If you’re a newer Allstate agent, you may be wondering why you got into the insurance business. You may have even thought about quitting more than once. If this sounds familiar, I can assure you that those thoughts are normal for most agents.
The reality is that there are just as many reasons to go as there are to stay, especially in the early years when agents struggle financially. Some of the reasons for leaving are a lack of training and assistance, mediocre sales results, unrelenting production pressures, unrealistic quotas, unkept promises made by management, inflexible underwriting, uncompetitive rates, lack of family time, and a near-constant shortage of operating capital, just to name a few.
Truth be told, I considered leaving for many of the same reasons, but I knew if I worked hard, my efforts would eventually pay off – and they did. When I converted from employee agent to EA in 1994, I made some changes that many thought were risky and/or controversial. My marketing approach, for instance, promoted the Jim Fish Agency brand over the Allstate brand. Another was that I sought employees with no insurance experience because I didn’t want to inherit bad habits or negative baggage from other agencies.
Because I knew how hard and disheartening cold calling could be, I wanted to drive more phone quotes into the agency. In those days, Yellow Page advertising was king. And while I participated in Allstate display ads with other agents in my market, I also designed and purchased a full page nonAllstate Yellow Page ad for the Jim Fish Agency, and the response was incredible!
I also created non-Allstate direct mail pieces that included postage-paid quote request postcards. When the returned postcards arrived, I divided them amongst my producers. They loved them because the leads were better and fresher than other lead sources – and they were exclusive to our agency.
Before we go any further, I want to repeat the oft-cited adage, “It takes money to make money.” It is the absolute truth – provided, of course, you invest the time and energy needed make your investment succeed. Those return postcards, for example, would have been of little value if my producers hadn’t taken the time to contact them.
I firmly believe that an agent’s level of commitment to agency growth can be measured by the amount of time and money they squander vs. the amount of time and money they are willing to invest in their business. The question is: How badly do you want success? Rapid agency growth is highly unlikely without a credible action plan and a willingness to make sacrifices. If you’re serious about becoming rich and successful, it could mean temporarily giving up something you cherish, such as golf or the new car you were planning to buy.
As many of you know from personal experience, FSLs have a lot of suggestions about how you should spend your marketing dollars. When those ideas don’t work, they often find other ways to spend your money. Before you know it, you’ve either spent all your money, or you’ve finally learned not to listen to them anymore and have decided to build your own marketing strategy.
Here are a few suggestions that may help you succeed: First, stop listening to those who have either never sold insurance or who have limited insurance sales experience. Next, learn to believe in yourself. Sure, you’ll make some mistakes, but they’ll be yours and you’ll learn from them. Third, consider engaging in hobbies or causes that are beneficial for your agency. My hobby was developing advertising strategies for my agency. It allowed me to escape the everyday routine of running my agency, yet became an integral part of my success. My final suggestion is to be frugal when setting your own salary; take a minimum amount and wisely invest the rest into strategies that work for you and will grow your agency.
Like past generations of Allstate agents, current agents must find something that sets them apart from other agents in their market. For me, it was Yellow Pages and direct mail. Today, Yellow Pages are a thing of the past and our mailboxes – both physical and electronic – are overflowing with junk.
So what works in today’s world? My top choices include “cause” marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). Cause marketing can easily become a passionate hobby that grows your business while helping others. The Kindness Revolution ™ offers a great program for Allstate agents. It promotes kindness, a cause nearly anyone can get behind. To reach them call 404-384-6060 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Improving search engine results is another key to driving more traffic into your agency and Captive Agent Profits can help. They can be reached at 888-347-8683 – be sure to ask about their special program for NAPAA members.
My first stint as NAPAA President was from 2000 to 2003. During that period, NAPAA had a fantastic board of directors. We were eager and proactive, much like our current board. We were also a bit idealistic, thinking we would be able to effectuate a great many changes at Allstate. Apparently, the agency force thought so, too, as membership reached record levels.
In 2002, there was an independent labor movement underway that sought to unionize Allstate agents. While NAPAA was not part of the union effort, the company thought we were, because one member of our board was deeply involved with it.
