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Even The Middle Of Nowhere Is Somewhere For A Business

It’s a well-known fact that you must build relationships in order to establish a solid client base. However, cultivating client relationships in a rural, agriculture-based community can present a notable challenge. I’ve discovered, though, that if you strive to meet your clients on their own terms, you can learn their needs and provide effective solutions on a professional and personal level, no matter the market niche.

Five years ago, I started my own agency from scratch in a rural Montana town of 2,500 people. Even though it was such a small market, there were already seven other insurance agencies in town. Plus, I didn’t have a background in insurance. But I knew it was what I wanted to do and what the community needed, so I bet on myself and got to work.

I bought a rundown building and moved my kitchen table in as a desk. People told me that I couldn’t just start from scratch — I would have to buy a book of business and move in with an existing practice. Despite their doubt, I qualified for Million Dollar Round Table in the first year and have qualified every year after that. Now, I have a successful practice with four other licensed agents.

Pursue Your Clients On Their Terms

I credit the majority of my success to my active pursuit of authentic client relationships. One piece of advice for building your client base: Know your audience, especially their pain points. When I first started, I thought other agents in my area had become complacent when it came to insurance. I decided to stir things up and be more aggressive. I traveled down dirt roads to meet with people, sat at the kitchen table with them and learned their goals and stresses.

For example, many members of my community are asset rich and cash poor. When a parent dies, they might have to sell land that has been in their family for generations in order to pay the estate tax. Or when parents need long-term care, the family might have to sell the farm to generate the necessary funds. As an insurance agent, however, I can help proactively address these concerns and provide my clients with strategies they might not have realized were options.

Advisors are often told to adapt and use technology, and I agree, it’s a helpful tool. However, I also realize I live in a rural town where people appreciate doing things the old-school way, so I don’t cut corners. I get in my car, drive across the state on dirt roads and stop to meet my clients face to face. I send handwritten thank-you notes and birthday cards. Of course, I could send email, but I know my target audience. You have to cater your services to where you operate, and I know my clients recognize and appreciate that.

Build Authentic Trust

I’m a farmer’s daughter and my husband and I farm, so I know what’s important to my clients. Breaking into an agricultural community is unique, and the marketing is vastly different. You don’t just need to build relationships, you need to build trust. As agents, we help our clients through some of life’s biggest decisions; clients won’t feel comfortable making those choices with just anyone. These are emotional decisions that require a foundation grounded in a trustworthy relationship.

Building trust comes before any sale is ever made. I know that harvest time is stressful for many in my community, so I try to provide a happy touch point by hosting a picnic lunch for the harvest crew while they work. I don’t talk about life insurance because I know they can’t think about buying or switching insurance while focused on the harvest, but it’s an authentic step necessary to building the relationship. The families are grateful I recognize how important harvest time is to them.

Being there for them in that positive time establishes the precedent that I can and will be there for them in dire times, too. It takes some coordinating, time and money, but I’ve found it’s a very effective way to establish trust with my clients.

Our Unique Advantage

Although this industry may be male-dominated, we as women and mothers have a huge advantage. Having three young children helps me establish such a unique relationship with clients. On occasion, my kids are with me when I stop in to visit a client, and the client encourages me to bring them in and let them sit down for the meeting. This is often because the client and I have established such a personal relationship that they’ve grown to know and love my family.

This is such a strong advantage to building trust, and a great reminder that it’s a two-way street: I get to know my clients, but my clients get to know me and my family as well. There’s also nothing that can replicate those feelings of compassion and understanding you cultivate as a mother, and that’s something you can easily transfer to your clients.

Even at their young ages, my children understand my job lets me bring comfort and reassurance to people. Insurance can have a bad reputation sometimes, but when it comes down to it, we get to be there for people at their most difficult times. During life’s toughest moments, we’re able to come with something positive and bring families some relief. I think we often forget how unique that is. Building relationships like that, to me, is the most rewarding part of the job.

Vanessa Bucklin, CLU, MBA, is the owner of PCI Conrad, Conrad, Mont. She specializes in estate planning and asset protection, focusing on family farms and next-generation transitions. She is a five-year qualifying member of MDRT. Vanessa may be contacted at [email protected] [email protected].


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