We recently interviewed Deborah Miller of Relational SalesPro, LLC on the significant benefits and value an agency and its producers can get in implementing a nurture marketing strategy that's combined with call center support to garner tangible results in prospecting and establishing/ solidifying business relationships.
Deborah's entire career has been in the insurance industry in the areas of sales, producer development and management. She spent 18 years on the agency side with State Farm and managed the top direct-writer insurance agency in the country — State Farm's Cosmo C. Conte Insurance Agency. During that time, she managed both his San Diego and Cleveland Offices with full decision-making authority and was a licensed producer. After State Farm, Deborah worked for State Auto Insurance in Columbus, Ohio as a Sales Consultant. Frustrated by the lack of sales support systems available to independent producers in 1996 she co-founded MarTech, today known as Relational SalesPro, which offers a web-based automated relationship marketing system to help producers obtain new business, cross sell, and retain clients.
Annie George (AG): Today we hear a lot about relationship marketing, nurture marketing, and how important it is to connect, interact, and communicate with prospective clients and existing customers. You've been advocating this for independent agents for some time and have developed a system that automates the process and eliminates the walls that are typically put up by producers in prospecting if implemented properly. Why is nurture marketing finally come into its own, into the forefront now?
Deborah Miller (DM): “In today's competitive marketplace, goal attainment or failure teeters on the scope, quality,seasoning, and warmth of the prospect and centers-of-influence relationships in a producer's pipeline. Today, producers must plan and care for their pipeline as they would a valuable long-term investment. Marketing today requires specific strategies that generate high-touch relationship building. With social media, Internet Marketing, and the ability to collaborate and interact with prospects and customers more easily across various platforms, frankly, top performing producers understand they must separate themselves from the crowd to be perceived as professional and trusted advisors. The old ‘what can I pull together this month,' shotgun approach in a market such as we see today will net only extreme stress, expense, and disappointment. Today, a larger and increasingly warm pipeline of targeted prospects is required to get a sufficient number of qualified opportunities in the hands of producers. In order to get that pipeline fed, a successful agency must have a system in place that can automate the marketing process and really facilitate producers in getting out there on appointments and making face-to-face contact. This new customer-centric ‘digital' landscape of ours requires an ongoing communication strategy that will nurture your best opportunities, typically A prospects and former clients, and elevate your trusted advisor relationship with A and B clients for retention and referrals. You need to step up your relationships with centers of influence for referrals and if that isn't enough, have a means to nurture newer contacts to become tomorrow's A contacts. The warmer and cleaner the pipeline, the greater your success will be.
“Unfortunately, while producers understand the importance of implementing a marketing strategy that is ongoing and geared toward results, it seems like one more huge ‘To Do' on a list. It's been my experience that the majority of producers know what they must do -- they just have so many distractions that grab their attention. Historically, producers are highly social and are not disciplined to set aside a specific time to prospect. They know prospecting is the first objective of every single successful producer and it must be the first thing on their minds in the morning and the last thing they complete in the day. But too many are pulled in different directions. They simply do not guard their most important asset: their time.”
AG: Is this something inherent in an agency, in the culture, or in the nature of all salespeople that prevents them from prospecting? And what qualities make those who are successful?
DM: “It's a combination of factors. You have a small group of diamond producers, the true pacesetters, who recognize that they have to delegate and embrace systems that free up their time to go on appointments. This group has an internal support system willing to remove non-income producing tasks from them. You have a second-tier level producer, who could become diamond producers given the right training and support. This group is most impacted with an organized system because they can close the sale. The third-tier producers are those who should be considered internal account executives as they typically fear rejection and don't want to overextend themselves. And, in most cases we find the agency principle or owner, who is the top-performing sales producer, taking on the role of sales manager without having adequate time to train or manage producers so they end up floundering without direction.
“We all know that the top 20% make 80% of the sales. Why is that? Top salespeople know how to adapt to changing times and realize they will never be all things to all people. They want to improve upon their strengths so everything they do revolves around that. They choose not to devote their time or effort on shortcomings, like many who try over and over again and hope for a different result. And top performers know that doubling the time spent in face-to-face meetings guarantees an increase in sales. So rather than spend valuable time looking for and making appointments, they choose to spend that time building relationships with top customers and leveraging these existing relationships by being a solutions provider. They survey their customers to find out what services they like best and then focus their offering in those areas. And top performers stay persistent, are disciplined to stay the course towards their goals.
“What also differentiates the 20% from the rest is that they have a method to consistently stay in front of their prospects. They are committed to allocating the resources to improve their professionalism. That means delegating, having an assistant so they can spend their time with customers and prospective clients. They use automation, and are willing to devote the time to learn a new program. This group knows they must invest in the most effective means to preserve their time and efforts while maintaining high-touch relationship-building communication with their targeted group. And they outsource all info-gathering calls and the majority of appointment-setting calls, which is the key reason we added a call center portal in our SALESPRO system.”
