Selling is about people. One person offers something of value – a product, a service, an idea or promise.
Others want what the first person is offering enough to trade something of value to get it – time, money, or attention.
The better the two people understand each other, the more likely it is that the sale will happen. According to a 2010 Kelsey Group survey that’s why 97% of us research products and services online before buying them locally.
In the insurance industry, most companies have two kinds of representatives who sell their products: employed or “captive” insurance agents, or independent agents. The independent agents often work with broker/dealers called MGA’s (managing general agents) who help them place policies with the right carrier.
Insurance agencies used to deliver marketing materials – brochures and sales sheets, for instance – in bulk, and agents could purchase stamps to add their name, address, and phone number to the back. But the marketing message from one agent was exactly the same as the marketing message from another agent down the street – and so was the price.
Without the two basic ways to differentiate themselves and their offerings, agents have been left to the timing and whim of potential customers. Almost as soon as the arrival of low-cost desktop publishing software and the Internet, agents began creating their own marketing materials – often simply retyping materials they got from corporate marketing, and adding their own embellishments to personalize the material.
Personalizing the direct marketing materials helped sales by making the message more relevant to the prospect – but it created compliance and branding nightmares for the company.
“Companies have to balance two competing goals: having marketing materials that are consistent, compliant with both brand standards and regulations, giving the local agents the flexibility to personalize them for individual prospects,” explains David Coursey, co-author of The Customer Never Sleeps: 21st Century Marketing in the Age of Google.
A white paper featuring Coursey’s take on the age-old problem of personalization and compliance is available from Distribion, one of the leading providers of distributed marketing technology in insurance and financial services. Copies are available for download here.
The industry analyst and pundit says that there are five key questions to consider when considering a marketing automation platform to be used by field and local marketing, whether your company uses independent agents or a “captive” sales force. The questions are:
- Is it easy to use for both corporate marketing and field sales?
- Does it balance the flexibility to personalize and customize messages with checks and balances to ensure regulatory and brand compliance?
- Does it integrate with other key systems already in use such as CRM and ERP systems? (Beware of systems that ask you to replace an existing lead management or sales force automation tool like Salesforce.com with proprietary tools, Coursey says. If what you have isn’t broken, it doesn’t need fixing – and a distributed marketing platform that tries to do too much may wind up not delivering the results you want.)
- Does it add value to the end-users? (Remember, your agents have to choose to use it.)
- Does it allow personalization to optimize relevance for the prospect?
“There is no shortage of technical options available today,” Coursey points out. “It’s important to match the technology to your company’s needs.”