Going Beyond Best Practices

For over 20 years the independent insurance agents of America (IIABA) and Reagan Consulting have been conducting a best practices study that benchmarks what makes some of the nation’s top independent agents and brokers successful. The Best Practices Study helps agency owners and managers understand how their business operations perform and measure up to the top performing firms included in the study.

best practices

Every three years, insurance companies, state association affiliates, and other industry organizations are asked to nominate organizations for each of the revenue categories they believe to be among the best, most professional agencies in the industry. These nominated agencies are then invited to participate.

By studying the leading insurance agencies and brokers in the country, the IIABA hopes to provide member agents with meaningful performance benchmarks. They also look at business strategies that could be adopted or adapted for use in improving agency performance, thus enhancing overall agency value. The best practices study has been a valuable tool and resource for agencies as they look to improve the overall value of their agencies.

Even as valuable as the best practices study has been, there are some problems with how today’s organization use the information.

As stated above, only agencies nominated by an insurance company or state association are included in the study. That may mean that some organizations that are testing and experimenting new ideas and ways of selling, servicing, and managing their agencies might get overlooked. In 2010, more than 1,200 independent agencies were recommended to take part in the study. However, only 224 agencies qualified to be included. To be chosen, the agency had to be among the top performing agencies in one of the six revenue categories.

Another problem with the best practices study is that it looks at historical information. In the past this has been fine, as the only way to determine success was to look at past practices and performance. However, changes are happening faster today than ever. Perhaps a better measure of success and help to other agencies is what is being done today to impact the organization’s future tomorrow.

Going beyond best practices helps agencies to not only look at the past, but also look toward the future and learn from other agencies as they test, experiment, fail, learn more, and get better at operating their agencies.

Consumers today are changing fast. Their expectations of an excellent customer experience are changing even more quickly. Successful agencies that are looking toward the future will be adapting and changing as fast or faster than the consumers they serve. So what does it mean to “go beyond best practices?”

Look to the past when appropriate

Past performance can be an indicator of success in the future. I am not suggesting that we throw out all historical information. I am suggesting we look at it differently.

Encourage innovation

Going beyond best practices is creating a culture in your agency that encourages experimentation and innovation. It is a culture that embraces fast failure, so you can learn what to do better next time.

Become a technology company

You might assume I would add this into any thoughts I might have. An agency CEO, who brought me into their organization to review their efficiency and effectiveness, said he felt his insurance organization needed to be a technology company that happens to sell insurance not an insurance agency that happens to use technology.

There is a world of difference in those two thoughts. Online access, content marketing, campaign management, marketing automation, mobility, mobile apps, and any other cool tool, gadget or gizmo that you can name are all part of what is expected by consumers today. Is your agency truly adding value to the insurance transaction? Or, are you simply one more agency that does a “me too” type of process?

Not being satisfied with the top 25%

Going beyond best practices means you are not satisfied with being included in the top 25% of agencies in the country. It means you strive to be in the top 1% and are an insurance organization other agencies look toward to the find out what’s working and what’s not.

This is truly an exciting time within the industry. Opportunities abound. So many agencies are complacent that an agency that goes beyond best practices can quickly pick off clients.

Are you willing to remain a traditional agency and read the best practices study to see where you fit?

I hope you are part of an agency that wants to go beyond best practices and create the standard that other organizations follow. I am here to help you innovate so you can serve the public as well tomorrow as you have in the past.

Managing a Social Presence for the Busy Executive

Social media engagement is one of the most effective ways for you and your agency to get more traffic and generate new leads.

Schedule time for your social media

Agency owners — for both large and small organizations — are the “face” of the organization. An effective social platform marketing strategy should contemplate using the owner’s name and face as part of the marketing program. This means that they need to leverage their personal sites to help build awareness.

A big part of the challenge is finding the time. Comments from company executives will help communicate the organization’s mission and vision to internal staff as well as prospects, clients, and insurance company personnel.

Mastering your Internet presence will help you, and your team, be more visible to the increasingly online consumer. Consumers now use smartphones and tablets to interact with businesses 24/7, from anywhere at home, at work, or on a bus. It is critical that your company define its value proposition through a mobile lens by determining exactly how your target audience wants to engage with your brand on multiple devices.