NAPAA was about as active as it could be. Among other things, it challenged Allstate in court over several provisions of the EA contract, sought to ban the use of credit scoring, and attended annual Allstate Shareholder Meetings, where our board of directors took turns asking tough questions of then-CEO Ed Liddy. In 2002, my question turned into more than a dozen, which annoyed Mr. Liddy – despite the fact that they were legitimate agent and investor concerns. NAPAA was on a roll and membership continued to climb.
Allstate soon recognized that it was losing its grip over the agents, forcing it to reevaluate the way it dealt with them. The company decided that its first step would be to silence the leaders of the agent movement by terminating them.
The firings had a profound effect. Agents were stunned and angry, and the company found itself at a crossroads. Should it continue its policy of ironfisted control or lighten up and throw the agents a bone to quell the looming agent insurgency? To its credit, Allstate chose the latter by announcing the birth of the NAB, a company-sponsored advisory board. In retrospect, the creation of the NAB was an extraordinary move for a company whose longstanding ideology was that agents should be seen and not heard, and kept in their place.
Management boasted that the NAB would supplant NAPAA as the voice of the agent. Behind closed doors, however, skeptical managers feared that the agents’ newfound voice would lead to a loss of control, so they focused on how to structure the NAB to their advantage. Agents would not be allowed to nominate and elect their NAB reps; instead, Allstate handpicked them from a group of company stalwarts who would toe the company line. This plan gave Allstate a safety net and allowed it to boast that agents now had an “official” voice.
It is now over 13 years since the NAB was created. The agents who comprise the NAB and AEC have proven they aren’t pushovers. Many of them fight hard to make sure agents are treated fairly, which is not exactly what the company envisioned.
The other unexpected outcome is that NAPAA still exists, which is a good thing for the NAB and AEC because we help them stay relevant. Besides our publications, which often contain incisive content and calls to action, we are regularly contacted by the media for comments and opinions on Allstate issues – activities that are typically off limits to the NAB and AEC.
All of these add another layer of pressure on Allstate to do the right thing for its agents and customers. Clearly, if NAPAA did not exist, Allstate would be less accommodating, less receptive, and less eager to adopt the ideas and proposals of the NAB and AEC.
One of the things I’ve learned is that it is better to have an honest dialog than a shouting match. Since becoming NAPAA president again, I have rebuilt our board of directors, amended our bylaws, established meaningful committees, softened our rhetoric and adopted a more constructive approach to fixing problems. But there is always room for improvement. One of our main priorities is to give members more value. In today’s rough and tumble insurance market, agents are looking for ways to grow, which isn’t easy when corporate expects negative growth.
We know, for example, that search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial to increasing quote traffic in your agencies. With that in mind, NAPAA has partnered with Captive Agent Profits, a company whose goal is to drive more business into agencies by improving search engine results. We think this opportunity is a win-win for agents who want to grow their agencies.
There is a lot to like about Captive Agent Profits: Their job is to help you get great results; they guarantee exclusivity when you sign up with them; there are no long-term contacts to fulfill; and they’re trustworthy to boot! Please go to pages 10-11 of this magazine to learn more about them and then consider giving them a try. I think you’ll be glad you did.
Thirty years ago, I attended a regional payoff in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was on that trip that I met with two agents from my district to discuss moving into an agency together. They were both assigned to a booth in a local Sears store, and I was located in a company-owned Neighborhood Sales Office (NSO). In those days, Allstate agents were employees.
I wanted to relocate because I would have more freedom and less company oversight. John and Rose were itching to move from the booth into a more professional office setting. The catch was that we would all have to sign the Neighborhood Office Agent Agreement. Some of you will recall that NOA agents received an Office Expense Allowance (OEA), which was supposed to pay for most agency expenses.
Long story short, John and Rose jumped at the chance. Our combined OEAs would easily cover basic office expenses. By the time we left Mexico, the wheels were in motion and our new location soon became a reality.
The arrangement worked well, particularly for me, because I was the landlord and my tenants always paid the rent on time!
This partnership is how I really came to know John. I had never worked with him, but he was well-regarded by everyone in our market. I never heard anyone – agent, customer or manager – disparage him, which was the kind of reputation I was looking for in an office partner.
John wasn’t a big hitter, but his results were consistently above average. He could have easily been one of the top agents in the state, but that wasn’t a priority for him. Every now and then, however, he’d get excited about an award trip to a place he really wanted to go, and he made sure he earned it.