AG: So producers who move away from non-incoming producing tasks and towards boosting productivity are at the top of their game. And an automated nurture marketing system is designed to provide the means to do this.
DM: “Absolutely. Top producers choose to work on things that have a high pay-off rather than devoting time on tasks that cost money and don't generate income. In my opinion, producers should be removed from all non-income generating tasks. In using a turnkey automation system to deliver consistent communication, they will establish themselves and the agency as a trusted advisor with prospective and existing top clients while concentrating on getting out on appointments from the leads and relationships that are developed through an ongoing nurturing process. For example, once a proposal is accepted, there should be a strategy in place to discuss the client's expectations. What does the client expect in terms of communication? Our system includes a survey asking a customer how he/she would like to receive communication and through what medium (email, post, etc). Based on the customer's responses and expectations, a series of communication – touch points – are established in the system to automatically be delivered to him/her. These touch points can include sales letters, emails, e-newsletters at intervals that coincide with the customer's expectations. Additionally, five or six months prior to renewal, well before the competition comes calling, an automatic ‘to do' reminder is generated for the producer to contact the customer. The producer doesn't have to write the letters, emails, or think about the timing of each communiqué, the system does it for himher, allowing time to be in front of his or her client.
“Jay Conrad Levinson in Gorilla Marketing Weapons says that 85% of business is lost due to apathy after the sale. Talk about a huge expense! I heard years back that it takes 2.5 years to recoup acquisition costs of bringing on a new piece of business. So, when salespeople are pulled trying to win new sales, and don't have an organized method to stay in touch with their clients – the client becomes lost in the shuffle. High-touch relationship building with clients, involves cultivation through automation, producers can't do it without it.”
AG: How does using an outside call center come into the picture?
DM: “The foundation of a successful prospecting strategy is the data. The quality of the list you put into a system is 75% of the battle. Data changes so fast, qualifications change, risk appetites change as carriers look at their market and profitability, that if you don't have someone with the time and talent to qualify and verify the information before launching your program, you'll end up wasting both time and money.
“Many producers provide us with a list of existing leads that hasn't been worked or touched in two years. If they send out letters or other forms of communication that are returned, theirs and our time and revenues are lost. The data needs to be fresh and clean. Another value of outsourcing calls is that although most producers are quite verbal they don't like cold calling prospects on the phone. It's not like not calling on customers, where the ground is familiar, or face-to-face contact, where they can use their personality to advantage. This is where a professional call center plays an important role in the entire process. Call center associates are trained and experienced in cleaning lists, getting the right data, and providing the producer with qualified leads that include updated contact information, X-dates, etc. They are also trained to get through to the decision maker and set up appointments. “You can try setting up your own call center in-house, but it's an expensive proposition. I know first-hand. I attempted to set up a call center, hiring a manager to implement and oversee it. It was a huge expense, and I was putting out fires all the time and getting poor results in comparison with what the professionals can achieve. It is better to go with the experts, hire a professional call center company that has Best Practices in place, accountability, management, and the ongoing training necessary to be successful, otherwise it becomes a futile effort.”
AG: Some feel it's too expensive to outsource this part of the sales process.
DM: “Outsourcing can be deemed as expensive, however, taking a second look shows it to be a wise investment. Working with the right outsource call center will provide you with a virtual marketing assistant whose job description is to continually dial to reach top executives. According to Bruce Volkart of Volkart May & Associates, Inc. on average it takes 9 attempts to actually connect with senior executives on the phone, with 48% of sales professionals giving up after the first contact attempt, an additional 28% giving up after attempt #2, another 7% giving up after attempt #3, 5% more giving up after attempt #4, and 4% more giving up after attempt #5. All in all, 92% of sales professionals give up before make connection. This speaks volumes.
“Call centers are in business because they have knowledge and skills in this area. The process of gathering data and getting past the gatekeeper to secure the appointment requires a very different skill-set than that of a producer and they have the professional skills to do so. The bottom line is that setting more qualified appointments means an increased number of sales and a quicker return on investment. And with the right outsourced appointment-setting firm performing as an extension of your agency, you will get more dialing and more appointments set than your inside callers.
“I have been working 14 years with producers from very large and small agencies all over the United States, and the single most important factor when it comes to production failure is the lack of follow-up phone calls. Producers tend to focus on short-term thinking, which leads to long-term problems, stress, and expense. But with a nurture marketing system in place coupled with call center support, ongoing growth and success is achieved.”