Friday, October 31, 2014

Anything GEICO can do I can do better - I hope

For the past two years I have endeavored to focus on internet sales for personal lines with admittedly poor results.  Its not a monetary investment issue its a time investment issue.  This immense frustration leads me 2014.


I use [a vendor] in my agency for their Consumer Portal.  When I send leads to consumer portal the prospect expects a real time quote however they dont always get that.  Its not 100% the vendor's fault.

The problem: The problem lies with the transaction that occurs between this vendor and the carrier.  One Million things can go wrong here because there is a one-size-fits-all tool on one end and an insurance bureaucracy on the other end.  I have tried fixing this communication, working with both parties,  but it seems to be a task better suited for a more patient individual.  What I find is that most agents are happy with the status quo and maybe doesn't push the volume through that we do so these issues are not urgent to the vendor or the insurance company.

I set out to build a tool in march that replaces Consumer Portal giving me more control.  The tool also acts as an insurance-only infusionsoft of sorts.  It has no where near the capabilities of Infusionsoft but it makes up for that with Insurance Agent savvy.

The problem: The problem here lies with the fact that I am one agent and connecting up carriers for real-time rates is not "cost effective" for the carrier.  The "ROI" is simply not there.  Also agents aren't beating down there door for a tool like this so they shy away from working with small entities.  Hooking up with a rate service is also difficult as not many of them exist.  The cheapest one was over $5000 per month and the rates were manufactured from each states filings.


Being impossibly optimistic I left that issue on the table and moved to the next one, my websites.  I knew wordpress was the gold standard of content management so I spun up an instance on AWS and loaded a shiny version of wordpress on it.  Once my network setup was complete I could redo my websites.  I used to think using wordpress would be like cheating so I would code from scratch like a stupid artist.  The problem was with mobile usage over 60% now and responsive design being a necessity along with caching and social integration coding was taking longer than ever.  Wordpress fixed all that.  It took be about 2 months to learn wordpress and mold it into a tool that I could use quickly.  After that I started pushing content out onto my site and with and google analytics I was able to target 10 keywords for my area in less than two weeks!  I started building up my social sites pushing blog content out and sparingly posting tidbits.

The Problem: The problem is that i'm an adwords guy.  I target people that are already looking to use my services.  They're in that mode.  They're easier to reel in and much easier to close.  In social media we needed to engage prospects differently than "active seekers".  Its all different.  That means different conversions, different remarketing hell, I whole different funnel.  Just put yourself in their shoes:  You open your phone on a Saturday and are browsing your feed then you see a "sponsored message".  Why do you click on it or even read it?


Being insane I set out to create custom high-end content.  In my research videos seemed to be the best way to do that. Small easily consumable, highly sharable web videos.  Having spent tens of thousands on TV ads back in 2007 I was frightened but I knew I had the skill set to get this done cheap and being that these videos would be shared on the internet I will get a ton of analytical data even if they are not successful.  I employed the talent of a creative friend and we got to work.  We hired some actors and created some scripts.  Two weeks later we fired up Final Cut and got to editing.  Today I can share them with you...they will be posted at 2 week intervals socially.  I have also created a microsite for them here at

Im not sure what will come of this but its a journey all agents will have to take is they want to be in business in five years.  Which leads me to my title.  There are some agents out there doing some really cool things.  There are also some organizations trying to do cool things.  What will allow direct carriers and captive carrier to roll all over us in the next five years is that we are not combining our efforts.  We need to start collectively working against the tides of ad dollars against us.

Progressive would like us to embrace Flo but she doesn't really work for indie-agents.  She drives direct business and sometimes mentions us in passing.  We have to beat GEICO at their own game and we need to do it now.  We need to add value to our clients lives and stop taking them for granted.  We need to start using our creativity and skills not just throwing money at some vendor or ad agency who doesn't understand what we do.  Lastly we need to start standing up for our channel.  If we sell for a company who competes against us in the evening direct we need to be talking about why were of value and we need to show it.  Its the only way we don't get cut out of the process.  Theres no sense in being bitter with Progressive we just need to continue to show them we are the way of the future not the past!

More to come.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Homegrown Management System - Sales

In my last installment of "Homegrown Management System" I wanted to talk about the main reason I would build my own management system from scratch.  Ive touched on one reason a bit and that is "customization".  Have you ever thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if my AMS did this?".  Are you one of those outspoken customers who has actually shown up at a user group or called your AMS's sales manager to request a feature?  If you are you will find that they will agree with you but implementation is the hard part.  If your idea is deemed useful enough to put into a release it may take upwards of a year.  Being useful as a feature often means useful for the majority of their clients.  If they are a good technology company they will try to focus on their "power-users" and implement ideas by those users on a regular basis.  I never have to beg for a feature.  Thats one of the two major reasons I spent the hours coding this thing.

The other reason I built my system was "Sales".  Most management systems are "client management" systems.  The Prospect is a second class citizen.  Some will agree with that philosophy but turning prospects into clients is what we do.  Thats why we are called "Producers".  Im not saying that clients should be the second class citizen - far from it.  I am saying they should be closer to equal within the management system.

If you really think about it Sales techniques are ever changing.  Sales techniques must be tested and changed.  Servicing techniques generally remain consistent.  Thats not to say we service in the same way we did in 1988 but for the most part we rely on that consistency to measure results and to provide our clients stability.  Sales techniques on the other hand - we must always be a/b testing and experimenting with.  A proper management system should recognize this need.

