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  • What to Know to Market at AEP

    While AEP is the source of most of an agent’s Medicare Advantage business for the year, it’s also the time of year when every agent is working, including the ones you might not be competing against during lock-in. This means it’s that much more important for you to make the most of the marketing opportunities you have available.

    Brand Yourself

    Insurance is, more than anything, a relationship business. Think about what sets you apart from an agent down the street who could offer a client the same products. Have you been involved in the community for a long time? Do you have a deep knowledge of a particular set of products? Do you offer a wide variety of products to provide a one stop shop for clients? Once you figure this out, incorporate it into your advertising, office signage, business cards, and your introduction to potential clients and colleagues.

    Generate Leads

    If you’re still building your book of business, simply buying leads from a direct mail or online lead company is a great way to get started. Direct mail leads are generally the least expensive, but have a lower response rate, whereas online leads are more expensive but are more likely to lead to a sale. In many cases you can narrow down the demographics to particular zip codes, ages, and income levels to help you focus on exactly the prospects you want.

    If you already have an established book of business, whether from Medicare or other products, AEP is a perfect time to get in touch with them. By sending your clients a letter or even giving them a personal call to let them know that you’re available and can help them with their Medicare plan needs, you can help your retention with any existing Medicare plan business, as well as generate referrals from your clients’ family and friends. Remember that you should also be planning a review with your existing Medicare Advantage clients during AEP, since their plan availability and benefits can change every year.

    Another option for generating new business is to hold sales events in your community. These are public events where you invite prospects to either come to a presentation on Medicare and the benefits of a particular plan or plans, or to drop by a table or kiosk during a particular time to ask questions or get information. These events need to be filed with CMS through carriers with which you’re contracted, and you must follow the CMS guidelines for registering, advertising, and conducting these events. Each carrier’s requirements for conducting sales events can vary, so it’s important that you’re familiar with the process for each carrier with which you work. You can view our guide to deadlines and other info about registration here. If you have any questions about sales events, feel free to email our team at events@agentpitstop.com.

    Leverage Your Community

    Are you involved in your local Chamber of Commerce, small business association, Lion’s Club, or other community group? Those groups and relationships are a prime opportunity for you to reach out and market yourself as an available resource. That kind of visibility and good will can be a great way to generate referrals as well as making your other marketing that much more effective. People are more likely to want to do business with someone who is seen as a trustworthy and active member of their community than someone with whom they’re not familiar.

    AEP will be here before you know it, so get out there and sell!

  • The Impact of the Election Year on Medicare Marketing

    The results of the upcoming Presidential election could bring about a host of changes, but even before that, the election year itself can mean new marketing challenges for agents during AEP. So what should you be prepared for?

    Fear of changes – Because Medicare is a major campaign issue, seniors are likely to be more concerned about potential changes and less certain about their options for 2017. With the promise of a new administration reforming Medicare, clients may be worried about making a decision, only to have things change.

    Congested advertising space – Remember that the election is smack in the middle of AEP! In the final lead up to the election, people will be inundated with campaign related direct mail pieces, television commercials, and print ads, making it harder for yours to be seen.

    Limited advertising available – Due to the volume of political ads being scheduled in the lead up to the election, television networks will almost certainly run out of available advertising space, and print publications may as well. Both will likely charge a premium, particularly on the specific networks and publications that best reach seniors.

    So, how do you combat this?

    Be prepared to reassure clients – Clients may be more cautious with their choices or less sure about their options because of potential changes to the Medicare program. Have some talking points in mind to remind them that any changes as a result of a new Presidential administration will take time and they should make the best choice they can based on where things stand now.

    Plan for advertising early – Get in touch with your contacts at television providers, newspapers, and direct mail houses earlier than you think is necessary to make sure you can get your advertising out when you need to. There’s likely to be longer turn around time in addition to less availability, so getting in early will be key.

    Be as creative as possible – There will be so much advertising, it will be more important than ever to find ways to stand out from the crowd. People are going to have red, white, and blue postcards by the dozens in their mailboxes and wall to wall ads in their newspapers and magazines, so start thinking now about how to make yours stand out.

    While planning marketing for AEP is always a significant undertaking, remember that this year will bring with it unique challenges. Plan ahead and save yourself some headaches!

  • Managing Your Reputation With a Few Simple Tricks

    More and more, a client’s first impression of you may be provided by the internet. With seemingly whatever information someone could want just a few keywords away, people increasingly look to online searches as their first source of guidance, including when choosing an agent.

