Contact Lens: Keeping In Touch with Personal Lines Accounts

You have three minutes to sell personal lines insurance to an audience of strangers. What’s your pitch?

It’s an opportunity Karyn Seibert Roeling gets at least every other month when her agency sponsors a local realtor event—and she makes sure she doesn’t let it go to waste.

“They don’t give me a whole lot of time to speak, but I’ll get the homeowners’ attention by asking questions like, ‘How many of you have teens with phones that post on social media?’” says Seibert Roeling, president and owner of Seibert Insurance Agency in Tampa, Florida. “Who’s worried their teen might bully someone or go out there and do something stupid? Did you know you can add a personal injury endorsement onto your homeowners policy that can help protect against something like that?’”

In just a few minutes, Seibert Roeling outlines 10 interesting insurance exposures that most personal lines clients may not ever think about otherwise, from flood insurance definitions and exclusions to animal liability. “I’m quick and to the point,” she says. “We get a lot of referrals that way.”

Keeping in touch with prospects and clients can be more challenging in personal lines than commercial lines, where a more hands-on approach is typically status quo. But as more direct writers and InsurTechs continue stealing personal lines market share, you can’t afford to leave this important sales and retention activity up to chance.

According to the latest Future One Agency Universe Study, independent agents use approximately the same top five tactics for keeping in touch with personal lines prospects as they do for current clients: regular phone calls, personal visits, periodic emails and business/civic association meetings, with referrals rounding out the list for prospects and annual reviews doing so for current clients.

Here’s why so many agents lean on these types of strategies so heavily—and how the approach changes based on business characteristics, geography, staffing and more.

STAYING IN FRONT OF PROSPECTS

Business meetings. Seibert Roeling, whose agency has a business mix of about 60% personal lines and 40% commercial, cites her relationships with realtors as one of the most effective strategies for targeting affluent homeowners in the Tampa area.

Seibert Roeling employs two producers who focus exclusively on personal lines insurance, and both of them belong to local networking groups that meet every week to generate referrals. “They try to target top realtors so they’re getting multiple referrals,” she explains. “All you need is about 10 solid referral sources that give you three to four referral sources a month or even more, and then you’re just bringing it in.”

Seibert Roeling also hired a part-time staffer whose sole responsibility is marketing the agency among realtor offices, title offices and mortgage brokers.

“She’ll drop off information about what we do and help generate those speaking events for me, and if we get a referral from that office, she’ll go back and drop off a little bag of popcorn and a handwritten thank-you note,” Seibert Roeling explains. “Having her out in the field helps my producers generate the referrals, and it helps give us a face.”

Referrals. Beyond the realm of local business relationships, referrals remain a top strategy for reaching personal lines prospects among all independent agencies, but especially those located in smaller communities.

When his business partner was ready to retire, Mike Pertzborn, Sr., owner of Stille Pierce & Pertzborn Insurance Services in Storm Lake, Iowa, was ready to sell out to the “big boys,” he says. “That would have been extremely disruptive to not only the agency and our great staff, but also the town.”

Pertzborn’s sons, Mike Pertzborn, Jr. and Tony Pertzborn, had been carving out their own insurance careers in Denver when they decided to move back to their 10,000-population hometown to buy into the agency, alongside veteran producer Tom James. “The town has responded to the boys coming home,” says Pertzborn, Sr. “Selling out maybe would have put more money in my and my partner’s pockets, but money’s not everything—especially in a small town.”

Pertzborn, Jr. was gone for over a decade, but he says he has “almost a rolodex in my mind of people I used to know from high school or growing up. I’ll see them at a sporting event or a concert or out on the lake here in town and get that discussion going, because in a small community like this, a lot of people want to buy from somebody they know.”

And although the agency’s business mix is 75-80% commercial, that tight-knit community spirit leads directly to a strong personal lines referrals cycle, says Tony Pertzborn: “Everybody knows everything about everyone, so if you’re doing a stellar job on a particular client, they’re going to be satisfied and talk positively about you.”

“I’ve always worked off referrals,” agrees Pertzborn, Sr. “I try to smother my clients with information and kindness so that when I leave a meeting with them, they’re wanting to refer me to somebody else.”

E-communication. Dahkia Thompson also knows firsthand what it takes to succeed as a personal lines agent in a small community. In 2013, she took her 17 years of experience selling personal lines at a local mom-and-pop brokerage and started her own independent agency, A-Absolute Brokerage Inc. in Mount Vernon, New York. “I felt stagnant where I was, and I was doing a bulk of the work,” she recalls. “It was my turn to shine.”

Because Thompson still lives in the same neighborhood where she was born and raised, most of her clients are lifelong friends and acquaintances—a network she leverages via social media.

Thompson’s most successful prospecting platform is Instagram, where she has nearly 700 followers. “Friends and family will share my posts with people who are seeking insurance, and then prospects will hit me up for a quote,” she says. “As soon as I make just one post, the phones start to ring.”

