How To Choose The Right Agency Management System The First Time

How To Choose The Right Agency Management System The First Time

Looking for a New Agency Management System

Deciding to make the move to new software can be daunting. Where do you start? What questions do you ask? What do you keep an eye out for? These are crucial things to know in your search for a new agency management system (AMS). 

Choosing the right AMS for your agency is critical because the software you choose should be your partner.

Not only will it house your information, but you’ll spend the bulk of your working day in it. So, you want those hours to be productive (& enjoyable!).

But where do you start?

In our webinar, 5 Steps for Selecting the Right Agency Management System for Your Agency, we outline these 5 steps:

  1. Identify your goals
  2. Identify your needs
  3. Research your vendors
  4. Make a decision
  5. Manage the change

Step 1: Identify Your Goals

If you’re considering a new AMS, then there’s a reason. Here are some of the common reasons we’ve heard:

  • The current system isn’t supporting the growth of your book of business
  • It’s missing key features that are essential for your day-to-day process
  • It doesn’t allow both contact and policy tracking
  • It’s not built for the insurance industry
  • You can’t track both individual and group business in the same system
  • Commissions processing isn’t manageable or possible in the current system

If your current system isn’t helping you reach your goals, then it may be time for a change. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you want to accomplish in the next 1/5/10/15 year(s)?
  • What are you actually on track to achieve in the next 1/5/10/15 years?
  • What do you need to change/implement to bridge the first two questions?

One tool many insurance agencies use is called a goal-setting SMART sheet. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Use this goal-setting SMART sheet to help you determine your goals.

Step 2: Identify Your Needs & Wants

After you’ve defined your goals, you need to sit down, either alone or with a group, and create a needs and wants list. Use this AMS vs. CRM checklist to help you cover all of the bases.

For the purposes of this blog, this is how we’re defining needs and wants:

Needs

Needs are features that are integral to your current day-to-day business process. These might be things like commissions processing, bank-grade encryption, or email marketing. Many people think of needs as the “must-haves” to make the switch to new software. 

Wants

The wants are the added capabilities you’d like to have with your new system—things that would make your day simpler and more efficient. These could be features like projected commission revenue, cloud-based/remote accessibility, or integrated business analytics. 

Pro Tip: It’s important that your needs and wants work in tandem with your goals. If they’re not, it could make it very difficult for you to reach your goals in the timeframe you want.

Step 3: Research Your Vendors

It can be kind of confusing if this is your first time moving to a digital management system. 

You will see a lot of options in the insurance space, but the majority will be CRMs and AMSs. Although these two are similar, there are distinct differences between the two.

CRM: Customer Relationship Management software

Definition: A term that refers to practices, strategies, and technologies that companies use to manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle, with the goal of improving business relationships with customers, assisting in customer retention, and driving sales growth.

A CRM is a generic management system that can help businesses organize their contacts. Some examples of major CRMs would be Salesforce, SugarCRM, and GoldMine CRM.

Often these systems provide robust capabilities, but they are generic and require extensive customization in order to function properly for your industry needs. These customizations will likely require a substantial amount of resources (both time and money) to ensure they’re done correctly and functioning in the way you need. Additionally, there is no guarantee the customizations you create will be supported by the system as they continue to upgrade and provide ongoing maintenance. 

AMS: Agency Management System

Definition: A SaaS (software as a service) technology that insurance agencies use to organize their book of business and more effectively run their operations.

An AMS is a CRM, but it’s also so much more! 

It does everything your generic CRM does, and then some. You can buy an AMS that is tailored for your specific insurance niche, like life and health or property and casualty.

There are three significant ways an AMS trumps a CRM for insurance agency management:

  1. Specificity. It’s built for your specific industry.
  2. Totality. An AMS like AgencyBloc is built to handle the core business processes it takes to run a modern insurance agency. 
  3. Productivity. Agencies that have adopted an insurance-specific AMS report feeling 44% more productive than they did before adopting one.

