New Survey – and Questions YOU should ASK

I have launched a short survey on SIMA (The Senior Insurance Marketing Association) to ask agents what they think of some of the top insurance lead vendors.  The feedback we receive will serve to inform our upcoming SIMA Leads Market.  This market will have information (sortable by several parameters) about the various vendors, and discounts for SIMA members.  Included will be quality information.

Here is the link to the quick 6 question survey – feel free to complete it, if you have ever purchased leads!    CLICK FOR SURVEY

It’s important that you ask questions of lead vendors before jumping into a relationship, or before committing to the purchase of too many leads.

Best questions to ask:
* how do you generate your leads?
* what is the max number of times your leads are shared
* what is the average number of times your leads are shared
* what type of leads can I return (bad contact information, incentivized, no opt in, etc)? How quickly must I return them for credit?
* are your leads TCPA-compliant? how do you ensure this?
* do your leads use LeadiD or a similar service to ensure the lead was generated real-time at the time it’s delivered to me?
* do you ever hold leads (for example in the wee hours) and release them later (for example in the morning when I’m ready for them)?
* do you sell insurance yourself? Is anyone else getting a “first shot” at my leads before they’re sent to me, or are the shares delivered simultaneously to other agents so I have an equal chance?

These aren’t the ONLY questions you should ask leads companies, but they’re probably a good start.

How have brokers been affected by Obamacare?

angry2Health producers have been pretty vocal about “Obamacare” and how it has affected them.  Although I thought I had a pretty good idea of what they were thinking, I wanted to be sure.  So, I launched a quick survey to our NOLHA and SIMA agent networks.

I was surprised with some of the results, if not the general tenor of the responses.

One of the biggest surprises, I thought, was that the number of agents selling Individual/Family (IFP) health today is NOT MUCH LESS than prior to the Affordable Care Act.    Today, just under half of the Life/Health agents surveyed sell IFP today.  A year ago, just over half of Life/Health agents surveyed sold IFP-not much of a decrease (about 13%).

However, the number of policies sold per agent seems to have dropped quite a bit.  About 41% of Life/Health agents sell less IFP today than prior to PPACA.  

Making Hay while the Sun Shines

About a fourth of agents (27%) are finding ways to take an optimistic view and are rolling with the changes.  5% say their business has skyrocketed because of PPACA, and another 22% say it has improved.

While many HAD originally removed IFP as a product line focus, the launch of the exchanges appears to have brought some agents back to selling health.  One agent said, “Thanks to my PPACA marketing, i finished second in total sales for my entire company and each sale has opened the door for more sales of various products in each home.”  Indeed, the sale of additional products seems to be critical for agents to be able to make ends meet, with an average of only about $250 per individual led into the exchange.  “It’s a real door-opener for me” says one loyal health producer.  38% of agents surveyed act as navigators, helping people into the exchange.  The concept of “trusted advisor” has never been more timely, and agents who have been able to broaden their product knowledge/offerings seem to have done better, comparatively.

PPACA has changed the way agents see the health business, of course, causing 25% of agents to do more business online.  Further, 20% of agents say they are able to spend less time with each customer, and 19% have stopped selling face to face.  “This has really removed the persponal side of selling for me.  There just isn’t enough time anymore.” says one agent.  Agents have not really changed a great deal about the way they sell however.  Only 1 in 5 has changed the way they prospect, and only 10% have focused on improving the efficiency of their business.

Some agents find a way to be on-board with PPACA because they believe it benefits their customers- or themselves personally.  “I approve of the ACA and its products, it helps a group of people who don’t otherwise have access to medical coverage” says one agent, and another agent said “As someone with pre-existing medical conditions, I consider PPACA a Godsend”

A Darker View

About half of producers are not happy with Obamacare (47%).  32% of health producers say their business has declined due to PPACA, and another 15% say their business has been utterly crushed.

