If you’ve followed my earlier articles on this site, you may find this one a bit different. Typically, I present the perspectives of two top producers on a particular issue, and typically those two producers have no affiliation with one another.
This month, I’m taking a little bit of a different approach. This month, I’ve spoken to two different top producers who handle two very different market segments within the same organization. Somewhat fittingly, I think, my approach this month is a non-traditional approach to an interview that focuses on a non-traditional approach to marketing and selling life insurance. That approach is using technology – more specifically, social media and other “digital tools” – to market and sell.
Both of this month’s top producers, Ryan J. Pinney, CSFP (shown at right), and Nic West are with Pinney Insurance Center. Mr. Pinney is vice president, brokerage sales, and works primarily with the firm’s traditional brokerage relationships and brokerage affiliates – typically individual independent producers and smaller general agents who broker business. His insights, as you’ll see in the interview that follows, focus primarily on how the “typical” producer or general agent can leverage technology like automating processes, using technology to eliminate paperwork, and leveraging online tools to be more effective.
Nic West is a director at Pinney Insurance Center, and he manages two facets of the firm’s business – their direct marketing division, WholesaleInsurance.net, and their affinity relationships that operate in the direct-marketing space. In this interview, Mr. West’s experience and insights will focus primarily on how those already heavily involved with technology and the direct marketing of insurance can make incremental changes that provide big results like landing page optimization techniques, pay-per-click advertising, targeted remarketing, search engine optimization (SEO), etc.
Getting started with a digital marketing strategy
I began the discussion by asking them share a little bit about their backgrounds as advisors and how they first decided to integrate a digital marketing strategy – that is, integrating marketing on the Web, through social media, etc. – into their businesses. Mr. Pinney told me, “I began my career as a financial advisor in Roseville, California, with my family’s insurance agency in 2004. I loved helping other advisors with their ‘problem’ planning cases and wanted to learn everything about the insurance industry I could. The more I learned, the more I saw a huge opportunity in web solutions and digital marketing.
“Consumers were spending more time online,” he continued, “researching products and, eventually, buying them. But most agents still carried paper files and scheduled face-to-face client meetings. That didn’t match up with the business model of online giants like Amazon, for example. Our agency’s first consumer site went live in 2002. When I began, I started looking at ways to help agents make the transition to web marketing the same way our consumer sales department had. This led to our first online platform, EZLifeSales.com, and also to DataRaptor.com, our new platform that incorporates digital marketing with the agency tools that made EZLife so popular.”
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Mr. West came from a different background. “I started selling face-to-face in the height of the mortgage market. I was selling ‘mortgage protection’ insurance to those who just bought houses or refinanced. After driving all over town, I thought there had to be a better way.
“I ended up partnering with an existing online retailer of life insurance,” Mr. West continued, “and wrote more insurance in one week than I had in six months. Shortly after this experience, I decided to partner with another firm and start a ground-up build of an agency with a focus being 100% online marketing and sales fulfillment. We started with SEO practices and then branched out to social media, pay per click, media buying, and paid email traffic to generate leads.”
Mistakes and setbacks
Since no one I know immediately succeeds in a new market or with a new approach, I asked them both to talk about their early mistakes and setbacks in moving into the digital arena. Mr. West talked about putting all of his digital eggs in one basket. “A significant misstep was relying 100% on SEO for as long as we did,” he said. “When 100% of your business comes from this source of traffic and then Google changes their algorithm, it can absolutely crush a company. Luckily, we were quick to react and diversified into other marketing media that were less volatile.”
For Mr. Pinney, there was more than a single issue. “There are a two things I would do differently,” he told me. “One of the challenges a digital marketer faces is keeping up with search engine algorithms. Prior to early 2012, the best way to do this was through link building. As a result, our largest consumer website had an extensive collection of backlinks. But once Google began implementing penalties for sites with overly optimized link profiles, suddenly everything that had helped us was now hurting us. We had to backtrack and find new ways to stay visible online—social media helped a lot with this. If I were doing it again, I’d worry less about specific search engine algorithms and more about building a solid marketing funnel.
“The other thing I’d do differently,” he continued, “is start building a customized solution earlier. For a long time, we watched digital marketing leaders like HubSpot and Marketo and cobbled together our own solutions from a variety of third-party sources, trying to replicate the services they offered. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Finally, I decided to build a system that offered the digital marketing functionality I wanted, with the insurance agent-specific functionality my partners and affiliates needed. That was the origin of DataRaptor.com. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t waited so long to build this platform.”
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