    So how can you make sure that potential clients find the best, most up to date information about you and your business?

    vb googleMake sure information online is accurate – Look up your name or your business name using a popular search engine like Google or Bing and make sure that things like the phone number, address, and office hours that it pulls up are accurate. If not, submit a correction to the search engine or update your website to reflect the current information. You’ll want to perform the same search with other major sites where people may search for you, like Facebook and Yelp.

    Claim your business’ pages – Many different websites may have pages already set up for your business, including Google Business, Yelp, and Facebook. Most give you the option to claim the pages as the owner so that you can add or correct information, so take advantage of this whenever possible.

    Set up a Google alert – Google alerts allow you to have any news items that include selected keywords emailed to you automatically, and are one of the fastest ways to find anything mentioning you and your business online. Whether positive testimonials or more critical reviews, mentions of charity work or event sponsorships, or business profiles, this information can provide valuable feedback and may be useful on your own social media profiles. You can set up Google alerts at google.com/alerts.

    Search review sites – Seeing results on sites like Yelp and Angie’s List will clue you in to potential issues you can resolve or things that you do well. Every client’s issue may not be fixable, and you may not be able to recreate the most positive client experience for everyone, but these reviews can show you if there are any trends. What do people like? What do they not like? Find the commonalities and work to leverage the good and resolve the bad.

    Search on social media – Tools like TweetDeck and Hoot Suite allow you to save searches to be constantly updated if someone mentions you or your business. However, avoid the temptation to use any kind of automated response to anyone mentioning you or your business. It borders on spam.

    Be respectful if you reply to comments – Comments made on people’s personal social media accounts that come up in searches should only be responded to if there is a very specific issue to be resolved. Otherwise read what’s been said and take it as coaching for the future. Responding to every negative comment can make you seem thin skinned, and it can feel invasive to clients to get a response from a business or professional contact on a personal post.

    A few searches on a regular basis and a few tools can make you more aware of what clients are thinking and can help you take control of what prospects may have as their first impression.

  • Planning an Effective and Compliant Sales Event

    Sales events are a great way to generate leads and get clients the information they need, but there are some things to consider to make sure your events are both successful and compliant.

    Event Registration

    Get your registrations in early. – CMS requires that all events be entered into their system at least seven days in advance. However, many carriers have stricter requirements. Generally you should plan to get the appropriate registration forms to your FMO (or the carrier if you’re contracted direct) at least two weeks in advance. Check with your FMO or broker services for deadlines for specific carriers.

    Understand the difference between formal and informal events. – If you’re going to stand up and give a presentation, that’s a formal event. If you’re going to be at a booth or table and take people’s questions as they come by, that’s informal. Having your event registered correctly can potentially save you an allegation or discipline from carriers.

    If you need to change or cancel an event, you need to give at least 48 hours notice, barring a natural disaster or similar emergency. – If the event was advertised, you have to either advertise the change or cancellation in the same manner the original event was advertised, or you or someone standing in for you have to be at the original location at the original time for at least fifteen minutes.

    Venue Choice

    Think about accessibility for clients who use things like walkers or wheelchairs. – Wherever possible find an ADA compliant location. It’s also a good idea to look for someplace that doesn’t require extensive walking from parking to the actual venue.

    Figure out a head count. – How many people do you expect to attend? You want to make sure you have enough space for everyone to be comfortable and have adequate seating, but you’ll likely spend more than necessary if you reserve a space much larger than you need.

    Remember that choice of location reflects on you and the companies you do business with. – You don’t necessarily need to pick anything upscale, but pick something family friendly and where a wide range of people will feel comfortable.

    Make sure your location is easy to find. – Someplace on a small side street or down an alley or in a back corner of a crowded complex can make it hard for clients to find your event. If you’re holding your event in a particular room of a larger building like a hospital or community center, find out if the venue will allow you to put up signs near the main entrances directing people to the correct room. It’s also a good idea to include the room number or room name in any advertisements if possible.

    Presentation

    Show your personality, but avoid going too far off script. – If attendees have questions, gauge whether the answer is relevant to other people and if not, tell the client that you’ll be happy to discuss it with them in more detail after the meeting. Also, be wary of sensitive topics like politics and religion. While they can sometimes overlap with health care, they can also turn off clients who may have differing opinions. Stick to the facts, at the very least until you’re dealing with someone one-on-one and have a sense of how they’ll react.