According to producers, the exchanges have  been rough sailing in this first year.  Many agents are having a tough time working within the new exchange environment.  According to one producer, “ACA has created a mad rush for our agency to keep and maintain our existing business. Having to deal with the exchanges, site glitches has made doing health sales a HUGE pain. Worst of all, if we need to contact the exchange on behalf of our clients they often won’t speak with us without prior authorization which can be difficult to obtain depending on the availability of our clients during the work day.”  He concludes, “Obamacare = headaches.”

The relationship between carriers and agents, strained since carriers began to sell direct in the early 2000s, seems to have gotten even more distant.  “We have helped carriers get into the direct to consumer space,” says one producer.  Another says, “Producers are not welcomed by Health Insurers anymore.”

Agents are quick to present their philosophical views of what PPACA means.  One producer writes, “final objective is to have a single payer system or socialized medicine in the United States sooner rather than later. This WILL ultimately put the health insurance agent out of business. Plan well comrades!”   One agent laments that he suddenly needs “help finding ways to compete against the government.”  Other agents go even further.  “It is contrary to the principles of individual liberty upon which this country was founded and upon which it has thrived,” says one agent, and another producer lays it on the line by saying, “It is part of the planned purposeful destruction of our Constitution.” Another agent has the view, “PPACA Helps very few at the expense of many.”

The darkest view of all might be that of helplessness.  “25 years in the business,” is one agent, “and I don’t know what to do.”

Shifting Focus

Agents who used to specialize in IFP have now added an emphasis on Senior Health as well as Life insurance.

“I’m back to selling Life Insurance!” says one producer.  Indeed, 38% of agents are focusing more on Life insurance because of PPACA.  32% have chosen to focus more on Senior Health.  21% write more Supplemental Coverage than before.

Regardless of product line switches, some things stay the same- relationships.  Only 3% have switched GA/MGA allegiances, and only 14% have switched carrier loyalties.   Perhaps due to these relationships, only 14% have supplemented their income outside of the insurance business.

Bottom Line = PPACA Not Good for Most Health Agents

While our stalwart group of health producers have been making the best of things, there is no doubt about the generally negative effects of PPACA from a broker’s perspective.

At first, when the MLR requirements kicked in, commissions were cut in half and advances removed.  Many health agents left the business, health-first agencies began to consolidate and diversify, and carriers increased their direct marketing efforts.  Recently, with the advent of the exchanges, agents returned to help consumers into the exchange OR to other types of plans.  In addition to health, agents have added other types of coverage to their arsenal, but as we’ve seen in the past, many agents are slow to adapt to change – and the problems of the exchanges (and possibly a growing unwillingness of certain carriers to help brokers help consumers) have made things a bit worse.

I believe there IS HOPE for the health insurance broker.  Health care is as complicated as ever, and even with the exchanges, the broker can offer needed guidance, and a holistic view of coverage that most consumers still do not fully understand.  This won’t happen immediately, and brokers need to step to the plate, accepting the inevitable direction of health coverage.  They must increase their efficiencies, improve the effectiveness and reach of their marketing, and most importantly, broaden their view of the full needs of each consumer.  They must be seen as the prospect’s trusted advisor not just for one type of product, but for all aspects of their coverage – or even their full financial picture.  Some agents will not make this transition, but as with all change, huge opportunities can be created by those with enough energy and determination to carve out a new reality for themselves and for the prospects and customers that depend on them.

I wish you the best, my friends.

How have producers been affected by the Affordable Care Act?

I have launched a survey to insurance producers regarding the effects the ACA has had to their businesses.  I look forward to writing about this after I have compiled the results!

My Geeky Wrist


My Geeky Wrist

The wrist watch has undergone some interesting evolution.  Once indispensible, then (due to the omnipresent cell phone) suddenly obsolete.  Who needed to have a thing on your wrist when clocks were everywhere- on your computer, your cell phone, and seemingly everwhere you looked.

I’ve had my expensive Citizen Eco-drive in a drawer for years.  TIME is just not that big a thing to know these days when I’m constantly flooded with so many other types of information, each of them proudly announcing their time of arrival as they came.