“Balanced” would be how I would describe him. John truly enjoys and embraces the finest things in life. I’m not talking about mansions or exotic cars, either; I’m talking about quality time with family and friends, and enjoying life to the fullest. His interests include fishing, hunting, biking, traveling, scuba diving, snorkeling, gardening, boating and getting the best deals possible. In other words, Allstate was not his sole priority in life, it was just one of many.
I’m the type who doesn’t respond well to authority. Ask me nicely, and I’m happy to oblige, but order me around, and it’s another story. John was a “roll with the punches” kind of guy. Rather than protest every single unreasonable management directive that came along, he picked his battles – and they were few and far between.
Some agents believe that management creates agent programs, rules and busywork solely to justify their existence. This belief helps stoke the fire of agent discontent. But if John ever got angry, you’d never know it. He understood – perhaps better than anyone – that most company programs end up in that giant compost heap of failed initiatives, so why worry about them?
John taught me some valuable lessons over the years. While I was knocking myself out to be number one, he was leading a rich, full life that included work, family, favorite hobbies and little stress.
Our business partnership lasted until I decided to convert to the EA contract in 1995. It only ended then because Allstate would not allow EAs and NOA agents to share office space. This saddened me, but it was the next logical step. I was unhappy with my employee status – mandatory meetings and mediocre agent programs, like QES, ADP, and BPS were a waste of my time and hindered my production. I was excited about the EA program, and I believed management when they said it would eliminate all the employee BS and grant me the freedoms I had long coveted.
The programs listed above riled me, but they didn’t seem to bother John. He took them all in stride – and they eventually disappeared, just as he had predicted. If I had learned more from him earlier in my career, I might have saved myself a great deal of anger and stress.
Admittedly, I haven’t yet completely mastered this philosophy, but I’m getting better at it. My advice: Shed the negative stressors in your life. Most of the programs you dislike will die on their own. Cry foul only when truly necessary, then rise to the occasion. Let minor irritants roll off you like water off a duck’s back – you’ll be happier, healthier and far less stressed.
Many publications, including most local newspapers, welcome the perspectives of their readers and publish them on the opinion page or in the letters to the editor section. They do this to demonstrate impartiality and so that readers won’t get a lopsided view of the world. And while I disagree with some of the comments and opinions in my local paper, I’m not going to cancel my subscription because I was somehow offended by a letter to the editor. I also realize that letters and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, so why shoot the messenger?
Nearly everyone is guilty of negativity – no matter how positive they think they are. As we know, negativity can be an expression of pessimism or criticism. So when we disapprove of something, we often make critical comments. If we believe a company program is bound to fail, we’re being pessimistic. If we think the program is a stupid idea, we’re being critical. If we say it’s a stupid idea and that it’s sure to fail, we’re being both critical and pessimistic.
We are all guilty, including yours truly. If Aaron Rodgers were to throw a game-losing interception, I might curse a lot and stomp my feet. Contrast that with the sheer ecstasy I felt last December after he completed a 65-yard Hail Mary pass in the final seconds to beat Detroit. I’m still smiling.
Nowadays when Allstate does something that negatively affects its agents or customers, the bloggers valiantly raise their voices in protest, while many in the “silent majority” merely stand by nodding in support. A lot of energy is spent on such online agent forums, but I wonder what can be accomplished without money, staffing and an organizational structure. This is where NAPAA can help.
NAPAA does not simply hoot and holler about something without reason. Take Complimentary Group Rating (CGR) for example. NAPAA carefully examined Allstate’s voluminous CGR rate filing for the state of Wisconsin and concluded that Allstate’s version of price optimization lacks transparency and is not good for Allstate agents or customers. As a result, NAPAA began prodding state insurance regulators to outlaw the practice. Today, price optimization is being closely scrutinized by regulators, leading some to confirm the practice is in violation of existing regulations.
Yet despite the fact that NAPAA typically “looks before it leaps,” we are often regarded as negative by some agents. These folks are typically not NAPAA members. If they were, they would have the opportunity to sit on our board of directors and have a say about the direction of NAPAA. But they don’t appear to be seriously interested in solving the problems they say exist. Ironically, they criticize us for being negative, yet it is they who cannot seem to temper their remarks.
