Building the Brokerage of the Future
A key challenge for brokers today—perhaps the key challenge—is crafting a business model and culture that enables long-term, sustainable organic growth.
For Alex Panlilio, founder and CEO of Vantage Insurance Partners, and Anthony Gruppo, executive chairman, the answer lies in how brokerages approach the sales process. Rather than being purely transactional and focused on simply making the sale, they see and believe that successful brokers are converting to a more consultative model of business, where in-house talent development, deeper and more diversified relationships with clients, and unification of the sales and service processes take priority.
But that change doesn’t happen overnight. Gruppo outlines what he sees as the most important talent building blocks for a transactional-to-consultative conversion. “Leadership development is critical,” he explains. “There are a lot of organizations that don’t know the full extent and breadth of talent working for them.” But understanding employees and the talents they already have, he says, allows a firm to be much more successful in cultivating and elevating leaders from within.
Another building block, tightly linked with leadership development, is having a mentorship program and the career planning that comes with it. As Gruppo puts it, “As people come into your organization, they have a career path, and they have a mentor alongside them—so you develop a bench of future leaders.”
Panlilio adds, “The final part of building a talent pool for the consultative model is diversity, inclusion and accountability. The best organizations are the ones that recognize these factors. We can see a lot of correlation between business results and when leadership teams are performance-based and transparent throughout the entire organization.”
Integrate Sales and Service
Panlilio highlights another major cultural and operational change that brokerages should undertake in order to become more consultative: working to break down the barrier between sales and service in firms.
“You have to make sure service doesn’t become the stepchild of your sales process,” Panlilio explains. “It’s probably even more important than sales—what good is getting a new client if you lose them after a year? But if you have high retention, there’s a smaller hole you have to initially fill in before hitting your organic growth target the following year. And that’s really about making sure your clients are properly served. You don’t hire a broker to buy your insurance; you hire them to fight your claims and manage your risk. That’s mostly on the service side of the relationship.”
“In addition, it’s an integrated system of sales and service working together, improving the relationship and improving the product,” Gruppo says. “It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Why haven’t people done it? It’s because we put up a barrier between sales and service, and sometimes service people feel inferior and have drastically different fixed compensation structures.” To resolve that, Gruppo proposes that firms should work to tie compensation to both sales and service, rewarding both retention and sales. “Then,” he adds, “people are much more creative about finding new solutions. But when you put a barrier between sales and service systems and the systems don’t talk, the client suffers.”
Panlilio also believes a firm should not stop just at bringing down the barriers between sales and service; the culture and environment should enable and facilitate collaboration and transparency of appropriate information across every department in the firm. A foundational aspect of this concept, according to Panlilio, is recognizing the core functionality of each department while allowing members of each team to “cross-train” with other departments, which provides them with further knowledge and context for their role. “You make better decisions when you have an expanded viewpoint of the bigger picture,” he explains.
“Where I believe the industry has to evolve is to the ‘boardroom of the future,’” Gruppo says. “Your meeting with the client doesn’t just have sales and service there. It has operations talking about how to deliver the best possible solution. It has finance asking how the client wants their bill to look and when they want it to come. When all those disciplines work together, there are no silos—just platforms of greatness.”
Being in front of the client also serves as a motivating factor for the different teams in your firm, Gruppo points out. “That’s where evolution and personal growth happens,” Gruppo declares. “Evolution happens for the motivated, so the motivated broker will evolve.”
Panlilio concludes that these insights come from his experience forging partnerships with brokers. “All of our advice on this isn’t really advice. It’s a representation of the type of partner we look for at Vantage—one who has this longer-term collaborative view in their organization—because the ability to add value organically is just as important as inorganic growth and acquisitions.”