Posted on 21 Jan 2013 by Annie George
In this issue we are featuring our Storefront, Agency Business Solutions (ABS), a firm committed to helping agencies preserve their independence through two distinct entities: Agency Capital Group, which provides the capital for continued growth and perpetuation; and Agency Services Group, which offers solutions to maximize profitability. ABS was founded in 2008 and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Amerisure Mutual Holdings.
We spoke with Jennifer DeMello-Johnson, Resource Director of ASG, about this specific entity of ABS highlighted in this article and how they are helping the independent agency distribution system grow and prosper from a service and solutions perspective. Jennifer has been with ABS from the beginning and manages Agency Services Group and its stable of providers. Her background is in HR and IT with prior experience as both a Consultant and Global Resource Director for such organizations as Deloitte, Siemens and EMC².
"ABS was formed as we recognized the challenges facing independent insurance agents, and the critical need for independent decision making to remain strong in this industry," said Jennifer. "In 2008, aggregation in the market place was occurring and threatening the foundation of the independent insurance system. We combated this reality with two critical elements: capital needed for continued growth and perpetuation and services to accelerate that growth and maximize profitability.
"While other providers help agencies with defining ‘what' challenges exist, Agency Services Group (ASG) helps agencies execute on the ‘how' to solve those challenges. We first work with agencies to identify initiatives that align to their strategic plan. We then deliver customized services and programs that are proven with independent agencies; working with providers we've fully vetted to implement best practice solutions. We further provide project management expertise to ensure that our solutions are delivered on time, on budget, and as promised."
ASG was formed to help independent agencies in four areas: operations, technology, marketing, and sales. "We are similar to a general contracting model in the sense that we are an agency's agency," explained Jennifer. "We work with agencies on the one hand and we also work with a myriad of providers to bring about the solutions that agencies need. What's more, we are the agency's single point of accountability when it comes to the different solutions that they require. And, we're very objective about all of the different solutions and services out in the market."
Jennifer explained that ASG has a very stringent provider selection and vetting process. "We first define and quantify the agency's need. We look at the pros and cons of existing solutions and develop a unique set of criteria if a new solution is required. We will then evaluate both insurance and non-insurance best practice providers. This is extremely critical in bringing new and innovative ideas to this industry. Technology is a perfect example of enhancing an agency's capabilities and communication with their customers. It's about doing what's best for this industry.
"We interview our providers through a very comprehensive selection criteria. We utilize an RFP process for potential providers and select them based on set criteria and defined requirements. We also ensure that a vendor can collaborate with other providers. This is essential as we orchestrate all of our various programs."
Agency Services Group's solutions are available a la carte and bundled. They include:
Operations: Workflow development and implementation, policy checking, payroll administration, e-discovery.
Technology: Includes everything from management, e-mail, web hosting, security and compliance, disaster recovery, to agency management systems. ASG works closely with Vertafore and Applied Systems. Depending on the type of agency, ASG will determine the best solution for them, and negotiate with the providers to ensure that the agency gets the best price.
Marketing: From web development and strategic planning to value proposition development.
Sales: Peak (Passionate Energized And Knowledgeable) Producer, a comprehensive sales-focused recruiting, training, and support program for individual producers. PEAK helps agencies find new talent, improve the talent they have; and provide the right tools and processes to accelerate an agency's success now and into the future. SOAR (Sales Orientation Achieve Results) is an agency-wide program to help accelerate the growth of entire agency.
"Our Peak Producer Program has several providers," explained Jennifer. "After a customized recruiting process we include 12-18 months of a well-structured program for both the producer and their sales manager in coordinated coaching and mentoring activities, in addition to monthly peer pod networking with other producers nationwide. We have consultative and relationship-driven sales coaches in collaboration with a technology coach that provides producers a CRM pipeline tool for formalized goal setting and accountability in prospecting. We also provide a portal to track individual producer sales activities for weekly reporting capability. Each producer is benchmarked and from there they have the ability to calculate a robust pipeline to achieve their sales growth.
"Also included in the Peak program is a semi-annual live sales forum that takes place in different locations. There is a coverage analysis tool that helps producers intelligently up-sell, and a social networking component to help producers with their LinkedIn and Facebook accounts in networking with current and prospective customers. We train them on how to be socially savvy and relevant in the market, how to blog, how to make the agency's websites more interactive."
The agency-wide SOAR program starts by working with agency management to facilitate a comprehensive, self-evaluation of their current sales culture and programs. From there, ASG develops a customized "flight-plan" designed to drive and sustain sales success. This plan will focus on key initiatives such as: sales goals, accountabilities, and programs; compensation structures and intended outcomes; prospecting activities and pipeline management; and more.
"Agencies today are committed to growth and perpetuation, which is why our PEAK and SOAR programs are so important, because they do ensure that perpetuation," said Jennifer. "We also see that as agencies are moving into a new generation of owners, they need help in developing producers that are not self-made. These new producers haven't had to do it on their own like their predecessors have, and need structure and accountability. With Peak, producers have resources available to them, including a technology platform that plays an integral part in not only their development but also how they communicate with their prospective clients."
When asked about the business model for ASG and how it works, Jennifer explained that there are no additional fees for the agencies. "Based on the volume we have, we negotiate with our providers and become an extension of their organization. The agency may pay the same but they receive a great deal more in having us project manage and ensure the results meet their expectations. Agencies are very consumed in their day-to-day operations and often don't have the capacity to hire a full-time project manager in their agency to handle all the projects they need to accomplish. That is why we are here!"
ASG has worked with agencies of all sizes throughout the country. In addition, their programs are constantly evolving to address changing needs, advanced technologies, industry trends, and other key issues. "We are always thinking of the next frontier as to how we can further advance the capabilities of independent agencies. We're constantly hearing from them as to what they need and what will enable them to be stronger in their relationships with their clients - both in retaining those relationships and in getting new business. It's what drives us every day," said Jennifer.
For more information about ASG's services, please visit their website at: http://www.agencybusinesssolutions.com/asg/default.aspx, or you can contact Jennifer at 248.426.7973 or at or via email at: JDemello@Agencybusinesssolutions.com. You can also contact Lori Hulyk at email@example.com