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Automation is clearly paving the way for benefit brokerages, insurance agencies and advisory firms to increase their close ratios and gain a competitive leg up, as well as help practitioners strike a better work-life balance.

Two industry thought leaders have identified what they believe is a winning formula baked into a half-dozen digital tools that seek to vastly improve workflow and operational efficiency. They say it can help overwhelmed benefit professionals step off the proverbial hamster wheel and avoid burning out, particularly during the busy renewal season.

“We’re living in a place as agents and brokers where we are putting out fires and not creating new spaces to grow and have a sustainable life,” says Alecia Nash, an independent benefits broker and founder of HippaWare.

She has joined forces with Samantha Steidle, operator of the Innovation Agency who also teaches futuristic topics in business and academia. Nash noticed an intersection between all of the automated tools touted by Steidle, who is working toward a Ph.D. on creating alternative revenue streams through innovation. Together, they narrowed that list to meet the needs of insurance professionals.

The key objective is to automate repetitive tasks, which will free up schedules for more strategic thinking about customized solutions that deliver better business results. The following areas have been targeted as most valuable in this quest:

1. Problem solving: Any needs-assessment strategy for a prospective customer involves problem solving tailored to their unique needs. The Ice House Opportunity Discovery Canvas guides users through a streamlined process that yields more critical thinking about using marketplace opportunities to solve problems. Gary Schoeniger, founder and CEO of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, created this tool to help reframe how entrepreneurs think about business.

2. Meetings: No one can afford to waste time, especially small businesses and entrepreneurs. Team meetings can be a terrible trap, but they’re also low-hanging fruit for greater efficiency and eventually higher profits. The Entrepreneurial Operating System, or EOS, establishes a clear vision and top priorities for meetings, preventing staffers from going off on tangents and avoiding conflict. It enables everyone to track their own set of data to improve workflow. In using EOS just 90 minutes a week to plot his team’s game plan, RxAdvisors CEO Luke Carignan noticed that revenue had actually doubled. “It’s completely transformed the way my business operates,” he reports. Given how in the insurance field is teeming with optimistic extroverts, Steidle believes EOS can help them “move forward much faster as a team” when they address underlying issues in a systemized way.

3. Time management: This is where Nash has made her mark, helping streamline processes and grow clientele. As the architect of HippaWare, she sought to improve workflow by automating repetitive tasks. They include anything from requests for proposal and quote comparisons to compliance, claims tracking, to-do lists and call logs. Her vision is built around a highly specialized, organized system for assigning, completing, tracking, and verifying data and tasks. The software allows colleagues access to the same critical information at their fingertips, regardless of whether they’re in the office or out in the field. This way, no one will need to search endlessly for a misplaced phone number or email. “Those little things are such huge time waster, which erode your profit and ability to grow,” Nash says.

4. Collaboration: Collaborating with partners has become a necessity, and when that process is streamlined, the sky is the limit. The Kumu platform offers a visual look at a brokerage or agency’s customer base with systems and tools used by top researchers and thought leaders. This interactive mapping tool can be used to organize and poll dozens of people in a room on various issues, mine that data and connect to the right experts. “I don’t know of very many software applications that will allow you to crowdsource information, names, contacts, expertise and ideas into one platform in an hour,” Steidle observes. It also can be used as a sales tool for ecosystem mapping that identifies key players to target in an association or industry, significantly reducing the number of phone calls needed to close deals.

5. Marketing: A bold new digital frontier has supplanted traditional marketing strategies in recent years. Whereas cold calling, billboards and commercials push static messaging known as outbound marketing, inbound marketing creates a more dynamic pull that seeks a customer’s permission. Examples include opt-in forms and targeted ads, as well as articles, podcasts and speaking engagements, all of which can lure prospects in a more enticing way. This tool also can be used to recruit and retain younger employees in the insurance industry.

6. Business model: Everyone can benefit from a strategic view at 50,000 feet. With Strategyzer comes a platform that enables companies to collaboratively re-imagine their business model all within a single hub. Millions have already used Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas to iterate models, prototype potential pivots, check financial viability, present and collect feedback, and de-risk dangerous assumptions. Steidle says Ivy League institutions teach this approach to entrepreneurship, which better identifies the right customer segment to target, as well as key business partnerships and revenue streams.

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