Enter the Smart Watch

Not only does it tell us the time (glad they kept that, hehe), but it also alerts us to text, phone, and any alert messages we set up to the banner screen on your phone.  The Samsung smart watch also allows us to speak into it and make quick calls or give voice commands.

The main way they fall short is that they don’t really send and receive mobile or wifi data – that’s still your cell phone, folks.  These things require the cell phone to be nearby – they are tethered by Bluetooth.  The first reaction I get when I explain this is “hmmm..  so they are just an extension of your cell phone.  um… ok.”  This is followed inevitably by rolling of the eyes and thoughts (I have no doubt) like “what a geek.”  The next question is, invariably, “how much did that cost you?”  Translation: Anything more than $20 and you got robbed.

The Good Side

OK, it’s not all bad.  I don’t feel like a complete idiot for the $150 purchase.  I might if I’d spent the $350 for the Samsung, but maybe not- it would be pretty cool to be able to talk into my wrist like Jimmy Olson.  Here’s why I do kinda “get it”:

  • It’s great when I play racquetball.   More broadly, it is useful where phones are not allowed or would be really weird to be looking at.  It shows me system alerts (if something crashed, etc), or if my kid texts me and needs a ride (as they always do), or if a customer needs to talk immediately.  They don’t allow cell phones in the weight area either, and it’s stupid to have one while running.  But you can look at your watch.
  • It slightly reduces my level of wired rudeness.  When I’m at a business lunch, it feels (and probably is) a bit rude to keep looking at my cell phone.  It feels a bit less rude when my wrist buzzes and I give it a quick glance.
  • It’s nice when driving.   I can keep my cellie in the glove compartment or in my coat pocket, and my watch will buzz me with messages. I can only see the first few words, which I can read just as fast as the time, or the display on the radio, etc.  If it’s an email from an annoying person, it doesnt matter.  If it’s from an important person, I can get the general gist (positive or negative) from the few words that show.   Also, if I forget to turn my ringer back on, the buzzing lets me know the phone is ringing.  For this reason alone I should buy my wife one of these… except of course she is not nearly geeky enough to wear it.
  • You can get your texts in the shower.  Yeah, it’s waterproof.  This seems really lame, but when you get an important text in the shower, you’ll think “this is a little bit cool.”
  • I’m not using it right yet.   The Pebble has an accelerometer which senses motion and there are many new apps out there e.g. weather, etc.  Also, I haven’t yet set up the notifications on my iPhone to give me only the stuff I really care about… I think the key is to filter those notifications at the cell phone level, so one gets alerted with just the right info (sports score updates from favorite teams, news alerts from companies you care about, etc).  You set the notifications to post to the “banner screen” on the phone and then it will bounce to the watch.

I don’t know much about the Samsung phone, but to me it seems about as big as a Pop Tart.  As the functionality approaches, you know, ANOTHER CELL PHONE strapped to your wrist, I get less interested.  I also hear it needs to be recharged every day, whereas my Pebble lasts about 4 or 5 days on a very quick charging process (about 10 minutes!).  My Pebble may not let me pretend I’m calling Superman, but it feels… almost useful.  I think if I were using it right, we might have the beginnings of a beautiful friendship.

ASK Prepares for an Interesting 2014

2014I have been remiss with the public side of my consulting business.

I don’t really have an excuse, other than how busy I have been with:

  • LeadEnvoy, the leads company I run with my partner Pete Gries and other invaluable folks along the way
  • SIMA – the Senior Insurance Marketing Association – who I started with senior market genius Mike Gattorna
  • NOLHA- the National Organization of Life & Health Agents – which I started once with a colleague, and took over in 2012
  • Various consulting engagements of various lengths in the insurance technology field

As the landscape of insurance marketing continues to change, 2014 looks to be another crazy year.  I will try to do better to maintain this site and post my thoughts about Insurance Technology.

Please let me know if you would like to chat anytime!

