Three Steps to Make Change Easier

Change. Whether you’re implementing insurance agency management software for the first time or moving from one software platform to another, you’re engaged in change. And change can be hard.

Change can be uncomfortable. You may realize the need to improve the way you run your health insurance agency. After all, that’s why you’re shopping for a CRM or agency management system. However, you and your team are used to doing business a certain way. And that way is, usually, familiar and comfortable.

There is also that pesky “change takes time” thing. You’re in the insurance business, not the software business. You have prospects and clients to attend to. You have insurance carrier reps to talk to. Products to learn. Employees to train. When it comes to priorities, learning new software will rarely be at the top of your list.

So, how do you make change?

For an insightful, in-depth dive into the subject, you may want to read Switch: Making Change When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Health. It’s entertaining, helpful and well worth your time.

In the meantime, however, here’s three lessons I’ve learned in the past 30 years of developing and implementing sales software. During that time I’ve engaged in new technologies at health insurance agencies, general agencies, health insurance carriers, and insurtech start-ups (like NextAgency). Given that this is a NextAgency blog, I’m focusing on implementing insurance agency management software. But the lessons apply to any change — buying new equipment, entering new markets, selling a new product and so on.

Lesson 1: Appoint a Champion

Implementing new software requires everyone in your insurance agency to be involved. Your entire team needs to make time for training. They need to use the new agency management system so that the data is current and stays relevant. However, you can make things easier for everyone by appointing a change champion. This individual is on point, leading the effort to implement your new software. Others can procrastinate (a bit), but not your champion. Your champion works with the software vendor’s success team (like our NextConcierge group). Your champion schedules training, helps other find training videos and helpful articles. They offer encouragement to others and pay attention to progress. They’re the go-to person in your agency others talk to when they have questions.

Without a champion, everyone has plenty of excuses. “I have other things to do.” “This isn’t my job.” “I haven’t been trained.” Change champions, however, cuts through the excuses. She answers questions. She provides an example. She gets things done.  Whether you are implementing new agency management software or adding a new product line, someone needs to lead the charge. And as the agency owner, it’s your obligation to appoint — and support — that champion.

Lesson 2: Embrace Frustration

Even bad habits can feel familiar and secure. By definition change — and change — forces people out of their comfort zone. Change demands a learning curve. The status quo does not. The learning process can be frustrating simply because it’s different. “Why is that button blue? In our old system it was orange.” “Why is search field on the right instead of the left?” “Why do I have to enter my notes in the software instead of on a Post-it?” You get the idea.

This frustration is natural — and even helpful. It shows your team is thinking about what they’re doing. It’s part of the process of developing new habits. And it’s very human. Does it matter whether a button is blue or orange? Probably not. But you’re moving your team out of their comfort zone and they’re annoyed. Expect frustration and know it will pass. In a few weeks, the change becomes the status quo.

Lesson 3: Choose Flexibility

Some change is needed. Some is not. If you’re successful enough to consider insurance agency management software, you’re doing something right. So why would you change what’s working? Learning new software is one thing. Abandoning what’s made you successful is another thing altogether.

Instead, choose software (or hardware) that helps you do what you do — just in a more effective and efficient way. You know, software like NextAgency. We designed NextAgency for health and life insurance agencies. We know, however, that every agency is different. Which is why we made NextAgency flexible. So you can personalize the platform for your agency.

Change is Inevitable

In today’s reality, change is inevitable. Laws change. Products change. Client expectations and needs change. Insurance agencies who pretend the status quo is permanent will lose. This is why agency management systems more agencies are adopting software like NextAgency every month.

Given that insurance agencies like yours — you know, the ones that will be around for the long-term — will adapt, make the change process easier. You can do that by 1) appointing a champion; 2) embracing frustration; and 3) choosing flexibility.

NextAgency saves health and life insurance agencies time, money and clients with a powerful, modern agency management system featuring CRM and commission management tools. Please visit www.NextAgency.com to learn more. And to see NextAgency in action, please sign-up for a free demonstration at one of our regular webinars.

Is Your Insurance Agency Software Flexible Enough?

Take any two health insurance agencies. Or life insurance agency. Or Medicare agency. They may look alike to an outsider. However, I guarantee you, they’re not.

Insurance agencies have their own skill sets. They have their own way of doing things. In short, each insurance agency is unique.

This benefits consumers. They can find the insurance agent that is their best fit. Perhaps that’s why life and health agencies thrive in the face of online alternatives, unlike what happened in other industries. Travel agencies, you have our deepest condolences.

Who’s the boss? You or your software?