The other side of the coin is the Carriers technology.  Carriers should be more concerned with Sales Technology.  Many of them delete quotes after 60 days.  Are sales relationships built in one quote?  Some accounts take years to develop into a policy.  A balance should be struck between data security and sales potential.

It was because of these two deficiencies that I built my system.  Ever changing and adaptable it remains are most powerful change at staying competitive.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Homegrown Management System - Feed

When I first released our management system it had no built in communication between users.  You had to actively seek out the information you needed.  You could of course pend items for your own purposes of followup but other people were not aware unless they happened upon that contact's file. 

I quickly realized the need for intercommunication.  In the second major iteration simple messages could be passed but were never attached to contacts.  This lead to double entry and waisted information.  In the next release the actual events had to be attached to a client and could then be brought to someone else's attention.  This killed two birds with one stone.  Communication and client history enrichment.

I am currently in the midst of my fourth major iteration of the software.  With the widely accepted use of Facebooks main feature - "live feed", I think my management system can offer all data in a feed structure.  This will increase communication by the teams along with proper documentation.  You will essentially have the entire agency at your fingertips.  The key to successful implementation of this feature lies in the algorithm which builds each users feed.  Not only has it been interesting to delve into this feature but I know if it is useful it will need to be tweaked consistently.  Every other feature of my system, once debugging is completed, is pretty much useful for years without the need for alteration.

Selling and servicing clients is such a social experience to begin with.  I have many times walked the line between rigid workflows and open management.  The important consideration in either case is E&O exposure and seeing that your promises to clients are met 100% of the time.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Homegrown Management System - Download

Download is the main method by which most management system are updated.  When we write or amend a policy at our carriers we get a download the next day which syncs our management system.  This allows us to keep our own records and check for errors.  In this day in age this should be occurring in real time but we are still held to the overnight batch download.  To be honest we are lucky our carriers have agreed to any unifying standard to begin with - but i digress.

When I set out to better understand AL3 and eventually the Acord XML personal lines standard I had little to go on.  I could not afford the high Acord costs.  There were no online articles to pour though.  I mean, I can learn how to run a UNIX server and any software package out there for free but not AL3.  When I started looking at the document something wasn't right.  When I converted it to ASCII I noticed a strange character which allowed me to uncompressed the document.  After that things were a little clearer.  I eventually found an old IBM white paper which laid out the basic principals and I was able to build a script to move valuable download data to my proprietary database.

My initial goals were to save every drop of data from that download.  I also wanted it to self check for accuracy to make my staffs job easier.  My huge advantage here was that, with most mass marketed Agency Management Systems you are beholden to what the vendor designed for hundreds of agencies.  I was able to design a specific process for one agency and thus was able to get more done in the script upfront.  My staff could tell me what they liked or didn't like and I could alter the code accordingly. 

One big improvement I made was adding a premium history charts.  This allows us, at a glance, to see how the clients premiums have evolved, not just on a particular policy, but on that line.  As we are an independent agency we may move clients to a different company that is a better fit.  My chart follows this journey and adds distinct markers that help us better identify premium shifts.  Now when a client calls we are able research their entire history in 10 seconds...this also allows us to remind clients what we were able to do for them over the years.  Sometimes, as consumers, we remember what premium we paid ten years ago but the graph allows us to know new cars were purchased and a youthful driver was added.

Our next innovation here will be "Social Download".  Ill leave that for another time.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Homegrown Management System - Part1

As my subscribers already know in 2006 I launched my own management system for my agency.  Two years prior to that I set out to upgrade our system we were using, Doris.  Doris was nice and simple but we wanted some campaigning features and some deeper policy features.  On my journey I tried all the top management systems: AMS, Applied TAM, Ebix and Nexsure.  They were all frought with high setup costs but had those advanced features we craved.  We were at a crossroads.  I knew each system had a strong point and there was no clear frontrunner amongst our trusted peers usage.  We knew it would be an investment regardless of our final decision.  It was then that we made an unlikely and risky move.  We set out to design our own system. During this time period Applied aquired Doris and changed the price-point which made our launch an easy decision. 

With almost a decade of real-world success I look back on that desicion with zero regret.  In the coming weeks I will write about our experiences, the triumphs and the failures alike.  Where we started and where we are going. 

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Server Tribute

My main network has been served faithfully for over 10 years by a groups of 9 Gateway GP Desktop computers without fail.

They used to be our client computers loaded with windows 98 back in the day.  When we upgraded in 2003 to Dell Optiplex I turned them all into single service Linux servers.  They have been online 24/7 since 2003.  Serving my websites and webapps and fetching my mail.

I cooled them to a steady 68 degrees that entire time and in return not one of them ever failed.  Not one part ever needed replacement.  In that same time period we have replaced our desktops twice more due to failure in every case.  Dells then Compaqs.

They dont build um like they used to comes to mind.  These towers would have languished had I loaded XP or anything of the like or they could have occupied some storeroom or landfill....instead they ran FreeBSD, OpenBSD, OpenWal and centOS flavors and thrived at their individual tasks for 10 additional years.

I think its amazing they performed so well as they did and in the end it wasnt hardware failure that did them was the cloud.

I hate to see them go.  Quality is rare these days.

PS: I have had 4 macbooks in this time period.  They all still run fantastically however a few parts needed attention over that same time.