Best-selling author and former super-agent declares, “It really is a new insurance ecosystem. Here’s what to do.”
He’s already taught thousands of agents to grow a super-agency organically like he did. Now, he’s a sought after advisor to the largest insurance carriers in the United States.
Please don’t miss this conversation with one of the industry’s most respected advisors and former super-agent. In it, he shares his thoughts on the modern insurance age, and his secrets to thriving in these fast-moving times, including:
- Three steps to faster organic growth that every agent can execute quickly and easily
- His personal discipline for keeping ahead of the curve when change is the only constant
- How to make price progressively irrelevant in the insurance customer journey
Listen today and get ideas you’ll put into practice tomorrow.
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 our hosts discuss the biggest issues affecting the independent insurance agent & broker with the industry’s leading figures.
Michael: Troy, thank you so much for joining us. How are you?
Troy: I’m awesome, Michael. Excited to be here.
Michael: I’m excited about this conversation so I want to put it in perspective, I think to some extent because you and I have had some conversations in the past. We have observed each other a little bit from the distance. I’ve looked at your career with great regard.
Troy: Likewise, Michael.
Michael: Thank you. Sorry, we just didn’t have the opportunity or didn’t take the opportunity to work together on things previously, but I’m excited about this conversation. I do want to share a little bit about what I know about you and then boom, I’m going to ask you to give a little bit of a bio. Here’s what I know, is you were the guy in the network you were in. You were a captive agent. You were a farmers agent. Because I was the marketing guru for the independent insurance agency sector, frankly from time to time captives would stick their nose in the tent and some of them would work their way in. I got to know what was going on.
Whenever we talked about farmers, people would say, “You got to know Troy. Troy is the guy.” People would go, “I think you would do some training, I think you would do maybe some agency visits.” But from what I understand, you had the agency that everybody admired. Maybe it was the fastest-growing agency in the network but it definitely was a premier agency. Congratulations to you.
Troy: Thank you so much, Michael.
Michael: Indeed. Now, I will turn the table and say, “Hey, tell us a little bit about Troy and how you got to be where you are now.” And then we’re going to dive into this conversation.
Troy: You bet. I’ll try to keep it short. I started in 1983. I always kid when I start out talking. My company gave me a big old book of business called the phone book. My manager taught me how to market basically door to door, phone to phone, getting appointments and giving presentations, the real basics. He was a great manager to have when I started. I started in a small town called Visalia, California, which is by Fresno and Baker. It’s still right in the center of California Ag country if you will. It’s easy to celebritize yourself in a smaller town. I was able to start from scratch and luckily good fortune. I was blessed. My sister Sharon had joined me early on in my career, and we formed a team.
Along with her husband, Mike, and a lot of other great team members and family members, we grew a very large agency that you were describing. We were blessed. From that, I was able to write a book, Power Position Your Agency because we were successful. At that time, there weren’t any books out. It became a best seller. Just a lot of luck and blessings in my life. That sold over 100,000 copies.
Michael: No kidding.
Troy: Yes. Often to the races. Today, I’ve written six books. I just feel blessed to be on your show today because, like you said, we’ve crossed paths, we’ve just never been able to work together. This is exciting moment for me, a milestone.
Michael: Well, I’m happy about it. Let’s talk about what you’re doing now and the insights that you’ve got now because your life has changed and your focus has changed.
Troy: Today, and I’m out on the road more than ever before, I choose where I go now. I work mostly with carriers and larger firms and talking about the new distribution ecosystem. That includes a personalized service from an agent whether they’re employee lead or contractor lead, it doesn’t matter in the local community.
It’s really an ecosystem today where technology enhances the quickness of service and the thoroughness of service. It’s just really putting the customer first, giving great service and earning the right to be the gateway to all things and financial solutions.
Michael: All right. Customer-first sounds like a good axiom for all time. Do you think things have changed?
Troy: You and I do think alike. I think we’ve all heard that slogan before [cross-talk].
Michael: Hey, here’s an idea. Let’s put the customer first. What’s up now? [laughs].
