What is Your Real Value?

By Alan Katz

You add value to the insurance products you sell. You must. After all, you sell the same policies at the same price as the agency down the street.

Why did your clients choose to do business with you? Do you know? Or do you only think you know.

Are you a commodity?

A few years ago, a colleague of mine, Susan Cotton, did a survey of insurance agency websites. She looked at over 100 of them. They were of all types and in multiple states. What she found is that the vast majority of agencies saw their value as delivering one or more of the same four attributes: experience; cost saving; service and partnership.

There’s nothing wrong with delivering any of these values. They are all important. They simply don’t differentiate one agency from the other. When everyone is delivering the same value message, then it just becomes noise. From a prospect’s perspective, working with one agency is no different than working with another.

These agencies are commodities. And being a commodity is a disaster when it comes to growing a business. When is the last time you bought paperclips by brand name? Being a commodity means closing a sale is not something you earned. Rather, it is the result of being in the right place at the right time.

Yet many of the agencies Susan examined were successful. How does that happen if they are just like everyone else? Maybe agencies were wrong about their value. Maybe consumers were not selecting them because of their experience, cost saving, service or partnership. Maybe their value was something else.

What’s in your clients’ minds?

If not the value they communicate on their web site, what value were these agencies delivering? The answer lies not in their mind, but in their clients’ minds.

This is the insight of a marketing concept developed in the 1970s by Al Ries and Jack Trout in their book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. They posited that marketing success requires companies to occupy a unique position in their clients minds.

The key here is what matters is not what a company thinks, but what their customers and potential customers think.

There was a time when “soda” meant one thing: “cola.” And cola meant soda. You were either Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola or a regional cola like RC. It didn’t really matter, at least not in terms of sales. This was frustrating for the company selling 7UP. They tried to convince consumers that a lemon-lime carbonated beverage could be a soda, too. Consumers weren’t buying – the message or the product. The 7UP folks could have fought on with the same message. After all, they knew they were a soda. Instead they stopped marketing what they thought they were (lemon-lime soda) and focused on what consumers wanted (cola).

In 1967, 7UP launched their UnCola campaign. And 7UP sales skyrocketed.

How well did the campaign work? The UnCola campaign was launched over 50 years ago. The company hasn’t called their product the UnCola in decades. In fact, subsequent marketing teams have tried to distance themselves from the position. Yet, if someone today says “UnCola,” you probably think “7UP.” That’s occupying a unique space in the mind of consumers. And it is a great example of how well positioning works.

What’s your position?

Like 7UP, you may think you know what value you deliver. Your website may proclaim what you believe to be your value. However, what you think isn’t what matters. Your real value (or, as Reis and Trout would put it, your position) is not found in your own head. What matters is what your prospects and clients think.

Fortunately, it is easy to find this out. Just ask them. After all, your clients chose you for a reason. They could have gotten the same policies for the same price from the agency next door. Yet they are your clients and new ones are likely to choose you for the same reason.

Find that reason.

Set aside an hour a day for a week to call your clients. And ask them why they chose to work with you. The more clients you ask, the more likely a trend will emerge. You may find it’s how you explain things. Or your emphasis on wellness. Or how you bring non-insurance products and services to the table. Or they liked your agency name. Whether you like the reasons or not, you’ll at least know them. Whatever trend you discover reflects your current position. The niche you presently occupy in their minds. This is the value you deliver.

Be careful, however. Your position can change. In fact, it may need to change. Your goal, after all, must be to discover not only what value you deliver, but the value you need to deliver to succeed. At one time an agency could stand out by shopping the market and making it easy for prospects to compare their options. Now consumers can shop and compare products on their own.

An agency who staked its value proposition – intentionally or not – on delivering a service that no longer matters needs to adjust. Which means there’s a second question you need to ask your clients. And this one is even tougher – for you – as you may not like the answer. What would they like their insurance agent to deliver?

You may find all they care about is cost. Then again, it might be advice on health. Or discounts on gyms. Or something you never imagined. They are your clients and your goal is to earn more of them.

The power of two questions

These two questions can help you discover your position.

  1. What value does my agency deliver to you?
  2. What value would you like my agency to deliver to you?

Once you ask the question, be sure to listen. You are not calling to make a sale. You’re asking to learn what value you add to the products you sell. With those answers in hand, you can build a marketing message that helps you stand out. You can avoid being a commodity and be unique. You have something to communicate that will drive business to you.

Wondering how to most effectively communicate your value? That’s next month’s topic.


Alan Katz is a co-founder of NextAgency, an agency management system with CRM, marketing and commission tools for life and health agencies. Learn more at www.NextAgency.com. Alan is a past president of NAHU and CAHU. He is a nationally known speaker on sales, marketing, business planning and health care reform. Alan is the author of Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success, available through Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter (@AlanSKatz), connect on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/alankatz44) and contact him at AlanKatz@NextAgency.com.