Interview: Empowering Agents Through Technology

Selling insurance as an independent agent has always required more than simply selling policies. You’re a small business owner who wears many hats — administrator, financial manager, marketer, and more.

We’re sharing excerpts of an interview that aired on our ASG Podcast between our host, Sarah J. Rueppel, and her guest, Aaron Kassover, founder of AgentMethods, a company that provides services such as website building and email marketing campaign creation and management to insurance agents. Aaron’s mission is to modernize agents’ approaches to marketing all while empowering the agents to bring their personal voice and priorities.

To hear the full interview and even more about Aaron Kassover and AgentMethods, listen to the full episode:

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One thing we talk about a lot here on the podcast is that most of us did not plan to get into the insurance business. What path led you to where you are today?

I started out as a consultant working with all kinds of companies, helping them with their websites, online marketing, those sorts of things. And I got one insurance company as a client, CNA Insurance, and what always happens is you get one client, and then, somebody leaves and takes you with them. It happens again. And so, … I was working with Allstate, Combined Insurance, Humana … I woke up one day and all of my clients were insurance companies. I didn’t really plan it, but that’s kind of where I landed.

In looking at the work I was doing with the insurance carriers, I started to ask questions about how they were helping their agents and learned learn that the tools they had available to themselves … the technology, the expertise … they weren’t really making it available to agents. So that was sort of what triggered this thought in my mind that there’s a need right now to help agents modernize their businesses. This was in 2008; we launched in 2009, so it was a while ago. But that need has just gotten bigger; it hasn’t gotten smaller.

Right, we’ve only gotten more and more online as time has gone on … it’s not even just about having a website but all the other bells and whistles that kind of go along with it. How did AgentMethods get its start out of that [need]?

I talked to somebody I knew through that work who had a channel of agents. And I asked them … If we built this, would you think you’d need it? And he said, can we set up a call tomorrow with my entire team? And, you know, it’s sort of a resounding yes. So, we launched in 2009. We did a webinar with a group of about 50 agents and had a bunch of them sign up right away.

What exactly does AgentMethods offer insurance agents? Let’s talk about some of [your] products.

Our goal is to make those same tools and technology that the carriers have available to agents to help them bring their businesses online and to grow sales online … The first thing that we launched … our core product, is a website platform. It’s a website builder. It’s content. It’s all the support, all the tools, all the pieces that you need to launch and run a successful online presence. We know that agents are not designers, and not techies; and so, we don’t want to make it hard. Having been doing this for 13 years now, we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be successful, and we’ve baked all that into our platform.

After we launched that, we then started to look more at what all agents need. Insurance is a get-rich-slowly business. You don’t get rich in six months. You build your business consistently over time. What makes insurance a great business is building up that book of business, building up relationships, having clients stay with you, having clients renew, buy more policies, and then start to refer their friends and family to you. We’ve been looking at ways to use technology to help agents do that. We’ve created a bunch of relationship management tools that help agents automate some of that interaction with their customers — cross-marketing tools, retention tools — to make it easier for agents to keep their business, snowball the customer base, and make that long-term success happen faster.

That’s actually one thing that we try to stress a lot — that this is not an overnight success type of business … I think of [websites] as being one of those things that really is outside of the wheelhouse of a typical insurance agent. Can you walk me through the process of the website build?

We have a support team and a live onboarding process where we work with agents over about two weeks to get everything set up on their website. It’s a fast, easy, low-stress process. But our secret mission is to help agents learn how to go in there, roll their sleeves up, and do things themselves … The reason why is because we know that it really is easier to go and make a change to your site on our platform than it is to reach out to us and ask us to do it. And we know that, for agents who start to make those changes, their website becomes more part of their business. It becomes more reflective of what they’re doing right now. And they think of it as not just a separate thing … that maybe brings in leads if they’re lucky, but is really something that they have woven into their day-to-day interactions.

That is really critical, because when we look at how customers buy today, when we look at the insurance customer, their behavior is different than it was five years ago. So, GE Capital did a study where they looked at how people buy things, and they found that 81 percent of shoppers go online to do some research before making a purchase … Consumers want to educate themselves. They want to go and learn. They want to go and see products, see prices, see options. But because the risk of getting it wrong is really big, they still want to then reach out to you, the agent, and get help in finalizing the purchase … Allowing customers to weave online and offline, to have the same experience online as they do offline, to have the same access to information online as they do offline, to have the same level of professionalism online as they do offline is what makes this successful.

You’re meeting that need, meeting that customer where they are, and that’s really what you want to do as an insurance agent. It sounds to me like you’re really bringing [agents] into the more modern era of this is how we do business today. What does AgentMethods offer in the way of marketing your insurance business beyond the website?

