August 12, 2009

By Todd L. Young, President and CEO, ProspX

In the complex and competitive market of commercial insurance, a personalized sales presentation based on real-time information can make the difference between landing a lucrative account or retaining a valuable renewal and losing the business. Although cross-industry customer relationship management (CRM) systems may be adequate for providing insight into sales activity over time, they often fall short when deployed in an insurance context and cannot provide sales professionals - agents, brokers, and carrier field reps - the accurate and timely insight they need to close a deal.There are ten reasons why many agencies and insurers have found that traditional CRM systems are insufficient to support the sales function and are turning instead to specialized collaboration and search solutions to achieve their growth objectives.

1. Built for management, not sales. Horizontally focused CRM systems are designed to meet management's reporting needs, leaving sales staff often questioning a system's benefit and seeing data entry as a burden. As a result, management's analytic needs do not necessarily translate into day-to-day sales activity. Sales organizations need an information access and sales-support tool that minimizes manual tasks and makes their job easier. And as a byproduct, management finally gets what they want.

2. Poor information sharing and collaboration capabilities. Traditional CRM is focused on static reporting, not information sharing. A sales solution should instead facilitate collaboration and communication among all parties in the process and provide relevant information about prospective customers and ongoing sales activity to all stakeholders. Having those capabilities is the difference between performing a truly consultative analysis that seals the deal and making an uninformed cold call.

3. Lack of support for the multi-party distribution chain of commercial insurance. With an ineffective CRM system, the proposal process turns into a lengthy, fragmented exercise where agents wait for different parties to return phone calls and e-mails. Agents/Producers need an enterprise sales collaboration system to connect with their support team, insurers, and other partners in real time to short circuit the sales cycle and demonstrate expert capabilities to the client.

4. Inadequate understanding of the complex commercial insurance product. Horizontal CRM systems that might work well for other industries aren't designed for the insurance world. A solution needs to be built around the fact that an insurance sale incorporates contracts, service agreements, and complex financial instruments.

5. Passive design. Instead of driving sales activity, traditional CRM systems are focused on "yesterday's news" - i.e., capturing data from activity that has already occurred. Those systems produce "reports," whereas sales professionals need information and tools to support action plans. They need powerful search capabilities in an easy-to-use interface that puts information - white papers, benchmark data, surveys, presentation materials, RFPs, competitive differentiators - at their fingertips when and where needed.

6. Insufficient support for a mobile insurance workforce. Although many CRM systems are software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based, they are still designed for data entry and scheduling, rather than true mobile sales support for insurance professionals. Those professionals need search and collaboration systems built for real-time, mobile connectivity to all the essential, up-to-the-minute information about a prospect, giving those key differentiators that will make their presentation stand out from competitors who come armed with dated or generic presentations.

7. Inadequate focus on debriefing. Like every winning sports team, a successful sales operation takes the time to analyze "game films" of wins and losses to fine-tune their future performance. Horizontal CRM systems do not support the debriefing process. Agents need a solution that provides the means to easily capture, dissect, and analyze sales activity to increase hit and retention ratios.

8. Inaccurate pipeline data. If agents do not see the value of a CRM system to their daily work, there is little incentive to take the time to provide good data, making management reports based on that data inaccurate. Systems should automate sales activity data capture wherever practical and provide a clear, action-focused benefit to agents to encourage entry of data where it is not.

9. Not designed to handle the security of multi-party sales collaboration. Multi-party collaboration takes place outside traditional CRM systems. Security is difficult to manage in this environment, and stakeholders may be reluctant to provide sales and contact data for competitive reasons. A solution should provide security at the architecture, operational policies and processes, and contractual levels. It should manage multi-party communication within its own, secure, collaborative portal, while database filtering controls access to information by various constituents within the portal itself.

10. Built for management, not sales. If this sounds familiar, look to the top of this list. Management-focused design is at the root of all the shortcomings of traditional CRM systems.

Growth-focused agencies and insurers are limited by horizontal CRM systems. The most successful sales organizations are realizing the advantages of enterprise sales collaboration and search technology designed with their unique needs in mind.

Todd L. Young spent 12 years as a producer in the commercial P&C market at Marsh/Sedgwick and Summit Global Partners/USI Holdings before founding ProspX, a provider of SaaS-based solutions for automating multi-party sales processes in the commercial insurance industry.Growth-focused agencies and insurers are limited by horizontal CRM systems. The most successful sales organizations are realizing the advantages of enterprise sales collaboration and search technology designed with their unique needs in mind.