The biggest mistake that insurance agents make is believing that product and insurance acumen are the keys to acquiring and keeping business. It’s a mistake because your competitors all have the same or better knowledge (if they don’t, they are quickly weeded out by natural selection).
Knowledge is considered a given by your prospects. The most effective way to accelerate your business growth and retention is through building a massive pipeline of client evangelists who provide you with rave reviews and referrals.
Gaining strong referrals and testimonials is an art and a science. The reason so many agents do a poor job of it is because they don’t know the difference between the art parts and the science parts nor do they know how to leverage them. Those who excel in this concept separate themselves from the rest. Here are some strategies and tactics that you can use immediately to enhance your closing ratio on referrals and testimonials dramatically and help seal the deal more efficiently and more often.
Cold Calling Leads to Frigid Results
Cold calling is still inexplicably the industry standard for acquiring new prospects. Unfortunately, it’s the worst method because it has the lowest efficiency. The rate of return on the cold-calling investment is about 2 percent. Yet agents keep investing in it. They would never make that type of investment with their money in the stock market, but they seem willing to do so with their sales pipeline.
Sales managers spend an inordinate amount of time trying to cajole their producers into making cold calls, whether it’s over the phone or in person. What sales managers should be tracking instead is the producer’s prowess at gaining testimonials and referrals. If the producer needs training, this is where the time needs to be invested.
Gathering and using testimonials has become more essential with the advancement of technology. Twenty-five years ago, testimonials could be used only on expensive marketing brochures. Because marketing materials didn’t get turned over much, testimonials became obsolete.
Agents don’t ask for testimonials and referrals because many have not been trained to ask. If they have been trained, then they might fear rejection by the client, worry about making the client uncomfortable or discover that the client has not really been satisfied with the agent’s work.
Today, there is a definite need to get quality testimonials (both written and video) for a myriad of marketing platforms, such as your website (testimonials should be ubiquitous and easy to find on every page of the site), blog, social media, printed marketing material, email signature files and proposals. (I never see testimonials on proposals. Never.)
Here is the process for acquiring powerful testimonials:
 Call your client instead of emailing your client. The best testimonials come out of conversation. Otherwise, you may get pedestrian testimonials, if you even get them at all. This also can be done in person during a renewal session or other meeting with your client.
 Ask your clients if they are satisfied with your work together. This is the scary one for many agents. If the answer is lukewarm or negative, you have bigger problems than obtaining a testimonial. If the answer is yes, then move on to the next step.
 Ask your clients why they value working with you. What is it that makes you special? Be in the moment, listen and take notes. Ask the kind of questions that result in candid responses. Your clients must give you responses that relate to reasons other than price or you are open to the risk of your competition stealing them away.
 Once your clients have divulged the value they receive from you, confirm and clarify. Language such as “If I heard you correctly, you said…” is a great way to frame their words into something that can be used in marketing.
 If your clients agree with your clarification, then ask them if you can use their words and their names as a testimonial. If they agree (which they always will), then you’re set.
I’ve started accumulating video testimonials. It’s easy. Early in the process, ask your clients if they would be willing to provide a 30-second video testimonial. You will ask them the questions and all they have to do is answer. Assure them that it doesn’t have to be perfect and you can always do a retake if necessary. You then record the video with your phone or tablet. Take it back to your desktop and edit out any errors and your questions. Voila! You have a nice video to use on your website and blog, plus you can use your clients’ words in print.
Obtaining referrals basically involves the same process as obtaining testimonials. As a matter of fact, if you are really efficient, you can ask your clients for a referral right after they give you a testimonial!
Referrals are about self-confidence. Period. Agents don’t ask for referrals frequently enough because they fear rejection, damaging the relationship or getting poor leads. But you can’t just wait around for referrals to come to you. You need to be more assertive. Here is the process:
To a client: “John, referrals are the lifeblood of my business. Whom do you know who would benefit from working with me as you have?”
To a referral source: “Jane, my insurance business is growing rapidly, yet I still have room for new clients. Whom do you know who would be interested in enhanced protection for their revenue, assets and profits?” (Note I didn’t ask whether the person being referred would be interested in “the most inexpensive insurance.”)
Be prepared for objections. Objections in this case are stalling techniques such as “Let me think it over and I will get back to you.” Make this easy on your clients and colleagues. Offer them the types of people whom you would like to meet and whom they know. Be specific about the type of clients you are looking at taking on (industry, size, etc.). Offer to call your clients back in a week to have them give you one name. Don’t just let them off the hook. They are normally willing to help, as long as you make it easy for them.
Referrals are based upon these basic principles: You desire more business and are confident, prepared, skilled in asking, ready for objections (not rejection), consistent and persistent.
If sales managers were more adroit at teaching producers about gaining testimonials and referrals, I promise that pipelines would increase, more deals would be sealed and revenue would increase. These are all very good things for agencies, don’t you think?
Creating a culture in which producers go after the low-hanging fruit of testimonials and referrals instead of the more difficult cold calling will improve efficiency, decrease frustration and raise revenue for your agency.