I joined NAPAA in 1993 because I passionately believed in its mission and in those who founded the organization. It was like a calling or a sense of duty for me. But more importantly, it gave me the opportunity to fight for the things I truly believe in, such as getting fair treatment for every Allstate agent – not just a select few.
Throughout my Allstate career, I reached out to others and shared my success secrets. I did this on a local, regional and national level. Following are a couple examples of what I mean. The first occurred years ago when management invited me to the Region to share my slightly complicated, but successful life presentation with the agency force. Some of those old-timers still thank me for helping them earn top awards. Then in 2001, I wrote “How to Advertise Like a Pro,” an article that was published in Exclusivefocus. Until then, agents thought they were only allowed to use company approved ads when advertising. My article turned that notion upside down by informing them that they didn’t need company approval for ads that did not contain Allstate logos, etc. or make references to Allstate products. At the time, it was a real eye-opener for the agents who were looking for ways to expand their reach by promoting their own unique brands. Today, it is common knowledge.
Helping others is a trait that is shared by everyone on our board and I am confident that each of them could tell similar stories based on their experiences.
Yes, sometimes we publish stuff that might not sit well with every reader. This is not intentional. Our goal is to provide you with the realities – good and bad – that face Allstate agents on a daily basis.
As for me, I’m not going to turn off the evening news. There is far too much at stake.
Until next time,
Winter 2015 - 16
Having been around Allstate agents for dozens of years, I think I know them pretty well. For one thing, they don’t all think alike unless they are confronted with an issue that threatens their livelihoods. Even then, there are some who will disagree with the majority. But it is those in the vast majority that I write about today.
As an Allstate agency owner, you are part of group that is 10,000 members strong. This shared commonality makes you part of your own unique group. So when someone talks about Allstate agents, they are talking about you and your agent colleagues, regardless of your individual differences. This is one of the unfortunate consequences of being lumped together with your peer group.
To the outside observer, we look alike, think alike and behave alike. Only when they get to know us do their perceptions change, and even then, some of our customers won’t notice the differences that separate us. It seems they could care less who services their policy, even if it means seeking help from an Allstate call center. Somehow, they have concluded that all Allstate representatives are equal, perhaps because Allstate hires and trains them.
Generalizations can be way off the mark, which is certainly true in this instance. As an insider, it is easy to notice differences between Allstate agents. It is even possible to discern which agents stand out amongst their peers in terms of marketing savvy, product knowledge and innovation. It is also clear that they have differing ideas about the tactics the company employs to achieve its goals and about the products it offers, both of which have been called into question at times by the media, consumer groups, regulators and the agency force.
It is obvious to me that most agent criticism of the company is not done with malice, but rather out of a sincere and nearly universal love for the Allstate brand. Few agents, if any, want to tarnish the brand; what they want is for Allstate to be a good corporate citizen and a model for the industry – in every respect.
Watching all of the political maneuvering in the national news recently, I thought how strikingly similar the Allstate agency force is to American society. As we see in the ongoing political discourse in this country, there is a great divide between political candidates. Despite their differences, however, they all profess a profound love and respect for America and our way of life.
Love of country is truly our collective unifier. It’s hard to imagine life without it. That’s not to say we don’t have problems. These days, what Americans seem to detest most is Congress. Granted, it is an imperfect institution funded by our tax dollars, but it is also the vehicle that creates the laws of our land.
For the agents of Allstate, the vehicle that can best effect change is NAPAA. If we ever want to fix the issues that must be repaired, agents must be unified and strong. When NAPAA speaks, the press listens and so does Allstate, even though management won’t admit it. And while I mean no disrespect, the NAB and AEC are limited in what they can do and say. Sure, Allstate wants the representatives of these groups to believe they are participating in important decisions, but can those appointees really speak freely on your behalf or openly disagree with company policy? Are they able stand up and challenge company leaders at shareholder meetings or speak to the press with unfettered voices? No, they can’t... but NAPAA can.
Whether you love NAPAA or loath it, it is your agent association. And like Congress, NAPAA leadership is elected democratically by its members. But unlike Congress, NAPAA is not funded with taxpayer dollars; it is funded by membership dollars. To be most effective, we need our membership to grow. If you’re a NAPAA supporter and not yet a member, please get off the sidelines and into the game. We need your support. All it costs is $31 a month. I urge you to contribute your fair share by joining us today. Remember, your membership is confidential, and so are your contributions. Thank you for your support and best wishes in 2016.
