April 28, 2013

Insurance agents are some of the most natural social networkers on the planet. They were educating clients, investing in long-term relationships, and growing their businesses through word-of-mouth referrals long before social media and mobile technologies existed. Not surprisingly, over 70% of insurance agents and financial advisors today use some form of social media to engage customers, according to a 2012 FTI consulting survey. Yet not all of these busy insurance professionals have figured out how to tap into Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to increase their book of business.

What are successful agents doing that sets them apart? They invest in relationships offline and online.

During the first wave of social business, many insurers rushed to get as many "likes" as possible for their brand’s Facebook page, but these failed to convert into tangible return on investment. Today, insurers with captive or non-captive field forces recognize that the true ROI will come from enabling their agents on social media. What follows are three key ways that smart agents leverage social media to build stronger relationships and increase sales.

1. Smart agents are findable. Customers want to buy on their terms, and today that means doing research online before walking into a store or talking to a rep. There is an unstated expectation from buyers today that they will be able to find you on Google and social media. Creating a profile on LinkedIn or Facebook is only part of the equation. When buyers know a purchase is going to require working with a rep, they want to know that person is credible. The best agents and advisors build out their online presence by connecting to their contacts (both offline and online), joining relevant LinkedIn groups, and requesting recommendations from people that they have worked with.

James Peregrino, Farmers Insurance Facebook

2. Smart agents become the trusted advisor and teacher. Again, customers are doing their own research. agents realize that if they aren’t adding value by building a relationship and educating their prospect, then that prospect might as well bypass any human interaction and request an online quote from a direct insurance website.

On the other hand, smart agents know to use social media to enhance their personal brand by providing an ideal channel to share thought leadership and subject matter expertise in a low-touch matter. A professional profile along with sharing content 2-3 times per week demonstrates expertise and consequently builds trust without being overly in-your-face. Successful agents stay top of mind with their customers and prospects by regularly sharing helpful tips relating to the products they sell, and sharing relevant news.

3. Smart agents do their homework and deliver highly personalized service at scale. Delivering personalized service is nothing new to a seasoned insurance agent, but scaling this level or personalization with social media resources is key. Customers expect reps to do their homework and to reach out at the right time with the right message. You don’t want to annoy prospects before they are ready to hear from you and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, so the smart agent strives to be low touch until it’s the right time to become high touch. It turns out the very type of updates people love to share with their networks on social media happen to be buying signals for many relationship-based sellers. For example, people don’t want to hear from a mortgage broker until they are ready to buy a house. They don’t want to hear from a life insurance advisor until they’re married or had their first child and suddenly need to plan for the future.

Getting on social media is just the first step. Successful agents differentiate themselves by building the above practices into their regular routine, leveraging social media as a key tool to prospect, connect, and grow their customer base and reaping the loyalty and referrals for years to come.

About the Author: Clara Shih is founder and CEO of Hearsay Social, a provider of social sales, marketing and compliance software. Shih is also the author of How to Make Money Marketing Your Business on Facebook (Financial Times Press 2011) and The Facebook Era (Prentice Hall 2010), used as a textbook at Harvard Business School.