9 Secrets To Amazing Strategic Partnerships For Agents & Brokers

Posted by Michael Jans on 1/12/16 5:03 AM
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What's the easiest way to get swamped with new prospects and clients "in bulk"  - not just one-at-a-time? For insurance agents and brokers, certainly one of them is through the careful and strategic recruitment and management of strategic partnerships. Other people will flood your firm with referrals. (Flood...NOT trickle.) Many will do it for free. But there's a problem...
... most owners neglect or fumble on the most critical elements in developing killer partnerships. My good friend and client - Mike Mathisen - has been growing his insurance agency at the admirable clip of about 35% per year - for several years running. And at the core of his....
 
...insurance marketing strategy is a well-oiled Strategic Partner program. 
 
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Let's take a quick look at what a 35% growth rate will do. In the image above, I took a million dollar revenue agency, grew it a regular clip of 35 points. By the end of five years, it's a four and a half million dollar agency.
 
(Mike said he intentionally slowed down his growth rate last year. He found that going above 35% created a tad more chaos than he wanted. You'll get to choose your own decision points on growth.)
 
How well oiled is Mike's lead gen machine? Last year, he showed me his year-to-date performance report. He showed me the precise number of leads, closing ratio per month, and closing ratio per CSR or producer. 
 
(Can you tell me your most important Key Performance Indicators (KPI's)? Do you know which numbers drive your growth? If you do, you're already a step ahead of your competitors. I've discovered that far, far too many insurance agents still run their firms as if it were the 1990's. This is the business environment that's quickly going to separate the winners from the losers.)
 
Mike's closing ratio was very, very impressive. But the multiple thousands of leads from strategic partners that were flowing in would overwhelm most agencies with more business than they could handle.
 
(I'm also thrilled to report that his retention rate has gone up four percentage points since he started nurturing his customers with the Agency Revolution marketing system. You can watch Mike's presentation from our ACOR insurance Marketing Conference here.)
 

Strategic Partner Recruitment & Management Fits In The 
"Attract" Phase of The ACOR Marketing Model

 
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Let's review the critical components of a killer lead gen system based on strategic partners. 
Before we get started, let's review the "why" of what makes strategic partner recruitment and management so powerful. When you follow the system I'm sharing with you, this is what you can expect.
 
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  1. Thousands of leads. Period. That alone should be enough to get anyone's attention. Mike, for example, did not buy a huge agency or take over his Dad's mega-agency. He started with nothing. Zero. The reason that he's one of the largest - and certainly the fastest growing - personal lines agencies in Colorado is because this strategy. (NOTE: in case you're thinking "this must be a personal lines strategy, nothing could be further than from the truth. I have other clients who sell only commercial lines and swarm their funnel with leads from partners.)
  2. High, high quality leads. (Much higher than you'll ever buy! These are not high-churn shoppers!) By precisely targeting your strategic partners, you're simultaneously precisely targeting the kind of business you want for your firm. Clients who are pre-disposed to multiple policies, appropriate limits and emotional loyalty.
  3. Super high closing ratio. It's not uncommon for partner-generated referrals to close around 80%.
  4. Very, very lost cost per lead. In many cases, the only "costs" are soft costs: the expense of creating and managing relationships. In some cases, you may pay commission splits. In most, you're exchanging the solution to a problem in exchange for a lead. No hard cost involved.
Is it a lot of work? Several months ago, Mike hosted a meeting of our Million Dollar Club at his shop. He pulled me aside to "complain" that he was getting bored working only 20 hours a week. (So, work? Not much! And, yes, 35% growth at 20 hours a week.)
 
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For several weeks, I know I've been writing on "big honkin'" trends and philosophical issues, like:
Now, this is a great time of year to get super-practical. Big trends matter. (And, believe, the trends hitting our industry are HUGE.) 
 
But, so do practical, tactical, money-makin' issues. So let's get practical.
 
Properly managed, Strategic Partnerships can be an important part of the Attraction Phase of a firm's ACOR marketing cycle. In fact, it's difficult to imagine a case they shouldn't be! 
 
Here's how it's done. (PS: Don't be fooled by how SIMPLE it is. The biggest obstacle is small: most agents lack the business discipline to make the commitment and execute.)
 
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Get crystal clear on your goal for your partnerships
 
Generally, agencies and brokerages seek Strategic Partners to increase their high quality lead flow. "Reverse Partnering" can also be effective, where the agency/brokerage recommends a 3rd party vendor to its customers, usually in exchange for some revenue, or in exchange for a reciprocal endorsement.
 
We're focusing on the former aspect in these Best Practices, but you can simply "turn them around" for Reverse Partnering.
 
Generally, when seeking lead flow, four criteria should be considered for recruiting and selecting Strategic Partners:

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1. Compatibility of list. Make sure that, overall, their list is generally desirable for your business. The less compatible the list, the more time you'll waste on undesirable quoting. Common Strategic Partnerships for agents & brokers include mortgage brokers & loan officers, real estate agents, car dealers, vendors who serve niches and associations and societies.
 
Potential partners for commercial lines abound. You just may need to be more creative in identifying who they are. 
 
