Canadian Underwriter

Are you getting the most out of digital?

July 18, 2018   by Danielle Kubes

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Jennifer Pugsley used to bang down doors to get business when she was brokering deals in commercial oil, gas and trucking.


She would get into her car, turn the key and drive the long expanse of highway and rural roads out to the dusty industrial areas of Alberta, where she would then show up unannounced at potential clients’ buildings.

That worked well for a few decades. Until it didn’t.

She says her bosses finally asked themselves, “How can we leverage digital? Because people are just slamming the door in our face or not picking up the phone.”

That conversation happened more than a decade ago, but it’s a question brokers are still asking themselves today.

Traditional brokerages are facing these challenges because sourcing and converting online leads is still largely a new frontier—the rules change every year and everyone is figuring it out as they go along.

“A lot of brokers don’t even have the infrastructure to handle the leads that they want.”

So Canadian Insurance Top Broker decided we wanted to help. We spoke with experts and brokers who have successfully gone digital to uncover advice and tips to help other brokers upgrade their online presence, improve their SEO and stay relevant in 2018.

Pugsley figured it out by accident—her genius-ofa- nerd brother had founded an e-commerce site in Toronto that was doing well, and she was intrigued.

Long story short, she went back to school for digital marketing and joined him. Their company evolved into Goose Digital, a marketing automation agency that brings on bricks-and-mortar insurance brokerages and holds their hands while helping them build an omni-channel framework.

‘Omni-channel’ simply means that a business services clients the way the client wants—whether that’s a faceto- face meeting, on Facebook, or through a website, to name a few options. And any broker in it for the long term is going to have to evolve to provide those services.

The average storefront brokerage can finish a quote in 40 minutes. But Matt Alston’s online brokerage, for example, can complete a quote in as little as a quarter of that time.

Alston knew he wanted to stay in the small town where he grew up in Alberta, near the Montana border. But with a population of only 2,500 people, and being a two-and-a-half hour drive to Calgary, there wasn’t exactly a bustling local economy. Still, he was determined to provide the same warm, wholesome and community-minded environment that he grew up with for his four children.

An online business was the answer. He teamed up with a partner who owned a traditional insurance brokerage, and in 2012 they opened Surex Direct, an entirely virtual brokerage.

“Online insurance didn’t put a ceiling on how big we could get, and we could compete with all the brokers in Toronto and Calgary and Vancouver, but do it on our terms,” Alston says.

Since 2012, they’ve managed to grow the business by 8,000%, without ever seeing a client face-to-face.

of desktop search traffic came from Google in 2017.

Source: NetMarketShare

of small businesses in the United States did not have a website in 2016.

Source: Clutch

That incredible growth proves there’s leads to be had and money to made in the still-fresh world of digital brokerages.

But there’s a major caveat—unless you’re able to commit wholeheartedly, don’t do it.

That’s because a physical brokerage is a completely different business than digital—you can’t simply pop a database up online, create a website, hire an intern to do your Twitter and expect to capture clients.

If only.

If you do plan to take your business entirely online, you must be prepared to spend a mint, along with all your time, on strategies, staff and preparation. Anything less is a waste of resources.

“It’s a viable business, but so is making parts for nuclear manufacturing. You can do it if you understand what you’re doing, and you could also lose your shirt if you don’t,” says Adam Mitchell, who’s grown his brokerage, Mitchell and Whale, from two brokers to 45 in just eight years. The Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario awarded them the Innovator of the Year in 2017, and made them finalists for Brokerage of the Year the same year.

Mitchel has put considerable effort into growing digitally and focusing on long-term growth—as opposed to shortcuts that get him through to the next quarter— and understands that going online won’t matter unless you ensure your processes are running smoothly first.

Handling online leads

“A lot of brokers don’t even have the infrastructure to handle the leads that they want,” Pugsley says. “They’re not even servicing their existing book the way that they could be. Have you considered opening your hours until 8:00 p.m., like Sonnet does?”

