Friday, June 29, 2007

On a mission

I heard a great slogan the other day that speaks to the heart of what makes a good salesperson. "I'm on a mission--not on commission," this salesperson said. To be truly successful in the long run, I believe, sales people must look beyond the immediate profit to what is best for the client.

The agency I worked with recently in Arizona has done just that. Over the years, they have always put their clients' needs ahead of their need for profit. They have had to turn business away to brokers with more markets or who were better suited to help their insureds. They always did so with grace and good humor. They wished their clients well who left them, even if it was only for a hundred or so dollars in premium savings. "If we can help you in the future, just let us know," they would always say. Inevitably, some of that business came back to them. They have lived the slogan "We're on a mission--not just commission."

I wonder how many people in the insurance industry still put their client's well-being ahead of their organization's need for profit? I know some do.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Do you need a slogan?

Many organizations have slogans. Insurance Writer has two: "Where Insurance is an Art," and "Making you successful makes me successful." I've used the first one for years; the second one is to brand my blog. No matter the size of your company, a catchy slogan is critical to your branding efforts. After all, where would Allstate be without its "You're in good hands" slogan?

Developing a slogan is a process of trial and error. To develop a slogan, you'll need to define the benefits your organization provides that others in your niche may not. For the agent I was working with last week in Arizona, they are family owned and have been in business in that area for 45 years. They have a slogan they've used for years, but on the agent's business card whose business we are building we put, "The Personal Insurance Specialist." That says, in four words, exactly what she does and differentiates her from the agent pack.

To develop your slogan, and recall that you may have two or three different slogans for various uses, devise a list of ten or twenty possible slogans and solicit feedback from long-time customers, friends and trusted colleagues. You can also use a method from poetry, the "cut-up" method. Take key words like "service," "trusted," "home-town," or other ones you might use. Put them in various combinations to find a phrase you like.

A copywriter can help you develop slogans for your company. Considering that a good catchphrase can boost your business greatly, you'll reap a big return on investment.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Are you a Chamber member?

If you are, are you taking advantage of your local Chamber of Commerce? Last week I worked with an agency's personal lines manager to assist them in developing and implementing a marketing plan. Their phones weren't ringing as much as they'd have liked, partially due to the competition from direct writers.

First, I learned this agency's sales goal, which is readily achievable, especially given the exponential growth in this region. Next, we looked at a big problem this agency faces: It doesn't have a physical location in that area.

This agency belongs to three or four Chambers but hasn't attended regulary. So we took the proverbial bull by the horns and went to two Chamber mixers at the same Chamber. (We're not going to spread ourselves too thin; this Chamber has over 1100 members and is booming. Next month, we may hit the other Chambers, but there's plenty of work to be done here first.)

The first meeting we went to was a marketing committee meeting where we volunteered our services to help get ready for the Chamber's annual dinner. There we met a realtor, a loan officer in a bank (my client's bank, by the way), and an Avon lady, to name a few. All of these people can help her and she can help them. These are informal strategic alliances.

How can an Avon lady help an insurance agent, you might ask? First, this isn't just any Avon lady. She's a retired pit boss in a Las Vegas casino, we learned when we chatted as we worked, so she has to be sharp. And, she's going to be in about every home in that area, we could tell just from her demeanor--she's a go getter. Next, she's in the the age range of this agent and that can be very important. Generally speaking, we like to work with people of our own generation. We laugh at the same jokes, we often hold similar values and we feel more comfortable with people in our own age range.

Before we left the marketing meeting, I made an appointment for us to chat with the Chamber's executive director. The next day, we returned for a morning mixer where attendees had a few minutes to talk about their product and we introduced our agency. After the meeting, we met with the Chamber's director, and picked her brain.

She had a few good ideas. She told us that each member can obtain a mailing list annually (1100 members, remember?) of all Chamber members for the cost of the labels. We also confirmed that there was office space available if my client needed to meet a client in the area. This will be a great help until they build business enough to open an office there.

Next, we stopped by a local realtor's office to determine where some of the local realtor groups met and found we could leave flyers for the Realtors. It was that simple.

Finally, we went back to the office to devise our flyer and postcard campaign. How long did this take? It took us about three days total and we're ready to enter Phase I of this agency's growth plan.

As I told my client, you cannot send only one mailing and expect that your business will grow. You have to continue with mailing, Chamber attendance, Chamber sponsorship, flyers, and advertising, because it can take from to four to eight contacts to potential clients, keeping your name before people or organizations, before they think of your company when they need insurance. You have to be patient and persistent to see your marketing efforts take root.