LeadsCon and LeadEnvoy

Last week, I attended the LeadsCon show in New York City.  Since LeadEnvoy has operated generally via direct networking and word of mouth, we have generally avoided the show.  LeadEnvoy operates differently than many leads companies, and we have relationships we believe are unique, and not dependent upon advertising.  Below are my general impressions from the show:

  • I love New York city.  I hadn’t been there in years.  I realized how much I had missed it- although I wouldn’t want to live there.  Too busy for us Wisconsin boys.  So many CABS, holy cow… and the people are diverse, interesting and fantastic.  I wish I’d been there longer and had seen more of the city.
  • It was good to meet some of the great businesspeople I have previously only talked to on the phone.  This always strengthens relationships.  However, a couple negative impressions I had were simply confirmed!
  • There are some very solid people in this business.  Idea people with open minds and strong ethics.  It was great to discuss ideas and potential partnerships.  One of the best ideas- and the scariest for some leads companies- is LeadiD.  I spent some time with them to understand their model.  While I think they still need some additional incentives for the supply side of the leads business, it’s certainly something that could provide benefits for lead buyers- and potentially even transform a damaged industry.  If you think you have a better idea to improve transparency in the leads business, and to improve leads quality, let’s hear it!
  • There are some fairly slimy people in this business also.  People who take their money and move on, and keep doing so, despite the needs and despite the misplaced trust of their customers.  Some of these companies are fairly large.  Some companies keep trotting out the same products, while other companies are improving their models, and moving forward.
  • I had a lot of fun hanging out with Troy Wilson of Next Wave Marketing Strategies.  He is one of the good guys in this business.  He throws a mean frisbee… and of course also offers some solid aged leads and some flexible, personal customer service.
  • Many companies offer very similar products to add value to leads.  With some very interesting variations, these are generally interchangeable parts which companies can private label, or white label, and add to their own mix.
  • What it all comes down to, at the end of the day, is COMMUNICATION.  We created LeadEnvoy because we believe that high volume leads buyers and marketing agencies require high-touch communication, and need a partner to help them understand what is available, and design a program to best fit their needs – and to best dovetail into their technology and existing processes.
  • While we have some potential partners we have met, and while we have solidified existing relationships- and we are GLAD we attended the show! – we believe LeadEnvoy is well positioned to grow our business in the critical next 2 years, through PPACA, and beyond.

Selling Insurance? Don’t Forget LinkedIn!

Written by Mark Seghers for Next Wave Marketing Strategies- Aged Leads Done Right.

The Importance of LinkedIn

In a recent article for Entrepreneur magazine by Ann Handley, “A Guide to Generating Leads on LinkedIn,” Ann writes about the importance of LinkedIn as a place to go to look not only for work, but for customers as well.

“While the early adopters flock to Google+, and our kids and moms become power-users on Facebook,” states Ann, “LinkedIn is where business gets done”

Indeed, according to a June report by Performics and ROI research, LinkedIn has surpassed Twitter, YouTube and Facebook in terms of importance to users.

While LinkedIn may seem a bit boring and dull compared to Facebook, and is probably less active, there is a sheen of professionalism and formality that many businesspeople find attractive.  People carefully manage their LinkedIn persona, and “wear a suit” on LinkedIn and put their best foot forward.  On Facebook, people tend to let their hair down and talk about personal things.  One colleague we talked to said “Facebook is for my FRIENDS.  People I trust.  Facebook is my casual ‘water cooler’ conversation- my human interaction.  I let my flaws show on Facebook.”  On Linkedin, he continued, “I feel like I’m in a job interview, 24×7.”

While LinkedIn may be a bit stodgy, don’t underestimate its importance in marketing insurance, especially if you sell to business owners.

Finding your target market

Using LinkedIn’s advanced search, you can find decision-makers quite easily.  You can search for “VP Human Resources” for example – use the “Current” setting, and you can limit your search to a certain number of mile radius around a zip code.  You can also target Entrepreneurs who run their own business and may need coverage, by searching for Company Size of 1-10, seniority of “Owner” or “Partner” or “CXO”.  You can limit your search further by specifying what Relationship you already have with the person.  One experienced LinkedIn user I spoke to said “I set the Relationship level to 1st and 2nd level connections – that way if I am connected with them, I can use email.  If I’m not connected, I can walk across to them using our shared contact.”