Following are some thoughts on steps you can take to manage and master your online presence. Taking just a few of these steps will help you and your organization be visible to the online consumer.

Use the Right Tools

Having – and using – the right social platform management tools is essential for keeping up a presence on all the major platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Tools that allow you to automate status updates on various platforms enable you to promote your latest content to all of your social networks with a minimum investment of time and effort. There are many solutions that can automatically improve your website articles, as well as other content, to your social media networks. Following are a few of the most popular:

Buffer App

Buffer is one of the easier to use and less expensive tools to automate postings to your social platforms. This is the tool I am currently using, and I love its clean and easy-to-use interface. It will post updates to your LinkedIn agency page, LinkedIn Groups, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ page.

Buffer allows you to create a schedule for when updates will be posted to your social platforms. For instance, on Mondays through Fridays, I post updates three times during the day. On weekends, I post two updates on Saturday and no updates on Sunday. This gives you complete control over when and how often updates post to your various accounts.

You can add updates to your Buffer account using their website, as well as their iPhone app, Android app, and Chrome, Firefox, and Safari browser extensions.

Buffer’s built-in analytics allows you to find the times of day that your post gets the most engagement and the type of topics your audience likes the most. This helps you better understand what kind of content you should include in future updates.

Buffer has a free version that allows you to post up to 10 updates per day, as well as several paid tiers depending on your particular needs.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite is a very popular service that has similar features to Buffer. In addition to being able to schedule posts to multiple social platforms, Hootsuite excels in allowing you to view the activity on your various social channels. When it comes to social networking support, Hootsuite has a wider coverage than Buffer.

Hootsuite allows you to post automatically to a broad range of platforms. These include: Facebook groups/profiles/business pages, LinkedIn company pages/groups, Google+ pages, Twitter, Foursquare, WordPress sites, as well as YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, and Blogger.

Hootsuite also tracks your post analytics so you can determine how people share posts. For example, if someone shared a post on your site using Hootsuite, you’ll be able to track that they used Hootsuite to re-share your post.

Hootsuite also has a free version (that I am currently using) and a Pro version with pricing that starts at $8.99 per month (with discounts for an annual payment).

With the basic account, you’ll have message scheduling and can set up five social networks. The pro version has unlimited social networks, atom feeds, and stats history. It also allows bulk scheduling.

For personal and professional use, this auto-posting tool is worth a try.

How and When to Engage

Once you begin using one of the tools described above you will be able to create activity consistently on your social platforms without feeling like you are spending hours doing it. Here’s my strategy for engaging with people on the social platforms where I am active.

Daily: Interact with your news feed. Install the mobile apps for the various platforms where you are active. Take a few minutes between appointments to open the apps and look at the activity in the news feed. Simply clicking “like” on a comment someone has made or typing out a short comment will significantly increase your engagement with these people.

Weekly: Using one of the above tools, take 30 minutes to an hour to set up a schedule of posts for the following week. This allows you to spend concentrated time to make sure you have posts going out on a regular basis. Then, if anything particularly interesting comes up, feel free to post that one comment on multiple sites.

Monthly: Schedule time monthly to review your profiles on all of your social platforms to make sure they are current. Review and contribute to any comments on groups you are part of such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+. In addition, reach out to any old contacts that you might want to connect with on LinkedIn.

Engaging on social platforms is becoming an essential skill for executives to use to create an engaging brand for their organization. While you may have staff who manages this for the whole organization, it is important for the executives who are the “face” of the organization to also be active.

This type of engagement and activity on your social platforms can bring new visitors to your website and help improve your overall search rankings. However, perhaps more importantly, it will help you and your team to be more visible to the new online consumer.

“Episode 570: The Fine Print”
by NPR Planet Money

The Fine Print
September 19, 2014

The NPR Planet Money radio show is one I listen to consistently. This episode tackled insurance policies and why they can be difficult to understand. It does a very good job of explaining — in non-insurance language — why certain provision are in most standard policies. You should listen to it and recommend it to your clients and prospects.

Behind the Scenes: Creating Compelling Presentations that Engage, Entertain and Inspire

My first professional speaking event was a disaster.