So, I was talking about retention, relationships, and increasing renewals, and the way that we do that is by giving agents technology to automate some outreach and touchpoints with customers. We automate about 350 touchpoints per year for the customers, which is a lot. It’s not like we’re emailing our customers twice a day every day. We don’t do it in a way that’s overbearing and annoying. We use social media. We manage Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts for agents, and we do at least one post, sometimes two, every business day. That’s not sales content; it’s content that’s designed to get your audience to lean in, to pay attention, and to think ‘hey, this agent is adding value to my life.’

We do a monthly email newsletter, so once a month we send out a newsletter on behalf of our agents … Because we’re partnered with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, we’re able to get data back on clicks … we’re able to track the kinds of content that your audience responds best to. We personalize our newsletters … around what your audience engages in. So that means they get opened. You’re making them better, smarter, more engaged, which makes them feel like you’re aligned with what they need.

Then, we have cross-marketing email campaigns … educating [your audience] on other things they might need, other risks they may be exposed to, products that may fill a gap they have, and even things like how to use the products they have, and what to do if they have questions post-sale stuff, request for referrals. Those sorts of email campaigns, we have those in our system.

Then, we also have a scheduling automation system. We call it ‘The Scheduler.’ It automates scheduling appointments for you. If you have customers coming into AEP that you know you need to meet with … you upload the list of those customers into our scheduling system. We then reach out to them and book appointments for you. And so, we integrate with all the major calendaring systems, so it shows up in your calendar. We’re not going to double-book you; we know when you’re busy, so that’s not a concern. And then, we also capture a signed Scope of Appointment at that time, so that when the appointment’s booked, the Scope’s done. Now, if you have a Scope system you love, you can keep that. But we have a built-in [option] if you want to use it.

Over and over again, I hear stories from our agents about how quickly they’re able to see success. I talked to one customer who just started selling critical illness [insurance]. On Monday, he’s like, ‘OK, I’ve got some products to sell.’ We set up an email to go out Tuesday morning. He had 197 contacts on his list, so it wasn’t a huge list. Tuesday evening, he had 14 sales appointments scheduled. Twenty-four hours after getting these new products, he was already meeting with customers and making sales.

What’s one question that you wish you would get asked during some of these interviews that you never do or the one thing that you want to be able to talk about that you just never managed to get to talk about in an interview?

I feel like we need to pay more attention as an industry to the competition that we don’t see. I was talking a bit about consumer behavior change before … and I don’t think that we as an industry have adapted fast enough to that.

Last year, there were $15.4 billion invested in insurtech startups … 10 years ago, in insurtech, there was a bunch of cool, novel stuff going on. We saw phone apps that would take a selfie, and they would look at how many wrinkles you had and the color of your hair and decide your physical age and underwrite you based on that … But now, with $15.4 billion, these investors aren’t messing around. And they need to see a return … and the only way to do that is to make sales. So, more and more of this money is attacking the sales channel, attacking distribution … If insurtech is there and agents aren’t, no matter what consumers prefer, the agents are going to start losing customers.

This is happening real-time right now. We can’t ignore it. What used to work, what got you to be successful during the past five, 10, or 20 years doesn’t really matter anymore. I hear people say, ‘Well, I don’t need to advertise. I don’t need it online. I don’t need to market because I’m referral only.’ We all love referrals. Referrals are the best … but even the referral process has moved online. Sarah, if I said, ‘You should go talk to this person,’ you’re going to go to Google and type in their name. And you’re going to find their information that way. You’re also going to go look at their website and read their bio and make an assessment about them … We see that the second most visited page on our agents’ websites is the About Us page … Your homepage is the busiest, and then your About Us is your second busiest because people want to check you out. They want to go see who you are, get a sense about you as a person, before they talk to you.

Is there anything else that you would like to add that we haven’t covered?

AgentMethods — we’re here to help, and we make it really, really easy. And so, we’re not going to require you to become a tech expert or to do things that are outside of your comfort zone. Our team works with agents like you every day, and I really believe this is stuff that we have to do. Because of that, we’re doing everything we can to help all the agents we work with find success.

Great. Well, it has been great chatting with you today, Aaron. If our listeners want to get in touch with you, what is the best way to do that?

AgentMethods.com. You can go right to our website, and the best thing to do is there’s a button right there on the homepage to schedule a meeting … pick a time and set up a conversation with us.

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As our partner here at Ritter Insurance Marketing, AgentMethods can help any agent boost their online presence and refine their digital marketing strategy. Create a website, email marketing campaigns, and social media strategy with help from the experts. Reach your target audience with personalized materials that matter to them. Listen to the full podcast episode here, then head over to AgentMethods.com to schedule a meeting with Aaron and his team!

Editor’s Note: This article is based on an episode from our ASG Podcast. We have modified content from the original recording. To listen to the full episode, visit RitterIM.com/podcast.

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