Social media is also an effective prospecting tool for Seibert Roeling, who regularly asks satisfied clients to write online reviews that catch the eye of prospects—the agency currently boasts more than 100 five-star Google reviews and more than 50 on Facebook. But her main approach to e-communicating with prospects is the automated responder built into the agency’s customer relationship management system.

“A lot of people just want to go to our website and request a quote,” Seibert Roeling says. “When they do that on our website, they immediately get an email that says, ‘Thank you for your quote request—someone will be in touch with you shortly.’ Then, they get another email two hours later that says, ‘Your quote has been assigned, and someone will reach out next business day.’”

An employee then follows up with either a phone call or email, depending on the prospect’s contact preferences. “At a lot of agencies, an internet lead sits there stale for a couple of days before they get around to it,” Seibert Roeling says. “Or, they don’t think internet leads are good leads. But that’s not the case. We get really good leads on the internet now.”

STAYING IN FRONT OF CLIENTS

E-communication. Seibert Roeling’s e-communication with current clients comes from that same automated marketing system, which is set to send out an email or text 50 days before a client’s policy renews. The message asks questions about recent lifestyle changes, then encourages clients to schedule a review.

“We use an online scheduling system, so all the client has to do is click a link in that message at their convenience to schedule a time,” Seibert Roeling explains. “Then, that link automatically emails the client confirming the date and time, and it also automatically adds it onto my staff’s calendars and sends everyone reminders before the call. That way, you don’t get stood up as frequently.”

Kimberly Merrill Wood, account executive at Tobey & Merrill Insurance in Hampton, New Hampshire, is planning to launch a similar action plan that leverages video.

Because every consumer is bombarded with advertisements from direct writers, “at renewal time, if we’re not top of mind with that client and they’re not happy for some reason, they may not call us first,” Merrill Wood explains. “Our next step is sending out a video couple months before renewals, just saying, ‘Your renewal’s coming up—if you haven’t got it yet, call us to make an appointment.’”

Merrill Wood also leverages video on the agency Facebook page in an effort to keep current clients informed. “I call the series ‘What the heck is in your insurance policy?’ What I’ve learned since joining the agency is no one knows,” she says. “We’ll focus on one part of the auto policy or one part of the homeowners policy that no one ever looks at.”

Finally, Merrill Wood also tries to touch her personal lines clients with an informative email at least once a month. “I’ll include events that are happening at the agency that month, helpful hints, and then I’ll usually talk about a product,” she explains. “I usually get one or two calls in response.”

Annual reviews. Although the average independent agent may not have the scheduling piece down to a science, everyone agrees the annual review is of paramount importance when it comes to keeping in touch with current personal lines clients.

Tobey & Merrill has been around since 1920, when Merrill Wood’s great-grandfather co-founded it. “Most of our employees have been here around 20 years, and we’ve had clients that have been with us 30-40 years,” Merrill Wood says.

An annual review, then, either over the phone or in person, is “one of the most important things you can do with a personal lines client,” Merrill Wood says. “It’s the difference between having an independent agent and not having one.”

That’s especially true at a time when many agents have become complacent with personal lines clients. “They just hit the button to renew it, shoot it off in the mail and they don’t ever see the client,” says Pertzborn, Jr. “But when you sit down and actually go into their coverages, you’d be shocked how many times you find out about changes. That’s really where you add a lot of value.”

Thompson uses a back-end software called FormBoss so she can keep track of when her clients’ renewals are coming up and invite them in for a visit. “In a small community like this, the majority of my clients like to come in and speak with me face to face,” she says—and that proactive approach boosts her client retention significantly. “Requoting someone and saving them $1,000 makes you feel like you just won the lottery.”

“There’s a lot of competition in this segment with internet companies where you push a button and you get coverage,” agrees Pertzborn, Sr., who regularly drives two and a half hours one way for an in-person visit with a $5,000 personal lines account. “We like to be hands-on. That means a lot to the rural client.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.

Want Someone Back?

Seibert Insurance Agency in Tampa, Florida relies heavily on its automated customer relationship management system to keep in touch with not only personal lines prospects and current clients, but also former clients who’ve decided to take their business elsewhere.

Say an auto client leaves the agency today—there’s a good chance they’ll be receiving the renewal for their new policy about six months from now.

“We have an X date path in our automated system which is set to start dripping on that person about four months before their renewal,” explains Karyn Seibert Roeling, president and owner. “That’s been really helpful.”

Seibert Roeling notes that her agency’s close ratio has increased tremendously since implementing automatic communications.

“How many times do people say they’re going to X date someone and follow up, but then they get busy?” she points out. “When they’re put into the system automatically, it just happens—and a lot of times, we have gotten the opportunity to get back in there with that client.” —J.C.