Using Microsoft Publisher, we're able to do all the flyers we need using one or two templates. Using an online publishing company, we ordered new business cards with more "eye appeal" and postcards for the Chamber mailings.

Marketing doesn't have to be expensive to pay off; it must be look professional and you must be persistent. And you must follow up. I met with a retired agent friend of mine while in town and she told me a great story. She worked for an agent who did a big mailing and received over sixty responses. He never returned one phone call to any of these prospects. This, she said, is the norm for the agencies where she has worked, not the exception.

This is probably the number one rule of a successful salesperson. Follow up. If you obtain an expiration date, call. Why spend money on advertising if you aren't going to follow through? Why join a Chamber if you're going to attend just once or twice a year? After all, there are many agents out there who will. That's why their successful.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Are you killing them with PowerPoint?

Use humor to convey your message

I like PowerPoint, don't get me wrong. I've been using it for a number of years. However, it seems that everyone is now using PowerPoint and many users aren't too successful.

Whether you are building your brand and your professional reputation or just trying to train your troops, from time to time you'll be forced to make presentations. It's important to get your audience's attention when you present but it's also just as important to keep their attention.

Here are a few PowerPoint tips.
  • Don't start with PowerPoint, start with a pen and paper. Develop what's known as a "storyboard."
  • Your storyboard shouldn't be just text, it should be conceptual. Think in ideas that can be created visually. For example, if you're talking about safety, how about a great photo of a repair person on a metal ladder in a swimming pool (complete with water) changing an electrical switch? Hilarious photos to illustrate your point abound on the Internet. Just Google; you'll find them. (Don't violate any copyrights to do so!)
  • Consider your audience. Presenting to human resource professionals is much different than presenting to police chiefs or line supervisors.
  • Use some humor, especially when opening. It may be a photo or a relevant joke, but remember that certain jokes will fall flat on certain audiences.
  • The eye likes white space. Keep text, bullet points and paragraphs short. Use the notes page to add comments. No one wants to read your every thought (they're too scary).
  • Don't data dump. You may revel in statistics, most audience, however, do not. Pick key statistics like "Texas has the highest rate of population with no health insurance. 30 percent of its population has no coverage." Then talk about this statistic and its impact.
  • If there is a lot of data you feel the audience needs, hand out those statistics in a separate piece after your talk.
  • Audiences generally prefer a faster pace to a slower pace. Don't spend more than four minutes per slide. Some presenters go as quickly as four slides per minute. Figure out your pace before you present.
  • Know your technology. If you fumble around with the presentation, it's hard to then get your audience to take you seriously.
  • Read your audience comments. (I know, sometimes it hurts.) It's a gift that enables you to polish your next presentation.

PowerPoint is a tool, but a tool that, used poorly, can pinch. With a few tips, your next presentation can be powerful.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Making the phones ring

Next week I'm heading back to Arizona to help an insurance agency there with a marketing plan. Competing against direct writers in today's market isn't easy, especially in personal lines. Marketing your agency is easy, but to do so, you have to spend some money.

One great marketing tool I use is Vista Prints. They have a stockpile of templates for mailings. They have a simple-to-use website that allows you to design postcards, business cards, or brochures. For a little over 50 cents including postage, you can design and mail a custom postcard to any number of prospects.

Check out Vista Prints. (I don't gain financially from this post, I'm just letting you know that I've relied on them for awhile with good results.) And remember to track your returns on your direct mailing projects. It doesn't do any good to spend money on advertising or mailings if you don't know how much revenue they produce.

Friday, June 1, 2007

How to get your press release noticed

I spent some time with marketing personnel from Business Wire and PR Newswire recently, and learned a few tips for getting your press release read and helping to brand your company.

First, most who read press releases read only the headline to determine if they want to read further, so your release's headline must pack as much information into it as possible. Second, always "build your brand" by putting your company name in the headline. Remember, the more times your name is bandied about as a solution to a problem or as the name to go to for a commodity or service, the stronger your bottom line.

Even though it looked a bit long when I wrote it, here's the most recent press release headline I wrote for one of my great clients, Proxix.

Skittish insurance industry skirts hurricane-prone coastal areas;
Proxix Solution’s CATUM tames storm-surge risk

Another tip for getting more mileage from your press release involves "click-throughs." These are hyperlinks such as the Proxix link above where readers can click directly to your home page or a page on your website containing specific information.
The White Paper we had just assisted Proxix with was a click-through in their press release so that anyone interested in their computer model can click through directly to their White Paper.
Implementing just these two tips will get more mileage from your press release. I didn't promise it, but these two companies did, and they, after all, are the experts.