Insurance producers who specialize in an industry or insurance product line make more money than those who don’t. Likewise, agencies that encourage their producers to specialize bring in more revenue than those agencies that are content with generalization.
That’s according to a group of experienced insurance professionals who have found those statements to be true.
Participating in a webinar sponsored by agency management system provider, Applied Systems, Michael Levins, vice president of production and sales at CNA Insurance; Scott Lindsey, chief information officer with the Hylant Group; and Robert Sitkins, founder and chairman of Florida-based Sitkins International, all expressed the opinion that agencies that develop areas of industry and product expertise will be more successful.
Levins said Chicago-based CNA has teams of underwriters who only work in one specialty area and that the company seeks to work with agents and brokers who specialize, as well. Specialization can be by industry – such as construction, healthcare, aviation – or by product line – such as cyber liability or executive risks.
Agencies with the highest revenues specialize, Sitkins said, and both small and large agencies can develop niche expertise.
Potential clients want and need subject matter experts and trusted advisors, said the Hylant Group’s Lindsey. A large, regional agency headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, Hylant still has generalist producers but it is definitely moving toward developing specialists in all lines of business and types of coverage, Lindsey said.
Technology has been an important tool in Hylant’s success, he said, and the group has created tools within its own technological framework to assist producers and to mine agency data to develop areas of expertise.
Levins, Lindsey and Sitkins described four steps agencies can follow in order to build areas of expertise within their organizations. Those are: identify areas of focus; become an expert; manage change; and use technology.
Identify Areas of Focus
An agency may already have areas of focus of which it is unaware. All they need to do is survey their book of business, Sitkins said. If there is an industry in which the agency has several accounts that is a good place to start because there is obviously a level of expertise within the organization to service those types of accounts, he said.
“A lot of organizations have experts but they’re just not focused,” Lindsey said. He also recommended that agencies “look inward” for niches they might already have.
“Nothing sells better than passion,” he said. “Look outside the industry. Instead of hiring an insurance person, hire an industry person and teach them insurance. … That has helped us build the expertise in our ranks.”
Become an Expert
“Prospects know very quickly if you know their business,” Sitkins said, so learning about the particulars of a line of business is imperative.
One of the places to begin developing specializations, Sitkins said, is with the carriers the agency represents.
“Go to your carrier and ask what they have that is unique in the marketplace,” he said.
Levins said carriers want to work with agents who specialize. CNA, for example, invites new agents who want to specialize in a particular segment to training seminars on those topics. The company also has developed what it calls a leader board, where it brings agents and CEOs of particular industries together for interaction. In addition to other informational resources, CNA offers to facilitate joint visits with agents, especially for complex accounts, sending underwriters or other experts to attend client meetings.
Sitkins said there are industry-specific surveys or assessments available to agents and they should use them with new and potential clients.
“Ask potential clients: ‘When did you last have a risk survey?’” Sitkins said. Chances are they’ve never had one.
“One of the hardest parts with a sales person is having them not write a piece of business that’s not within their expertise,” Lindsey said.
Staying dedicated to the business at hand is difficult for some agents, especially when an opportunity outside their expertise develops.
Lindsey said in addition to producers, his agency has trained certain personnel as “practice resources” who are focused on niche industries and are available to lend their expertise to those accounts.
As its niche focus has grown, Lindsey said Hylant has seen increased interest among sales people who want to become more dedicated to a specific industry or product line.
It’s up to the agency to provide the tools for a producer to succeed, Sitkins said. But “behaviors are the responsibility of the producers,” he said. That is, producers must have the discipline to stay focused if they are to become known as the “go to” person for a particular industry.
“Specialization requires effort but it’s worth it,” Levins said. It will help you build a profitable book of business.
From researching a particular industry to using tablet computers in presentations to clients, the advantages of technology in the sales process are undeniable, Levins said. The “challenge is to pick the right data to tell the story.”
Lindsey said Hylant makes full use of its agency management system for data analytics – to find out where it has expertise. In addition, the group has built industry-specific tools to help their clients and “streamline the insurance process in the client’s language.”
Sitkins said agency management systems are particularly valuable tools for smaller agencies that may not think they have a particular expertise.
“You may go into your management system and find out you have three or four restaurants,” he said. That means you have knowledge within your agency about restaurants. You can take that information and ask your current clients ‘who are other people in restaurant business who could use your expertise,’ Sitkins said.