Mining Your Market Niche

September 1, 2006
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Like the Forty Niners who worked the fields of California and exclaimed, "there's gold in dem dar hills," the multi-billion-dollar restoration service industry provides unlimited opportunity for success to persons who have the right combination of guts and business savvy to overcome identified hurdles.

To succeed, you must do more than purchase equipment, attend industry schools or subscribe to the leading industry magazines; you must have a plan and you must intelligently work that plan. In conjunction with your plan, you must establish guidelines for marketing and this includes marketing to that most important entity: the insurance professional.

The restoration industry is integrally tied to the insurance industry. For this reason you must sow seeds to develop a working relationship with insurance agents. Accepting the importance of insurance professionals in the success equation of restoration services is the first step to a successful career.

Insurance Professional + Restoration Services = Insured Risk Solution

This formula is your key to success. Working hard to develop contacts in the insurance industry is like the miners of old panning until they found that nugget to light up their eyes and imagination. You will need patience and persistence, but in time you will find your first insurance professional, and this nugget will provide you with some confidence and direction for continued success.

A discussion of insurance agent marketing requires a brief mention about preferred-vendor lists. This current hot-button topic illustrates why small players in the restoration service industry feel helpless. That some large carriers guide insureds - and not always in their best interest - toward listed restoration vendors is recognized; however, there is a movement to legislatively discontinue this practice and provide a more level field for all legitimate restoration firms to operate.

In the meantime, it is important you identify insurance agents and offer them a solution to their problems at any opportunity you are given. As long as the preferred-vendor list exists, you must be clever enough to overcome it. This is why it is important that you effectively market your services to insurance agents, starting with high-profile agents.

The high-profile agent is one who is equally influential in his community and within his company. It is this agent who has authority to assign a job to your company and to see that you are paid for your services. Insurance companies with vendor programs typically mandate their agents follow loss protocol by referring their policyholder to the call center, which then forwards the claim to their preferred vendor.

There is however, an unwritten policy within the insurance company: Never ever, under any circumstance, chastise or reprimand the high-profile insurance agent for not following loss protocol. These are the men and women who typically have large books of business and the insurance company cannot afford to ruffle their feathers. The high-profile agent must be approached in a professional way and you must sincerely present him with a "win-win" package. Ask yourself, "What can I do for this agent that will be best for him and his clients?" But first, you may ask, "How do I find the ‘high-profile' agent?"

Research the Market

As business professionals, we have all been exposed to the insurance profession in some manner. We have policies for our autos and homes, and we have our business liability coverage. This is where we begin our research.

For example: You enter Mutual XYZ Insurance to make a payment on your homeowners policy (I know you normally do it by mail or on the Net, but you are making an excuse to see your "favorite" agent) and while your agent looks up your account you make polite conversation about your business and your success. When the time is right, ask your agent, "Who handles your claims?" In the course of your discussion you may determine he is a person with draft authority.

Build a profile sheet for each agent you or your staff contacts. Use the profile sheets to send your insurance professional a birthday wish or some interesting information you discovered in the course of doing business. Be a useful resource for your insurance professional friend, offering your expertise with no strings attached.

Profile sheets or other methods used to gather information are useful if used correctly. It is insufficient to just place the information on the sheets and consider this "the end." The information you gather must be assimilated and categorized; recognize there are differences in agents and agencies, and categorize your findings to reflect these differences.

For example: You enter two different agencies on Wednesday. Agency A is the office of agent "X," who is dressed professionally, speaks professionally and whose office reflects her professionalism by being clean and neat. Later, you enter Agency B and find agent "Y" slovenly, his office in disarray. Note the information, but don't go by first impressions. It may very well be that the "slob" is the person with draft authority.

Research is an ongoing process, requiring your profiles be routinely updated with additional information gathered. Assess your information constantly; the profile sheet is a living document. That lazy agent who always played Pong on his computer and whose office smelled like a Category 3 loss may have had an epiphany, and is now Mr. GQ and has an immaculate office as a result of his promotion and newfound draft authority.

Continue to Research

One of the neglected methods of research in our high-tech society is the phone directory. In this ageless tool you will find an exhaustive list of potential contacts. Identify agencies you would like to approach. List those agents you know personally or believe that your insurance professional contact knows personally. Prepare referral letters and have your insurance professional contacts put a personal note on the letter for you. Get that first meeting to sow the seeds of future project referrals. For those more comfortable with the computer tools, you may access similar information by use of online directories by way of Yahoo! or Google or other Web engines.

While you're researching, spend a week or two learning the language spoken by the insurance agents, words like "peril," "co-insurance," "reserves," "multi-line," etc. Being able to speak the language used within the insurance industry will dramatically increase your odds of success. A great place to start learning the basic language is with your own insurance policy.

Marketing to the insurance agent requires persistence. You must do the research, make the calls, send the letters and meet face to face, perhaps many times, before you gain the trust and eventually that first assignment. Then, when you have the first job, remember that you must do the research, make the calls, send the letters and meet face to face with the next of your insurance contacts. The process is never-ending; make your marketing efforts routine. It has been our experience that the optimum time to meet agents is between Tuesday to Thursday and on a rotation schedule between eight and 10 weeks. Do this with each agent you have researched, or with whom you have an existing relationship, and you will have a good start for your profile sheet database.

Remember, you want to make a good impression with your insurance professional, and this requires that you step out of the self-serving mentality and think about the agent's needs. Ask yourself how you can help him help his clients and you will serve yourself as well.

Do the marketing, market to the right people and your company will profit. Make certain that your insurance professional understands that you are a partner in the successful completion of a risk project. Follow the simple acronym for marketing your business, KISS (Keep It Simple and Smart), and you will achieve a high level of success.

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