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CHANGE APPROACH TO GROW BUSINESS

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Salespeople need to be creative and imaginative to increase their books of business, two consultants say.

Continuing to conduct business the same way while expecting a different result is "insanity," they warn.

"If you want a different result, think about the ways you have been doing things," said Mary Eisenhart, a consultant with FAI, a management consulting firm in Mill Creek, Wash.

That advice was provided at a session on generating new business at the Independent Insurance Agents of America Inc.'s 103rd annual conference, held in Boston last month.

An often-overlooked method to increase business is to set clear, written sales goals for both the salesperson and the agency, Ms. Eisenhart said.

"People cannot perform without goal-setting," she said. "Make it part of the process to turn in your goals," she continued.

But the goals cannot be determined by the agency for the salesperson. Instead, the agency and the salesperson must jointly set a goal high enough to satisfy the agency but realistic for the salesperson to achieve.

One way of doing this is to tie titles, such as "producer," to a goal level. For example, if the salesperson's goal is not high enough, his or her title can be changed to "account executive" to distinguish that person from a high-achieving producer, said Vernell Hogan, vp, strategic partner-business development for USI Insurance Services Corp. in Virginia Beach, Va.

Also, each salesperson's goals should fit with the agency's larger goals. "You have to reward the behavior you want," Ms. Eisenhart said.

But just setting a goal is not enough. An agency must provide the proper support to allow salespeople to succeed. And there must be follow-up to constantly measure the salesperson's success and to provide feedback.

The consultants said they have heard numerous complaints from salespeople who come into the insurance field from other industries about poor management in insurance sales. This

poor management can lead to frustration and a lack of motivation.

Perhaps the most important way to generate more business is to change the approach to selling. Potential clients respond better to a sales approach based on empathy rather than a hard sell.

"People like to buy, but nobody likes to be sold," Ms. Eisenhart said.

The consultants recommended that the salesperson consider how to meet the client's needs, not how to sell a policy. This strategy allows an agency to sell more policies to the same client by listening to what that client requires. This approach can provide the agency relief from the soft market by allowing it to write more policies.

Better customer service also will help improve business, the consultants said. Insurance agencies are compared not just with other agencies but with other financial service firms that have set the standard for service. Clients also want faster service and will change agencies if they don't get the service they want.

One technique mentioned to help with customer service is to introduce the customer service representative to the customer soon after the policy is signed. This introduction gives customers the confidence that someone is working for them and generally makes the customer service representative more responsive to the customers' needs. An added benefit is that this introduction removes the salesperson from service responsibilities, freeing up his or her time to bring in new business.

Another imaginative way to increase business is by hosting seminars. This can be done, for example, by bringing in an attorney to discuss employment law, after which the salesperson can discuss the advantages of employment practices liability coverage. Ms. Hogan recommends inviting both current and prospective clients, as the current clients usually tout the agency's good work. And by teaming up with a local expert, such as an attorney, that person's clients and prospects also can attend, increasing the potential for new customers.

Ms. Eisenhart said many insurance companies will help in finding an expert or a panel of experts for presentations.