Troy: Back 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, I’d be sitting out in the audience and going, “Well, if you really believe that, why don’t you blank? If you really believe that, why aren’t we doing this?” Today, it’s not the insurance carriers or the insurance firms or agents putting the customer first. The customer is demanding it. We’re living in a new world, a new marketplace and insurance is not immune to that. With that being said, I really truly believe this is the age of the customer. And it’s a great opportunity for those agents who get away from the salesy way of doing business but understand, you need to sell something to make money. They put the customer first and then the commissions come.
Michael: Is it fair to say that from your perspective that a measurable shift has happened in that the customer now has the power-
Troy: I would agree completely.
Michael: -in the relationship generally speaking? And that various technologies deliver through the internet have probably delivered that power?
Troy: Are beginning to. I think we’re a long way off. I do think we’re in that age [cross-talk].
Michael: They at least have the ability to do things instantaneously and ubiquitously that they didn’t before. They can research, they can get opinions, commentary, see what other people say, so on and so forth. I’m not saying that the consumer necessarily is smarter, though, I think they probably are, but I think to the extent that they believe they have the power, they do have the power. Whereas previously they were mystified in a lot of industries, maybe especially ours.
Troy: Yes, I completely agree. I also believe that in the past, we told them when to buy, what to buy, how to buy. We would say, “Hey, we’re making your life easy.” Not necessarily, they know what’s easiest for them. I agree with you completely. I think the customer is in control today because they do have the power, but the insurance industry needs to step up and provide a seamless way to service them and not one-off because technology is great but as it stands today, it’s not seamless in the whole system. It will be because the customer’s demanding it.
Michael: Let’s let’s talk about first, like that wonderful future where there is the seamless experience and then let’s work our way backwards and figure out how to get there and what agents need to do now. What do you think that future looks like?
Troy: I believe that today you get a little bit. There’s examples of this everywhere because you can see companies working strategically together. The merging of companies, the merging of large firms, they’re trying to put together this ecosystem. If we fast forward into the future, I believe there’ll be an open product platform solution. There’ll be one technology where you can go and an advisor and or the consumer directly can go to this platform and figure out, okay, what’s available in the marketplace? What coverages are available? Who has the appetite for me?
Today, you’re dependent on an independent agent, an exclusive agent, a captive agent or some unknown technology today, to help them get to this point. It’s not there yet, but it will be. In the future, we’ll be able to sign on and go, “Okay, here’s where the coverages are.” It’s not going to be just based on price. It’s going to be based on customer experience, it’s going to be based on plans, it’s going to be based on coverages and then cost will be a factor. To say it’s not a factor would be a lie. It’s just not going to be the primary. Technology today, the price has been the big factor. It’s not been revolving around service. It’s been revolving around who can get you the lowest price the quickest.
Michael: Several questions arise from what you just said. The first one is, what do you think in that future–? Of course, I’m not even going to ask you to tell us when you think that might happen, because that’s such an iffy game. When we get to that future where this technology that provides the seamless experience for the customer, what do you think the agency force looks like? Is it different? Is it threatened? Is it enhanced? What do you think it’s like?
Troy: I think a lot of our peers feel threatened today, people that we grew up in the business with. Frankly so, you should be a little bit disturbed if you’re in business, not just the insurance business, not a little bit disturbed, you’re comfortable, if you’re comfortable, you’re not going to go anywhere. You’re not busy being born as busy dying, as the old quote says. With that being said, I’m going to be bold here, you asked me, probably I didn’t want to make a prediction, I’ll make it. It’s going to be less than three years, I believe. When I say less than three years, I mean it’s coming fast. There’s a tsunami of change and it’s an arms race now to catch up digitally in the industry.
I still do not see a true digital strategy that is seamless, that is flawless but it’ll come, right? Then there’ll be new players, and we work with them as consultants every day. They’ve got a new offering. There’s all kinds of examples of whether it’s getting an ID card, whether it’s filing a claim, whether it’s making a car change or adding a driver. I could give you examples today. Another example is people buying insurance and one of the competitors out there says, “Hey, here’s five
companies and here’s their prices.” Their indications are not real prices, but they’re so confident in their product they can offer them. It’s not the marketplace. It’s five options. It’s not 2,500.
