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Agents turn to technology to boost sales.

Best's Review, June 2011
By Lori Chordas

Simplicity is key.

At least that's what agents say when it comes to technology.  "They're looking for Web-based systems that give producers and managers tools to be more portable in their selling and access prospects and sales information on the road," said Jessica Stevenson, account executive with MySalesResults, a subsidiary of SMART I.T. Services Inc.

Until recently, agents were focused on putting "much of their financial resources into technologies for their service people and office staff, often overlooking their sales staff," she said. "Today, agencies are spending more money to provide sales people with the latest, greatest technologies and software, and are investing dollars where their revenue is being produced."

Agencies are more focused on, and committed to, using technology, added Jerry Fetty, founder and CEO of SMART I.T. Services.

"They're using it to be more productive, but now also realize it offers them a competitive advantage.  They want to see a return on investment quickly. They're not looking to put six to 12 months into a solution; they want something up and running in a week or two."

Added Stevenson, "Even though they're Web-based tools, agents want to take those technologies out of the box and begin using them without having to buy a standard product that goes across any industry.  Agencies are focused on products tailored and customized specifically for them."

Some agents also are beginning to dip their toes into cutting-edge technologies that already have fully immersed many other industries.  A recent series of break-out sessions by the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America's Agents Council for Technology revealed that mobile technology, the social web and cloud computing are some of the top consumer and technology trends that are expected to impact agents over the next three years.

For instance, agents are looking at developing apps for mobile and Web-based services, including websites and mobile devices on mobile platforms.

Also, some will explore building models that allow for access to electronic data and documents in the cloud.

Participants in the break-outs said that carriers, vendors and agents will need to be more nimble and will gain a competitive advantage based on how fast they can adapt to changing customer preferences and expectations and offer the technology choices their clients want to use.

However, participants added that carrier and vendor investments in these new technologies that support their agents will depend upon the level of agency demand and adoption that they see.

Best's Review took a look at several agency technology tools being used in the industry today.

MySalesResults (Sterling Heights, Mich.)
In 2006, VAST, formerly Hetrick & Associates Insurance Agency of Marquette, Mich., wanted an easier way to streamline its sales management and tracking abilities.

"Hetrick had an in-house system and several different spreadsheets linking together macros and formulas, which was hard to manage and was not error-proof," said Jessica Stevenson, account executive for MySalesResults, a subsidiary of SMART I.T. Services Inc. "They wanted a tool to better provide a more efficient way to manage the system."

The results was the development of a prospecting and results-tracking tool that allows producers to track and manage their prospect pipeline throughout the sales process.

MySalesResults allows managers to compare producer sales results to their sales goals by individual producer, department or agency.  It integrates with Microsoft Outlook to synchronize contacts and calendars, and it automatically calculates closing ratios and revenues-per-relationship.  It's built in the cloud so users can access the system anytime, even on iPads and most smartphones.

"It's a Web-based system designed for agents by agents," Stevenson noted.

In 2010, information technology services provider SMART I.T. Services acquired the Web-based sales management tool.  It offers real-time reporting to manage information, and is designed to be simple and efficient, she said.  MySalesResults also provides several bonus reports for tracking referrals.  Agents can view current event sales goals anytime.  "And when they move a sale through the system, they can see how that sale impacts their overall goals.  It's a great tool for cross-selling between producers, joint-selling and even tying sales goals back to their numbers."

SMART I.T. Services CEO Jerry Fetty said smartphones and tablet PCs are on the rise, "so we need to get that data out into the hands of sales and service people on the road and at home so that those devices become effective business tools."

WorkSmart (Vertafore) - Bothell, Wash.
While some agencies haven't yet made the leap to more-modern platforms, many are now looking to drive greater productivity within their organizations and effectively collaborate with managing general agents and carriers, said Bill Bunker, president of agency markets for Vertafore.

The insurance software provider created its WorkSmart product to allow agents to streamline their businesses and view the bottlenecks, inefficiencies and delays that exist in routine processes such as endorsements and renewals.

Powered by Vertafore's ImageRight software, WorkSmart helps to reduce the number of steps it takes to get things done, said Bunker.  "Often producers who should be customer-facing, for example, spend much time doing the work of a processor.  Through increased visibility of work flows, agencies can operate more efficiently, ensuring each role supports the organization the way it was designed."

WorkSmart gives agencies insight into key business metrics.  Driven by data in a company's management system, it provides the intelligent work flows needed to automate processes and increases capacity by ensuring the right people are focused on the right tasks.

The tool works with a file-centric system that resembles paper filing.  However, unlike paper filing, staffers can see and access complete client files from virtually anywhere so they can organize, locate, print, fax and email from their desktops.  They can even customize the tool by setting deadlines to manage client renewals and update files.

"Agents gain detailed insight into business processes with business process reporting, which provides tools to locate and manage bottlenecks and processing issues.  That ensures their business is marketed, renewed and services as timely as possible," said Bunker.  Agents can "take frivolous activities out of the mix and push work to the right team members to get the work done."

The end results? Reduced costs and added time to reinvest in their book of business and service customers, he said.

SpatialKey (Universal Mind) - Westfield, Mass.
While nearly 80% of enterprise data is location-based, that data often is out of reach for decision-makers because it's locked within systems accessible only by data analysts or tucked away in individual spreadsheets.

Enter SpatialKey to help change that.

The tool, a product and wholly-owned subsidiary of digital solutions agency Universal Mind, is location-based visualization software to help agents make better decisions in less time, said CEO Tom Link.

The company's goal was to leverage its existing experience in data visualization to create a location intelligence solution that was faster, less expensive and more interactive than traditional geographic information system/location intelligence tools, he said.

Location-based intelligence allows agents to quickly visualize and map a portfolio's geographically relevant risks.  It then presents clients with visualization that demonstrates their exposure.

"There's much work to be done on better integration of data and currently available data, especially for independent agents.  They're limited in using that data in different interoperable systems," he said.

"We see SpatialKey as a chain of communication between carriers and agents and how we make use of data to all different needsd to be more adhesive between systems," Link added.

Agents can instantly create interactive analyses and reports and share them with decision-makers.  "It empowers business users to map and analyze their business data quickly to make more-informed decisions.  It helps them visualize trends and patterns in data to understand where they're selling, where risks and exposures are and the impact if an event occurs," he said.

SpatialKey is available either out-of-the-box or customized to meet specific data-analysis requirements.  Because it is a hosted solution, there is no software to install and agents can access the application using their browser.  He said users can look at data by Zip code or by premium amount, for instance.  "Another attribute of data might be when policies are expiring.  Agents can focus on those policies, build reports to understand the data and develop marketing efforts."  SpatialKey supports the geocoding of addresses for more than 150 countries, and users can import data that includes latitude and longitude for any location globally.