    Use a presentation from a trusted source. – If you want you use a slide presentation or some other kind of visual aid, check the marketing materials from the carriers you’re presenting. Most carriers have presentations, flip books, posters, or some other visual aid that you can use. CMS also has downloadable presentations on a range of topics available here.

    Sales events are a great way to build your business, as long as you plan ahead!

  • Using Social Media In Your Insurance Business

    Health care and insurance have a reputation for being industries that are slow to adopt new technology, and for many agents it can seem unnecessary to develop a strong online presence. For most agents, however, this represents a huge missed opportunity to connect with current and potential clients, build a reputation within your community and industry, and be ahead of the curve as an influx of tech savvy Baby Boomers and older Generation X’ers age in to Medicare and younger Americans look for individual coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

    Some key points to think about as you consider your use of social media:

    Don’t think it’s unnecessary just because your business is primarily in the senior market. – Older Americans are increasingly tech savvy, with a 2013 Pew Research Center survey showing that 59% of Americans 65 and older go online, and 82% of those who go online said they do so at least 3-5 times per week. In addition, 27% of Americans 65 and older use some kind of social media. Not only that, but the rate of internet use among seniors increased six points between 2012 and 2013 alone. As the relatively tech savvy Baby Boomers continue to age in to Medicare, this percentage is only going to increase. It’s also important to remember that many seniors seek help from their children or other younger relatives and caregivers to make decisions about things like their medical insurance, and these younger people are ever more likely to turn to the internet, especially social media, for information.

    If you’re on social media, you have to be easily accessible. – We know how busy independent agents are, so no one is going to expect you to be monitoring your Facebook or Twitter feed all day, every day, but it does need some monitoring. Social media moves qucikly, and if someone has a question, they expect a rapid response and will potentially move on to another source of information if they don’t get it. If you can’t do the monitoring yourself, you may want to consider hiring someone else to do it for you, which can be done for a reasonable cost in the case of most small businesses. If your social media accounts aren’t being actively monitored by anyone (and in this case, actively means roughly hourly at least during business hours), make sure alternate contact info that will reach you quickly, whether it’s an office or cell phone number or an email address, is prominently displayed on your page.

    Don’t be afraid to show your personality. – People connect with people, not with brands. Professionalism is wonderful and absolutely necessary, but that doesn’t have to mean generic or robotic. Even something as simple as a comment about community events or sports teams, or a reminder about something seasonal like flu shots or allergy medication, can go a long way to humanize your social media presence.

    It’s social media, so be social. – Obviously you want to share your own content and thoughts, that’s why it’s your page, but remember that the first word in social media is social, and you have to interact to really get the full value of being there. Get involved in a discussion with other people in the industry or share relevant news items, whatever makes sense to you to avoid sending nothing but a steady stream of your own marketing.

    Don’t forget about compliance. – General health tips, general Medicare information, being reachable for clients with simple information — all great. But remember that in the Medicare Advantage arena, anything plan or benefit specific is likely subject to review and approval and should probably just be skipped. If you want to share information that is plan specific, your best bet is to link to an approved marketing piece or website, whether it’s yours or the carrier’s. Also remember that client personal information should never be sent via social media. If they have a specific question and reach out to you online, give them a call or set up a time to meet with them face to face and go from there.

    Go where your audience is.  There are an ever growing number of social media networks out there, and especially for an independent agent or small agency, being on all of them is likely not practical or even necessary. Figure out where your audience is and focus on wherever that is. In general, older Americans tend to be more active Facebook, while younger Americans are more active on Twitter. You also want to figure out what your strengths are. If you really have the gift of gab and love being in front of the camera, maybe a YouTube channel where you discuss health news is a good option. If you do better one-on-one or don’t enjoy public speaking as much, it’s likely something you should just skip.

    Even referrals or existing clients are looking for you online.  Clients who lost your phone number, referrals who want to check you out before getting in touch, potential clients who saw an advertisement with your name on it — all of these people are looking at your online and social media presence to get in touch with you or decide whether to do business with you. It doesn’t have to be elaborate and it doesn’t have to take up all of your time, but if you don’t have anything, or if all you have is outdated, there’s a potential for your business to come off as shady or unprepared.

    Social media is an unavoidable part of marketing now, and this is only going to be more true as it becomes an ever more integral part of our daily lives, so get on it now if you haven’t already! Your business will thank you.