Which raises an interesting question. Why does insurance agency software treat you like you’re all the same? Too many technology platforms seem to be designed from the top down. The software company decides “This is best practice. It’s our way or the highway.” They demand their users adapt to the software

NextAgency is different. We built NextAgency to, as much as possible, adapt to the way you work.

NextAgency delivers an agency management system with CRM and commission management tools, We built the software specifically for insurance agencies selling and servicing health, life, senior and similar policies. But we know each agency is unique. Generic software requires a lot of customization. NextAgency is built for insurance agencies. There’s no need to configure NextAgency to your business. You can use NextAgency straight out of the box. OK, we’re cloud-based software so there’s no real box. We’re talking metaphors here.

We made NextAgency flexible

We’re saying NextAgency works for benefit agencies as is. However, you can personalize NextAgency to an amazing degree. Yes, we have insurance policy templates. But you can edit them or create your own. You can even create templates for non-insurance products. And sure, we provide a host of fields to capture data about your prospects and clients. Yet you can add custom fields — as many as like. Our commission management tools are considered among the best around. However, feel free to track additional compensation information.

You get the idea. You don’t have to personalize NextAgency. But you can.

A lot of health insurance agencies are looking for software to help them grow. They want to organize client data, keep their commitments, manage their commissions, and, well, work smarter. You may be one of them. If so, ask any software company you consider about their flexibility. Do they offer a one-size fits all solution? Or can you adjust the fit like you can with NextAgency?

Building flexible software isn’t easy. But we find it worth the effort. Because the result is an agency management system that doesn’t change the way you do business. Rather, our software helps you do your business your way, just better.

And isn’t that what your software should do?

NextAgency saves insurance agencies time, money and clients with a powerful, modern agency management system. To learn more please visit us at www.NextAgency.com and sign-up for a free demonstration at one of our regular webinars.

 

Before You Upload Case Data into an Agency Management System …

Agency Management System

Congratulations. You’ve signed-up with NextAgency. (At least, I hope you have!). Now you want to use it and that means getting your client data into the system. Immediately.

I don’t blame you. The sooner you start using your new agency management system, the sooner you’ll have a more effective and efficient agency.

Before you enter your data, however, may I suggest a little planning first? Thinking through how you want to organize your data before uploading it will help you get the most out of NextAgency (or any insurance agency software). This post helps you do this by asking three questions

Definitions and Structure

Insurance agents use a lot of terms. Sometimes different words for the same thing. Which can get pretty confusing. For the purpose of this post, let’s agree on the following:

Cases are your customers and potential customers. They may be individuals or groups. Active or inactive. Leads, prospects, or clients. They buy insurance from you – or you hope will.

Market Segments describes whether the insurance policy or product your selling is for individuals or groups. To determine the market segment, ask “Who pays the premium?”  

In NextAgency we provide three market segments: individual, small group and large group. For technical reasons, the market segment options are one of the few items that cannot be edited.

Sales Statuses defines your relationship to the case. Is it someone who you already work with or someone you hope to work with? To determine sales status ask “What is this case to my agency?”

In NextAgency we start you off with two sales statuses: prospects and clients. For many agencies this is enough. However, you may add as many other statuses as you want.

Sales Stages describe what is going on with the case. Stages vary depending on a case’s status. For example, you may be trying to reach a prospect for the first time or you may be showing them a proposal. Your clients may be doing fine or they may be having a service problem. To determine sales stages ask, “What is happening with this case?”

You can group stages into processes – sometimes called pipelines. We provide some default pipelines, as identified by the color associated with each stage. Again, however, you can quickly edit these or make your own.

Fine-tuning Statuses and Stages

Knowing the questions to ask enables you to organize your data. You know the kind of answers you’ll get to these questions. Use this knowledge to create the statuses and stages you’ll need before you enter case data. Let’s see how.

Market Segment: Who pays the premium? Either an individual or an organization of some kind.  An individual, for example, may buy a Medicare Supplement or an individual medical policy, but they’re still an individual. When companies pay the premium it’s a group plan. You can draw the line between a “small group” or “large group.” Just be consistent.

Sales Status: What is this case to my agency? If the case is already a client, do you have different kinds of clients? For example, are you a sub-agent of another agency on some cases? Or do ever act as GA? You may want to have separate statuses for each type of client. Or you may want to distinguish between hot and cold prospects. Choose the statuses that make the most sense for your agency.

Sales Stages: What is happening with this case? If everything is going well with a client, everyone on your team should know. Similarly, if a client is having a service issue, your team needs to know that, too. For prospects, your team should know if an appointment has been set or if the case is in the process of enrolling.