Michael: You think that we’ll see dramatic change in three years?
Troy: I do. To further on your question, because I don’t want to dodge anything.
Michael: Yes, okay. Fair enough.
Troy: Then I’m going to make sure. Keep me honest. We talked about some of our peers from the past today being disturbed, and I said that they should be. They should be in a positive way. You should always be a little bit disturbed and be looking at the model. Because the model that worked for me back in 1983 would never work today for me personally.
Michael: You wouldn’t be knocking on doors now?
Troy: Well, I tell you what, do you watch Unsolved Mysteries?
Troy: Out here in California, we go out to knock on a door, we may never come home.
Michael: Yes, right, okay.
Troy: Life has changed, but that doesn’t mean that personal relationships or as my friend calls it, personalized service doesn’t matter. Because it matters whether you’re in a call center in Kansas City or whether you’re in person in Little Rock, Arkansas. Personalized service, whether employee lead or contractor lead, and I like both models, is going to be key. It’s who is going to hold the person’s hand through the maze of madness. Where is that one gateway, that one spot because you don’t have three dentists, you don’t have three lawyers, you don’t have three doctors, you got one CPA, you got one lawyer, and they may bring in other specialists but you go to one place that you know and trust.
I think that’s where we’re going. I think there’s going to be as many people giving personalized service. We’re going to shuffle the deck here and the cards are going to be played differently than they were played 10 years ago, 20 years ago.
Michael: Got it. All right, so now let’s reverse engineer it. What do you think the agent of today needs to do to be successful today but also fundamentally to prepare for this tomorrow?
Troy: I’ll give you two things. That’s a great question, Michael. Great question. Number one is to work on your personal relationships and they got to be deeper. They can’t be superficial.
Michael: What do you mean personal relationships?
Troy: In other words, people buy from people they know and trust, and they buy more and they buy deeper. Most of us really don’t have a 360 view of our customers. You’re an expert on CRM, you’re an expert on technology, you know this. You can put in all the slots for information but if nobody puts down the children’s name, we’ve got a void in the 360 view. If nobody puts down what they have in financial services, we’ve got a void in the 360 view when we’re given recommendations on liability limits and so on and so forth. Technology will never replace a person but we’ve got to have the information so everybody’s singing from the same song sheet.
Personal relationships, technology would be next to me. You got to be a student of technology, know more about it, buy all the books you can, go to all the conferences, read all the white papers and articles. I think technology is huge. Then lastly, just knowledge. It’s just you need to be learning something every day that makes you a better business person, a better advisor, a better carrier, executive. We just believe that we’re living in the knowledge age but it’s also a content page. You got to be able to have that technology deep in the relationship for those.
Michael: It does seem that in order to survive today, some commitment to lifelong learning is mission-critical.
Troy: Agreed, completely, 100%. It’s got to be on the calendar. You got to be blocking time as an organization. It’s got to be a priority.
Michael: Right. Okay, got it. I think to some extent, I hate to say this listeners, but an awful lot of agents don’t have the commitment to personal growth, lifelong learning, what have you. It just has to become a habit.
Troy: Michael, I think that that’s human nature. You asked, what are the tools needed to be successful in this coming future, whether it be a year from now, three years from now. It’s you have to increase your knowledge and that is whether you’re in insurance or not, you just got to know more, and there’s no reason not to block time.
Michael: All right, so I’m going to ask you to personalize this question.
Michael: If you would. Share with us the habit or discipline or process you use to be a lifelong learner.
Troy: I’m going to give you the best one that I know when I get information, I use the law of 72. Not the rule of 72, the law of 72. Within 72 hours, I take the information I got, and I block time on my calendar to think about it. I reread the article, I think about what I read, and just for 15 minutes, that’s it. For instance, if I wanted to know more about Michael, I’m going to block time and I’m going to get all the info I can on your background, and I’m going to know more about you.
Again, if I’m in business insurance, I’m going to spend 15 minutes a day learning about business insurance coverages, new coverages available. A day for me looks like this. I wake up generally around four 4:00 or 4:30 in the morning. I do not look at my phone.
