If the following family names were to be included in a quiz show of what they have in common–Morris, Hindberg, Finney, Smith, Worcesters, and Poelstra–how would you respond? They all have the same insurance agent and they all have been with him for three generations. Now that has got to say something about the relationship an insurance agent can build with his or her clients.
As a point of interest, just prior to my retirement, I went through my book of business and found nearly 15% were at least second generation clients representing 20% of total premiums being paid. Living in a small community in North Idaho where employment and educational opportunities are limited required being aware of the unique circumstance of the insurance market and devising a market strategy which was compatible with these circumstances. Most of the young people have to leave here to find work and schooling, so being able to retain those who stay was critical to the long range growth of my agency.
My marketing strategy revolved around strengths I had brought to the business. Having grown up on my Dad’s dairy farm with the privilege of going with him to virtually every other farm operation in Bonner County–going to cattle auctions, showing cattle at county fairs, and participating in horse rodeos–allowed me to take advantage of those contacts when I began my insurance career. I also had been active in high school sports and debate so this gave me a couple of other in-roads to centers of influence. Even though I never actively prospected in my religious venue, I always felt if someone asked then I needed to do my best in responding to their inquiries. Also, actively being involved in scouting programs drew additional opportunities to ply my profession. I also actively participated in political affairs impacting our community. I quickly want to point out, I always felt to join a club, church, or to be involved in political affairs just so I could have additional contacts was not right. If I were to join something then it should be with the intent to further the cause of that organization and to give back to the community which sustained me.
The other tool which helped me in my prospecting was taking advantage of higher education, selling seminars, and specialized training in areas of insurance which I found particularly interesting. Exposure to farm insurance needs and small business owner needs helped me to develop the book of business I wanted to service. I found early in my career what horse I wanted to ride and I concentrated on riding it well.
As I look back at my career, a few things stand out to me which allowed us to get to the second generation and then to the third generation- those hidden gems in the agency.
First, no matter the amount of insurance a client required, we always tried to treat them with respect and courtesy. We did recognize that not every client occupied or required the same amount of time, but when a client was in the office he/she had our full attention and phone calls or drop-ins were not allowed to interfere with time allotted to the present client. Children were welcome and when necessary office staff would help tend the children with coloring books or toys provided in another location so selling interviews could be conducted as professionally as possible.
We had the habit as an office staff of watching newspapers, radio announcements, school performances, civic activities, etc. for names of our clients’ children’s involvement and then sending a copy of the newspaper clipping or other public announcement with a handwritten note acknowledging their achievements. On occasion, we made phone calls specifically to the involved child when they had done something especially mentionable, i.e. being on the honor roll, obtaining rank of Eagle in Scouting, engagement announcements, etc.
When parents were ready to add a child to their car insurance, we made sure the teenager was brought into the office where insurance coverages were explained and driver obligations could be reviewed. We always emphasized the value of keeping good grades and a clean driving record giving them examples of adverse effect citations and accidents had against their premium. It was also a priority that when a teenage driver would stop in or call regarding a premium quote, the agent did that quote rather than one of the office staff. Birthday cards were sent out to many of them with reminders that their licenses may be expiring.
If we were to see them on the street, we made sure to acknowledge them and have them introduce me to their friends. I never was taken up on my offer, but I told every young driver if they ever found themselves in a compromised position, they could call me and I would come to assist them. I attended as many concerts, ball games, plays, funerals, weddings, baptisms as I could because I found it enriching in my life as well as letting the family know I cared about them beyond the premiums they paid.
When I look back at those 42 years of insurance selling, I realize these kinds of activities became second nature and were satisfying to be involved with.
They were so ingrained in our office procedures that we morphed into the third generation without realizing we had done so.
When I got a call from young man graduating from Boise State College requesting I write the insurance on his new home in Boise which is 500 miles away from me, I told him he might want to deal with an agent closer to him. His response was so gratifying when he said, “But I want you ‘cause I know I can trust you.”
I guess that is why I labeled this article “hidden gem.” Commissions, yes; but friendship, forever! Ninety-three percent retention rate after 42 years of insurance career.