Brokerage Ops the June 2024 issue

Craft over Cramming

Improving sales and renewal processes can increase profits and reduce stress for new hires and veterans alike.
By Jenn Walsh Posted on May 26, 2024

Why the last-minute switch? I couldn’t miss the opportunity as insurance executives gather at The Council’s annual Employee Benefits Leadership Forum (EBLF) this month to point out how the industry’s carrier and broker partners are costing each other a lot of money.

We talk a lot about products and pricing. If you examine how carriers and brokers interact throughout the sales cycle and as they serve their mutual customers, you’ll notice how much time and money is wasted in stalled deals, missed deadlines, and misaligned expectations.

If you attend EBLF or The Council’s Insurance Leadership Forum (ILF) or you read Leader’s Edge, you’ve reached a level of seniority in your career where you might take relationships in this “relationship business” for granted. That doesn’t mean you don’t value the power of partnership. But you’re far away from the work that’s done out in the wild by both your newest employees and seasoned, yet weary, veterans. It’s risky to make assumptions that your teams are working with partners the way you have throughout your career.

Many firms are simply putting new employees into roles to clickity-clack numbers from carrier proposals into spreadsheets without providing context. And too much work is being done the night before meetings for seasoned colleagues to catch mistakes or explain why certain things matter to newbies.

You tell your teams how important the broker-carrier “partnership” is to achieving your business results. But who’s investing the time to teach our next generation the art of advocacy and diplomacy? Or how to balance the tension between each business partner’s strategic initiatives throughout the client life cycle, including profitable growth.

Most brokers and carriers are operating from outdated sales and client service playbooks on how to get and keep customers and grow their respective businesses. These may have been effective when everyone was in the office, stayed in their roles for 10 or more years, or our business was less complex. But it’s time for a fresh look and swift action to improve collective results.

I urge my broker and carrier friends to look at real data on how you’re “working together” and to stop relying on anecdata as proof your relationship is thriving and sustainable. [Anecdata is information derived from personal experience rather than systematic investigation and recordkeeping.]

I’m actively engaging with your people every day at GenuineShift. My former agency owner heart hurts when I spot the inefficiencies that are costing you profits and adding unnecessary stress to a fragile talent infrastructure.

For example, I question investments of time and money for training or team-building events when only a small percentage of a brokerage’s team that’s in an office that day attend. Industry executives and regional leaders need to explore other ways to connect with individuals or teams who have opted out of happy hours and other traditional activities.

Let’s talk about three specific points where you can remove friction, increase profits, and achieve a better outcome for your mutual clients.

New Business

How brokers manage their prospect pipeline in June has a downstream impact on everyone’s profits. As we go into the summer, each month matters. But then something like this happens: a producer goes to client service and the carrier in mid-October saying, “I know the timeline was for a July BOR, but we need to find a way to make it all work.”

When we allow brokers to sell anything at any time to anyone, it destroys productivity and profits by burdening client service and their carrier partners to find a way to fulfill promises made in the sales cycle in a compressed time frame. This creates an expensive problem, with teams working overtime, neglecting other clients, and making mistakes. It has obvious consequences on job satisfaction and burnout, as well.

It means producers bringing in new business may cost their firm goodwill and profits and put them at risk. Existing clients get lower-quality work when producers can’t close business earlier in the pipeline or they fail to renegotiate deadlines and deliverables when a prospect’s timing slips.

It happens with rookies who haven’t been trained on processes and timelines. It also happens with veterans (even owners) who develop and endorse the processes everyone else is using.

If you’re responsible for profitable growth and don’t know what producers are selling (and the pressure it’s putting on the entire ecosystem the first 90 days), then you don’t know your numbers.

We’re not looking for villains. We’re looking to limit the self-inflicted wounds and release pressure from a stressed system. Or you could just hire more people (if you can find them), but this won’t help profitability either.

Marketing

When the marketing process is ineffective, it costs brokers a lot of time. This is one reason some account executives or account managers can’t manage more clients. Specifically, reps don’t understand the various roles within firms and often underestimate the power of client service as the opportunity gatekeeper.

They’re also ineffective at getting to the truth of why they didn’t get an opportunity.

If the business problem is that the carrier didn’t make a sufficiently compelling business case for the broker and client to make the time (they could if they wanted to), then that’s different from having evidence that the carrier has a product or pricing issue.

In GenuineShift’s marketing module, we’ve been surprised how few brokers (producers and client service associates) read the carrier’s fine print and can explain it to a client. It’s not because they aren’t dedicated but because nobody taught them how (and why) to do it.

Many firms are simply putting new employees into roles to clickity-clack numbers from carrier proposals into spreadsheets without providing context. And too much work is being done the night before meetings for seasoned colleagues to catch mistakes or explain why certain things matter to newbies.

At GenuineShift, we emphasize the importance of broker-carrier partnerships in an activity where account managers ask carrier reps for product guidance, to walk them through the assumptions, terms and conditions, and ask their advice on how to be a great partner. You can encourage similar conversations.

Existing clients get lower-quality work when producers can’t close business earlier in the pipeline or they fail to renegotiate deadlines and deliverables when a prospect’s timing slips.

Decisions and Implementation

Everyone would be much more effective if they made recommendations for coverage instead of overwhelming with options. Clients don’t want more information; they want your point of view.

“Clients hire you to be led” is the foundation of GenuineShift’s programming. Each day that’s lost between a client being shown options and making decisions puts the entire project in jeopardy. Don’t underestimate the downstream impact when teams lose days or weeks due to ineffective collaboration between partners here.

I remind carrier reps that brokers are their clients and that it’s a miss when they don’t help a broker guide a client away from a problem or toward a solution.

Much has changed in the business, but one thing is constant: nobody forgets a failed implementation. Brokers and carriers would both benefit from a more thoughtful approach to onboarding new clients.

I don’t have all of the answers. But I know what most brokers and carriers are doing isn’t accelerating relationships or increasing efficiencies with as broad of an audience as it did historically. Look beyond case counts and premium to evaluate if your relationship is profitable.

If you’re looking for something to prioritize, eligibility/file feed issues were a universal productivity and profit killer over the past year. Having a dedicated implementation team there would be a good start.

It’s not simple to change behavior, but every broker and carrier can take an honest assessment and start making adjustments. It will reduce stress, reset partnerships, and restore profits.

Jenn Walsh Founder, GenuineShift Read More

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