To connect to people, LinkedIn users can email first-level connections, or can “Connect” with others.  The 2nd level connection can be quite useful.  According to one heavy LinkedIn user with over 1,000 connections, “I join many different groups in the insurance industry, and LOCAL groups in my city of Milwaukee.”  Not only does this give me a valid reason to connect with these people, but it also gives me a friendly way to say hello in the ‘Personal Note’ I attach to my invitation to connect.”

Don’t forget the Groups!

Groups are a very important – and often overlooked – element of LinkedIn.  Insurance agents should join groups for several purposes:

  1. To connect with other agents!  Smart agents know that they can’t learn everything they need to on their own. They can share their own ideas, and learn from others at the same time, using LinkedIn’s Group feature.  The LinkedIn Group, “Insurance Agent Questions & Answers” for example lets agents ask questions and share information.
  2. To connect with local consumers.  In the Milwaukee market, there are groups like “Link Up Milwaukee” and “Milwaukee Business Professionals” which connect people within a community who can then share information with each other regarding the services they offer.  Sometimes these connections can be quite powerful, and can lead to cross-referral programs or even directly to new customers.
  3. As a way to LinkUp with customers.  If you share a group with a business owner in your area, you are allowed to then request a connection.  Some agents, when trying to connect with a potential customer, start slow.  “Don’t put your pitch in the Invitation to Connect!” says one LinkedIn expert, who says to start slow, and connect, then send an email after you are connected with information about your business, re-stating your ties to that person either in the community, within a LinkedIn group, or professionally.

Other Important Tips for Success on LinkedIn

Here are some other tips to use LinkedIn to succeed:

  • Start a company page for your agency!  When customers are considering working with you, or even connecting to you, a company page (along with a website) can help you seem “real” to them.  Starting a company page on LinkedIn can also help your search engine results for people who search for your name.  Link your company page to your website, of course.
  • Avoid too much “Spamming.”  Status updates like “ABC Agency is great!  Call us today!” can be annoying.  Respect your contacts by posting useful articles and stating your position.  For example, if you work in the life insurance industry, post a link to an article about the importance of having sufficient Life insurance coverage, and comment with your own position on this, as well.  Customers can then click on your profile to learn more about you.  Also, connect these posts to your Twitter feed to increase your exposure.  When you post a helpful article, you become an ambassador for that message- so make sure you READ the article before you post a link!  The general rule for social media including LinkedIn is “GIVE FIRST, to receive.”  If you provide useful information freely, that will naturally come back to you in terms of information, referrals and even customers.
  • Fine-tune your Profile!  Along with the lack of a company page, many agents do not rank highly for a particular term because their LinkedIn profile itself is empty, and woefully inadequate.  Click on Profile, Edit to make sure you and your business are well represented.  Make sure you are clear and that there are NO spelling or grammatical errors (as you would with a resume’).  Also- pay special attention to the “Skills and Expertise” area- this is weighed heavily when LinkedIn users are looking for assistance.  Don’t just put “Insurance”… if you are a health insurance agent, put “health insurance sales” and “Milwaukee Health insurance” and “Wisconsin Health Insurance” and “health insurance quote” and (you get the idea).  Be specific, and be redundant.
  • “Like” and “Comment” – This is one of the most overlooked tip for LinkedIn.  So many people just READ and never “Like”… then when they post something, they are upset because nobody returns the favor.   Remember, on social media, you must “Give First”… this not only gives you return-value, but it also makes you memorable, and appreciated.

As with everything you do, don’t get overly focused on one marketing method.  Find what works for you and for your style.  Schedule your marketing activities just like you do appointments.  Let the Internet and social media work for you- even when you aren’t working yourself!


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