The First Six Months: Challenges and Opportunities for New Independent Agents

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  • In the first of our six-part series on becoming an independent agent, we discussed the steps to opening a business. We covered specifics including how to secure finances, meeting state and federal requirements and building a digital presence.

    Now that the business is up and running, let’s move on to what you can expect during the first six months. Here are some tips for preparing yourself for the initial phases as an independent agent and advice on how to position yourself for success.

     

    Anticipate the Inevitable Ups and Downs

    Like any business, a career in the insurance industry will have its challenges. It’s therefore crucial that you set the right mental expectations and prepare for inevitable adversity. More specifically, you need to learn how to deal with rejection and persevere through it. 

    “Those who work in this field absolutely must be able to handle rejection on a daily basis over the course of their careers, and do it with a smile,” says Lynette Gil at ThinkAdvisor, a resource for investment advisors and financial advisors. “Good insurance agents understand that each ‘no’ only brings them closer to someone who will say ‘yes.’”

    Having a positive mindset is key to winning in this industry, according to the insurance education website iBanding, and you can use your experiences to learn and become a better agent in the future. As long as you’re able to take those lessons and implement them when dealing with other customers down the road, those rejections aren’t in vain and should spur growth over time. 

    Remember to really listen to your customers, writes Annette Gannon at sales management software provider Blitz. This is especially important if you’re a relatively inexperienced agent. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. You can do the research and provide the correct information later.

    Christina Keele, an independent agent with over 15 years of experience, says one of her biggest concerns about new agents is that they don’t possess the knowledge to properly assist their customers — but they’re under pressure to perform. 

    That’s why you should make it a point to learn everything you can when starting out and be willing to constantly increase your knowledge. It’s vital that you are comfortable with the language of insurance and know the details of the particular types of coverage you’re offering.  

    Don’t forget to celebrate wins, says the team at Financial Providence Group, an Ohio-based insurance agency. As a fledgling agent, it’s vital that you get in the habit of acknowledging moments of success because this will help build your confidence, a trait that is especially necessary in sales-based careers.

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    Know How to Overcome Common Insurance Sales Objections

    A major obstacle new agents must learn to contend with is sales objections. There are many reasons why prospects may be reluctant to buy or have reservations about choosing a particular type of coverage.

    If you’re caught off guard, it will be difficult to counter these objections. But if you prepare ahead of time so that you know how to respond in different situations, you can make leads feel more comfortable with buying a policy. 

    Bryan A. Gonzalez, global senior manager of sales development at ecommerce platform FastSpring, writes that nearly all sales objections fall into one of two categories: The customer doesn’t understand the value being offered or they aren’t yet ready for the buying conversation.

    As an independent agent, you can effectively handle the former objection by clearly explaining the value of the coverage. With this approach, you act as advisor rather than fixating on simply making a sale. You can handle the latter objection in a similar manner. For instance, if a customer is concerned about flooding, provide them with educational content to nurture them and build rapport rather than immediately going for the sale.

    It’s also wise to take note of specific questions and concerns during your first six months. When it comes to flood insurance, for example, you may find that customers tend to ask the same kind of questions:

    • How prone is my home to flooding?
    • Won’t my existing homeowners insurance cover flood damage? 
    • How long does a flood insurance claim take?

    Then, you could make it a point to touch on these areas when interacting with prospects. Confirm that you’ve fully answered their questions because a simple head nod doesn’t always mean they’re on board, advises Mike Scultz, president of sales training company Rain Group. In some cases, you may need to go into further detail.

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    How to Build a Book of Business

    One of the biggest concerns for new independent agents is building a book of business. Establishing a list of loyal customers is usually the most difficult part of starting out, but successful lead generation, customer acquisition and retention is the engine of any successful business.

     

    Develop a Unique Value Proposition

    Finding customers starts with identifying your unique value proposition (UVP), explains Pinney Insurance, a full-service life insurance brokerage. What differentiates your agency from local competitors? Why should a customer choose you over someone else? What specific value do you provide?

    These are some key questions that can help you come up with your UVP and will guide your sales approach and marketing campaign. A strong UVP will maximize your conversion rate, says Justyna Polaczyk, author of “The Survival Guide to Starting a Business in the Online Jungle.”

     

    Work on Your People Skills

    Being an extrovert isn’t an absolute requirement to succeed in this industry. In fact, insurance agent recruiter and trainer David Duford says he’s actually an introvert and grew up quite shy. However, he worked diligently to become comfortable talking to strangers. Displaying sociability is a learnable skill. You can work on your people and communication skills; these will play a large part of turning leads into customers and building meaningful relationships. 

    Those communication skills include listening carefully to prospects and being empathetic to their needs, says certified financial planner Mark P. Cussen. Independent agents who can accomplish this will earn their customers’ trust, something he says is the “hardest part of their job.” 

     

    Create a Professional Website

    “These days, having a website for any business is a basic and important way to present yourself and your company to the public,” says finance writer Angie Mohr. “A website allows potential clients to find out more information on who you are and what services you offer, without having to endure a sales pitch, as they would if they were to call you directly.”

    This is also integral to appearing in search results — something that’s now essential, given that 93 percent of online experiences start with a search engine, according to Pat Ahern, partner at digital marketing agency Junto. A website will play an instrumental role in generating qualified leads and acquiring your initial list of customers.

     

    Strive to Increase Client Retention

    Once you’ve started your book of business, you’ll need to nurture those customers in order to retain them. 

    One of the best ways to go about this is to develop a 12-month plan where you pinpoint exactly what you will do for each customer and when. For example, you may make it a point to touch base with a customer at specific intervals, such as every three or six months after they’ve purchased a policy. At this time, you can see if they’re happy with the coverage, if there have been any changes and if there’s anything you can do to make their experience better.

    “I recommend doing this for any client but especially for your top ten clients, as they are often being courted by other brokers and being asked what their broker is doing about X, Y, and Z,” says “Shock the Topline: A Practical Guide for Growing Your Insurance Practice” author David Estrada. “Providing an annual service calendar goes a long way to preventing competitors from exploiting missing elements of what you are providing in terms of an annual service plan, or even the absence of a plan being deployed, to acquire your client!”

     

    Set the Stage for Success

    The ceiling is high for independent agents, with a strong earning potential. “While they do not benefit from having an insurance company do the marketing for them, they have endless opportunity to grow their business and the ability to sell a variety of policies from multiple insurance carriers,” says Jacquelyn White at The Street.

    There are a lot of opportunities in this career, but it also comes with a lot of challenges. Setting the right expectations for yourself and knowing what to anticipate should tilt the odds in your favor and help you get started on the right foot.

     
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