However, it’s important to note that all AMS software is not built alike. You’ll have to take a look at each individually to decide which has the features you need. This is where your checklist comes in handy to note which vendors provide which solutions.

However, here is a list of features that might be important for your agency and which type of system would provide them:

Feature

CRM

AMS

green bloc

Track Clients
Track Prospects
Track Groups
Track Group Enrollments & Elections **
Track Agents
Track Policies
Track Carriers
Email Marketing Automation ** **
Automated Workflow ** **
Email Campaigns ** **
Cloud-Based Access ** **
Data Backup
CRM Data & File Storage **
Third-Party Integrations ** **
Lead Management
Industry-Specific Reporting **
Industry-Specific Analytics **
Process & Track Commissions **
Project Commissions **
Tiered Pricing ** **

Questions to Ask Your Vendors

When you start looking for a new management solution for your book of business, come prepared with questions. Here are some you should consider asking:

What are the additional costs? 

Some software agencies include fees that are additional to the overall cost of the software. Often these fees are tied to things like:

  • Migration
  • Training 
  • Storage/Document Space
  • Support
  • Additional Features
  • Setup

When you move to a new software system, you want to go into it with your eyes wide open. The more you’re aware of at the beginning, the better. Make sure you ask about all of the hidden fees, supplemental fees, future fees, etc. at the start, so you’re more prepared and not blindsided at the last minute.

Who owns your data?

This is far and wide one of the most important questions you should ask. 

Why? Because your data is your entire business—it’s your livelihood. With AgencyBloc, you are the sole owner of the data, but not every CRM/AMS operates this way.

Some view it as a money-making opportunity. They house your data, so that in turn gives them rights to it. If you buy into a system like this, it can make leaving extremely hard. It’s hard to think that far into the future, but you always want to ensure you have an accessible and realistic exit strategy. 

What does security look like?

You want to ensure that the software you’re investing in will keep you safe and secure. Some important questions to ask are:

  • What level of encryption do you provide? 
  • Is my data protected both in-transit and at-rest?
  • How is my data protected in case of disaster?
  • If the system is cloud-based, who hosts your system? 
  • Can I restrict access to the data from certain users?
  • How often is my data backed up and where are the backups hosted?
  • What is your historical up-time?
  • How and when do you do updates to the system?
  • How long is downtime for those updates?

Knowing answers to questions like these, you can get a better scope of who the vendor is and if they’re the right fit for you.

What is the migration process?

The answer you should receive will be along the lines that it will depend on a couple of different things. 

One is how much data you have. If you have 400 points of data it will be a very different process than if you have 400,000 points of data. 

It will also depend on the number of attachments/notes you have in your current system. The more attachments and notes you have, the longer it can take to import. This is to ensure everything imports properly.

A big factor is the process of getting your data out of your old system. This can be more of a headache and roadblock than you think. It boils down to the question from before: who owns your data?

Another is the state of your data. If you have clean, uniformed data, then the process will likely be much simpler. If your data requires an extensive amount of reformatting, then the process will likely be extended. For a better representation of what this means, check out the images below:

“Clean” Data

Example of clean, formatted spreadsheet data

“Dirty” Data

Example of dirty, unorganized spreadsheet data

The last thing to keep in mind is that the speed of the process is highly dependent on you. If you’re responsive and open to working on and learning the new system, the process could be much faster than if you’re harder to reach.

How to Vet Your AMS Vendors

It's important to know who you are partnering with when it comes to choosing your software provider. Research your options to make sure they 

  1. Are a real company 
  2. Will be able to grow with you into the future

Another thing to keep in mind is their funding. Are they owned by venture capitalists/VC-Funded or are they owned by the people who work there day in and day out. There is a big difference between the two and the future each sees for their company. For more on that, check out our blog: Preparing For Technology Partnerships—Know Who and What's Behind The Curtain.

When researching, keep these 4 key areas in mind of what you should look for when you look at each and every vendor you're considering:

  1. Company Details / History
  2. Reviews
  3. Social Media / Online Presence
  4. Security / Reliability

Remember, you're not just investing in software. You are investing in a partner

Learn more about researching your vendors, what to look out for, what to ask, and what you need to keep in mind in our blog: What You Need to Know: The People Behind the Product.