About active versus inactive cases: There’s a difference of opinion among NextAgency’s brokers as to whether “active” versus “inactive,” (or “closed” or “termed”) should be a status or a stage. There’s no right answer. By default, NextAgency includes active and closed as stages. However, if you prefer to use them as statuses, it only takes a minute to make that change. Active/Inactive are one of the few items that can go in either category

Keep it Simple

At NextAgency, making it easy to personalize our agency management system to fit the way your insurance agency works is an important part of our design philosophy. But don’t get carried away. Keep it simple.

This is especially true with sales statuses. Some agencies tend to get extremely granular with this list. Yet there’s no need.There are dozens of built-in fields to help you understand and identify your cases. Plus you can create as many custom fields as you like. If you want to assign each case a Dewey Decimal System number, go for it. (Although really?) You probably don’t need sales statuses

Keeping it simple means everyone in your agency will understand how your case data is organized. This means everyone will be entering the data consistently. They’ll be able to quickly find what they need. And new hires will find it easier to get up to speed.

Best of all, you can adjust things down the road. The simpler you structure your data in the beginning, however, the faster you’ll get up-and-running. Which means the sooner you’ll be saving time, money and clients.

NextAgency is an agency management system with CRM and commission management tools for health, senior and life agencies. Our goal is to help agents and brokers save time, money and clients. To learn more, please visit www.NextAgency.com.

Never Miss Commitments with NextBroker Timelines

Making promises to prospects and client is easy. Keeping them can be harder. Yet following through on commitments you make to clients is critical to sales success. That’s why we’re pleased to introduce Timelines in NextBroker. With Timelines’ personalized, powerful to-do lists, commitments don’t fall through the cracks.

Follow Through is Hard, but Matters

Typically a client calls with a problem and your agency commits to help resolve it. Hopefully, you also promise to provide a progress report on a date certain. Keeping clients informed of what’s happening can relieve anxiety and demonstrates your customer service chops.

Failing to provide that update, however, can make matters worse. Your client initially was concerned about their service problem. Now they’re disappointed your agency failed to follow through. Even when you solve their problem, that disappointment may linger.

Most of us don’t make promises intending not to keep them. (Most of us don’t work in Washington, DC). The problem is you have lots of commitments to fulfill and keeping them is just part of what you do in a day. Keeping track of all the balls you’re juggling can be hard. John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” The corollary is that work keeps happening when you’re trying to work.

Yet fulfilling commitments is vital to sales success. That was a (not particularly surprising) finding in research I conducted on what separates successful health insurance brokers from their less accomplished colleagues. In the book that came out of this study, Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success, I describe this trait as sales professionalism –being worthy of clients’ trust and reliance in your abilities and expertise.

Without this trust, closing sales is harder, renewing cases is difficult, getting referrals is nearly impossible. Prospects and clients are apt to leave when a more trustworthy advisor comes along. Having the trust of your clients matters. Failing to fulfill your commitments undermines trust. It really is that simple.

So how does NextAgency help you keep your clients’ trust? Glad you asked.

NextBroker Introduces Timelines

NextBroker helps you keep your commitments. (As a reminder, NextBroker is the agency management component of NextAgency). One way we do this is through tasks — and tasks in this context is a synonym for promises. Within a task you can set due dates and reminders. You can prioritize them, assign them to others on your team, add files and much more.

With NextBroker you can also export your tasks to your Outlook or Google Calendar. From there the task syncs with your phone. This approach is a big step in keeping commitments out of those proverbial cracks. Deadlines are easy to keep when your reminded of them by your agency management system, desktop calendar and phone.

Now we do more. A few weeks ago, we added Timelines to NextBroker. Timelines are powerful, personalized to-do lists for you and every member of your team. You see all your tasks in one place and can focus on what you need to know. Today’s tasks are a click away. So are tomorrow’s or any date range you specify. Want to see the progress on tasks you assigned to colleagues? Simple. Want to see the tasks your partner assigned to you? Easy.

Client trust is too precious to assign to Post-it notes and scraps of paper. So we made it simple to create Timelines. Just capture your client commitments as tasks within NextBroker. We do the rest for you.

Making promises is easy. With NextBroker Timelines, keeping them just got a whole lot easier.

Attend a NextAgency demonstration to See how NextBroker Timelines can help you keep your commitments. Register today for an upcoming webinar at http://meetme.so/NextAgency.

Agency Management Systems and Sales Success

Some people make decisions based on data; others tap into more emotional factors. Deciding to adopt an agency management system is a big decision. The rewards can be tremendous, but it takes money and time to make it work. (Fortunately, some options, like NextAgency, are more affordable and easy-to-use than others, but that’s for another post). When considering agency management software, considering both objective and subjective perspective can be helpful.

You’ll see some posts from the subjective perspective in this blog soon, but for this article, let’s focus on some objective data.

