How To Become Indispensable to Your Clients

Agent staring at ideas

Can you name someone in your professional sphere that you would describe as “indispensable?” By that I mean someone who is “absolutely necessary” and that you can’t live without. For example, do you consider your attorney, accountant, and other trusted advisors as being indispensable? Or are they merely helpful, but replaceable? Have you ever wondered how your clients view you?

Questions do more than spawn innovation; if you’re not indispensable to your clients, you’ll need to make some subtle but significant shifts to get ahead. I equate it with shifting gears in a manual transmission car. If you’ve ever driven a stick shift, you know you can only go so far in one gear before you have to shift. Sure, you could stay in first gear and still move forward, but your journey would be difficult at best. If, on the other hand, you’d like to accelerate and go the distance, you must learn to shift gears (or risk burning up the engine!).

I know from driving my first car (an ’88 Ford Tempo) that shifting gears isn’t an easy skill to master. But after considerable practice and more than a few embarrassing stalls, the payoff was worth it. Learning to shift afforded me a smooth ride and excellent pickup. Above all, it enabled me to move forward.

Similarly, I believe that agencies must make multiple shifts to get them to the next level and become indispensable. Now, I realize that making adjustments in the way you do business may be awkward and uncomfortable initially. But in the long run, making a few small shifts will get you farther faster while enhancing your free time and income.

First, let’s look at where your agency is today. If you’re an agency leader, your team might be in second gear and you’re aiming for third or fourth. Or perhaps you or your producers are in first gear and you simply want to move forward. Maybe your goal is to operate in overdrive. It’s possible but not likely if you’re stuck in first gear. To keep from stalling, you’ll need to make a series of shifts. Here are the top three shifts I’ve found that ultimately will make you and your agency indispensable.

Shifting from quotes to risk advice

If you ask most people what the role of an insurance agent or agency is, many will say it’s to provide quotes for insurance. Sadly, that’s the mentality of the average insurance buyer.

That’s not surprising considering the way most insurance agencies operate. Just look at their websites, TV advertising, and other marketing tools (“Need a quote? We provide free quotes!”). This is not the role of an insurance agent or agency.

If you’re a quote monster, you’re in a race to the bottom. That makes you very average and doesn’t help you or your clients. You’re just one of a million, not one in a million.

Anyone can provide a quote. Too many insurance agencies have a sales process that is “look, copy, quote, and pray.” They look at policies, make copies of the policies, get quotes from their carriers, and pray that the prospect doesn’t take it back to their current agent. Besides being ineffective, this method is a disservice to your prospect.

The term we use at Sitkins is “practice quoting.” For the uninitiated, it is the art of providing a quotation to an unqualified prospect so that the incumbent agency will be forced to possibly lower their renewal price while retaining the account. It’s a no-win scenario.

Successful agencies tell prospects that they don’t provide quotes. They offer risk advice and present solutions. That’s a subtle shift that can have a major impact on a prospect’s mindset. Let customers know you want to understand what they do and how their company manages risk. And tell them you only provide a presentation of solutions after you conduct an in-depth analysis of specific risk needs/exposures of the company or individual and determine if it’s feasible for you to move forward.

Of course, not everyone embraces that modus operandi; some people only want a cheap, fast quote from any available vendor. Period. However, your “job” is not to do something that a computer can do just as easily and probably more quickly. That’s not how a high-level trusted advisor operates.

The shift to risk advice is to understand and execute the rules of the game by asking professional risk-based questions that help you determine the true needs of your prospect. You’ll never know what they need by assuming, only by asking questions.

Think about your relationship with another trusted advisor: your physician. When you visit your doctor, they should be asking meaningful questions in order to give you an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. A doctor doesn’t diagnose before they have done their due diligence, because they could harm their patient and lose their license. (One of my favorite adages is, “Prescription without proper diagnoses is malpractice.”)

Imagine seeking a second opinion and having the second doctor ask what the first doctor said. Insurance agents tend to practice the same way due to complacency, ignorance, or lack of capacity.

Knowing the right questions to ask requires preparation, practice, and learning from each experience. That’s how high-level professionals work. They add value. Anyone can give a quote. But by shifting from quotes to risk advice, you level up your value and maximize your time. You set the tone for how you work.

The next time someone asks you or your agency for a quote, politely decline. It’s not a matter of being mean, but of taking the client’s business into account. Tell them, “We don’t provide quotes. What we do is analyze how you and/or your company manage risk and determine if there is a fit for us to move forward.”

Not every business is a fit. That’s fine. You don’t want to waste your time or theirs, and you want to provide them outstanding advice and service.

Shifting from transactions to relationships

A transaction is an exchange of goods or services. A relationship is the connection between individuals or organizations. Although insurance involves both, the primary focus needs to be on the relationship and shifted away from transactional tunnel vision.

