Independent agencies are redefining their sales producers' roles both inside and outside the office, which has become an innovative way to expand business.
Some independent agencies are creating an inside sales force to complement their traditional outside sales producers, which has become an innovative way to expand business while creating opportunities for more insurance professionals.
An “inside” producer primarily spends time inside the agency using remote tools to sell, while an “outside” producer is out and about in the community and on the road selling face to face. In 2020 and 2021, agencies were forced to work “inside” turning to remote work to avoid the risks of face-to-face contact. Now, they’re using that experience to their advantage.
Agencies are refining their definitions of target customers—and they’re getting specific about it. For example, instead of broadly focusing on personal lines customers, they’re specifying high-net worth customers. Or, instead of targeting manufacturing, they’re aiming to work with specific industries.
One independent agency I know of has a large team of inside salespeople managing bank-generated leads related to commercial loans. Another has an inside sales team working with realtors across the country on homeowner leads.
What is driving this trend? Agency leaders are realizing that some salespeople prefer an inside sales job with defined compensation, a stream of leads and regular hours. Also, inside sales can be compatible with a remote work environment, which many sales professionals have grown accustomed to. Additionally, agencies can recruit inside producers from a wide geography and they in turn can handle prospects from many locations.
Setting up distinct channels for inside sales producers, agencies are defining target markets and adopting turnkey digital tools for processing business. Inside producers are being compensated based on revenue from new business and, notably, not based on service activity.
The concept is not new. But what’s different now is that agencies are avoiding the mistake of conflating sales skills and service skills when pursuing inside sales opportunities. In the past, some agencies would sometimes call on their service teams to handle new business opportunities—typically, those too small for a traditional outside producer—so as not to distract the outside sales team.
However, handling a new business lead with a service orientation often wouldn’t get the job done. Service and sales are different functions requiring different mindsets. Agencies tell us they’re now avoiding this pitfall when selecting inside producers. These individuals typically can’t be gleaned from a service position where they focus on claims, service and retention, which are important jobs but distinct from sales.
While insiders are distinct from outsiders in this model, agencies are tapping into the commonality between the two producer forces: Both enjoy the thrill of the sales chase.
One essential for the inside team is a steady flow of leads. Some agencies achieve this by establishing alliances with other industries, such as auto dealerships. Others are aligning with banks to provide personal lines and commercial lines auto insurance quotes from customers who finance vehicles. One agency I’ve talked to is compensating outside producers for referrals that don’t fit their target market. Website leads, search engine and social media-generated leads and other referral streams also are part of the mix.
Inside sales teams also need the right set of digital tools to enable new business processing. This could mean an agency management system, a sales-specific quoting tool from vendors or an upfront sales lead system. Awareness and training are vital to making the tools effective.
Robyn Hahn is president of commercial lines at Westfield in Westfield Center, Ohio.