Several years ago, I led a study of insurance agents called the Trailblazed Sales Project. We surveyed 200 professionals in six states who specialized in individual, small group and senior insurance sales. Our goal was to find out what separated successful producers from their less successful competitors. The results formed the basis of my book, Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success.

We surveyed health insurance agents for two reasons. First, several large health insurers underwrote the study and wanted data they could use. Second, and more important, health insurance agents make an ideal subject for this kind of study. By law and regulation, every agent in a community sells the same products for the same price – no discounts or games allowed. If a broker closes more sales than others in the same community, it’s the result of what that broker is (or isn’t) doing.

Although selected at random, the sales success of our respondents fit nicely into a bell curve. About 25% had seen year-over-year sales growth of 20% or more. Roughly half experienced some annual growth, but less than 20%. And close to 25% saw no growth or their sales declined from the previous year. We categorized the respondents as High Growth, Low Growth or No Growth Producers, then set about seeing what practices, processes and perspectives separated one category from the others.

Marshaling Resources

We identified several drivers of sales success and grouped those into what, in the book, I refer to as paths and trails. This blog isn’t the place to dive deeply into all the attributes that separate High Growth Producers from their less successful colleagues. That’s what the book does. There are, however, a few drivers that brokers considering whether to adopt an agency management system – or any new technology – should consider.

The survey showed, for example, that High Growth Producers are significantly more likely to incorporate technology into their business. This was across virtually every type of technology an agency could deploy. Not surprisingly, No Growth Producers were the least likely to use technology. This finding – part of the Business Acumen path – was closely related to another: High Growth Producers were much more likely to invest in their business than their colleagues.

Successful sales professionals, the study found, marshal resources to drive their businesses forward. It can be difficult to determine which is the cause or effect here. Are brokers successful because they invest in their business? Or are already successful brokers better able to make an investment in their business?

Based on my sales experience, which spans decades in a variety of roles and companies, I believe there is a virtuous circle at play. Investments breed success which enables additional investments. While the study didn’t determine which is egg and which is chicken, at some point every agency had to take a leap of faith and make that first investment. Whichever comes first, what the data shows is clear: success comes to agencies who invest in the tools necessary to be successful. The data shows High Growth Producers use some of these investments to bring technology into their businesses.

These two drivers, taken together, signify that marshaling resources in connection to technology correlates highly with success. High Growth Producers recognize that technology can give them a competitive edge. By simplifying administrative tasks insurance agency software can free up time for brokers and their teams to focus on selling to prospects and servicing clients.

However, this leads to additional questions: How much to invest? In what technologies? From what vendors? My next post will dive into how to determine what to invest – and if any investment is worthwhile. As to what specific technologies, the answer is simple: only that software that can save you time, make you money and gain a competitive edge.

NextAgency: A Sound Investment

However, this leads to additional questions: How much to invest? In what technologies? From what vendors? My next post dives into the whether and how much questions. As to what specific technologies, the answer is simple: invest in software that saves save more time, make you more money and provides a greater competitive edge than you’d have without the investment.

Now, I’m biased here, but I’d like to point out that NextAgency rises to the occasion. No surprise here. We built NextAgency to help brokers save time, money and clients.(In a previous post I wrote about how to determine if investing in agency management software made sense, but let’s talk about NextAgency in particular.)

NextAgency’s agency management system, NextBroker, puts all your forms and documents in one place, so you and your team don’t waste time trying to find it – or worse, discover you left forms at the office you need in your prospect’s office. With NextBroker, all the documents and forms you need are just a few clicks away, wherever you have an internet connection.

Keeping commitments and meeting deadlines lead to more sales. NextBroker makes that easy by keeping notes, tasks and reminders accessible to everyone who needs to see them – and only those who need to see them.

Getting what you have earned gives you the resources needed to invest in technology. That’s why NextBroker includes commission tracking tools to identify missing payments and help create commission statements for employees and outside sub-agents.

Agency management systems should make it easier to obtain quotes, send out proposals and submit enrollment forms. NextBroker does all that.

NextAgency even helps brokers deliver additional value to their prospects and clients. Our employee management software, NextHR, helps your groups manage time and attendance, on-board new employees, track benefits and more. And NextHR is free when you subscribe to NextBroker.

The Trailblazed Sales Project Study shows that one reason High Growth Producers sell more than others is that they do a better job of marshaling their resources. This includes investing in their agency when it’s needed.

To see why NextAgency may be the agency management system your agency needs, please visit NextAgency.com. Better still, see a demonstration of NextBroker and NextHR in action by registering for one of our regular webinars. And see how our agency management system can lead to sales success.

We Built NextAgency For …

Let’s call her Jane, but we could call her Tom, Dick or Mary. There’s a lot of health insurance agents like Jane. She’s successful, yet dealing with all too many, all too common problems.