Michael: A late sleeper clearly, okay.
Troy: I don’t look at my phone anymore. I used to really, that was the first thing.
Michael: I assume, is that’s kind of an expression of digital minimalism for you?
Troy: It is because I’m addicted. I’m not going to lie to you.
Michael: Oh, look and in all fairness and coming from the technology world, first of all, technology is kind of addicting but the ones who create technology that scale, they build in habits. They make it addictive. This is maybe not the topic that I intended for this conversation, but I think there is some it’s personal imperative for each of us to practice a little bit of digital minimalism and put some corrals around our time. Because it can be a tremendous time-suck, but it also can just be a sort of a psychological drain. Boom, that’s the end of the sermon. I can–
Troy: I think that everybody needs that pounded into their head because everyone that’s listening to this, they’re driving down the road nodding their head. Then the minute they park, they’re going to be on their phone for 20 or 30 minutes or so.
Michael: Well, I just want to take a second to see if one person liked my Instagram post or something like that, those things are absolutely addictive.
Troy: Of course, yes.
Michael: The creators know that. Facebook knows that and creates products so that– Well, there was a big inflection point when they added the like button because it’s just psychologically irresistible to see how many people like you, right?
Troy: Yes, and anybody that says they don’t look at that is a liar.
Michael: Again, I obviously believe in technology had have created and sold technology and I’m as vulnerable as any other human being to the negative consequences of it. I think in order to be highly productive, we need to practice some personal form of digital minimalism and digital discipline.
Troy: I agree. It allows time–
Michael: I’m glad you’re not getting up at four o’clock and pulling the phone out to see how many Instagram likes you got.
Troy: I do block time to read. I get up at four, I don’t turn on the TV, I don’t turn on the phone. Now, what I do is I’m going to have some time to myself and part of that time to myself is 15 minutes of reading on the subject to make me an expert. You can be an expert quickly just by reading 15 or 20 minutes a day an hour if you’re great. I also I’m a believer in YouTube. I like watching YouTubes when I do turn on the TV versus a TV show because I want to learn something. It’s not always about insurance, interpersonal skills. It can be telephone skills, it could be customer service. I just read a great book on customer service. Just anything that will make me have more knowledge because I want to have 10 times the knowledge that I need when I’m talking to somebody about whatever subject it is.
Michael: Got it. All right. The topic that you’re addressing now with your clients, what is the message that you’re delivering? Your clients, they’re largely going to be large carriers but through those carriers, I think you’re reaching thousands and thousands of agents. Help me understand what is it that you want to say to the agency force of today that we haven’t already covered?
Troy: Whether independent, whether they’re a large brokerage firm, whether they’re a mom and pop shop, whether they’re employee lead, it doesn’t matter, contractor lead, employee lead, everyone needs to look at their model and say, “Okay, I’ve got 24 hours in a day, how can I be the most effective? Give the best service, get the most productivity out of everybody that’s on my team as a leader? How can I do that?” It really takes everybody reassessing where they’re at. The carrier needs to reassess where they’re at. Their distribution, whatever it’s made up of, it needs to be reassessed and so these folks that you and I to have dealt with over many years, they really need some help.
It’s not that they can’t find the answer. They just need somebody to be a discussion partner if you will. It’s really taking a look at their model and going, “Okay, if I’m overweighted in one product line, then I need to get balanced. If I’m going to get balanced, how can I get the most profits out of every household or business that represent?” That would be the starting point. I could talk all day with you, Michael, but that would be the starting point.
Michael: Let me dig into that a little bit. I think listeners of this series have realized, if they didn’t on their own, certainly through some of my guests that different models of independent insurance agencies are emerging and can operate quite differently from each other. I want to drill into some of the things you said. You would refer to, it’s like the depth of relationship thing that you want to make sure that you’re getting the most value out of every customer relationship.
This is interesting. So far, and having had a conversation with you previously and 21 minutes and 26 seconds so far, you haven’t really talked much about lead generation, new customer acquisition. You’ve talked a lot about depth of relationship. Am I reading something into that or do you think that’s where the first biggest low hanging fruit opportunities are?
