There’s a lot going on under the hood of your agency. As leaders, you don’t need to understand the internals—provided you have a trusted partner or technologist. 

While we generally appreciate the tech that helps us service accounts, agency principals are mostly interested in production.

The question goes something like this: “I know we manage a lot of accounts, but what can you do to help my producers produce?” It’s an interesting question because automating the sales process is far more complex than servicing even tens of thousands of accounts.

Addressing this question requires some mental exercise. First, let’s dispel the common myth that technology alone solves problems. This might have been true in the 1950s and ’60s. As computer systems became commercially viable, it was possible to incorporate them into business operations and thus replace inefficient manual processes. The electronic records the computers created replaced the process of thumbing through paper at a file cabinet with just a few keystrokes. This was a revolutionary moment for businesses. In the span of a few decades, scores of cumbersome manual processes were computerized.

Fast forward to today. Every agency has computers and electronic records. Nobody is processing business in a truly manual way. The computer revolution is over. We are now working on degrees of efficiency, and they involve business processes that require more than just a new piece of hardware or software.

But what about the Internet, email and Twitter? These are revolutionary! What about carrier download, iPhones, Uber and FaceTime? If you really think about it, each one of these is just an incremental improvement over an earlier computerized process. Some are sexier, some are downright dumb—tweet anything useful to your clients today?—and some are significant enhancements. When you brush away the hype, the blaring indie rock music and the disco balls, it’s clear we aren’t really in a revolutionary cycle.

Production and servicing are two different animals. Think of it this way: Servicing is science; production is art. Science is full of laws that clearly define constants and variables that can be used to design a process or set of processes. Once you have efficient processes, you can bring technology into the picture. Need an example? Every agency has designed a renewal process, likely several, based on account type and complexity. Most have wrapped these processes in technology. Once you define it, you can automate it.

So how does this work for production? Do you have a unified production process that works for all your producers? I’m guessing the answer is no. Many agencies spend time and money developing sales approaches that they deliver at producer gatherings in exotic locales. Agency leaders have lost sleep and small fortunes chasing customer relationship management solutions to solve their production problems. They have used carrots and sticks of all shapes and sizes to encourage producers to use systems to track prospecting activity and collaborate across the organization. So what’s the inevitable payoff for all this investment? At day’s end, your top producers will produce the most, and your less productive producers will likely stay that way. And here’s the catch: your lesser lights are probably the most tech-savvy, Twitter-happy, Facebook-ish Google stalkers of the bunch. So what gives? Is all production software garbage? Not really. You just need a better plan for your technology.

Production Isn’t Science

A hammer can’t build a house, but it sure helps to have one as part of the process. Tech tools all have their place, but they can’t replicate the art of production. So think of your production technology as a tool, not a solution. It really comes down to common sense. If it were possible to buy a technology tool that could produce commercial business, carriers would already have it and brokerages would all be out of business.

Business is produced through a combination of networking, expertise, product alignment, customer satisfaction, empathy, patience, human connection, luck and myriad other factors that an experienced producer can beckon at will throughout the sales process. There is no single technology system that can address all these factors. To truly build a sales technology strategy, consider the following:

  • Customer relationship management systems can work. You probably want your producers to track prospecting activity and follow certain steps. You probably want them to collaborate. This works best with a CRM system such as Salesforce or Microsoft CRM, but they’re tricky to configure and require consistent use to create a payoff. It’s easy to assume their high price tag means they are a complete solution. They’re not. To avoid getting burned, you have to elevate your thinking. CRM is an important tool, but it’s just that—one tool in a solution requiring many. Set your expectations appropriately, question the piece of the larger puzzle that this system fills and you will be on your way to greater satisfaction.
  • Facebook friends rarely are. You need your producers to build networks. Social networking can help, but your less productive producers—even the 24-year-old technophiles—also need to hit the street. A social network is not a professional network. Just because you’re connected to someone on LinkedIn doesn’t mean you’ll be able to sell anything to them. I receive LinkedIn requests daily, and chances are I’ll accept yours if you work in the insurance industry. But this doesn’t create a true connection that includes the trust required to make purchasing decisions. As with any CRM system, a social network is a tool in the toolbox. Younger producers sometimes spend too much time chasing social media connections, and their books of business feel the impact. As agency principals, we want to believe in the promise of revolutionary technologies, but we need to take this one with a heavy dose of salt.

 

Customer Service Sells

Production and servicing are closely linked. If you want to develop a technology solution to boost production, you should also focus on servicing. But you need to adjust your strategy. Focus on servicing technology from the clients’ perspective, not your agency’s. Find ways to make it easier to be your customer. Get a handle on your client’s data and create some insight out of it. Customer experience is everything. Your best producers can’t save an account if it’s painful to be your customer. Does every client connect to the most qualified colleague with ease every time the client has a problem? Beyond placing their insurance coverage, what insights do you provide to your clients? How does your brokerage help your clients prosper?

Getting a handle on your clients’ data will elevate your firm beyond the reach of your competitors. It will also boost your production far beyond any whiz-bang gadgetry you supply your producers.