Commissions are falling so she needs more clients just to stay whole. With all the news and regulatory changes coming out of Washington, those clients need more service than ever. Jane already works hard. She knows working harder isn’t the answer. She needs to work smarter.

Meanwhile, information is flowing in from everywhere. Getting the right person (whether a colleague, client or carrier) the right information at the right time is a Herculean task. She has the information … somewhere. Maybe on that Post-it or in that folder? Maybe it’s in a spreadsheet, but which one? Or is it on that scrap of paper on her assistant’s desk?

Health insurance agents without NextAgency

There are days Jane feels like she and her team spend more time tracking down data than they do selling to prospects and servicing clients.

Worse, time spent tracking down information is time spent away from her clients. Which means too often they only hear from her is when they call with a problem or at renewal. You know, when Jane is dealing with bad news. Jane knows this is no way to build client loyalty — and that she needs that loyalty. Her world is full of competitors seeking to pry her business away.

What Jane needs is a simple, affordable solution that allows her to better manage her agency while reminding her clients of the value she delivers to them every day.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what we built NextAgency to do.

NextAgency Solves Problems

NextAgency provides Jane with NextBroker, a powerful yet intuitive agency management system that keeps all the information her agency needs in one place, accessible from anywhere there’s an Internet connection. This means all the forms and notices, quotes and notes related to every prospect and client is organized and close-at-hand. NextBroker even helps Jane track commissions and pay her sub-agents. All of which is good news for Jane’s agency, but bad news for the Post-it people.

Health insurance agents with NextAgency

NextAgency also provides Jane with NextHR, a straightforward employee management system she can give to her clients for free. NextHR helps Jane’s clients on-board new employees, track time and attendance and gather the information to send to payroll vendors and ACA compliance firms. Best of all, it keeps Jane’s name in front of her clients every day, reminding them of her availability and her service. And did we mention NextHR comes free with NextBroker?

We built NextAgency for health insurance agents Jane – for agents like you. If you’re looking to build a more effective and efficient agency and a way to provide your clients with consistent and appreciated value, you need to see NextAgency in action.

That’s easy to do. Just register for one of our regular webinars. And visit our web site to see how affordable NextAgency is … especially with the 50% off we’re offering through the end of the year. We’ll even get your agency data uploaded into NextAgency – also for free through the end of 2017.

NextAgency saves brokers time, money and clients. If that’s something you’re interesting in doing, we look forward to talking with you soon.

Is Insurance Agency Software Worth the Investment?

You’ve got a lot on your plate: prospecting; service issues; renewals; running your agency; keeping up with the latest legislative and market news; and the list goes on. Then there’s the rest of your life and that needs attention, too. There are only 8,760 hours in a year. Each one is valuable and, once spent, is non-refundable.

Adopting insurance agency software just because it’s there is probably not adequate justification. If that insurance agency technology can save you time, however, well that’s different.

How Much is Your Time Worth?

So just how valuable is each hour? Invaluable and precious beyond measure. However, for the purposes of this post, let’s have some fun with math and put a dollar figure on the value of your work hours.

First, estimate how many hours you work at your insurance agency in a year. Spend 40 hours a week on the job for 50 weeks and your investing 2,000 hours. Adjust this number to reflect your reality — including all that overtime on weekends, evenings and holidays.

Now, calculate how much you earn from all that work. To simplify the math, we’ll assume $100,000 for this example, but check your last pay stub or tax return to get something more accurate. Divide your earnings by the number of hours worked and there’s the value of your work hour. In this case, $50 per hour ($100,000 divided by 2,000 hours). What’s your figure? Take a few minutes and get something close to reality

For purposes of this post, however, we’re going to assume you’re looking at an agency management system. First, because these platforms can save you and your team lots of time. Second, because NextBroker, our agency management software, is at the core of NextAgency. So yes, I’m being self-serving here, but the calculations that follow apply to most any technology you’re considering for your agency.

A Time Journal

Let’s do another exercise. Fair warning, this one is a bit more annoying. For one week, keep a diary of inefficient busy work you do. Don’t count time spent selling or servicing clients. That’s your job. We’re talking wasted time. Spend five minutes chasing down a client file? Write that down. Spend three minutes looking up the phone number of a prospect? Ten minutes tracking down the Post-it with that critical information you need? Write those down.

Work from home only to discover a critical file you need is back at the office? Write down the drive there and back again. Spend hours going back and forth with a prospect to track down the age of the third child of the eighth employee in a thirty-person group you need to wrap up a proposal? Make a note. Spend five minutes trying to recall which client had a billing problem and which had claims issues? Write that down, too.

