piedmont Triad.  He can be reached at 336-884-1348 or www.training.sandler.com

©Sandler Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.

Writing Hard-To-Place Risks

Writing Hard-to-Place Risks Starts with a Good Relationship with Your Excess & Surplus Carrier—
and Your Underwriter
By: Michael Miller, Smart Choice® State Director

Most insurance agents can write auto and home policies in their sleep, and many understand commercial insurance like the back of their hands. But sometimes, clients throw us curve balls. They might have had multiple losses that make finding a policy difficult. Others might be in an industry so unusual or risky that standard carriers won’t cover them. In these cases, relationships with excess and surplus (E&S) lines carriers can be the difference between making the sale and turning a potential client away.

A look at what E&S lines carriers can do for you

E&S lines carriers are insurance companies that write policies for unusual or specialty businesses that standard carriers consider too risky. Sometimes, this is due to a history of loss. But more frequently, standard carriers simply do not have the experience writing these businesses to be able to offer a policy that comprehensively and appropriately covers the risk.

Many E&S lines carriers are licensed in a single state but can do business in other states. But they don’t have to be based in the United States. In fact, the largest E&S carrier in the United States is Lloyd’s of London, a British company. At Smart Choice®, we have partnerships with several E&S carriers, including Burns & Wilcox and Willis.

Your relationship with your E&S underwriter

The E&S lines market operates slightly differently from the standard commercial lines market. Usually, you must try to write the policy with one or more standard carriers before shopping the policy on the E&S market. Doing so requires a relationship with an E&S carrier.

It’s important to maintain your working relationships with the E&S carriers you have appointments with. That starts with your E&S carrier underwriter. If you invest a little time in your relationships with your underwriters, it’ll pay off in the long run.

Underwriters are in a tough position. They have to answer to their employers, the carriers, who reward them for writing high volume of policies with “good” risk. But they also need to please their agents, who bring in the business but often make requests that are riskier than their carriers prefer.

To write a good policy, your underwriter has to trust your judgment on the customer’s risk. And since most E&S policies do not have standard clauses regarding binding authority, back dating, and do not give advance notice of changes to policy, it’s important for you to understand how your E&S carrier underwriter operates and stay on top of each customer policy.

If you make it clear to your underwriter that you understand what “good” risk is, the more likely he or she will be willing to work with you on your more complicated policy requests. Give your underwriters the professional courtesy of asking thoughtful questions and submitting a clean request that has all the information they’ll need to feel comfortable writing it. Make your requests complete, clear, and timely.

If you take the time to get to know your underwriters and their carriers, you’ll learn certain carriers will never write particular policies, while others are eager to take on your riskier requests. But you’ll only know this if you invest some time and effort to understand how and why your underwriters write what they do. Take a moment to get to know them better. It’ll pay off for your agency in the long run.

Customers requiring E&S policies may not come through your door every day, but being proficient in writing this type of business can create real opportunities for your agency. You could become the resource for niche industries who can’t be insured through their current agent’s standard carriers. Imagine writing all the car dealerships or pizza delivery businesses in your metro area. What impact could that have on your agency’s profitability over the next five years?

Common Hard-to-Place Risks

  • Engineering Companies
  • General Contractors
  • Implement Dealerships
  • Motorcycle Dealerships
  • Large Habitational Risks
  • Trucking Companies
  • Used Car Lots with Inventory of 30 or Fewer Units
  • Vacant Buildings

[Sources]

Insurance Journal

Claims Journal

Property Casualty 360

 

Refinancing Your Existing Debt

Refinancing Your Existing Debt
By: Kelly Drouillard, Live Oak Bank

The goal of any independent insurance agency is to grow and build long-term wealth. To get to a place where an agency can fund growth initiatives and make money, owners often obtain capital via specialty loans, use of liquid investments, seller finance, or funding from friends, family, and other supporters. This financing may be debt on less than ideal terms, including interest rate, loan term or both.

If you are an agency owner, with an expensive or steep repayment plan on your business debt, you may be feeling like you’re never going to generate the kind of cash flow to meet the needs of your agency, extinguish debt and experience the growth and achievement you dreamed of when starting your company.