A $20,000 website, Pugsley says, is not going to solve a broker’s problems—not if they don’t know their business inside, out and under.

“Do you know your cost per acquisition? Do you know your cost per lead? Your cost per quote? Do you know how many leads are coming in? Do you know how many leads are getting closed? And why not? Do you have a good handle of your retention rate?”

Even if she dropped 100 qualified leads into a brokerage’s lap, Pugsley says, most would not be able to keep up. The brokerages that are able to handle the number of leads generated online have a thoughtout funnel system. Some offices, for example, have a whole sales team that is watching screens scattered all over the office. As soon as a lead comes in, it goes onscreen and hits the marketing automation platform, and the team has immediate response-time goals.

“It’s a viable business, but so is making parts for nuclear manufacturing. You can do it if you understand what you’re doing, and you could also lose your shirt if you don’t.”

There’s no sense spending money on trying to attract online leads unless your office and team is 100% primed to handle them in the swift—yet personal— way that everyone, from millennials to boomers, now expects.

If all this sounds too overwhelming, it should. Capturing online leads is not for the timorous.

Going digital

Here are some basic strategies for the brokerage that wants to present a polished online presence to encourage and assure new clients, but isn’t prepared to create a cyber infrastructure.

First, get rid of your GeoCities website (remember those?). At the very least, says Pugsley, your website needs to look clean and be optimized for mobile. Alston recommends hiring a recent grad as a developer.

Secondly, do some digital housekeeping. That means bringing your Yellow Pages marketing up to date and setting up a Google business account with local keywords.

Third, if you do plan on creating a blog or social media content, hire a marketing coordinator.

“[Some brokers are] like, ‘Sally in the corner can do it,’” Pugsley says about how most businesses react when she tells them she needs a single point of contact when rolling out a website. “Sally has a full-time job, actually, and Sally doesn’t know how to write—she’s not a copywriter. If you’re asking Sally to do the Twitter just to keep the lights on, and you don’t really care about the ROI of Twitter, then don’t ask Sally in six months where our tweets are getting us.”

Sadly, digital has a reputation for being easy, and that any young person naturally knows how to do it. That’s incorrect.

The truth is, social media rarely has a direct ROI. Instead, it has rather the same effect as when auto dealerships wash their cars. Does it help actually sell the vehicles? Sometimes, maybe, not really—but it definitely adds to the whole transaction.

So don’t take social media too seriously or post too many facts about the insurance industry. Instead, use it to showcase your brokerage’s personality, and maybe try what Mitchell does. Social media strategy for him is the equivalent of “cats chasing lasers,” he says. “It’s informative, yet irreverent and fun. We almost avoid the insurance side of it.”

“Online insurance didn’t put a ceiling on how big we could get, and we could compete with all the brokers in Toronto and Calgary and Vancouver, but do it on our terms.”

The biggest benefit of social media is its instant communication possibilities. If customers are confident in a fast reply (we’re talking minutes) and are impressed by your content, they’re likely to DM (that’s direct message) you on Twitter and Facebook to ask for a quote.

Fourth, stop treating Google like a game. The days of stuffing keywords for SEO are over. We don’t want to get too deep into the SEO specifics, like meta tags, headlines or link-backs because they really don’t matter unless you’re planning to go wholly virtual, and Google will probably change its algorithm as soon as you’ve mastered it anyway. Suffice it to say that SEO will come naturally—and be there to stay—when you’re writing high-quality content that people want to read and share.

Look at the articles that you read on a daily basis. Are they just jargon? Or do they actually provide service? Do they make you think? If yes, strive to produce that kind of content.

And finally, don’t spend a cent or do anything unless you have a strategy. Don’t just start creating Facebook Ads, for example, unless you’ve figure out what you’re aiming for and how you’re going to measure results. (And let your brand-new marketing coordinator, the one with extensive experience in creating ad campaigns, handle it.)

“When you principally lead with strategy,” Pugsley says, “the tactic becomes much more successful.”

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the June/July edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.