Step 4: Make a Decision

This step can be the hardest step of the five as it’s the step where you decide which system is the best fit for you. And, although it seems like an oxymoron, failing to make a decision is actually a decision, too. Learn more in our blog: Why Indecision is Unhealthy & How to Combat It.

The best advice I can give you is to give each system a try. AgencyBloc offers a risk-free trial to check everything out and see if it might be a good fit. 

The other piece of advice I can give you is to include others. Two major benefits of using a group to make decisions are:

  • Acceptance & Camaraderie. If more people are exposed to the product and like it, the buy-in of your staff will be higher. It will feel more like a personal decision rather than an assignment.
  • Faster Implementation. With an increased employee buy-in, the adoption rate can improve throughout your agency. 

If a group decision seems a little daunting to you, check out our blog: 7 Steps to Making Effective Group Decisions About Insurance Technology.

Step 5: Manage the Change

Congratulations, you’ve chosen a new system and you’re getting ready to move. That means you’re all done, right? HOLD ON! 

As much as we may like it to be, technology is not magic. 

You can’t expect to be up and running in a new system at full capacity the next day or even in a week. Implementation timelines vary greatly, and much of that variability is dependent on three things:

  1. The size of your database
  2. The state of your data
  3. Your/your staff availability

Like I said earlier, the size of your database will largely affect how fast you can get up and running. However, no matter how much data you have, if it’s not in order, the implementation can take longer. 

But it will depend on you. 

How much time are you devoting to learning the new software? How much time during the week/month are devoting to updating, creating, tying relationships and policies, etc. in the new software to make sure all of your data is functioning the way you need it to?

A good AMS will provide you with a dedicated resource to train you and help you develop confidence in managing your system. But, you also have to work at it and build up your confidence, too.

However, this should not scare you away from adopting a new system.

To be completely honest, if your current system is not working for you now, it will likely only get worse as time goes on. 

How to Prepare Your Team for New Software

Like I said earlier, software isn’t magic, and it’s not going to get itself up and running. To help you be as successful as possible, here are 3 things you can do: 

Implement a plan of attack to integrate the software.
Keep in mind that most software provides a certain number of training sessions. Ensure your implementation timeline works in tandem with those trainings. Also, make sure you’re not alone on the call. Invite everyone who is necessary to participate as well. This way you are all on the same page.
Set flexible milestone goals to have the system and your team up and running.
Goals are crucial to your implementation plan to help you stay on track and keep to your timeline. However, it’s important that these goals are flexible. The last thing you want to do is make your new system a burden. So, make sure the goals you’re setting for everyone aren’t set in stone. This shouldn’t promote laziness; instead, it should account for busy times, vacations, emergencies, sickness, etc. If you get behind, regroup and reassess where you are and how you want to proceed.
Appoint experts in each department.
This helps to achieve two things:
  1. You won’t be bombarded with questions all day which would impede your productivity.
  2. Your staff will be able to work with someone knowledgeable about their position and needs. Think of it this way: if someone in commissions asked someone in HR a question, they may not get the complete answer they seek. Instead, it would make more sense for them to ask an expert in the commissions department.

However, the most important thing to remember is that your employees are humans

Following the 5 steps can help you keep your entire new AMS process on track and within your timeline.

Learn More About the 5 Steps

Choosing the right AMS for your team is likely the most important purchase decision you'll make. Check out our free eBook to learn more about the 5 Steps for Selecting the Right Agency Management System for Your Agency.

Learn the 5 Steps

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Allison Babberl

By Allison Babberl on November 26, 2019 in Database Management

Allison is the Marketing Content Specialist at AgencyBloc. She creates educational content and designs videos to promote AgencyBloc's resources to help you organize, automate, and grow your insurance agency. Favorite quote: “Conversation is the bedrock of relationships. Without it, our relationships are devoid of substance.” -Maribeth Kuzmeski  More articles

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