Insurance is a people business. Yes, we sell insurance to earn a paycheck, but without the fundamental understanding that it’s really about people first, your future in this business may not last long, especially if you’re a new producer.

As a new personal lines producer myself, I know this firsthand. In the fall of 2014, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join Safeco’s Producer Development Program (PDP). And what I learned from that experience has been invaluable in shaping me as an insurance professional and helping me grow my book of business, especially during these all-important first few years.

I learned through PDP that from the start, new producers can begin establishing longevity in this business — while also separating themselves from competitors — by fostering two very important skills: prospecting and relationship building. Neither are quick, and both take hard work.

Here are a few prospecting tips that have worked well for me:

  • Target your target market. During your first few years, you want to write as many policies as possible to build your book. And if you’re anything like me, you want to help as many people as possible. However, if your target market is high-net-worth homeowners, don’t spend time dabbling in the non-standard auto market – refer those to a friendly competitor. You’ll spread yourself thin in areas that don’t fit into your agency’s business approach. What’s more, you’re wasting time and missing real opportunities to serve and bring value to your target market. Learn this reality early on: You won’t be able to help everyone.
  • Do a little homework. When you begin engaging prospects, ask questions! Who are they? Why are they shopping? What do they like about their current agent or carrier? These answers enable you to serve them more effectively and efficiently. I have a standard process I go through with new clients to obtain the details I need to get to work. This includes requesting current declaration pages to audit their existing coverages. From here, I build value in explaining what they currently have and then comparing that to what they might actually need, rather than focusing the conversation on cost.
  • Network with the right lead sources. One of my target markets includes homeowners. As such, I’ve developed a few solid relationships with local mortgage brokers, who steadily refer business to me that fits this market. Think about your target market and allow that to inform you about whom might be the best to network with.

While my approach to prospecting helps separate me from my competitors and attracts new business, I believe it’s ultimately about the relationship I’m able to forge that will keep my clients coming back for renewal every year.

I want to know my clients — really know them. Are they new to the area? Do they have kids? Are they involved in our community? Take note of these things. Consumers choose to do business with people who know them. At the end of the day, the relationships I have with my clients are a natural extension of my life, and it’s one of the main reasons I love this work!

My strong desire to serve others in this business comes from my own personal experiences and struggles in my life. My father passed away unexpectedly at a young age. It was an extremely difficult season of life, and I recall the financial challenges my mother and I faced in the midst of his death. What better professional career could I have than one that allows me to serve others by helping them avoid some of the same struggles we faced from being uninsured/underinsured?

My experiences help me to connect with my clients, and I believe that it’s this ability to connect and build rapport with them that has been one of the most critical components to my early success.

Here are two key elements to focus on to help build strong customer relationships.

  • Connect with customers on a deeper, more personal level. Work to get to know your clients. Not only do you get to know them, but you learn about their unique personal circumstances and that allows you to serve them better now and in the future.
  • Find them the right coverage at the right value over the desire to make a sale. I get it, we have sales objectives to meet. But focusing on the sale makes for an unsatisfied customer in the long run, and that means lost business and lower retention.

See yourself as more than a sales person. See yourself as an educator — teach, advise, care. Believe me when I say that customers know when you genuinely care, and you’ll quickly learn that they’re starved for that kind of interaction. When they do finally get it, they don’t want to lose it. And that pays dividends in the form of strong retention.

It takes many skills to be a successful producer, but none as foundational as learning the art of prospecting and relationship building. After all, we’re in the people business.

Christopher Lenzini is a kingdom builder, husband, father, beer league hockey player and personal lines producer at Fort Worth Insurance in Fort Worth, Texas. He was a qualifier for the 2016 Safeco PDP Reward Trip, which recognizes new producers for outstanding production with Safeco.

This content was originally published in June 2016 on Safeco Insurance’s IA Blog.