Reflecting on 2017 & Planning for 2018

Reflecting on 2017 & Planning for 2018

Congratulations!

You’ve made it through another Open Enrollment Period/Annual Election Period! You’ve also survived another crazy year of holiday chaos. But if you’re planning on leaving 2017 in the dust without a second glance, then you may want to rethink your strategy.

It’s incredibly beneficial for you going forward to first reflect on the previous year. Learn from the down times and celebrate your successes. I know, I know, you just finished with OE and the holidays, so the last thing you want to do is think. However, you will thank yourself in the long run for taking this time and reflecting.

Reflection is a huge part of the preparation work you should be putting in for this year. Where do you want to go? Well, how far did you go last year? Did you meet your goals? Why or why not? Is it honestly feasible to expect the same of this year?

In order to set goals for the year, you must understand why you did or didn’t reach your goals last year.

Getting Started

Make sure you’ve set aside plenty of time to thoroughly reflect on the previous year. Recounting the highs and lows of your year shouldn’t feel rushed or squished into your available time. Instead, block out a large chunk of your calendar to sit back and discuss with your team.

For your own peace of mind, you’ll want to feel as if you really put your head and your heart towards the questions being asked, the answers you’ve given, and the ideas with which you’ve decided to move forward.

Put Together a Team

Let’s face it, relying solely on yourself to account for every up and down of the previous year isn’t plausible—and it will likely give you a headache. Instead, gather a team that will help you make this process easier and more beneficial.

When choosing your team, remember that you want a wide array of thinkers. Having people in the group that only tell you what you want to hear will never help you progress. If you have a leadership team, then call them together.

If not, then look to those who are leaders in your company. They may be the heads of various departments or they may be the newest hire you just brought on. They don’t even have to be on the same levels (VP, Manager, C-Suite, etc.).

Whomever you choose, make sure their roles are vast, their ideas are varied, and their ability to express opinions is present.

Where to Start

To get the ball rolling, take a step back and reflect. Here are some of the key questions your group can ask:

  • What didn’t go well?
  • What did go well?
  • Which loss was most surprising?
  • Which success was most surprising?
  • What are you most proud of?

It’s just as important to focus on the positives as it is the negatives. I always think back to the idea that if you’re going to receive both good and bad news, you choose the bad news first. Get all of your anger out. Release the junk and refresh. This helps you better appreciate the positives and understand their value.

End on the positives. So, when looking at your year, discuss the negatives first.

  1. What didn’t go well?
  2. Why?
  3. Breathe.
  4. What did go well?
  5. Why?

Same goes for the next set of questions.

  1. Which loss was most surprising?
  2. What can you learn from it?
  3. Breathe.
  4. Which success was most surprising?
  5. What can you learn from it?

It seems silly, but switching your perspective and tackling the negatives first really can make a big difference when you’re reflecting back on your year.

Lastly, what are you most proud of? Take a moment and let each person share what they are most proud of this year. This will help remind people of additional great moments and let your team bond as you better understand one another. Plus, discussing good things always makes one feel better, so it’s really a win-win situation.

Tackling the Pain Points

Let’s be honest, one of the biggest pains is Open Enrollment.

You’re already well aware that the health insurance industry is vastly ever changing. Maybe some of you found somewhat of a groove to Open Enrollment, but then many of those mandates and rules changed drastically this year. To make matters worse, Open Enrollment was cut down exponentially and few knew what to expect.

Although it’s incredibly painful to relive, it is important to think back on the highs and lows that culminated with Open Enrollment. Did you enroll as many, less, or more than you did last year? Was the drastic time reduction the cause of that or just simply a factor? What else did you learn?

Also, how prepared were you for the changed Open Enrollment period? It’s crucial to be honest with yourself. I know it’s hard to admit those hard truths, but those confessions need to be aired. It’ll only help you going forward.

Sticking with the idea of moving forward, under the impression Open Enrollment will stay the same (November 1—December 15), what steps will you take that are different this year? What will you do the same? Why?

This may include hiring additional temps or seasonal workers to help you through the busy period. This may include hiring additional full-time members that will be able to shoulder the load. Whatever you decide, ensure that you’re taking the time to thoroughly go through the options. It may cut into the purse strings more than you’d like, but if it means happier clients and more profitability in the long run, you might want to consider it. Remember, happier clients are three times more likely to refer and have a higher chance of retention.

Preparing for the New Year

You’ve already started asking yourself and your team a lot of reflection questions of how this past year went and how you’ll use that knowledge going forward. This is a good way to start setting your goals for the new year.

For example, if you set a goal to grow your book of business by 10% but you actually hit 8% (which is still awesome!) you need to know the reasons why. Another question to ask yourself, if growth is your goal, is: What growth can I realistically achieve if I don’t change anything at all in my current process? This is important to know so you have a baseline to create goals from. This is how analyzing your previous year gives you the building blocks for better predicting next year.

This type of analysis is essential no matter what your goal is (growth, better retention, expanding your cross-sells, increase revenue, etc.).

Making Changes

Most likely, you will not achieve your goals if you don’t change anything in your current process. Growth and progress most often spring from change and learning. So, to grow and progress, one must (usually) change and learn.

We already discussed the possibility that you’ll need to add additional hires, but maybe that’s not the only change that could benefit your agency. Let’s look at other areas.

