In this episode of “The Digital Broker,” Ryan and Steve discuss why Account Mangers Are The Heart and Soul Of The Agency.
- What skills and traits today’s agencies should look for in a great account manager
- Why it is so important to empower account managers to contribute to an agency’s success in new and evolving ways
- Simple tactics and tools that agencies can use to help make this happen.
In this episode of “The Digital Broker,” hosts Steve Anderson and Ryan Deeds examine the changing nature of the agency account manager.
Our hosts begin by noting the importance of what agencies call their internal staff. By creating the right labels for these positions, agencies can start to denote what those responsibilities are and to help account managers think differently about their own role in the agency.
Typically, regardless of an agency’s structure, an account manager is the front-line, client-facing individual, not to be confused with an account executive, a CSA, or a CSR (see LinkedIn article titled, “Dear Insurance Agencies: Stop Calling Us CSRs, Please“, written by an account manager at Ryan’s agency, The Crichton Group). (0:55)
To build a culture of innovation, it is important that agencies provide more tools to their account managers. In a small organization where an account manager is flooded with day-to-day administrative tasks, it is unrealistic to expect that person to be an innovative thinker. By reducing, eliminating, or automating the account manager’s more rote tasks, the agency allows them to focus on more valuable activities. (1:49)
Even in smaller agencies, the role of the account manager needs to change. This can be particularly challenging and to overcome. To do so, smaller agencies must take advantage of the plethora of tools and technology available to their disposal – especially as the tools out there are lower in price than ever.
Regardless of the agency size, if an agency has clearly defined what they want the account manager to focus on, then that account manager will be more inclined to operate as a consultative employee and bring increased value to the organization. (2:45)
Empowering Account Managers
Empowering account managers is a crucial driver in allowing them to have a lasting impact on the organization. When an account manager can see that an idea they brought to the agency was implemented, they become excited and engaged.
Account managers are often the ones who have the nut and bolt ideas on how to improve things at an agency. They know what is working—and what isn’t. When they have an avenue for bringing those suggestions forward and they know that someone is listening, they will come out of their shells and continue to take on an innovative mindset. (5:00)
By creating an environment wherein account managers know they will not be “punished” for an idea that doesn’t work (or at least not as well as they had hoped), this helps build a culture of innovation and helps everyone to perform better.
Further, Ryan notes that it is often easier to implement an account manager’s solution than it is a manager’s or a c-level executive’s. By implementing the account manager’s idea — it can first be proved that it works, which makes it far more likely to be adopted by the rest of the agency and their peers. (5:45)
What Does a Great Account Manager Look Like Today?
Ryan explains that he first looks for great soft skills. Is the person a quick thinker? Can they look at a challenge with a smile and come up with options and solutions? Are they not afraid to push the boundaries?
Pure insurance knowledge is not as important. Rather, adaptability and flexibility are key. A mindset of “we’ve always done it that way” will no longer work. Since the set of tasks required of an account manager is so different today than it was ten or fifteen years ago, it is important that an account manager is a lifelong learner who is willing to constantly improve and adapt. (6:51)
In the past, account managers used to serve primarily as a processor and paper pusher. Today, agencies should seek to elevate their account managers to a position of sharing knowledge and information with the client. Steve and Ryan again emphasize that the right culture must to be in place for this to happen, and an agency needs to bring in the resources to offload more menial tasks so that the account manager can focus on the important higher value work.
Ryan observes that the biggest challenge he sees when implementing a new system is that agencies are forced to look at every process in place and ask whether they still need to do it that way. For some employees this is not easy, and they may become defensive. (9:20)
When one or two people become defensive and hold onto old process and technology, they can become a threat to setting back the entire movement. When this happens, an agency must recognize that a person and accept that they no longer fit with where the agency is going. (11:30)
How Much Business Should Each Account Manager Handle
Ryan uses the following to determine how much business each account manager should handle:
- Number of clients
- Number of policies
- Revenue associated with that aggregate (15:05)
Depending on what type of accounts an account manager handles, that person may look very different in data than another account manager. For example, an account manager in the personal lines department may handle 15% of the agency’s entire client base but only 3% of all revenue, whereas a high-value commercial account manager may handle $750k of business but only twenty clients.
Ryan points out that because the challenges of the different account managers often vary, it is important for the agency to illustrate to the entire organization the weight each person carries. At his agency, each person has access to a dashboard where everyone can see where everyone else in the agency stands. (16:10)
The best metrics to use will differ based on what type of business each manager handles. Each group (personal lines, middle market, high-value commercial, etc.) has its own data fingerprint, so the agency can take a baseline measurement over time to determine what is normal for that group. Then, they can use that to determine if there is deviation from the norm (and, if so, why?).
By putting these types of metrics in place, an agency can measure their level of efficiency and then use that data to determine what to replicate –or where they might be missing steps. (18:45)
The Importance of Account Managers
Account managers have often felt like second-class citizens at an agency but their importance to an agency’s success cannot be underestimated. Account managers are the heart and soul of the agency.
Producers may need to bring in new business, but account managers have 90% of the ability to retain clients. Retention is a key driver of profitability, and the more business that is retained, the less new business that is needed.
Finally, the age and demographics of an agency continue to change as an increasingly large number of employees approach their retirements. As a result, agencies must look to perpetuate knowledge and to attract new people. By placing greater value on those roles for newer employees, agencies allow younger people to feel empowered and to feel like the work they are doing is making a difference. (21:10)
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