Ask yourself: 
  • Who sells to the people I want as customers?
  • Who services the people I want as customers (associations, societies, etc.)
  • Who has the people I want!
2. Size of list. Partner management requires some 'manual labor.' Generally, a partner with a larger list delivers a higher leverage use of your time.
 
3. Influence over list. Sometimes it requires testing to see how influential your Partner is over their list. Remember, not everyone nurtures deep and trusting relationships with their customer or membership list! (I won't name names...but I can't tell you the number of times I've entered into partnerships with vendors in the insurance industry who simply didn't have relationship with their clients. No "relationship," no influence.)
 
Mike's primary source of partnerships come from mortgage brokers. Their customer needs insurance. They need it now. If they don't have their own agent, when the mortgage broker or loan officer says "call this number," they call it. 
 
4. Willingness to act. Even the best possible strategic fit won't get far unless the other party is willing to, and can, execute. Laziness is rampant in business. Just because people "should" act doesn't mean they will. 
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Be clear on what problem you can solve for your partner (not just for you!).
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In some cases, a revenue split suffices. (Be sure to comply with state/province insurance code.) In
other cases, the partner is not seeking a revenue split, but a solution to a recurring insurance problem.
 
For example, mortgage brokers frequently need fast and reliable turnaround on insurance in order to close loans. Associations, on the other hand, may be seeking non-dues revenue.
 
Know their problem. Solve it. You'll have a partner for life.
 
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Be clear on mutual expectations.
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They want you to solve a problem for them, or generate a revenue split. You want them to deliver leads. In the most formal partnerships, a written document or an email will outline expectations. In some, a short memo. In others, an email. In others, a handshake.
 
Be sure to explicate how you expect them to perform and how often they will execute certain marketing functions. 
 
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Request back links to your website.
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Backlinks from your partners will help increase your SEO. 
 
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Be creative in making it worth the effort to the other party.

Sometimes insurance codes will restrict you from sharing commissions. Some parties, however, like associations, will promote your service in exchange for advertising, or sponsorship fees.

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Nurture your Strategic Partners. just like you do (should!) your clients!

Your partners can jam the "A" section of your ACOR marketing model for you. 

But you need to treat them like customers.

In other words, engage them throughout their customer lifecycle. Attract them. Convert them. Optimize the relationship. And retain them.

Once your partnership funnel gets big enough, you must treat it like a "business inside your business."

  • If you make this marketing strategy a priority, you should nurture your list of strategic partners, just like you would nurture your clients. When you have enough of them, use  marketing automation to deliver a monthly message of gratitude, value and promotion.
  • Remember that your Strategic Partners are real people. Be sure to reach out to them, at times,      on a one-to-one basis. Discover their birthdays, hobbies, family and interests, and engage them appropriately
  • Again, if you make this a major marketing strategy, consider "levels" of participation (e.g., silver, gold, platinum) or some way to recognize your biggest contributors. It's highly likely that you'll get 80% of your lead flow from 20% of your Strategic Partners (or, even 95% from your top 5%). Be certain to acknowledge and reward them appropriately.  EXAMPLE: I have a client who rewards his top referrers several times a year. They go to ball games together. And, once a year, he'll host a barbecue with entertainment. It's such a memorable event (and networking event), some of his partners beg to be invited. (And, he tells me, they'll make enough last minute referrals to qualify for an invitiation!)
  •  Get feedback. Be sure to engage your Strategic Partners. Use marketing automation to drive them to survey and Report Card forms. And ask them what else you could be doing for them.
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Always be recruiting. 

Ask existing Strategic Partners for referrals to other potential partners. After making      contact, continue to nurture them with your monthly nurturing message.

As your Strategic Partner Program grows, consider creating a useful page on your website for partners.     

You can periodically use email to drive them there to get updates, hear success stories, download valuable information and fill out surveys and forms.

 
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Use collaborative marketing.
Work with your Partners so they can help generate more leads for you. For example, see if they need print material. Or, if they are reasonably successful digital marketers, consider helping them use email to drive to video, landing pages, white papers and other content downloads, and webinars that would be valuable for their audience.
 
Be a Thought Leader in their niche (and help them be Thought Leaders). If you have a strong "niche" of Strategic Partners, create content that would be valuable for them. (Example, "7 Things Mortgage Brokers Must Know About Homeowners Insurance.") If they run a business and you hel it grow, they'll be partners for life!
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Know when to fire 'em. 
Strategic Partnerships can consume time, so, periodically, consider reviewing each partner's performance. If they're not performing, consider discussing that with them, or, as appropriate, dropping the relationship.
 
SUMMARY. Your strategic partner plan can create the perfect agency or brokerage. The most expensive part of the four-stage marketing process is always the "attraction" phase.
 
A small army of strategic partners - who believe in you and get value from you - can keep your funnel jammed - at very, very little cost. 
 
Not just with high-churn shoppers. But with high quality, high profit and high closing-ratio prospects who are pre-disposed to do business with you. 
 
And, yes, your strategic partner plan can be a lynchpin in your 35% annual growth trend!
 
The biggest obstacle is not money. Very little investment is required. The biggest obstacles are the decision to do it and the discipline to follow through. 
 
If you can make big decisions and follow through, you'll have very little competition, indeed!
 
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(click image for predictions for 2016 for agents & brokers)
 

Topics: Insurance Marketing, Digital Marketing

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