You get the idea. Any time you’re spending that isn’t directly related to selling or servicing clients is probably wasteful busy-work. Ask your staff to do keep this time journal, too. (Choose a week in which your staff is processing commissions to sub-agents because a) that’s painful; and b) NextBroker greatly simplifies that task so we’re going to look really good in a few paragraphs

Add it Up

Now let’s do the math. Add up all this unproductive minutes you spent in a week and divide by 60. That’s the hours you wasted. Or, put another way, that’s the number of hours you’re investing in being less than efficient.

Multiply this total by your hourly rate and you now have a sense of how much money you’re investing in inefficiency. Spend just an hour a day on this busy work and at our hypothetical rate of $50 per hours and your busy-work is costing you $250 each week. That’s $12,500 per year — if you take two weeks off.

And that’s just what you’re investing. Your staff pays a price for inefficiency, too. Do these calculations for your team and add the result to yours. The time and money adds up fast. Some agencies are wasting tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Is the Investment Worthwhile?

Helping you and your team be more effective and efficient is what agency management systems like NextBroker do. We place client, carrier and agency files are at your fingertips, 24 hours a day wherever you are. The same with contact lists for clients, partners like general agencies and others. If your clients are using NextHR (the employee management software NextAgency enables you to give to your clients for free), that third child’s birthday is already in your system.Time spent tracking it down, let’s see, carry the zero. Yeah, that’s no time wasted.

What unproductive busy-work NextBroker can’t eliminate gets done quicker. Until carriers and your clients all join the 21s century, some paperwork is inevitable. We help you track that paperwork, which saves even more time.

Let’s say NextBroker reduces your wasted hours by half (we think you’ll save more time, but 50% is an easy number to work with). Applying that savings to your previous assumptions, that’s a savings of $6,250 annually; just for you. Add in the savings your team will experience and the savings rapidly multiply.

On the other hand, your investment in NextAgency is surprisingly affordable. To calculate your agency’s licensing fees just go to www.NextAgency.com/pricing. And when you’re calculating your agency’s cost, remember, support staff use NextBroker for free. And NAHU members save 11 percent.

Do the math. Compare the cost of what you’re spending now on inefficiency and compare it to investing in the efficiency NextBroker’s agency management system delivers. And this only takes into account the value of NextBroker. NextAgency does a lot more, as you’ll see by going to NextAgency.com . While you’re there, please sign up for a webinar to see NextAgency in action. We’re confident that’ll be time well spent.

Are You Ready for an Agency Management System?

Agency management systems like NextAgency’s Next Broker can help insurance brokers run their shops more effectively and efficiently. This means you spent more time selling and servicing clients and less time looking through files, Post-It notes, a mishmash of spreadsheets and the like.

When agency management systems deliver commission tracking, as NextBroker does, your bookkeeper spends less time generating checks for sub-agents and finding cases you weren’t paid on, so can spend more time doing … whatever it is bookkeepers do.

Agency management systems help you track prospects through the sales cycle and keep track of the status of clients. They keep all your agency, carrier and client documents available to everyone on your team who needs them (and accessible only to those who need them) 24 hours a day wherever they are — at the office, home or on the road.

Agency management systems keeps contacts close at hand. They help you and your team keep on top of quotes, proposals and enrollments. In short, agency management systems save you and your team time. As time is money, this means you have more resources to devote to acquiring new clients and keeping in touch with those you already have.

In other words, agency management systems like NextBroker can help you grow your business – if you’re ready to embrace the technology. And that is the key question: Are you ready for an agency management system?

When evaluating any technology it’s a good idea to know where you are on the technology adoption curve. This graph was popularized by Geoffrey Moore in his book Crossing the Chasm. He described five groups, each with its own attitude toward new technologies.

Technology Adoption Curve

Innovators, according to Moore “pursue new technologies products aggressively.” They’re often technologists, comfortable with tweaking and hacking their way through something new. If it doesn’t work, at least they had fun.

Early Adopters understand, appreciate and embrace what new technologies can do, but they’re not technologists. They look before they leap, but are eager to embrace what’s new and exciting. They seize value before most of their competitors.

Early Majority consumers also perceive the value of new tools, but they’re a bit more practical than the first two groups. They want to avoid fads. They wait a bit longer to make sure a new technology is on solid footing. They rarely buy technology that doesn’t last.

Whereas Early Majority consumers are comfortable using technology, Late Majority folks are not. They’ll wait until a given technology has become standardized, simplified and strongly supported. They want safe technology and. adverse to  any bleeding, avoid the cutting edge.

Then there’s the Laggards, people who want nothing to do with technology. They prefer their innovations baked in and invisible. They bought cordless phones only after they couldn’t find those with cords.

