April 06, 2011

In the insurance industry, the most common customer acquisition approach, or "traditional" approach, is to have a large field presence of either employed (captive) insurance representatives or independent agents. Insurance representatives or agents must attempt to differentiate their products and approaches, even when there may be very few differences from company to company. Yet in the traditional approach, everyone selling a carrier's insurance products has been given the same materials from the marketing department. With no way to differentiate themselves and their offerings, agents are at a disadvantage when selling is left to the timing and whim of their potential customers.

In addition, the traditional approach often wastes money and resources. Although marketing materials didn't always match the needs of agents, they would need to purchase large quantities of materials because it was the only way to order them.

In contrast, sales increase when a personalized approach is taken. This means utilizing marketing approaches, including direct marketing pieces, that speak to the individual customer's unique preferences and current needs. It's about increasing relevance to the prospect.

This requires balancing having the correct marketing materials available and giving the field sales representatives flexibility to personalize for each prospect. Independent agents and your team in the field are not only experts in selling, but know the people in their sales territories. They are familiar with what works and what doesn't when addressing customer needs.

Technology is essential in making this shift in selling strategy possible. For example, the European insurance company P&V Verzekeringen has been able to reduce the costs associated with producing and administering its sales and marketing collateral by having nearly 240 agents in Belgium use a SaaS-based platform from Luma Technologies for channel and field sales. By using this platform for distributed marketing, P&V's agents are able to access marketing collateral that they can easily personalize from anywhere with an Internet connection, 24/7. P&V reports additional benefits of this cloud-based solution are the ability to quickly get new products and their supporting collateral into the market.

In addition to the kinds of benefits P&V has reported, many companies find additional benefits from using a cloud-based solution. These include having a low set-up fee and monthly SaaS fee. Compared to traditional enterprise software, cloud-based software tends to cost less and regular updates are included in the fee because they are performed at the vendor's central location.

When assessing technology to be used by people in the field and independent agents, there are six questions to consider:

1) Is it easy to use for both headquarters staff and people in the field?

2) Does it balance any flexibility it might give field staff and partners with checks and balances to ensure materials always meet corporate brand and messaging standards?

3) Will it scale to support growing functional needs and expanding territories?

4) Does it integrate with other key systems already in use such as CRM and ERP systems?

5) Does it add value to the end-users so they will choose to use it?

6) Does it allow personalization to optimize relevance for the prospect?

There is no shortage of technical options available today. What is necessary is to choose the technology that meets your company's needs.

Erik Laurijssen is CMP and EVP of Platform, Alliances and Channels with Luma Technologies, which enables marketing professionals to ensure brand consistency, control marketing budgets and analyze costs, usage and returns, while allowing field marketing and sales to customize print, email or social media communications.