I’m always asking agencies and their teams, “Is this still a relationship business?” and they always respond, “Definitely, yes!”  This prompts me to ask what they are doing—deliberately or intentionally—to build those relationships.

To me, relationships are much like bank accounts. The more deposits you make, the wealthier you’ll be. Conversely, if you make too many withdrawals, you’ll soon find yourself in the red. With agency relationships, the more you invest in them proactively, the deeper they’ll be.

Now, you can say that relationships are important, but what are you doing to be a relationship businessperson or agency? Taking a client’s phone call or answering an email is not a deposit, it’s an expectation. Specifically, how are you engaging your prospects and clients, personally and professionally, so that you’re truly adding value to the relationship?

Besides being personally satisfying, making deposits in your agency relationships tends to pay off professionally, yielding more revenue and referrals than transactions alone.

Your view of prospects and clients matters, too. What are you thinking when you begin a new business relationship? Do you approach it as a long-term, meaningful association or are you thinking ahead to the next transaction?

The same way you write an account, you can lose it. If you’re focused on the short term, you’re not going to build anything of lasting value. Instead, you should shift how you view each prospect, and think of them in terms of a minimum three-year relationship. Are you approaching prospects and clients as a closed sale or a relationship that can be developed?

How you communicate with prospects and clients is extremely important. The best agents realize that technology is a critical and beneficial tool that can be used to build business and leverage relationships. At the same time, they understand that it does not replace human relationships.

Digital outreach (using marketing drip campaigns and autobots, for example) is great, but what about picking up the phone and communicating with your client? It’s amazing what a single phone call or follow-up note can do.

As technology proliferates, it’s more important than ever to be creative, to show empathy and to anticipate needs that a computer cannot. For instance, computers cannot proactively think, network or collaborate, or make sense of changing marketplace trends. This is the power of relationships. Technology is only a supplement.

One thing we have found is that with your worst clients—those who are transaction-based, insurance is usually the only thing you talk about. But with your best clients—those with whom you have the closest relationships, insurance is often the last thing you talk about.

What’s the one additional relationship deposit you and your team can make with people who matter the most to you and your agency? This includes your clients, future clients, influencers, and team members. Don’t overthink it but do give it some thought.

Shifting from vendor to risk partner

Most insurance agents are vendors selling a commodity. Vendors can be easily replaced. If the buyer decides they don’t like a vendor or their product, they can simply replace them. It’s a transactional relationship.

A risk partner is someone who has earned the right to be a trusted advisor. They have shifted from vendor to partner by demonstrating that they and their agency understand and care about the needs of their clients. Your clients expect you to understand insurance; after all, it’s what you do.

What they don’t expect—and what they really appreciate—is an agent who has an in-depth understanding of what they need and what’s important to them and their business. For most business owners, their greatest concerns are their clients, their employees, and their bottom line.

The most successful producers and agency owners I’ve coached have a similar mindset. They are totally aligned with their clients and always question, “How can I help this business move forward?” As risk advisors, they analyze trends, ask thought-provoking questions, and help their clients succeed. It’s not a back-and-forth hard-core negotiation over price.

When I asked one producer how he was able to grow a personal book of business exceeding $3.5 million, what he told me was straightforward: “I see myself as a business consultant. I go to businesses, diagnose where they are today and help them think through the next one, two, or three years. We identify their specific problems and the tools and resources I bring to the table to help address, and often resolve, those problems.” This could apply to individual clients, as well.

Are you a vendor or a risk advisor? Risk partners analyze trends, ask thought-provoking questions, and help their clients succeed over the long term. Vendors do not. Here’s a litmus test: If a client contacts you after they have made an important decision, you are a vendor. For example, let’s say a commercial client calls about insuring a new office building after they’ve already closed on it. If you were a trusted advisor, wouldn’t they have sought your advice prior to such a significant acquisition? That’s what indispensable risk partners do. Clearly, you’re positioned as a vendor.

The bottom line

Shifts are small but significant moves to be made on the road to becoming indispensable. Depending on your starting point, you may need to shift several times to get up to speed. Just don’t expect to get from first gear to overdrive by shifting only once. I promise you’ll stall out.

Also, keep in mind that you won’t master your shifting skills overnight. However, if you proceed in a logical order and make one shift at a time, you’ll move farther ahead than you ever imagined. 

The author

Brent Kelly, president of Sitkins Group, Inc., is a motivating influencer, coach and speaker who has a passion for helping insurance agencies maximize their performance. He spent 15 years in the insurance industry as a successful commercial lines producer and was named one of the top 12 young agents in the country in 2012. To help your agency gain clarity, build confidence, and improve culture, learn more about our programs.

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