Videoconferencing brokers shattered sales records in top-tier brokerages across the country during the pandemic, senior brokerage executives reported in a recent Canadian Underwriter webinar.
The results suggest virtual sales are at least as effective — if not sometimes more effective — than generating new business by making in-person sales calls to clients and prospects.
But panelists noted that videoconferencing is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, its efficiency allows greater access to a brokerage’s salespeople and resources. But some brokers and clients are still missing in-person social interaction — a.k.a the “fun” part of the business.
On the plus side, brokers’ innovation with video led to record-setting sales numbers in 2020, senior brokerage leaders said Wednesday in Canadian Underwriter’s webinar, Brokerage Executive Outlook.
“Interestingly, in 2020, we had more people in our organization, believe it or not, pierce the $1-million mark of new revenue than in any other year of our corporate history,” said Tina Osen, president of Hub International Canada.
“Previously [before the pandemic], we had these subject matter experts flying around the country to appointments with clients and prospects. If you were lucky, they maybe got 5-6 meetings done in a week. In this [virtual] world now, they are doing 5-6 a day. From a pure customer perspective, our customers can feel pretty confident that, whether they are located in Red Deer, Alta., or Drummondville, Que., or if they are in one of our major metropolitan centres in Canada, they are getting access to our best-in-class resources, knowledge and expertise.”
Dave Partington, CEO of Gallagher Brokerage Canada, similarly reported the virtual environment contributed to record sales.
“We broke every sales record in 2020, and if you’d asked me in March [2020, when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic], I would have said that was totally impossible,” Partington said. “I think it’s down to the innovation, quality, and imagination of the people that many of us have working for us. It’s just an amazing reflection of the…talent we have right across this industry.”
Marsh Canada similarly saw a banner year of bringing in new business, with more individual salespeople than ever cracking the $1-million threshold in sales, said Sarah Robson, president and CEO of Marsh Canada.
“On the client side, because of the virtual environment, we certainly found that additional representatives of the organization of the client or the prospects were able to come into the digital room, so we had an opportunity to have deeper conversations than perhaps if we were sitting in a conference room,” Robson reported. “That was very favourable. The flip side of that is, you’d better be prepared for that.”
The sales records didn’t come without some tough early lessons in how to give effective virtual sales presentations, as brokers on the panel observed. Two brokers on the panel recalled watching some “cringe-worthy” sales presentations that made them realize that there are certain skills required to perfect a virtual pitch to clients.
“I think we learned some lessons very quickly out of the gate about what does and doesn’t work in virtual presentations,” Osen said, adding that the key question for her is: “How do we show up in the best way possible when we can’t have that opportunity to be face-to-face?”
Osen suggested brokers are still learning how to “read all of the signals [in video] that you usually read when you have that ability to [feel] chemistry, and create that magic in the 5 to 9 part of the time [with the client] over a meal.”
For Brian Parsons, head of Canada at Willis Towers Watson, having those in-person meals and meetings with the clients is actually the “fun” part of the broker’s job. It’s a part of the job he misses because of the government-ordered lockdowns and social distancing required to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“There’s no doubt the use of technology has exploded,” Parsons said. “Today [on the webinar], we have hundreds of people on a call, it’s efficiently set up, it’s really not that time-consuming, as opposed to everyone meeting in a hotel space. The efficiencies are undeniable.
“Of course, there are pros and cons [to online sales and prospecting]. Just last week I was talking to the client [of a larger account] who says he misses the ‘fun’ part of the business. There’s no video call that can replace the connection you make being hand-in-hand with a client, pitching their risk to insurers, and finding that personal connection in a nice restaurant.”
Post-pandemic, some clients will choose to continue with digital meetings because of the efficiencies, Parsons predicts. “There are clients who don’t want to travel a week with their insurance broker and eat every meal with insurance company underwriters,” Parsons quipped. “I can’t imagine why, but I’m told not everyone wants to.”
But some clients will want to return to the in-person handshakes, meals, and social get-togethers. “The good news, I think, is that both [ways of doing sales] will be acceptable going forward,” he said. “The client can determine how little or how much technology they want to adapt to their process.”