Filed Under:Markets, Commercial Lines

NU Agency of the Year Award, Town & Country Insurance: Writing it right

How cross-selling clients in rural areas is an art form for Town & Country

Owner Nancy Pogatchnik, left, presents matching funds to the Finlayson Elementary school, which raised money for “Pennies for Patients.”
Owner Nancy Pogatchnik, left, presents matching funds to the Finlayson Elementary school, which raised money for “Pennies for Patients.”

The corporate office of Town & Country Insurance is located in Finlayson, Minn., population 315. The agency also operates branch offices in Mora, Hinckley and Marshall, Barnum, Russell and Hanley Falls, all small, rural towns in the North Star State.

It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that its book of business includes $21 million in premiums — nearly all of which are written in person.

Town & Country, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, currently boasts a staff of 26. The agency sells about 50% personal lines, 30% commercial lines and about 20% Life & Health products. “Our ideal client is someone who cares about their insurance program,” says agency owner Nancy Pogatchnik. “We don't sell minimum limits on a policy. People say, ‘I want you to take care of it. Write it for me.’ Most people don't really know much about insurance.”

Therein, she says, lies the opportunity to educate them. And in the process, maximize coverage for each and every client.

Use anecdotes to reach clients

Town & Country's success has been built upon a mix of cross-selling, personal service and an approach to discussing coverage solutions that other agencies might not have considered: All of its agents employ a discussion method that emphasizes being covered for exposures, using anecdotes as examples of why certain policies might be of value to the client, rather than simply suggesting insurance solutions that might not otherwise appeal to them.

For example, Minnesota is known for its heavy rains. When discussing coverage against having a client's basement flood due to a sewer backup, an agent would say, “Do you have a finished basement? Are you concerned about your sump pump backing up?” Then they might explain how an insured who had $1,000 coverage for a backup wouldn't have had enough limits to pay for her damages. Or, if the client is a business, one of the questions will likely be, “Do you process credit cards? Are you concerned about liability there?”

“With everyone we sell a policy to, we’re going to have at least one conversation with the client,” says Operations Manager Lisa Koski. “It's always best to tell a story. It makes [the exposures] far more real to them.”

Related: Insurance agents are retiring. Can millennials fill the void?

Loren Brabec delivers food items Mora office collected for local food shelf

(Loren Brabec delivers food items Mora office collected for local food shelf. Photo: Town & Country Insurance)

Keep the personal touch

It doesn't hurt that most of Town & Country's sales are done in person; most client meetings are held face-to-face. Many of its commercial clients are contractors: masons, plumbers, electricians, carpenters. In many of the towns in which the agency writes business, Main Street is two blocks long.

“We have a website, but most people are still coming into the office,” Pogatchnik notes.

All agents at each of Town & Country's offices follow the same handbook, and all employees are prepped and test for their CSR or CIC certifications within weeks of joining the staff. Once licensed, they’re instructed in the agency's policies and procedures, a process that typically lasts three to four months as they learn the finer points of different types of coverage. “That way, they’re able to process what they’re learning, rather than just having everything thrown at them at once,” says Koski.

“We feel that we can be successful if we have successful and knowledgeable employees,” says Pogatchnik. “They are the ones in front of our customers, day after day. They need to have that knowledge in order to succeed.”

We train all of our agents to ‘Write it right,’” adds Koski. “That's our phrase.”

Town & Country's quote sheets are geared to inquiring about all the client's lines of business, in order to keep cross-selling top-of-mind and to better round accounts. The agency's Marketing & Operations, Commercial Lines, Personal Lines and Life & Health departments refer other lines of business to the appropriate department, so that each client is offered a specialist in that line of business. This also aids solid retention, says agent Jeni Olander: “This structure allows us to focus on specific lines of business and keep apprised of industry and company changes, giving our clients the utmost possible value.”

“We’re always talking about the other departments,” adds Koski. “It's not a hard sell so much as it's letting [clients] know what we’ve got, so that they’re aware.”

Related: Your 'presence' is critical to the insurance sales process

Marketing with an agency newsletter

While Town & Country uses Agency Revolution for much of its marketing efforts, an additional monthly newsletter titled “Protection Point” helps the agency market to former clients and cross-sell to mono-line clients by further strengthening a sense of trust and value with the insured. Delivered online to some clients and via snail mail to others, the newsletter offers helpful tips on such things as what to do when your wallet gets stolen.

As one might imagine, being community-minded goes hand-in-hand with serving small communities. The agency awards four scholarships every spring to graduating high school seniors. “We wouldn't be in business if it weren't for these people,” Pogatchnik says. “We feel a responsibility to support them back.”

Additionally, for every referral made by a client, a donation is added to a monthly total. At month's end, the agency spins a wheel that has names of non-profit groups, clubs and charities on it that are selected by the employees. That total is announced via e-mail and Facebook, and delivered to the winner using a life-size check; by the end of 2017, Town & Country is looking to donate $10,000.

In the meantime, Town & Country will continue to serve its clients the best way it knows how — as personally as possible. “I had a commercial client once tell me, ‘I’m not used to having an agent who's on the spot and gets things done,’” says Pogatchnik. “We live in such small towns that you have to find a way to differentiate yourself. That's what helps in our retention, letting customers know that we care. It's not just processing their insurance programs.”

“We do the same for our insureds as we do for ourselves,” adds Olander. “These clients make Town & Country who we are.”

Related: 5 ways to fix the blind spot inside your insurance business

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