The backbone of an agency is the cash flow.  It may have been prudent and necessary to take out loans, seek investments, or otherwise bring outside money into the company to get off the ground; you don’t want to let repaying those debts prevent you from actually taking off. When looking at the obligations you need to pay back, consider how much extra money you will have after making your monthly payments.

Can you afford to hire the producers you need? Are you meeting the demands of your customers? Are you ready for an acquisition? Or are the payments holding your agency back from really being what it could be? If so, you may need to consider restructuring debt to reduce your monthly payments.

Here are a few ways you can refinance your debt, significantly decrease your current monthly payments, and begin seeing your agency grow.

  1. Live Oak Bank’s SBA 7(a) Loan Program

With the SBA 7(a) loan program, you can restructure your debt into a more manageable repayment plan. While not all debts are eligible for this program, if you meet the requirements of the policy, it is an easy way to reduce pressure from your lenders and start seeing more money going into your business.  Typical insurance agency loan terms are 10 years with interest rates from 5.5% to 6.25%.   There are no prepayment penalties for loans with terms less than 15 years.

To be eligible for the SBA 7(a) loan program, you will need to meet the following qualifications:

  • Money secured from loans, borrowing, or investments must have been used for eligible business purposes.
  • The debt must be current.
  • The monthly loan payment for the proposed plan must give at least 10% cash flow savings or the existing note must include a balloon payment.

If you meet the requirements of the SBA 7(a) loan program, you can create a plan that is much more manageable for you and your agency. With a lower loan payment, you can focus on growing your business, put the money into things like agency development, and see your company reach the levels of success enabled by improved cash flow.

  1. Refinance to avoid “Balloon Payments”

When you take out a small business loan for your insurance agency, it is not uncommon for a loan to have what is called a “balloon payment.” A balloon payment occurs when the terms of the loan state that one large payment will be made at the end of the loan’s term. While this can give you years with a smaller payment, it also means you will be faced with a significant payment once that time is up.   A typical structure would be a loan with a 10 year amortization / five year balloon.   Thus, your monthly payments are based on a 10 year loan; however, the remaining balance is due all at once at the end of Year Five.  Balloon payments create a looming financial obligation.

If you do not properly plan for a balloon payment, you will be left to drain the extra cash from your business, reducing any cushion you may have created. You may also face high interest rates, meaning you’ll pay much more for the loan than the initial amount of money you received.

If you are trapped in a loan that ends in a balloon payment, you will probably want to consider refinancing. Refinancing your debt allows you to spread that balloon payment out over more time, preventing you from paying one large sum. With a refinanced repayment plan, you make small payments on your loan while ensuring that the cash flow to your business is not disrupted.

  1. Refinance for Longer Loans

For most agency owners, the typical loan acquisition may have seller financing with a term of five years. While a shorter loan term can be paid off more quickly, it also means you will be making higher payments on the loan each month. For a growing business, this can take away cash needed for operational growth and marketing.   A refinance solution under the SBA 7(a) program may be a 10 year loan.   Plus, there is the bonus of paying off the seller note and finally cutting ties with the seller.

SBA 7(a) loans (under 15 year terms) do not have prepayment penalties.   This gives you the cash flow flexibility to pay off your note early if you desire.

Before taking out a loan, be sure that you understand the details of the repayment and if it is a realistic situation for you and your agency. If you find that you are unable to meet the needs of your loan, don’t hesitate to restructure.

Restructuring your debt opens up doors to allow that money to be used elsewhere. With the money you will save each month by restructuring your debt, you can hire new producers or other staff to take your agency to the next level.  You could also buy equipment to be more efficient in the workplace or relocate to a new area with better customer access.

Thinking about your cash flow is the most important aspect of running a business. When it comes to your success, it is mostly determined by how smoothly you run your business and if you make enough money to keep moving forward. Don’t allow the loans, investments, or financial support that got you off the ground be the reason your company didn’t reach your desired levels of success.

For a refinancing proposal, gather tax returns for the past three years (agency and personal), the details of your current agency debt, and give us a call.  We can quickly analyze your situation to determine if a refinance make sense.

Kelly Drouillard is the General Manager of the Insurance lending division at Live Oak Bank. Reach her at 913.980.7773 or kelly.drouillard@liveoakbank.com