Dale Steinke – Director of Independent Agency Digital Marketing for Safeco Insurance


Dale Steinke

You don’t want to miss this interview! Dale Steinke and Michael Jans dive deep into the practical details and strategies for great digital marketing for the modern insurance agency or brokerage. Dale Steinke is the Director of Independent Agency Digital Marketing for Safeco Insurance, and leads Safeco’s ‘Bricks n’ Clicks’ team. With 18 years of hands-on experience with digital marketing and digital technology disciplines in the insurance and news industries, Dale has some of the best advice any insurance agency or brokerage could ask for.

What are other agents & brokers doing to thrive? What are the biggest trends affecting the retail insurance agent & broker? What are the most important strategies and tactics you need to grow faster?  Find out here in the Connected Insurance Podcast, where Michael Jans discusses the biggest issues affecting the independent insurance agent and broker with the industries leading figures.


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[Transcript] Dale Steinke – Director of Independent Agency Digital Marketing for Safeco Insurance

Michael Jans: Hello, everybody. This is Michael Jans, the founder of Agency Revolution. We make it easy for you to automate your systems, engage your customers and grow your agency or brokerage. I want to welcome you to this episode of the Connected Insurance podcast, where we explore the trends, innovations, challenges and solutions to the biggest problem facing today’s retail agent and broker.

I want to welcome our very special guest and long-time friend of mine, Dale Steinke. Dale is the Director of Independent Agency Digital Marketing for Safeco Insurance. He, in that position, leads Safeco’s Bricks & Clicks team. It’s their mission to help insurance agents grow their overall business through more effective online marketing. Welcome Dale.

Then I definitely want to– before we’re done, I’m going to give you the opportunity to tell people more about, if they want to reach out to Bricks & Clicks and to what you’re doing, how we can do this. Dale, you’ve been watching, observing, guiding, consulting insurance agencies now for quite a while there at Safeco Brick & Clicks. I’m going to ask you a question I think you have a good answer for. We get this a lot and I’d like to hear your response to this. There seems to be a growing recognition that agencies need to market, yes?

Dale Steinke: Yes, for sure.

Michael: Yet, if you look at a traditional agency, 1990s style, they’re not set up to do that. They don’t have the organizational structure for it. Obviously they have maybe somebody in charge and then got producers and CSRs and some admin people etc., okay? But typically, they don’t have an organizational chart that takes care of marketing. What do you say to the guy who says, “I don’t have time to do marketing.”

Dale: Well it’s funny is we talk a lot about that here at Safeco. We see that agencies that are the most successful, devote some time to marketing. That’s what marketing does, it helps you grow your business for the lowest priority, it’s the first thing to get cut, allow businesses that– you pay a price for that.

Agencies that don’t market don’t grow as fast as those that do. We see the numbers in that all the time. What we like to say here, and I’m not just talking my team but Safeco in general, is that agencies need to commit to marketing. Whether it’s, “I’m going to carve out two-hour Tuesdays,” as Chuck Blondino likes to say in Customers for Life. Or, it’s hiring somebody 10 hours a week or taking that big plunge and making it a full time position. Anyone of things are going to get you incremental lift.

Michael: Let’s just for the heck of it turn the clock back. Let’s say it’s the 1990s, let’s even say it’s the mid-2000s, okay? Pretty safe to say that consumers are different, consumer behavior is different. Where they’re hanging out is different. But back in the day, marketing was this, it was take out a Yellow pages ad and outright anxiously wait for the phone to ring. It was hire a producer and say, “Now go get leads,” right? Or, “Here’s a list. Go call this list,” right? Those days are over. I mean that model, first of all it doesn’t work in today’s world. Secondly, it’s just awfully expensive, yes?

Dale: Yes, for sure.

Michael: All right. So Safeco’s research and field research shows that agencies who make a commitment to marketing are growing faster. Period. I mean it totally makes sense to me and that’s solid from your perspective, is that right?

Dale: Yes.

Michael: Got it, okay.

Dale: I think when you think about marketing today, yes, it is not that Yellow pages ad and aggressively wait for the phone to ring. You’ve got that it’s everything from that website, to the social media, to community involvement, to building welcome kits so that your new customers see you as somebody to do business with in the future. They have a relationship with you. It’s referral programs, it’s drip marketing. All these things are what you need to capture customers today because they’re in many different places.

Michael: Customers have changed, yes.

Dale: And they have to see ads from you many times before they may react. You have to be top of mind when it’s time for them to buy.