Troy: I think we need to look at it all. Do I believe in lead generation? Yes.
Michael: Yes, of course.
Troy: I literally do all-day workshops on that. You and I both know that that’s never going to change. It doesn’t matter what kind of technology we have or how our offices are set up in a local community, you have to have lead generation and a continuous just communication with your customers to sell deeper and to represent them on all their products and services. Yes, I would say if you said I wasn’t interested in that, you’re not correct. However, I think that most of your listeners have a base of some type whether it’s small or large.
Michael: They do. Right.
Troy: You first got to look at the people that have already bought from them, whether it’s a car or whether it’s a huge life policy or whether it’s a big business policy. All those people have employees, all those people have additional cars, homes, toys, and the person who goes in and gets the toy from you because you didn’t take care of it is now going to say now, “Let me help you with your financial services. Now let me help you with your large business account that you have”, your worker’s compensation, you’re EPLI.
Then once they get in, it’s like a spider web. The further you get the person into the web, they just can’t get out but our job is lead generation, I want to go back to that, is crucial. However, the first thing we do is stabilize and have a plan of action, priorities for our current customers, whether business or personal.
Michael: In your approach, that’s number one?
Michael: Is to be strategic about the depth of relationship with existing customers?
Michael: Depth then leads to length and so that’s a double whammy?
Michael: All right. While we’re at it, [chuckles] everybody wants to know about lead gen. Tell us a little bit about maybe some insights you’ve got on lead generation and new customer acquisition.
Troy: I’m interested in any way that I can meet people. I’ve bought cheap leads, I’ve bought expensive leads. The best lead for me is one that I append data to so I can buy a lead or I can pay somebody to create a lead for me or I have what I call an introduction program that I train agencies to do to meet more businesses and people. Through that, once we get them into a good CRM program, then I can start filling in those blanks and get a 360 view of the customer. Again, I start the relationship off, it’s not, “Can I give you a quote?”
I’m not against that but that doesn’t work the best for me and the people that I work with. It’s to get to know them and the set up giving them a presentation, not a quote.
A presentation is these are the services we offer and these are the things that you’re interested in right now and I’d like to address those but I’m here to apply to be your discussion partner for every product even though I can’t make a connection.
Michael: To be your discussion partner, I like that. All right. As I recall, you have a new book that you’ve recently published.
Troy: It happens to be called Discussion Partner.
Michael: Oh gosh, okay. How about that? Honestly, that was purely innocent on my part.
Troy: That’s all right. Because I believe advisor is still appropriate, but I believe when you say discussion partner, you become not a salesperson at all. You’re just discussing with them. Then if they buy something, you make money. If they don’t, they still come to you for every question regarding all things insurance and financial service.
Michael: Other than that, I got that concept, I think that’s brilliant. In the book, what are the key points that you want to communicate? Who’s the audience for this book? Is it insurance agents or did you go broader on this?
Troy: I went broader, that’s it. For 30 plus years, I was a practitioner so I still have my heart and soul there. However, as a consultant to carriers and to distribution groups, the book was about customers or is about customer service transforming your capabilities because we all need to transform in some way including me. I talked about concierge service because I believe today, anybody can give great service but not everybody can make you feel like you had a great experience. That’s being a concierge–
Michael: Let’s dig into that one a little bit. What is the distinction, what’s the magic in that, the bridge between good customer service and a great customer experience?
Troy: I love that question because it comes up about every day that I speak to groups, whether they’re small or large, it doesn’t matter. To me, you can go into Nordstrom’s or you can go into Macy’s and buy the tie I’m wearing today. It’s the same brand but Nordstrom gets $210 and Macy’s gets $105. Neither of them are having a sale. Why does Nordstrom get twice as much? Because they give better-perceived value. Now they both give great service. I love Macy’s, always go to Macy’s. Macy’s but I was just into Nordstrom, here’s the difference. Nordstrom tells you what they’re doing for you every step of the way. They don’t assume you know what good service is.
