The pressure to deliver the right product at the right price in the right time has never been greater. Insurance agents that thrive are the ones that define, produce and promote their products more efficiently and more effectively; in short, agents with exceptional product management and marketing.
If you are unsure as to how to go about achieving a great and successful marketing strategy, the 10 steps below will help you to a strong start.
1. Take steps to make customers feel special. Customers respond to being recognized, especially in these rush-rush, get-the-lowest-price times. "Even with a Web-based business, good customer service is possible," says Denise McMillan, co-owner of Plush Creations, an online retailer of handcrafted travel bags. McMillan encloses a small, rose-scented sachet in every jewelry and lingerie bag she sells and also sends a hand-written thank-you note. "The sachet and note cost pennies but add something special to the purchase," she says.
2. Create business cards that prospects keep. Most business cards are tossed within hours of a meeting. Instead of having your card tossed, create one that recipients actually will use -- say, a good-looking notepad with your contact info and tagline on every page. "The business card notepad is referred to almost daily, kept for 30 days or so and carries a high remembrance factor," says Elliott Black, a Northbrook, Ill., marketing consultant who specializes in small businesses.
3. Stop servicing break-even customers. If this idea makes you gasp, think harder. You're falling for the fallacy of increasing sales instead of boosting profits. If you stop marketing to unprofitable customers, you have more time and resources for customers who actually grow your business. "More than likely, 20 percent of your customer base is contributing 150 percent to 200 percent of total annualized profit (TAP); 70 percent is breaking even; and 10 percent is costing you 50 percent to 100 percent of TAP," says Atlanta marketing consultant Michael King. Take a detailed look at your customer profitability data and then direct premium services and marketing to customers who count.
4. Develop an electronic mailing list and send old-fashioned letters. Most businesses have harnessed the power of e-newsletters -- and you definitely should be sending out one, too. It's very cost-effective. But exactly because e-mail marketing is now nearly ubiquitous, you can quickly stand out by occasionally sending personal, surface mail letters to customers and prospects. Just make sure the letter delivers something customers want to read, whether an analysis of recent events in your field, premium offers or a sweetener personalized for the recipient (a discount on his next purchase of whatever he last purchased, for instance). "This mailing has to have value to those that read it, so it reflects the value of what you offer," says Leslie Ungar, an executive coach in Akron, Ohio. "Remember, the best way to sell is to tell."
5. Boost your profile at trade shows and conferences. You can quickly create signage, glossy postcards with your contact information, product news inserts or an event mini Web site.
6. Combine business with pleasure -- and charity. Spearhead an event, party or conference for a cause you care about. That puts you in the position of getting to know lots of people, and shows off your small business leadership skills. "I host an annual baseball game where I take hundreds of clients to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field," says Kate Koziol, who owns a public relations agency in Chicago. "Last year, I took 300 people and we raised $10,000 for a local children's hospital. Few people turn down a game and it's a great networking opportunity for guests. It lets me reconnect with current clients and impress potential clients."
7. Create a destination. Bookstore chain Barnes & Noble has its coffee bars. Furnishings giant Ikea offers child-care centers and cafeterias. Why? So customers gravitate to the stores to enjoy an experience, to hang out for a while. Sunday morning at Barnes & Noble becomes a pleasant weekend routine, rather than a shopping errand.
8. Become an online expert. This is the "free sample" approach to bringing in business. Research active e-mail discussion lists and online bulletin boards that are relevant to your business and audience. Join several and start posting expert advice to solve problems or answer questions. You may need to keep this up for a bit. But the rewards come back in paying clients and referrals.
9. Court local media. Editorial features convey more credibility with prospective clients than paid advertising does. To get coverage from the local media, whether from the town newspaper, from TV or radio stations, or from trade journals, you need a fresh, timely story. It's usually worthwhile to hire an experienced publicist to position the stories, target appropriate media representative and write and send press releases. Usually, you can work on a short-term or contingency basis.
10. Finally, don't let customers simply slip away. Make an effort to reel them back in. It costs a lot less to retain a disgruntled or inactive customer than to acquire a new one. If you haven't heard from a customer in awhile, send a personalized e-mail (you can automate this process), inquiring whether all is well. For a customer who suffered a bad experience, pick up the phone, acknowledging the unpleasantness and ask if there's anything you can do. A discount can't hurt either. Being kind to customers is the smartest low-cost marketing you can do.
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