Michael: Got it, all right. Dale, we agree the technology has really changed the behavior of the customer today, and the insurance agency or brokerage of today needs to make some commitment to connect with them via technology, right?

Dale: Yes.

Michael: Okay. Let me turn that question a little bit. Technology is also perhaps changing carrier behavior. How would you say carriers can take care advantage of changing technology, including things like the Internet of Things or streaming transportation?

Dale: Yes. In terms of carriers, I’m not speaking for any carrier here or company, this is my own personal perspective. The consumer expectations have really changed in the way they shop. Almost nobody goes somewhere and buys something today without doing research first online. You’re seeing a lot of carriers starting to make some changes because of that.

I think carriers in general have been, I’m not going to name any names or point fingers or anything, but I think insurance companies, as a rule, have been slow to change. It’s a big industry, it’s mature, it’s been around for a long time. I came from newspapers in the beginning of my career and then worked in TV for a while, not in front of the camera, thank goodness. But those industries were really affected by changing technology.

I’d say in insurance, there’s a fair amount of confidence in the insurance industry that we can weather this. But I like to run a little bit scared and I think it’s a little bit safer to do that than to wait for change to overtake you. You’re starting to see carriers offering more coverages for these different things that you mentioned, Internet of Things. I think about streaming transportation, things like Uber, semi-autonomous vehicles moving to autonomous vehicles. These are things that carriers are starting to address. You’re seeing more carriers invest insure tech. You’re seeing–

Michael: A lot.

Dale: You’re seeing many startups out there. I mean, there’s some of them out there, I think their lemonade really essentially is mutual. It’s an old idea with a new spin on it, and many of those things may fail. But I don’t think because they fail, it doesn’t mean that they’re never going to succeed. There are others who are out there who have got great ideas and you’re seeing old many carriers invest in them. Pretty much you can’t pick up an insurance publication these days without seeing some story about some investment by a carrier or another entrant into the field.

So I think though as a rule though, carriers are starting to see them innovate more. That’s a big part of it as well. You see stories all the time, this carrier is putting more money into innovation. They’ve got innovation teams. They’re looking at the user experience. You hear a lot more about that these days than you used to. That, to me, is if it’s not a good user experience, people are going to go away. People have other choices out there so the customer is king.

Michael: Dale, I’m also not going to name names, but I was in the digital garage so to speak of a major carrier a few weeks ago when I was on the road. It looked, it felt, it acted like I was in Silicon Valley. In that case, I saw an instance of a carrier who’s truly dedicated to their digital strategy. All right? I don’t want to put you in too much of an awkward position here, but you had said a few minutes ago, you’re speaking for yourself, not the carrier that you represent. I’m going to ask you to do that again, okay?

Dale: Okay.

Michael: Okay, so If I’m pushing you too far, feel free to let me know. Obviously, here at Agency Revolution, our first loyalty is to the retail agent broker. Yes?

Dale: Yes.

Michael: We believe that they can deliver a value that can’t be delivered by the alternative channels. I’m not here to trash the alternative channels. I think some competition for our channel probably is a really good wake up call for us, okay? But clearly, as an advocate for the retail agent broker, when I get the opportunity to ask the carrier community or at least somebody who’s got some insight this question I’m going to, are the carriers committed to this channel or when push comes to shove, are they going to try to go around it and using digital channels, go directly to the consumer?

Dale: Yes, I’m sure that’s possible, but from– this I can talk about from Safeco’s perspective because this is public. I mean, we’re all about the independent agent, that’s what we support. We’ve got a whole campaign right now that’s really pushing the idea of ease, choice and advice. If you look at Safeco’s social channels

for example, you’re going to see that everything we’re doing is talking about the independent agent. That value, that choice, that ease that they bring to the customer experience, that’s paramount for us. That’s why I do what I do, I’m here to help agents grow. All of our programs are meant to do that so that if our business partners are healthy, we’re going to be healthy too. If they grow, we’re going to grow with them.

Michael: All right. So now let’s talk about agents for a moment. The world that they’re living in is changing, the technologies that their consumers are using is clearly different than it was even just a few years ago. What do you say to agents who want to use technology to communicate more effectively and market more effectively to their customers and to their market place?

Dale: Yes. There’s– your bootcamp, boy about a month ago now, Nancy Nicklow.

Michael: Nancy Nicklow.

Dale: From Huff Insurance, she had a really great way of summing it up. She said that “we should communicate with our customers in a way that they want to communicate with us, not the other way around”. So I think about how people want to interact with an agency, they may not want to get on the phone with you. They may want to do click to chat or texting. They don’t want to walk in your office, so that’s certainly changed.