There’s nothing judgemental about being at any of these five stages. In fact, most people are all over the curve depending on the technology. An individual may be an Early Adopter when it comes to agency management systems, but a Late Majority when it comes to using electronic payments like Apple Pay. What matters is where you are on the bell curve in relation to any particular technology, in this case agency management systems.

Those on the left side of the bell curve are willing to embrace new technologies early in their development. They know there will be gaps in functions and maybe even bugs. They’re confident issues will get fixed. They value what the technology delivers today and can see that it will get better over time. They tolerate the occasional hiccup.

Those on the right side of the graph need a much more polished experience. They don’t want any bumps. The technology needs to do everything right and do it right out-of-the box. They value a hassle-free experience over the value a technology delivers.

Knowing where you are on the curve will help you avoid investing time and money in technology that you won’t use. If you’re a Laggard that uses technology only if there’s no alternative, you’re not going to be interested in something new and different, even if it’s objectively better. If your system of 3×5 cards is working, why change to an agency management system?

Be aware of where you are on the curve, but don’t be too cautious. In a study I did of over 200 insurance sales professionals (described in my book Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success) there was a high-correlation of high-growth producers embracing technology sooner rather than later. Brokers experiencing strong year-over-year sales growth tended to be either Innovators, Early Adopters or Early Majorities.

A strong agency management system can help most any insurance team sell more, service better and grow quicker, but only if it’s used. We designed NextBroker to be easy to adopt and easy to use. (Join us for a demonstration at one of our regular webinars by visiting NextAgency.com). But that doesn’t mean we’re the right solution for everyone. We’re new and, we think, better. But if you’re adverse to moving your client, carrier and agency information online or getting in the habit of entering notes so everyone on your team knows what’s happening with every client, then you’re probably no agency management systems is going to be right for you.

The best technology in the world won’t help your business if you don’t use it. To know whether you’ll use it before you buy it, know where you sit on the adoption curve in relation to that particular technology. So if a tool that helps you grow your business by freeing up time for more selling and service sounds interesting to you, then please do check us out at www.NextAgency.com.

NextAgency Principles: Part III

NextAgency is a comprehensive combination of agency management and employee management software. In developing the technology, we followed five principles:

  • Start with brokers: build from brokers out.
  • Don’t interfere:  broker-client relationships are paramount.
  • Empower choice: brokers and clients choose their own vendors.
  • Be realistic: don’t overpromise.
  • Protect data: offer secure systems and clear permissions.

Taken together, these principles explain both what we’ve built and what we’ll be developing in the future. Part I and Part II of this article explored the first four principles. This post describes the fifth.

Protect data.

Privacy and data security matter. It may not seem like it in an age where companies like Facebook and Google are among America’s most valued enterprises primarily because of their ability to gather, track and sell your private information. Which is not only creepy, but the loss of privacy is dangerous for a variety of reasons. For insurance professionals, especially those selling health care coverage, respecting the privacy of your clients is not only right, but legally necessary. There are serious legal and financial consequences for violating HIPAA and the HITECH Act, just to name two privacy laws insurance professionals need to know about.

All of which means, when you entrust protected or sensitive information to a technology, you need to know you can trust that technology. NextAgency was built to be a fortress for this kind of information. We use strong encryption standards, including 256-bit SSL starting at log-on. When data is transferred we employ high-grade TLS. When the data is at rest, meaning its on our servers, we implement multi-layered encryption with AES-128. Encryption keys are stored separately from your data. We have an outside firm regularly test our privacy defenses. In short, we keep your and your client’s data safe. (If this paragraph reads like gibberish to you, share it with your local IT specialist. They’ll be impressed.)

We address the human element of security, too. If you use our NextConcierge service to set-up NextAgency, we’ll enter into a Business Associate Agreement with you. Otherwise access to your data is greatly restricted, requires multiple authorization and is granted only for specific tasks.

Helping you protect data

While NextAgency protects personal and financial data, we recognize you and your clients need to do so well. Again, it’s more than just a moral and social need, there’s a legal ramification as well. If your computer system is hacked, the authorities send two teams to your office. The first will look for the thief. The second will find out why you had that data in the first place. Which means what client data you have in your system matters.

Some HR platforms you can give to your clients allows your agency to see whatever information your clients enter into their system. We think this is dangerous. If your goal is to obtain a proposal for medical coverage, do you need employee banking information? No. And if you don’t need this data, then you should have it. The potential liability if there’s a breach outweighs any benefit of having it close at hand before you need it. Which is why NextHR gives your clients broad powers to determine what they share with your agency. We think that’s safer for them and you.

Similarly, you may want to control what information your colleagues and staff have access to about your clients. Does everyone need to see commission statements? Again, no. Consequently, we give you the authority to restrict that access.

