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Independent insurance agent Susan Booth didn’t realize she was a fish flopping out of water until a certain insurance marketing organization (IMO) showed her a different way.
After 12 years selling group insurance, she had added Medicare – at the same time the internet and email were transforming the industry.
“I was flopping around like a fish out of water, and I didn’t even know it until I met Senior Market Sales and they put me in the water,” Booth said. “I didn't see how all the systems that I put so much energy into and that I now rely on SMS to handle were taking time away from selling.”
A previous IMO had promised help, but only when she met SMS did she fully understand the value of the industry’s premier IMO.
“As an independent agent, I don’t have any backup service. My backup support is Senior Market Sales,” Booth said. “If I didn’t have that strength behind me, I would not have succeeded this far.”
Independent insurance and financial planning professionals often don’t know what they’re missing in an IMO or field marketing organization (FMO) or that they’re working with a subpar one until it’s too late – promises are broken, mistakes are made, sales fall through or fines get imposed – leaving the agent wondering “what is my IMO doing to earn its override?”
Successful advisors at Senior Market Sales® (SMS) say that finding and partnering with an IMO with a proven record of exceptional service is critical to an advisor’s success. So what makes an IMO’s service exceptional in advisors’ minds?
First, the basics.
An IMO is a third-party intermediary between independent licensed insurance agents and insurance company home offices, that provides economies of scale for product manufacturing and distribution. (In addition to being called an IMO and FMO, it’s sometimes also referred to as an independent marketing organization or independent distribution company.) The IMO provides support – recruiting, contracting, agent licensing for the insurance company and marketing, education, sales support, compliance and technology to the agents – in exchange for a small portion of the commission paid on the products’ sales.
Booth, now one of SMS’ top producers and a qualifying member of the President’s Club, said many IMOs provide one contact person for all your support needs, whereas SMS has an entire team of experts. While she may start with a call to her designated marketing consultant, Tom Parkin, she knows if he doesn’t have the answer, he’ll find the SMS expert who does – whether that’s answering a complicated Medicare open enrollment question, finding a system to corral out-of-control commissions, or helping resolve a carrier issue.
She especially appreciates that SMS’ wide breadth of product expertise keeps clients sticking with her instead seeking solutions elsewhere.
“Any question that comes at me, it’s like having an entire powerhouse at my fingertips,” Booth said. “It gives you a different level of confidence to portray to your client because you know (that the SMS experts) know what they are talking about.”
Tim Ruth, a Naperville, Illinois, advisor who’s worked with SMS for more than 20 years, said the wide breadth of expertise provides time-efficient and convenient “full-service partner-provider service” for agents.
“They do offer me a lot of different options to consider, and they’re always willing to prepare alternative quotes and illustrations,” Ruth said.
He called SMS’ service “unparalleled” and said he would highly recommend SMS to anyone searching for an IMO. For him to work with an IMO, the two companies must align with certain attributes, and with SMS they do, he said.
“They always have the time for you. They’re a pleasure to work with, responsive, personable and hardworking,” Ruth said. “Any agency can sell insurance, but it really takes a caring professional to get to know you. My collaboration with Jackie Slaughter never fails to impress, and my customers benefit from her expertise and care. SMS is an extended family and partner.”
SMS and Ruth also align in their priorities – putting clients first above sales, he said.
“They care about their agents, which in turn brings unending value and positive outcomes for our clients,” Ruth said.
That deep level of care at every touchpoint is unique in the IMO world but also in a world with waning attention to customer service, the agents said.
“Senior Market Sales makes me feel like I’m their only agent they deal with,” Booth said. “That’s a big deal to feel that way.”
Ray Dobbie, whose Wellesley, Massachusetts, agency specializes in long-term care (LTC) planning, described SMS’ service the same way, saying every interaction with Jackie Slaughter, SMS’ Associate Director of Relationships-LTC, and her team is a “concierge-level problem that they get resolved.”
“SMS, and in particular, Jackie Slaughter and her team in the LTC Division, have been, and continue to be, some of the best people I have ever worked with over the past 20 years (and I have been working with Jackie for the past 20 years),” Dobbie said. “The level of service is exceptional. It’s as if they are business partners working as if I am the only agent they service.”
For example, Dobbie turns to SMS for those complicated problems that even he – with more than three decades of experience – cannot solve.
“Bottom line, if I have a problem, Jackie, or a member of her team, are on the phone with the appropriate party trying to solve it as soon as possible,” he said. “And, these are not easy problems to solve, or I would solve them.”
His three-person team also relies on SMS to help with the “fine print” questions on policies, designing appropriate illustrations for complex cases, being a high-level intermediary to get things done at the insurance company level and keeping them up to date on new product developments and uses.
The SMS staff also is exceptional at follow-through and communication, agents said. Ultimately, this saves them time, which keeps them in the field working on client relationships and building their businesses.
