The car pulled out in front me so quickly that there was no chance of avoiding it. I dropped my bike. I slid underneath the car. My crash resulted in a sudden and certain death.

A number of years ago, I took a motorcycle safety class to get my license. Luckily, the accident I described above only happened in a simulator. Needless to say, I failed the test. The advantage of going through the simulation exercise, however, was that it made me truly understand just how vulnerable I was to accident and injury when not adequately schooled in motorcycle education. The primary lesson I learned from my faux crash was that in order to be safe, I needed to actually change the way I approached driving. “Eyes up, look ahead,” is what my instructors repeated continuously throughout training. Don’t be distracted by what’s going on in the periphery — that’s how you get into trouble.

“Eyes up, look ahead” is also a great lesson for insurance brokers. In my decades of experience in the insurance industry, I have yet to meet a broker or agency who has high organic growth by accident. Successful agencies and brokers have their eyes up — they consistently look ahead, and this foresight drives thoughtful planning that leads to an effective execution strategy.  

Also see: “The most important services a broker can provide.”

Now is the time for you — brokers and agency owners — to employ the “eyes up, look ahead” approach. You should be thinking about 2016 and what’s on the horizon. This may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Below are several questions that you can ask about yourself and your company. Pick one or two of these areas to focus on as a great place to start:

1) Do I (does my company) have the capacity for growth?

A lot of firms just ask their “producers” to grow their books by a certain amount. This may not be realistic, given the amount of time it takes to service an account once it is on the books. More importantly, producers may not be motivated to grow their book and take on more work, given their current compensation. One firm I know surveyed their producers and asked if they would rather be account execs with no goal, or producers and make more. Seventy-five percent of producers said they would rather be account execs. The result? They didn’t grow their books of business, and within a year said producers were no longer working for that firm.

Really take a look at your crew and be honest with yourself about whether or not you have the capacity and the people on the front lines to grow the business. If not, stop fooling yourself and take the appropriate steps to create capacity. (Yes, I will write an article on this topic, sharing successful examples of it being done).

2) Do I know what my account rounding is worth?

Hire an intern, go through every client to see what coverages they do not have, and then calculate approximately what it would be worth if you successfully account-rounded every one. Most likely, it’s is a huge number and should be the immediate focus of your agency. You already have existing relationships with these people. It’s a lot easier to go hunting at the zoo! Create a plan to make sure each customer is contacted and this is discussed.

3) Do I know what my story is?

Developing a compelling story is the No. 1 problem for most agencies. Here’s a hint: A compelling story does not sound like this: “We have great people and service.” This narrative will not differentiate you even in the slightest way.

A compelling story is one that explains to prospects and clients how you provide them with an amazing experience. Your definition of an “amazing client experience” should be well defined and clients should clearly understand the value of your partnership. EVERY prospect should hear this story and EVERY client should experience it.

NOTE: Technology will help you provide an amazing client experience — allowing you to deliver on your promise to clients. If you’re not using technology to do this, you are well behind the majority of others in the market.

4) Are the people in my agency engaged and moving in the same direction?

Once you have your master plan, it must be communicated internally over and over. You should become the CRO — chief reminder officer. Every person, whether in an office or a cube, should be able to enthusiastically present your agency’s elevator pitch. It’s imperative as a professional producer on the top of your game to be able to explain what makes you and your firm great — and to be able to do it in an exciting and concise manner. You can bet that in today’s market, your competition is already doing this.

5) Does my technology support what my clients are looking for?

We do exhaustive surveys of employers to determine what they are looking for in a broker, in fact I wrote about it last month. In order to address employer needs — and to do it efficiently and effectively — agencies need to do more with less. I call this scalable intimacy, and technology will allow you to wow your clients and build a moat around your book.

You may think it’s too early to start planning for 2016. It isn’t. It takes time to address any one of the items above, and even more time to start seeing results. There are plenty more questions you could be asking and strategies you could employ, but taking on too much could mean you never get started at all. As I said above, pick one or two things to focus on and get the ball rolling. Taking one step in the right direction is better than taking two in the wrong.

Also see: “Employers expect more from brokers.

Once you have a handle on where you are, you can begin to shore up weak areas and hit the ground running in 2016. Just as important (and something I’ve seen happen within many firms), a forward-thinking mindset has a tendency to get people in your agency excited and having fun while working hard.

There will always be agencies that dump their bike and collide headfirst into hazards they never saw coming. “Eyes up, look ahead”: a simple mantra that can get you moving and keep you from crashing.

O’Brien is the CEO of Zywave, Inc., a leading provider of software solutions for insurance brokers. He has been with Zywave since its inception in the 1990s, helping to create new technology tools that drive profitable results in a dynamic marketplace. Reach him at or visit

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