Always be closing" was the mantra of Blake, the arrogant manager "from downtown" portrayed by Alec Baldwin in the 1992 film adaptation of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. But even as he tried to rile up an office of hapless real estate agents, Blake knew that words weren't enough. It was the lure of quality leads that fired up the desperate salesmen in the film. Unfortunately for them, Blake did not expect to bestow the "golden leads" on these agents. "You don't get them," Blake taunts in the film. "Why? Because to give them to you would be throwing them away. They're for closers."
The insurance industry certainly knows about closers. Insurance sales traditionally has been a potentially lucrative but never easy job, which is probably why insurance agent employment continues to be a relative bright spot in the U.S. jobs picture. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects insurance agent employment growth of 21.9% from 2010 to 2020.
Insurance is a business where products are famously "sold, not bought," where agents have "owned" the customers and where the success of agents -- whether independent or captive, regardless of the line of business -- depends to a huge extent on the quality of the leads.
Whether those leads are delivered via a stack of index cards or in notebooks (a la Glengarry Glen Ross) or through an interactive portal or agency management system, the ability to sort through volumes of data (history, demographics, income, etc.) to identify the best prospects for the right products is the key to producer success and carrier growth. Increasingly those prospects and leads are going to come from untraditional or at least underserved markets, including low-income or underinsured individuals and small businesses.
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Successful distribution means capitalizing on these kinds of opportunities. But it requires new thinking and approaches for both insurers and producers, along with a sophisticated understanding of what are the right channels and means of interacting with these untraditional customers.
We're entering an era where one can legitimately ask: Who's more important to an insurance company's growth -- an agent or a data scientist? Persistence, persuasiveness, creativity and a gift for gab are among the skills that distinguish a successful salesperson. These are important and valuable attributes, but without timely and accurate customer information, along with advanced market insights, those skills are operating in a vacuum.
Strong sales cultures within insurance organizations won't be fading, but they're sure to be reshaped by the IT megatrends of big data, mobility and social media. Technology won't create golden leads, but it will make it easier to find and deliver on them.
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio