Earlier this year, Agency Performance Partners, a New England-based insurance agency consulting and training firm, sponsored one of our weekly emails. The company which focuses on helping independent insurance agencies take their businesses and sales to the next level had wanted to advertise the fact that they were an approved company for grants under the Massachusetts Workforce Training Fund, a state program created to increase Massachusetts businesses’ productivity and competitiveness by funding the training of current and newly hired employees .
Intrigued about both APP and the Workforce Training Fund, and more importantly how both could be of help to the independent insurance agents and agencies here in Massachusetts, Agency Checklists decided to query APP’s Massachusetts point person, David Siekman about APP, what it offers, and exactly how independent agents can take advantage of the MA Workforce Training Fund.
Could you give our readers an introduction to Agency Performance Partners?
Agency Performance Partners has been in business for about four years. Our President and Founder, Kelly Donahue-Piro started Agency Performance Partners as a training, coaching and consulting firm to work exclusively with independent insurance agencies.
What does APP offer an independent agent or agency?
Agency Performance Partners (or “APP”) has two core services which are our training programs. Each of the core services revolves around our agency assessment and, what we call, our AppX program.
AppX stands for Agency Performance Partner experience.
Our agency assessment offering is more of a consulting product. In total, it approximately, a four to five-month process where we will do a deep dive into an agency’s metrics. This product includes some secret shopper calls, an online assessment, and a review of any agency procedures and documentation that you have.
The point is to get a good handle on the agency. After that, APP then comes onsite, to your agency, for a day and a half visit. During our visit, we spend the first half-day doing one-on-one interviews with everyone on the staff. The second day is for strategic planning. During that meeting, we walk the agency’s executive team through everything that we have identified as part of the assessment. Together, we identify the areas that we want to enact change on, and then we develop a plan for that change.
After the onsite visit, we then spend the next 90 days in an execution mode where we help our client actively implement those changes throughout the agency.
On the training side, we have what we call our AppX program. These are training programs focused on improving skill sets in specific areas of an agency’s frontline staff. Currently, we have four training programs: A sales program, a retention program, a customer experience program, and our marketing AppX program where we help independent agents with the rollout of their marketing and branding strategies.
How did you personally become involved with the Agency Performance Partners?
I have known Kelly for about ten years. She was an employee at the time of one the vendors that I was using when I was working at an agency. She was working for a vendor that was focused on sales and marketing for independent agents, and that was being used at the agency where I was working. As a result, we became pretty familiar with one another.
We always say that we grew up in insurance together, because this was right around 2008-2009 when things started changing in our industry, especially here in Massachusetts, which was just then coming off Managed Competition, when agencies began to feel that the digital marketing and a focus on actual sales skills were becoming more and more necessary.
Last year, when I decided to look for new opportunities, I started thinking about coaching and consulting for agents, because I had been doing it for a while in my previous roles. Even though I was running agencies, I was also going out and helping other agents run their business.
I got in touch with Kelly to get some advice and feedback and things of that nature. She told me what she went through to start up her business, and I decided I did not want to do any of that. I just wanted to go right into the consulting. So, we had a couple of good conversations, and then we decided for me to come on board with APP.
Could you tell us about your career in the insurance industry?
I started my career in 1999 at Plymouth Rock just out of college. I started there as a CSR. During my time there, I worked my way up in the underwriting operations department at the supervisor level.
I then jumped over to the agency side, eventually getting my insurance license in 2005. I ended up managing the Lexington office, running all components of it from marketing to sales to service, all of those. I worked there for six years. After that, I went to work for Encharter insurance. I worked at Encharter for ten years and was vice president of sales and marketing before I left. After Encharter, I joined the Renaissance Alliance and Cochran & Porter for two years.
What is Agency Performance Partners’ target agency size?
We work with agents of all different shapes and sizes. Typically, the smallest agencies that APP works with are agencies that have a minimum in the four to five employee range, with approximately two to four million dollars in premium.
On the other end of the spectrum, we then have agencies that are multi-location. I think our largest agency in California that has about 50-plus employees. Currently, I am working with an agency here in Massachusetts that has over 40 employees with eight different locations. So, we really kind of run the gamut, as to the type and size of the agency we work within our practice. We customize the training based on the size of the agency, the location of the agency. The tenets of the program of all pretty set, but it is very customizable based on the uniqueness of the agent.
What type of pricing does Agency Performance Partners have for its services?
Our pricing is per agency and per program. We do not charge per location, or per employee. For the training program, for example, we just have a monthly charge, regardless of the number of employees or the number of locations. We have been approved for the Workforce Training Grant here in Massachusetts which provides reimbursement for 50% of the cost of our training programs.
Why should an agency use your program? What are they going to benefit from using one or more of your services?
We are focused on growth and improvement, and use metrics to back that up. Ultimately, what we are looking to do is to improve the retention rate of an agency, so that we are stabilizing anything going out the back door, as well as improving sales. This includes everything from driving new leads in the door, to improving our close rates, to improving our customer experience, which affects both new business in terms of generating more referrals and being more open to cross sales. We also are obviously focused on improving the retention side as well.
What kind of results have you seen?
With regards to the retention program, we see anywhere from a two to four percent bump in retention rates over the six months that the program is in place. On the sales side, we often see a wider variety of results, because each agent and their agency is starting from a different level.
On the retention side, agents generally know their retention rate, for the most part. So, while an agent can get a couple of points, it is not generally likely that your rate is going to from 90% to 98%. However, it can increase from 90% to 92%, or 94%, which is a great improvement.
On the sales side, we have seen success with improvements in applications, as well as in written premium of 40% to 50%, in both applications and premium written, over a three to six month period during our program.
I have a client, that is an agency out in Ohio, that was writing about $3,000 to $4,000 in new business premium a month. This client is a small agency in a rural town in Ohio, and during the last four months (since April) they have written approximately $30,000. So, they have done ten times over their written premium per month from what they were doing previously.
What do you attribute the dramatic increase in new business about what you offer or what you taught this agent in Ohio?
I would say there were three components to it. The first, I cannot take credit for, because it is a shift in the principal’s mentality and how she wanted to approach her business. Instead of just being very reactive, waiting for the phone to ring doing service calls and just hope the staff would sell what came in, it was recognizing that what they were doing was putting a higher priority on sending out a certificate or a binder versus handling that new client. So, she made a shift in her mentality, which she wanted to get into a growth mode and a new business mode. That is also essentially why she brought me in because she recognized that she wanted to make that shift.
As for the other two components, the second one is I have helped the agents themselves, with the buy-in. She has three licensed agents on staff. I have helped them understand that everyone can benefit if we focus on sales.
As for the third component, that involves the actual skills training. Not everyone is comfortable selling. Some people are more comfortable than others, but there is always skill development that can be brought in to help improve how we are handling leads that come in the door. That it is not just improving our close rate, but also doing so in a much more efficient as well as a productive manner.
How many Massachusetts agents do you have as clients?
While I cannot speak to the total number of Mass agents that Agency Performance Partners has worked with overall, I am positive that it is well over 20, if not higher than that, in the four years that Kelly has had the business. Personally speaking, I have five Massachusetts-based agents right now going through the sales and the retention programs.
I am a Massachusetts resident and have been one my whole life. My license is here in Massachusetts, so it is always a little bit more of a focus for me.
What would be your biggest selling points for an agent who wasn’t sure that this type of program would be right for them?
I would prefer to talk to somebody who was on the fence about using APP because I think the first thing that you have to do is to be able to see the value in it. Other than that, I would say that we all have areas of improvement. I still do sales training today for myself, even though I am out there as a sales trainer. I think we all have to recognize that we can all do better individually, but also within our businesses. So, I would say that most good agents out there are willing to invest in their business. It is my job to make the see the value in investing in their business through us.
Can you tell us about the MA Workforce Grant that you offer as part of your program?
In my opinion, this a very underutilized program that we have here in the state, not just in our industry but throughout the Commonwealth. The way that this works is that the training business, which is Agency Performance Partners, has to approach the state and get approved for the funds.
Those funds are driven off of the payroll tax that is paid by the business owner. So, once the training program has been approved, we go onto a list, and any business owner that is in good standing can apply for a program. Ideally, they would choose our training program.
I think it is also important to mention that APP is a part of the Express Program, which means that I cannot 100% guarantee that you are going to be approved for it, but there is not the amount of effort that goes into getting approved as there is in other larger programs.
The MA Workforce Program reimburses a business 50% of the training costs of any training that complete through this program.
Are there any restrictions on the business that can apply?
There are no size restrictions on the businesses. The intent is for this to be a program for small businesses, but there is no size restriction. I do believe that there is a dollar amount restriction. I just do not know it off the top of my head. However, the goal of the program is really to improve the skill set of the workforce. They are just using the business as the medium to accomplish that.
Have any of the agencies that you are presently working with in Massachusetts used this grant program?
Four of them have applied and been approved. The way that it works is that the training has to be completed and paid for before they receive the reimbursement.
What about the signing up process? How is the paperwork to file for a grant?
The paperwork is not the problem with it. It is fairly easy, and you do it online. The thing to keep in mind is that there’s not a kind of effort to apply or get approved for the grant, but the timing is very important. So, certain things have to happen in a particular order. For example, you cannot apply for it until you have had your training dates set. So, you cannot execute your training date until you have had approval. So, that is something that we can kind of help with because we have done this four or five times now. Just making sure that everything happens in the right order so not only are you approved for the grant but that you get your reimbursement on the back end.
What are the differences, if you could say, or the advantages of using your company rather than some other companies out there that provide similar services?
I would say that APP has two major advantages. One is our experience and expertise. So, I have been in the agent’s shoes as both a frontline salesperson as well as upper-level management. Kelly has been doing this for so long that she is built programs that address the owner’s desires regarding providing results with the way that a CSR approaches their job, more from a task-focused process.
What we have done is we have been able to meld the approach of the CSR with the desired outcome of the agency principal. So, I think that our experience there is what drives that, and I think the second thing is tied very closely to that. We can relate to the frontline staff. So, we are not coming in at this high level and just kind of blanketing them with all of this kind of generic statements about how they should perform their job and just kind of cliches. We are sitting down with them and working with them, not just in group settings, but we do one-on-one sitting at their desk, making calls with them. So, it is more relatable for the staff, and it helps to get their buy-in.
How can an interested agent get in touch with you?
They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, call our office at (401) 415-6205, or if they want to talk to me directly, my cell at (401) 332-8904. Also, if they want to see more of what we do for agencies, they can look at our website, www.agencyperformancepartners.com
Thank you so much for taking the time to tell our readers about Agency Performance Partners.
It was a pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about how APP helps and supports the independent agent.