How do you support that? How do I do– maybe it’s the middle of the night and I need an ID card. Do I have to call and get a voice message– leave a voice message and then maybe hear from you midday the next day? No, I want to go on your website and find some way to serve that need my self. If I can do that, I’m happy because I got my need met, I didn’t have to talk to you, I didn’t have to wait for you, and I still like you because you gave me the thing I needed.

Michael: Right, okay. So when we look at marketing from a retail agency’s point of view, we use what we call the ACOR marketing model. ACOR is an acronym for, A-C-O-R, attract, convert, optimize and retain. We like it and we encourage agents and brokers to have communications that attract people, convert people, optimize relationships and retain relationships as long as possible.

That being said, [laughs] there is always a fascination with lead generation or attraction. I can’t have a conversation about marketing without talking about attraction. From your– the seat that you have in the industry, where you get to see a lot of success among agencies, what are you seeing that’s really working well for lead generation and customer attraction?

Dale: Yes. We talk with a lot of agents all year round. We advise hundreds, thousands of agents every year in different ways, and we see several things. Your online presence is many things. Let’s start first of all with the website. It’s got to be a quality experience. If you visited a website and it looked sketchy or it looked it was built in 1990, you’re probably going to have a very different perception of that agency or that business compared to one that has a modern website today. We think about even simple things as once you’ve got that website, is it tuned so that’s going to convert business?

You’ve got that person to finally visit you, maybe they saw a social post or something else there, referral and they were referred to you and they find you online or they googled you. Do you have something that’s going to make them confident that they want to do business with you? Do you demonstrate that you’re a local business? Do you have call to action that tell them what you want to do next? Call me, call us up for a quote.

Do you have pictures of your people? I see websites all the time and you see these beautiful people on the front of the website and I think. “Yes, those people work in an agency, but I’ll submit to you that it’s a talent agency, not an insurance agency because using stock photography.” Again, that’s not real. I don’t know if that’s a legit business. Show me your people, show me that you’re part of a community.

Michael: Interestingly, Dale–

Dale: If you’re willing to think of community involvement as being part of your brand. If you are out there supporting causes through your agency, talk about it. Talk about it in your social media. Don’t talk about selling insurance in your social media because that’s going to scare people away. If you’re trying to engage, make it social media not selling media upfront. You build that relationship.

If you support the same cause that somebody else likes, they’re going to like you more. There’s plenty of research around that called communication to this corporate social responsibility study and basically what it boils down to is that nine out of 10 people are going to like you more, they’re going to trust you more and they’re going to be more loyal to you.

Michael: If what?

Dale: These matters especially to millennials too, both as customers and as employees.

Michael: Dale, I want to make sure I understand that. Nine out of 10 are going to like you more if you do what?

Dale: If you do corporate social responsibility.

Michael: Got it, okay.

Dale: So if you support local causes. You’re supporting this charity, you’re talking about it. Your people want to know that you’re investing in your community. They want to feel that you’re giving something back.

Michael: Got it.

Dale: And people trust that. They want to see that. They want to see that it’s more than just a transaction. They want to see that they’re actually supporting something by doing business with you.

Michael: Dale, you said something about pictures of people. Interestingly among the sites that we designed for our clients, the second most visited page after the Homepage is the About the Team.

Dale: Yes.

Michael: And so that sort of represents our premise that one of the great strengths of our channel is that we’ve real people who can have real relationships with other real people. It typically went, when somebody visits an insurance site, they just want to see who’s there, are they real? And that gives them a sense of confidence and begins to earn their trust before the relationship even starts.

Dale: That’s exactly right, yes. We definitely see that same behavior too on other websites. That’s consistent. Home page, About Us page and then the Contact Us page tend to be the top three.

Michael: Right on.

Dale: So having that real imagery is important. We also look toward things like an agent’s LinkedIn profile. Do you have a photo of yourself that looks good and that shows your professional self? But does your profile also talk about you as a person, the value you bring and what you do outside of work? So you sort of layer in these other facets of yourself that start to build rapport. It’s not like the old days, you go walk in somebody’s office and you could see the pictures on the wall or the diploma and figure out how you might have something in common–

Michael: Or just to see the people.

Dale: See the LinkedIn profile and do the same thing.

Michael: Yes, okay. Ultimately, the magnet that drives all of the change, the center of gravity, ultimately it’s the consumer, yes? And consumer behavior is changing, their expectations are different than they were back in the day, right? They’re probably different than they were even three years ago. What do you say to agents and brokers who want to keep up with the changing expectations of today’s consumer?