Paid Marketing

How did you market your services to your audience this past year? This encompasses many avenues:

  • Buying leads (from lead vendors like NextGen Leads or ProspectZone, cold lists, etc.)
  • Social media/online marketing (Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, etc.)
  • Email marketing (automated emails, mass emails, drip emails, etc.)
  • Direct mail marketing (postcards, infolets, handwritten letters, etc.)
  • Content marketing (blogs, eBooks, infographics, etc.)
  • Video marketing (Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Referrals

If you said all of that, then kudos to you. That would be an intense amount of marketing to manage. But in all seriousness, I hope that you weren’t using all seven of these—especially if you’re still getting your feet wet in the marketing world.

A good rule of thumb is to stick to one method if you’re new, two if you’re looking to grow, and three if you feel comfortable enough (if you’re doing this all on your own). If you want to tackle more, you need to make sure you have a team dedicated to solely marketing your agency.

The most important thing to pay attention to with marketing is conversions (ROI). Basically, are your efforts paying off? Is the money you’re putting into these efforts showing up in your monthly revenue?

Remember, your conversions might not always mean prospect to client. You may want to define different types of conversion for each step. One type of conversion we like to track here at AgencyBloc is engagement with our content by looking at the number of sign-ups or downloads.

It’s more than okay to go out and try something to see if it works, but give it a trial period—6-8 weeks are suggested by our marketing team. If it’s not converting how you want it to during the trial period, then maybe it’s not the right avenue for you. It’d also be beneficial to set up a meeting halfway through the trial period and at the end to discuss why or why it might not be working to better understand if it could potentially work in the future.

A great example of this would be social media ads. Try ads on both Facebook and LinkedIn. See which ones are working, which ones are converting. If both are, then great! But, the likelihood of that happening is rather low. Check out our free eBook Social Media for the Insurance Agent to learn more about using social media in your agency. Realistically, you will stick with one type of ads as those will be the ones converting the best for you.

Set a trial for six months, or three, or whatever works for you to see how it works. I would suggest no fewer than three months for a trial run. I have a few of reasons for this:

  1. You’ll want to give your ads time to saturate the space (i.e., find their way into your audience’s newsfeeds)
  2. You’ll want to give yourself (and your team) a chance to learn so that you can better target your ads to the right individuals
  3. Three months line up nice with each quarter

But don’t forget to reconvene at the end and discuss in-depth why it is or is not working!

Technology

Maybe you’ve realized that the current way you manage your agency isn’t efficient or effective anymore. Perhaps you need to consider upgrading your technology to an agency management system (AMS) that better fits your needs.

Many agencies face this predicament for a variety of reasons including:

  • Their current system is too generic or it has been Frankensteined together to the point it can no longer be updated or the workarounds are time-consuming (oftentimes this is stems from generic CRMs, learn the different between a CRM and an AMS)
  • Their current system isn’t efficient—oftentimes this includes those still using Excel spreadsheets or paper files
  • Their current system can’t track commissions or handle multiple commission splits
  • Their current system isn’t remotely accessible—oftentimes this would include legacy systems that never made the jump to cloud-based
  • Their current system isn’t scalable—usually the result of a price hike by the provider, hidden fees, or the agency can’t justify the cost for the benefits any longer

If you are looking to move to a new system, then I highly suggest you make a list of what you need and what you want out of the new software. For this purpose, we define needs and wants as follows:

Needs

The basic capabilities and core functions that are necessary for you to continue running your business at the level you do today or greater. Losing any of these needs would adversely affect your bottom line and be negative for production, growth, and efficiency.

Wants

The additional capabilities and functionalities that you’d like to have in order to boost your process, become more efficient and effective, and ultimately reach your goals.

Needs and wants will greatly differ from agency to agency as your processes and requirements are different. Defining what’s necessary for your agency as well as what’d be nice to have is crucial to picking the software that’s right for you. In addition, both your needs and wants should work in tandem with your goals, so both are always working in the same direction.

To help you figure out which software is right, here is a list you can follow to determine what your needs and wants are so you can narrow down your options.

Accessibility

Want

Need
Remote Access
Web-based

Commissions

Generate Statements
Process Commissions
Project Revenue
Uncover Missed Commissions

CRM

Automated Workflow
Custom Reporting Tools
Track Agents
Track Clients
Track Leads
Track Prospects
Track Policies

Marketing

Email Automation
Lead Generation & Follow-Up
Task Management

System

Industry specific
Customization
Data Migration
Integrated Business Analytics
Personalized Support

Click here to get a downloadable version of a needs and wants list.

Use this list to help you vet agency management software to ensure you’re picking the right system for you. You can use this as starting place to see if they even offer you the capabilities you need or if they offer a feasible workaround that will help you accomplish your required tasks. If not, then you may need to recognize that it’s not the right software for you.

For more resources, check out these blogs to help you better understand your software options out there:

It’s a new year and a new start for your agency. What are the goals you want to reach this year? How are you going to do that? What changes do you need to make?

If you need to make a change, then you need to start implementing that change now so that you have the best chance of reaching your goals. Waiting until second or third quarter to make a change will not bring you much benefit as you’ll be too busy prepping for OE and AEP you’ll have no time to focus on the change and implementing it fully.

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Allison Babberl

By Allison Babberl on January 4, 2018 in Productivity

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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