Until next time,
Welcome to NAPAA’s newly remodeled website.
While our new site is simpler and easier to navigate, we did not scrimp on quality or content. You will still find all of your favorite features and resources, but you will also notice some major improvements.
We are especially excited about the additional resources now available in the “Members Only” pages. Log-in and you’ll find new sections on Staff Compensation, Training and Employment Best Practices, Technology, Sales and Marketing, and Social Media. In addition, we’ve added even more pages to the already information-packed section on Buying and Selling Agencies. Besides these enhancements, we are committed to keeping our new website fresh by regularly adding new content so you will keep coming back for more.
2015 has been a busy year for NAPAA. Our new NAPAA National Advisory Council (NAC) held its inaugural meeting in January. The council is comprised of six active agents who hail from different regions of the country. They are sensible, thoughtful agents, who are sincere about making Allstate a better place for agents and customers. Like most Allstate agents, they are busy running their agencies, yet they still possess a strong desire to help their fellow agents. They also understand that NAC meetings are not for airing individual grievances, but rather to focus on “bigger picture” problems. They come to meetings well-prepared, and have developed a wish list of priorities that are in various stages of completion. The hope, of course, is to resolve these matters in a positive way for Allstate agents.
NAPAA has been busy making membership even more valuable, too. Soon we will be adding monthly webinars focusing on agency growth, and offering more discounts from nationally recognized vendors, including continuing education and pre-licensing classes for agents and staff. Watch DirectExpress newsletter for announcements, and be sure to log-in to the members-only section of this website to take advantage of these savings with special links and discount codes.
NAPAA is also expanding its social media reach, so be sure to visit us on Facebook and LinkedIn. You can also join the conversation on our popular Facebook discussion group for agency owners, where you can engage in some lively debates with your colleagues.
Until next time,
The Sky is Not Falling... In spite of some difficult budgetary issues over the past few years, things are looking up for your agent association, especially in the overall disposition of our board of directors. A refreshing wave of enthusiasm and motivation has washed over the board, giving them a renewed sense of purpose. They are genuinely excited about the encouraging transformation NAPAA is undergoing.
This doesn’t mean we don’t have problems, because we do. What has changed is the way we go about solving them. For the foreseeable future our primary concern will be budgetary. We’ve already made many hard choices, but there will be more to come. This means we must find ways to cut expenses even further, while simultaneously growing revenues. This does not mean raising membership dues; it means adding more members and developing other sources of income.
In case you haven’t noticed, NAPAA is in the throes of great change. It is important to me that both our members-at-large and board of directors are given every opportunity to improve NAPAA. No sensible new ideas are off the table. As a result, we are coming up with new ways for members to communicate their ideas and concerns to us. These are not always earth shattering revelations; instead, they are often minor tweaks that can make a difference.
One such idea is our new “Suggestion Box” feature in our member-only newsletter. Now, when a member has an idea or suggestion, they simply submit it via the suggestion box and it is forwarded to me. If it has merit, I take it to the entire board for consideration. Another idea we are implementing in the latest issue of Exclusivefocus is a new advice column we’re calling “Ask Lezlee.” Lezlee Liljenberg is a multiple Inner Circle Award winner and member of our board. If you have a business-related question that you are not sure how to handle, just email your question to HQ@napaaUSA.org.
At this point, I’ll point out that NAPAA officers and directors are not compensated, except for travel-related expenses they incur when attending face-to-face board meetings once or twice per year. To be clear, talking about our financial challenges is not about me running around shouting, “The sky is falling,” because it’s not. Instead, it is an effort to give our readers a better glimpse into the affairs of NAPAA.
I am not at all pessimistic about the fate of NAPAA. I am, in fact, quite optimistic about our future. Yes, we must make some very difficult decisions in the coming months, but I believe our board of directors will step up to meet these challenges. And once we’ve finished the hard work, NAPAA will be stronger and more vibrant than ever. If you are a nonmember reading this message, I hope you will decide to be a part of the only organization looking out for the best interest of the Allstate agent. Become a NAPAA member today… we need your support.