The World As We Know It Has Changed
The World As We Know It Has Changed

The world as we know it in the independent agency business has changed quite drastically over the past few years. The old way of conducting business and marketing your products, offering reinsurance and training, and developing and maintaining business accounts and relationships just isn’t good enough anymore.

Take your product offering for example: most providers now offer high-quality products with excellent service ratings, and at an affordable price. And yes, from an underwriter that is A-rated or better.

But having top-quality products and excellent service ratings isn’t enough to catch the dealer’s attention anymore. Every agent also has the ability to represent and offer products from a company that has excellent choices for back-end profit opportunities, including NCFCs, CFCs, self-funded and retro contracts.

These, in and of themselves, aren’t enough to get the dealer's attention. Having good F&I training services and an excellent relationship with the dealer doesn’t really set you aside from your competition as it used to.

The dealers left today have come through the most trying business environment that they have ever experienced. Not only did sales significantly decline, but they also had to live under the fear that their franchise could be taken away. Some of them had their dealership confiscated only to have it handed right back.

Anymore, a dealer can’t afford to be loyal to someone “just because they have been doing business with them for a long time.” Even when you think you are safe, the dealer will make a change just for the sake of it.

If you don’t give them proactive change, they are much more likely to find it elsewhere.

It’s not good enough to be the best of the best anymore. You need to be the only one who does what you do. You must have world-class quality to compete! You can no longer afford for a dealer to say, “Wow, how they have changed that.” You need them to say, “WOW, I have never seen that before!”

How does the independent agent do this? The answer is INNOVATION. You need to out-innovate your competition. Set yourself apart.

So, what should you focus on to out-innovate your competition? I recommend you focus on four key components:

  • Establish a Unique Brand
  • Have a Powerful Agency Website
  • Have the Right Technology to Enhance Your Offering to the Dealer
  • Embrace Technology to Enhance Systems Within Your Agency

Establish a Unique Brand

Separating yourself from the competition means establishing a brand that differentiates your agency from others.  Your brand needs to be emotional.  It must combine vision, visualization and emotional connection.  It should show your agency's culture, personality and products and services.

A part of brand differentiation is having a powerful logo.  One that keeps you visually connected to your customer.  The company logo can be a symbol like Nike or Apple, or it can be logotype like FEDEX or a combination of both such as AT&T (see below: click to enlarge).

Here are some examples of agencies that have emotionally connected themselves to their customers (see below: click to enlarge).

Have a Powerful Agency Website

The Internet as we knew it is no longer.  Today we have Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Hulu.  We don’t just surf the web, we live the web!  Agencies that differentiate themselves today use their website to attract and retain customers.

The agencies that are out-innovating the competition have developed a powerful website using the latest technology. That is, the website is not just an electronic brochure, or a table of contents with no introduction and no brand message (translation….no foreplay).

A good website should have the following:

  1. Mission statement: It needs to be specific to what you do. The customer shouldn’t be thinking, “What is it exactly that this company does?” It might be your unique selling advantage, such as account development or reinsurance expertise. Say that clearly.
  2. Intuitive navigation system: It should be easy to maneuver around the site, and it should be very clear as to where you will arrive when you drill down on an item as well as easy to get back to where you began.
  3. Slider intro page: A slider intro page, on the home page, gives the customer intuitive navigation without them doing anything. It cues up important information for the customer. Our website gives you an example of a slider page after you hear the introduction.
  4. A great visual experience: Give the customer a memorable visual experience with navigation systems, clarity of offering and service that will make the customer stay and want to come back.  The presentation should grab their attention immediately with sound and colors.
  5. Great logo: Stay emotionally connected to your customer with your company logo uniquely displayed on your webpage.
  6. RSS feed reader: All informational-driven websites today have RSS feeds. These are stories or items of information that are of interest. An RSS feed reader on your site allows you to stream in to your website current events from The Wall Street Journal, Automotive News, F&I Showroom magazine, Agent Entrepreneur magazine or others. This is a great reason for your website to be a destination for dealers. ADM Marketing Group has an example of this on the right hand side of their homepage,
  7. TV Capability: Streaming video is very easy to do today. A video on your website allows your agency to share messages with people who visit your site. Technology is the easy part. All you need to do is provide training videos, product presentations, company president intro messages, etc.
  8. Newsletter: A company newsletter will keep your audience connected to you. They can sign up for it at your website, and your website provider should be able to send it out for you for little to no charge. All you have to do is provide the content.
  9. Description of your services that differentiate you from your competition: Clearly define the services that you offer. Define them in such a way that differentiates you from others, but don’t make it a laundry list of services. The customer is not going to want to know every detail about everything you do. Be clear and concise!
  10. Have logins to your technology tools: (i.e., menu, reporting, desking, online training, etc.) This makes your website THE destination! I would suggest that you even private label your tools so that they have your personalized look and feel.

Have the Right Technology to Enhance Your Offering to the Dealer

Below are some examples of the use of technology to enhance website and software capabilities for the dealership (see below: click to enlarge).

How Do You Make Your Website The Destination? Now that you have that powerful website, how do you get people to come there? Victoria Secret was the first company to see the importance of this. In a 1999 Super Bowl commercial, they encouraged viewers to come to their website to see a super model show. The main goal of this ad was not to create awareness for the Victoria Secret brand, but to encourage people to log onto its site.

Embrace Technology to Enhance Systems Within Your Agency

I know that since you are not likely to have a super model show, I should provide you with some suggestions on how you can make your website the destination!

  1. Collect e-mail addresses. It should be a primary company mission to collect as many contacts as you can. Contacts should consist of both customers and prospects. We started doing this at The Vision of F&I and VisionMenu from our infancy. We now have thousands of contacts who we can stay connected with. Of course, you’re going to need a tool to categorize your contacts and leads. We use, which is a Cisco company,
  2. Have an administration person collect e-mail addresses. You would be surprised how many people will give out an e-mail address when it’s properly asked for. If they contact the dealership by telephone and simply say, “I am calling for Mr. Dealer. I’m sure he or she is very busy, so may I send them some information. What is their e-mail address, so I can send that information out to them?” Have a contest at your agency and reward whoever can collect the most verifiable e-mail addresses from dealership personnel.
  3. Link to your website. Ask your product providers if they can link your site to theirs. They will probably initially say legal won’t allow it, but keep pursuing until they relent.
  4. Add social media links. Do you know where 10 percent of all time on the Internet is spent? Facebook. I personally don’t get it, but it certainly can’t hurt to be socially connected to sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
So Which Agencies Are Doing This? I evaluated 100 agency websites to find companies that made their website a powerful destination and not an electronic brochure. I have to admit many of the sites I visited looked just as they did 10 years ago. Here are some that I thought were impressive, and they have many of the positive traits to make them powerful agency websites.

Yes, life as we know it in the car business and agency business has changed. It is not enough to offer great products, have reinsurance expertise, strong F&I training, and developed accounts and relationships. You need to WOW your dealer clients. They need to say, “WOW I have never seen that before!”

You can do this by out-innovating your competition. You need to have a unique brand, not the brand of your provider. And, you need the right technology tools that will help your dealers make more money! Even you, at your agency, should embrace technology and provide yourself and your employees the tools to maximize their time and efforts, which translates into more income for your agency.

In the environment that we are in today, only strong, innovative companies will survive.  The others will wither away.