I use an example when I’m talking to groups, and I talked about buying a tie. I tell them the difference, it’s both great service but one tells you what they’re doing for you every step of the way. They even wrote a book years ago called The Nordstrom Way.
Michael: Talk to us about how that happens in an insurance customer experience.
Troy: Never use insurance lingo, that’s number one because they don’t know what BI is. They don’t know what PD is and don’t assume that they understand you’re telling– [crosstalk]
Michael: They don’t want to be called insureds.
Troy: Yes, exactly. That’s a great one. I’m writing that down. That’s excellent.
Michael: They’re actually people.
Troy: You never use insurance lingo, and you tell them simply, not in a big drawn-out fashion, what to expect. “You’re going to get an endorsement, let me explain what an endorsement is. That’s not junk mail, that’s important. We’re going to send a copy of your new car insurance to your new mortgage company.” They may say that they didn’t get it but you know, I did it because you see it right here. If they do, just send over the picture of it or email it to me and we’ll send it right to them. You’re telling them what to expect. Because of that, they have total confidence in you.
It’s really communication. Communication is one of the greatest skills we all can have at a carrier level and or a personalized distribution level.
Michael: To some extent, because I’m thinking about what you just shared, you’re removing the mystery from this industry for the consumer and when people feel like they don’t know what’s going on, they’re uncertain, they lack confidence, they’re uncomfortable, so you’re making them feel confident and comfortable.
Troy: Well said. I learned this in life insurance. I was a big life producer when I was a producing agent. I watched other life people make it sound really complicated because it made them look smart but that doesn’t win the day. I want to talk in your language, Michael, because your language is different [unintelligible 00:29:44] is across the hall from me here today. I want to speak to you in a language that you understand. I want to make it easy and as you said demystify it because it isn’t that complicated. We make it too complicated.
Michael: I’ve one last question for you right now. You had mentioned to me in a previous conversation that you, once upon a time, it could have been a long time ago, met the great Jim Rohn who now is no longer with us. I’m curious what that experience was like and if he said something to you that stuck with you.
Troy: Great question. What an awesome question. I met Jim when I was first starting in my insurance career. He came to a rally that the insurance company was having and I just literally went, “Oh, my goodness.” It was back when I wasn’t making any money. I was young and dumb but the guy resonated with me and I literally went and bought $300 worth of cassette tapes. That’s how old I am.
Michael: Of course. All right. I hope he closed the whole room but okay.
Troy: Then about two years later, I thought, “I want to meet this guy because he really had an impact on my life.” True to form, my assistant called back and said, “Troy, he’s going to be in San Jose you’re doing a show, he would like to meet you.” For sure, he had a cup of coffee with me. I’m going to make this really short. We sat down, Michael, and he was everything that he purported to be. That was the thing. It wasn’t the books. It wasn’t the tapes. It was every philosophy that he had in 15 minutes shown through because he didn’t talk about himself. He talked about his grandkids. He didn’t talk about his business. He wanted to know about me.
He just was everything he purported to be, and I thought, “Wow, if I can get to that point, that’s what I want to be.” Thanks for asking. It was a defining moment.
Michael: I’m glad I did. Now I feel the bar is raised on my day and I want to live it a little bit better so thank you for sharing that. All right, Troy if anybody listening– First of all, we’ve got to know how to get your book and then if listeners want to ask you a question or reach out to you somehow, how should they do that?
Troy: Sure. It’s korsgaden.com. K-O-R-S-G-A-D-E-N.com and then Michael I’m going to give my personal email address out, not the support line. It’s email@example.com. Now, I will disclose to you I have assistants that scour through to get rid of junk but they won’t read your email but if you want to send me a personalized email, send it to me and I will get back to you personally.
Michael: That’s very generous. Spell your last name one more time.
Michael: Got it.
Michael: Okay, firstname.lastname@example.org, all right. Thank you very much. Troy, this has been a pleasure. I’m so glad that we finally, after all these decades, connected and had the opportunity to spend a little quality time together. I look forward to doing it again.
Troy: Likewise. I’m honored, Michael. I really am. This has been awesome.
Michael: You bet. All right. Appreciate it. Have a wonderful day and thanks so much for joining us.
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