“SMS does an excellent job of following up on cases in underwriting – calling the insurance company, checking on-line status, and emailing us with weekly updates, or updates as they occur more frequently,” Dobbie said. “Although we do follow cases in the background, we are able to rely on SMS ... to help us greatly by following and notifying us of status updates, and any problems that we may not be alerted to as quickly as we would like by the insurance company alone.”
Because of SMS’ strong relationships with carriers, vendors, and trade associations from its four decades in the industry, its reputation as a trustworthy company of integrity attracted agents like Booth, who says that alone saves her time.
“They vet the insurance companies they use. I don’t feel like I have to go research," she said. "If SMS won’t write them, neither will I.”
She also mentioned how SMS’ wealth of ready-to-use programs and resources keeps her from having to search for or create on her own – from turnkey lead-generating seminar programs to marketing materials. For example, she appreciates ready-to-use, compliant Facebook ads, because she doesn’t have the creative team to write copy and design graphics, the compliance experts to review them and the social media marketers to post and optimize them. And most independent insurance agents don’t either.
“We don’t want to do that. We want to sell insurance,” Booth said.
Independent agents can’t always afford to hire marketing firms or to pay the hefty subscription fees for customer relationship management systems or other technology platforms either, she said. While other IMOs may provide those expensive technologies to contracted agents, SMS is the known leader in time-saving, innovative technology that makes agents’ lives easier.
“(Other IMOs) have nothing compared to Senior Market Sales,” Booth said. “Everything you need is at Senior Market Sales.”
By providing everything they need, SMS helps agents focus on clients and their business.
Ruth said he appreciates that SMS keeps track of licensing and certification requirements and keeps him abreast of new regulations in the industry and in the different states, especially because he works in all 50 states. An email notifying him of an upcoming license renewal or an industry alert can be invaluable.
“When we’re out there in the field meeting different clients and driving sales, having that reminder is great,” he said. “They stay involved so that I have the freedom to focus on my clients and building that business and future.”
SMS executives, such as Dwane McFerrin and Bill Kauffman, stay involved by serving on numerous carrier advisory boards and remaining active with different industry associations. While the insight gained from that involvement certainly gives SMS-contracted agents a competitive advantage, the tools and programs developed from that insight and SMS’ deep insurance knowledge are what really provide agents the edge.
When SMS foresaw the approaching tsunami of industry change – everything from compressed product availability and lower commissions to tighter regulation and increased competition – it bought a Registered Investment Adviser (RIA), Sequent Planning. The acquisition was a strategic move to provide SMS-contracted agents an additional way to expand their services in an industry moving toward more holistic retirement planning.
Booth, whose passion is helping clients with Medicare, had added annuities at SMS’ suggestion a few years earlier to help clients needing guaranteed income in retirement – a move that helped her grow her business. So when SMS suggested a few years later that she refer clients to Sequent Planning for more specialized financial planning, she trusted it would be a smart move for both her clients and her business. As she referred her Medicare clients to Financial Planner Jeff Riesberg of Sequent Planning, word-of-mouth referrals poured in. She added an office for Riesberg, who travels about twice a month to Booth’s Kansas business from SMS’ home office.
“It grew her annuity production by 100% in the first year and then 100% again in the second year,” Riesberg said. “This has allowed her to leverage her time and refer to a person whose core competency is financial planning and serve her clients better by having that professional. She is able to make more money because the production has grown so much in such a short time.”
Whereas Booth’s referrals and cross-selling opportunities primarily started with her Medicare clients, she now gets financial planning clients referring friends and is able to cross-sell back to Medicare, Riesberg said.
First and foremost, Booth appreciates that the holistic financial planning services are helping her clients, people who need specialized answers she’s not always able to provide. But she said she also likes that it reduces the risk of losing clients to an outside professional she would refer them to, or who could scam them.
“Senior Market Sales holds everything, in my opinion, to a higher standard. So I was confident,” she said of her decision to add Sequent Planning services.
Booth said anyone looking for an IMO should place a high priority on one with a reputation for forward-thinking ideas and a history of success – not just any IMO, but SMS.
“They come to me with ideas,” she said. “They always have new fresh ideas with what’s new in the market.”
Just as SMS is passionate about sharing forward-thinking sales approaches with agents, Booth is equally as passionate about telling agents about SMS’ top-tier service – because there’s no reason to be flopping around like a fish out of water, or in the wrong water, when SMS exists, she said.
“Where else can you call where they have the answers to everything?” Booth said. “If you don’t have an entire swimming pool of people to call on to help you with all your different problems, you’re swimming in a mud pool. I don’t want to swim in a mud pool. I want to swim in a lake of knowledge.”
Leverage your time by letting SMS’ concierge-level back-office staff handle the details and remove obstacles. Call an SMS marketing consultant today at 1.800.786.5566.