No data security system is perfect. Any system can be hacked. Just ask Sony, Target or the NSA. By combining technology and strong permissions, however, we improve create a very strong system. Proper handling of sensitive data is an important part of what we we’ve built into NextAgency. It will continue to be an important element of what we build in the future as well.

NextAgency Principles: Part II

Software that doesn’t evolve and grow is software you won’t be using for long. We’re constantly improving NextAgency, our agency management platform and human resources tools. We think it’s important for you to understand the principles that guide this development and the company behind NextAgency, Take 44, Inc.

In a previous post I shared how the principles of starting with brokers and supporting, as opposed to interfering with, broker-client relationships shaped the development of NextAgency. In this post we’ll explore our commitment to empowering choice and to being realistic. (And in the next post we’ll address our fifth principle concerning privacy and security).

Just to recap, here are the five key principles we focus on at Take 44:

  • Start with brokers: build from brokers out.
  • Don’t interfere:  broker-client relationships are paramount.
  • Empower choice: brokers and clients choose their own vendors.
  • Be realistic: don’t overpromise.
  • Protect data: offer secure systems and clear permissions.
Empower choice

Too often, technology companies expect users to change how they behave in order to use a product. Think about accounting software that require you to change how you keep your books. Or, closer to home, agency management platforms that require you to change how you sell and service clients. We think they’ve got it all wrong.

If you’re shopping for an agency management system, like the NextBroker component of the NextAgency, odds are you’re already a successful insurance broker. We’re very affordable. Still, if you can invest in making your agency more effective and efficient, you’re already making sales. Why then would you buy software that requires you to change the voodoo that you do so well? Or change the carriers or general agents you work with?  The software you invest in should help you do what you do better, not to change what you do.

The same is true of software you give your clients. Should they change their payroll company because you give them free HR software? Changing vendors often costs time, money and hassle. So, is software that forces your clients to change their relationships really free? We don’t think so.

For too many technologies, changing the way you work is a price you pay to use their systems. And to them, it’s a price you should happily pay. After all, a lot of start-up founders view themselves as innovators reinventing the way the world works. And that includes changing the way you work. They believe they know your business better than you do. This view is especially common when company leaders have more business degrees than business expertise.  They build software that expects you to work the way they think you should.

We believe no one knows more about your business than you do. So we designed NextBroker to adapt to you. Similarly, we think you should choose who you work with, too. Which means we don’t force you to use a particular carrier or general agent. And our employee management software, NextHR, doesn’t force your clients to change how they do business or what vendors they work with. NextAgency is built to be flexible. We help you work more easily with you who want to work with.  It’s really that simple — and important.

Be realistic

We think NextAgency is pretty cool (to use the technical term). We’re confident our agency management system, NextBroker, will help you and your team sell to more prospects and deliver better service to clients. We believe NextHR, our employee management system, will save your clients time so they can focus on their real business. In short, we think we deliver on what we promise.

We also think it’s important not to overpromise. We’re a data management company. NextBroker helps you manage your agency, client and carrier information and make it accessible to your entire team, at any time from anywhere. We help you use that data to be better informed about your business and to get information where it needs to go. Put another way, we make running the business of your agency easier so you can do more business.

NextBroker makes getting quotes easier, but it’s not a quoting system. It makes creating and tracking enrollment kits easier, but it’s not an enrollment platform. NextBroker helps you track commissions, but it’s not a an accounting system. When companies respect their customers they don’t overpromise. That’s why we are realistic about what we do — and don’t do.

The same goes for NextHR. It helps your clients better manage employee data and makes it easy to get time and attendance information to their payroll company. But it doesn’t process payroll. It’s a straightforward, basic employee management system, not a fancy HR information system or powerful benefit management platform.

Think of it this way, you know all those buttons and tools in Excel that you never touch (and I, for one, have no idea what they do)?  We built NextHR to be Excel without all those extra doodads and functions. If your client needs the HR equivalent of depreciation calculations using the double-declining balance method — or even a pivot table — they should check out EaseCentral, Employee Navigator or the like. If they just need to get the nuts and bolts of hiring employees and tracking their time at work, however, NextHR may be the solution. And as it’s free, we can confidentially claim it’s worth every penny you’re not paying for it — and more.

Current users frequently ask for added features and tools (of course they ask for different tools and sometimes ask that something someone else wants be removed because it’s “in the way”). Some of their ideas are great and are now part of our product road map. But we won’t overpromise. NextAgency does a lot and will do more moving forward. And what NextAgency does it does well. We simply refuse, however, to promise that it does everything.

One thing NextAgency does well is protect your and your clients’ data. More on this in Part III.