Dale: They have to keep working at it. I would say– again, going back to the part about having somebody who’s doing marketing. When we teach classes, we say, “Great, we want you as the principal to come to our class, but we also want the person who does the work to come too.” That way, the principal can sign off on the strategy and just say– turn to the person who’s doing the work and say, “Now go do it.”

Michael: We like that too.

Dale: Instead of coming back to the office and trying to explain to somebody who does the work or assume that they have to do it themselves when that’s actually not their forte. Outside services are great, we have a relationship with Agency Revolution, and for some people, that’s a great option as well.

Michael: Thank you.

Dale: So you keep moving along. It’s not something that you can check a box and you’re done. When I think about websites and technology, we talk a lot about blogging now because from a search engine optimization standpoint, if you want to attract people, you got to show up in Google and Bing and those other search engines too. That has a very important part to play. Without having that marketing resource or that dedication to marketing, you’re not going to succeed at those things.

Michael: You–

Dale: Certainly though, the other piece I would say is that agencies, when they’re doing these things, they need to be tracking. We want to see agencies tracking where their business comes from. Say the agency has a ratings and reviews strategy. They’re talking to customers about the fact they have a profile on Yelp or the Google business page or Facebook. Our people, when they call in to the agency, the agency is asking, “Hey how did you find out about us?” I met an agency, I know of that gets several pieces of business a day off of Yelp.

Michael: Really?

Dale: There’s over a hundred Yelp reviews of the agency.

Michael: Really? Yes, that’s outstanding.

Dale: And the customers google for insurance find them, call the agency, and the agency asks, “How did you find out about us?” They say, “Oh, we read reviews online.” They’re like, “Great. Did you also go to our website?” And about half of those people say, “No, we didn’t need to.

The reviews were all I needed.” That was their validation. But the agency has made a committed effort to do that, to ask people for reviews and to respond when somebody writes a negative review.

Michael: Got it. All right. What you just said about Yelp is probably a good segue to my next question. Let’s talk about those 83 million people who are young and buying insurance and buying more insurance and building businesses, the millennials. It’s one of those sort of underlying anxieties for a lot of agency owners today. A lot of agency owners today, they are still the boomers who are now trying to swim in a millennial world. What do you suggest for them?

Dale: Well, I think first of all, you got to start thinking about hiring. As an agency, bringing that perspective into the agency is important. In the meantime though, I think agencies need to do a really good job of again demonstrating that ease, choice and advice. We know that’s important to millennials. We know that if millennials are– they’re willing to pay more if they feel they’re going to get value for it. They’re not simply price shoppers, which I think is an unfair label that they’d been saddled with.

Michael: That’s a really good insight. Right.

Dale: We really do want to see agencies talking about that. There’s an interesting thing we’ve seen back to the reviews piece. There’s another agency I know of that they asked their producers to ask their customers for reviews. What they do though is they say, “I want you to do that,” but then they say, “Michael, I want you to ask your customer to mention you by name in the review.” What happens then is the review changes from, “They saved me a bunch of money,” to “Hey, Michael made it really easy for me. He gave me plenty of great choices, gave me excellent advice on the second car I had, and it was a great experience for me.” Now when a millennial reads that, they’re going to call the agency and ask for you.

Michael: Right. That’s beautiful. That’s a writer-downer. Got it. Dale, you’ve been really generous. Is there anything else you want to say to all those agents and brokers who are struggling to connect to today’s changing consumer?

Dale: I would say this, you all have a fantastic business. There’s lots of fantastic opportunity out there. I know it’s a time of great change, but I also think of it as a time of great opportunity. I’ll say it from Safeco’s perspective and Liberty Mutual Commercial Insurance Bricks & Clicks, we’re here to help you. We can help you navigate that.

If you ever do want to reach out to us, you can reach our team at bricksandclicks@safeco.com. My contact info is on LinkedIn as well. You can reach me that way. Always happy to talk about this stuff, and we’re constantly seeing new things every day, great ideas that work for all different kinds of agencies.

Michael: Got it, all right. Dale, first of all, we love our partnership with Safeco. We’ve enjoyed working with you personally. We love the advice that you give to our clients. And so, as always, thank you so much for sharing, for your generosity and your wisdom.

Dale: Well, thanks, Michael, and I’ll say on behalf of the rest of the Bricks & Clicks team, who supply a lot of the ideas I shared today, thank you very much.

Michael: Thank you. All right, take care. Have a great day.

Dale: Thanks, Michael.