Why the Insurance Agency Software You Choose Matters

Why the Insurance Software You Choose Matters

Is a change in your future?

From our survey last year, we learned that 23% of insurance agencies are planning to adopt an AMS this year for the very first time. Moving to a new software or even making the decision to start looking 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). 

An AMS is built to be your centralized information hub. You should be able to log in first thing in the morning, know exactly what needs to be done and who needs to be contacted, and then not log out until the end of the day. This is why it really matters which software you choose. Your software should become your partner by helping to maintain and automate your daily tasks and keep you on top of all you need to accomplish.

But where do you start? In our webinar, 5 Steps for Selecting the Right Agency Management System for Your Agency, we outline these as the 5 crucial steps you should be taking:

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

Starting out

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

  • 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
  • The price point is no longer manageable
  • You can’t track both groups and individuals in the same system

So what’s next? 

The 5 Steps for Selecting the Right AMS for Your Agency notes that the first step you must take is to identify your goals. 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 in order to bridge the first two questions?

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

After you’ve defined your goals, you need to sit down (preferably with others) and create a wants and needs list. Let’s discuss what those are: 

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, for example. Many people think of needs  as the “must-haves” to make a switch. 

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. 

Each agency’s needs and wants will differ; every agency is unique.

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

Starting Your Search

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. Learn more about AMSs and CRMs in our brief guide AMS vs. CRM: What you need to know.

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. In addition, 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. 

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.

Now, 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 into an AMS that is tailored for your specific insurance niche. Some of the tailored options are geared toward the specificities of Life & Health or Property & Casualty. It is unlikely that you will find a solution that is tailored to all four because the requirements for each are pretty specific. For this reason, many agencies that do business in all four of those will likely have two separate systems running simultaneously; one for P&C and one for L&H. 

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

  1. Specificity. It’s built for your industry.
  2. Totality. An AMS like AgencyBloc is a whole-office solution which means we are handling all the core business processes and teams that it takes to run a modern insurance agency. When it comes to core agency operation, we are all in.
  3. Productivity. Agencies that have adopted an insurance-specific AMS report feeling 44% more productive than they did before adopting it.

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 for your agency. Here’s a list of features that might be important for your book of business and which systems would provide them:

Feature

CRM

AMS

green bloc

Track Clients
Track Prospects
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 ** **

**Varies on software, check with your provider to see if that feature is available

Asking Questions

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

What are the additional costs? 

Many software agencies will include hidden fees that are additions to the overall cost of the software. Think of it like the hidden fees on a cell phone or a credit card. 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—you are far too busy for rose-colored glasses. The more you’re aware of at the beginning, the better; so make sure you ask about all of the hidden fees, the supplemental fees, the future fees, etc. at the start, so you’re more prepared and not blindsided at the last minute.

Who owns the data?

This is far and wide one of the most important questions you should ask. Why? The 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. We’ve seen it. We’ve heard war stories. It’s not pretty.

One of our clients even reported they weren’t able to get all of their data out of their previous system. In fact, they had to bring up some of their data on the computer and copy it down by hand in order to preserve it.

I know it’s hard to think that far into the future, but you always want to ensure you have an accessible and real exit strategy if you ever so choose to leave your system. If you’re not the owner 100%, then leaving could definitely prove tumultuous and agonizing. 

What does the 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? 
  • How is my data protected in case of disaster?
  • If the system is cloud-based, who hosts your system? 

Pro Tip: Just for reference, AgencyBloc uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) to host our software. It’s backed-up in multiple locations throughout the country. We follow industry best practices for data and file encryption, both in transit and at rest.

We’ve compiled a couple of different resources that could be helpful for you to learn more about security and disaster preparedness:

What is the migration process?

This is a tricky question, but it is still worth asking. 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. It will also depend on the amount of attachments/notes you have in your current system.

Another key point to keep in mind is some of the process is just getting your data out of your old system. However, we have clients who have come from several other CRMs and AMSs, so we’re here to help. The state of your data is also crucial. If you have clean, uniformed data then the process will likely be much simpler; if your data requires an extensive amount of cleaning and reformatting, then the process will likely be extended. For a better representation of what this means, check out the images below:

Clean

Clean Data

Dirty

Dirty 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.

Do Your Research

Step 3 in the 5 Steps for Selecting the Right AMS for Your Agency is researching your vendors.