Creating Compelling Presentations

I was asked to speak at the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas (IIAT) convention in 1996 on marketing mistakes most agencies were making. While I knew the material, I did a terrible job presenting the information in an interesting and engaging way. My evaluations came back at four out of 10. I was heartbroken. In fact, I felt so bad about my poor performance that I returned the $500 speaking fee to the Association. And at the time, this was money I really needed.

I Purposed to Get Better

Fast forward almost 20 years and today I speak to thousands of insurance agents across the country on a regular basis. After that first experience I became determined to learn how to present a speech or workshop in a way that communicated well.

While I sought feedback from people I trusted, I was mostly self-taught. And it worked, to a point. The vast majority of my evaluations today are a high nine out of 10, certainly a vast improvement over that original evaluation.

But, I wanted to do better. I wanted to continue to improve. So, last year I attended the SCORRE conference created and hosted by my friend Ken Davis. Ken had told me for a while that he thought I would get a lot out of this conference, and he was right.

Anyone with a message to share can use the process I learned to become a better communicator. The SCORRE process is specifically designed to help anyone prepare a speech with focus, deliver it with confidence, and speak with power to engage, entertain, and inspire. Even I, who has given hundreds of speeches, came away with an entirely new framework that I now use for every new presentation, whether given orally or in writing.

SCORRE is not just a conference you attend, but a proven curriculum that you are led through with the help of certified coaches. You prepare three speeches and give them in a small group setting with your coach. This lets you practice what you have heard and receive feedback. I was shocked at how much I was able to improve in just a few short days.

The six-part SCORRE framework is the process I use now to create my presentations. It allows me to to prepare a clear, compelling talk in a fraction of the time.

The SCORRE Framework

Subject: The first step in preparing a speech is to choose the subject of your speech. This is a broad statement about what you are expected to share. I typically have a limited about of time, so I have to start to focus on what I want to the audience to come away.

Central Theme: Next, I narrow the focus by choosing a single aspect of the broad subject as my central theme. This is also the beginning of the focusing process. This allows me to focus my presentation to a manageable amount of information.

Objective: This is the most difficult step of the process. The objective sentence contain a proposition, an implied interrogative question (either how or why), and an interrogative response (answer to the how or why). Here is an example: Every person can be a more effective leader by applying four valuable leadership principles with their team.

  1. The proposition: Every person can be a more effective leader
  2. Implied interrogation: How?
  3. Interrogative response: by applying four valuable leadership principles with their team
  4. The Key Word is principles

Based on this objective, each of the points in this talk will be a principle that will empower the listener to become a more effective leader.

It is very hard to put the objective of your talk into one sentence. It is unlikely you will use the words in your objective sentence in your talk. When you spend the time to make sure you have a clear objective, your talk will become very focused, and memorable.

Rationale: Using the same example, the rationale becomes the four principles – the keyword chosen in the prior step. These become the key points that are the foundation of the talk. The rationale establishes a solid, logical framework for the talk. Done well, the rationale will lead the listener to your objective.

Resources: Now that the hard work is done, this becomes the fun part. Various types of resources bring light, color, and clarity to what you are communicating. Whether it’s a quote, story, video or other illustration, resources make the audience want to listen to what you have to say.

Evaluation: A presentation isn’t complete until every aspect of the talk has undergone sufficient evaluation. This is a difficult part, but completing it helps to make sure my presentation is focused, clear and engages the audience’s attention.

“Diligence in preparation results in excellence on the platform”
Ken Davis

Every new presentation that I create begins with an outline of this process. I have created a template that allows me to capture this process in a disciplined and organized manner. To see a copy of the template I use click here.

Whether you are a new speaker and want to learn how to communicate effectively, or a seasoned veteran who wants to take your presentations to the next level, I highly recommend you consider attending the SCORRE conference. If you are not able to attend the conference in person, then I recommend you purchase and read Secrets of Dynamic Communication by Ken Davis. This book lays out in detail – including worksheets – what I have described above.

Improving your ability to effectively communicate your thoughts and ideas is a great way to enhance your career and influence those around you.

This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers go behind the scenes to explain in detail one aspect of their work. Reprinted from original LinkedIn article September 18, 2014.