It's important to know who you are partnering with when it comes to choosing your software provider. Do research about your options to make sure they are, one, a real company and, two, will be able to grow with you into the future. 

When researching, keep these four 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.

Making the Decision

Step 4 in the 5 Steps for Selecting the Right AMS for Your Agency is making a decision. This step can be the hardest step of the 5. It can be difficult to 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. We wrote all about it and how it can negatively affect you in our blog Why Indecision is Unhealthy & How to Combat It.

The best advice I can give you for helping you to make a decision is trial. Some AMSs will give you the option to try out the software before you buy. In fact, AgencyBloc offers a risk-free trial so you have ample time to check everything out. 

The other piece of advice I can give you is to include others. I don’t mean create a “too many chiefs and not enough Indians” scenario, but have different people vet and test the product with you. It’ll help you achieve things like:

  • Acceptance & Camaraderie. If more people are exposed to the product and like it, the buy-in of all of your staff will be higher. It will feel more like a group decision rather than an assignment.
  • Faster Implementation. Allowing multiple people from different parts of your agency can help ensure that the product you are choosing is the correct one. If everyone is in agreement that a product would best fit your agency they’ll be more apt to learning to software and understanding it. 

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

In the end, if you’re implementing this system throughout your entire office, you want to make sure it works for all the departments. Commissions are stressful enough without having to deal with a system that isn’t properly built or outfitted to fit their needs. You will thank yourself later because everyone will be on the same page and the vibe around the office will be a little lighter.

Implementation

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 just choose a software and expect to be up and running at full capacity the next day or even in a week. Implementation timelines can vary greatly, and much of that variability is highly dependent on three things:

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

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

But it will really 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, 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 around managing your system. With AgencyBloc, you will be partnered with one our expert Client Success Specialists to help you better understand and utilize the system.

Learning a new software, even intuitive easy ones, takes dedication. You have to learn where all the buttons are located, how everything is tied, and you have to find your groove in running the system. Experience and regular use is the best teacher, and training time is different for everyone.  

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 likely only get worse as time goes on. In many legacy systems, the fixes you’d desire often mean a significant overhaul of the system (which is unlikely to happen). 

So, although adopting a new industry-specific AMS takes effort, it will pay off in the end. Spending the extra hours now to set up everything will mean that in the future it will already be done and you won’t have to worry it. 

For example, if you have an agent that always receives the same commission payout schedule, you can set up an agent default schedule once in AgencyBloc and be able to apply it to any policy in the future. That can drastically reduce your time spent setting up commission splits. Another example would be setting up Automated Workflows. Set up the workflow once (like a workflow to remind agents to renew their E&O or insurance license) from then on it will run on its own and work intuitively so you never again have to worry about it. Think of it as meal prepping. Spending a couple of hours every Sunday preparing food for lunch each day and prepping meals to cook dinner each night will save you a lot of time, money, and stress all week because it’s already done and you don’t have to worry about it.

Having a game plan

It would also be beneficial to you and your agency to have a plan in place for implementation. Set goals for yourself and your various employees on where you would like to be when. This will help everyone work towards the same idea and be more likely to integrate the software more quickly. The crucial thing about these goals, however, is to ensure they 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’re not exactly where you want to be in a month’s time it’s okay as long as you’ve been working and have gotten somewhere in that time. 

Step 5 of the 5 Steps for Selecting the Right AMS for Your Agency is managing change. Like I said earlier, software isn’t magic, and it’s not going to get itself up and running—it will greatly depend on you. Here are the three things you can do to help you get started:

Implement a plan of attack to integrate the software.
Keep in mind that most softwares provide a certain number of training sessions, so ensure your timeline works in tandem with those trainings. Also, make sure you’re not alone on the call, instead invite everyone that is necessary to participate as well. This way you are all receiving the same message from the vendor and you can all be on the same page.
Set a flexible milestone goal to have the system and your team up and running.
Appoint department experts on the system (p.s. These are the people you’d want on the training calls you have with your vendor).
This helps to achieve two things:
  1. You won’t be bombarded with questions all day which would impede your productivity
  2. They will receive knowledgeable answers that are relatable to their position. 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.

But the most important thing to remember is that your employees are humans. So take your time, learn the software, and don’t get bent out of shape if you don’t stick to the plan 100%. 

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Allison Babberl

By Allison Babberl on October 25, 2017 in Technology

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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