Deloitte’s 2017 Insurance Outlook asserts that the key to the insurance industry’s growth is tech innovations that reduce costs and modernize operations to align with consumers’ rising expectations. Marketing automation is an obvious solution, but adopting a platform is no small task for companies that have historically relied on manpower to generate and retain customers.
John Poucher, Marketing and Sales Manager for Abram Interstate Insurance Services, faced this challenge head on when he implemented Act-On and SugarCRM. I spoke with John about the process, and the remarkable impact it’s had on both the Abram and its customers.
This conversation has been edited for brevity.
Tony Coray: Let’s start by having you give me a brief overview of Abram Interstate Insurance Services.
John Poucher: Abram offers a full range of personal lines insurance, commercial lines insurance, and agri-business insurance on both an admitted and non-admitted basis. We are B2B – our customers are insurance agents and captive agencies that can write their own business.
Marketing Challenges for the Insurance Industry
Tony: How would you describe the challenges that face your industry as a whole? Are there any disruptions that are impacting the way you approach marketing?
John: One of the greatest challenges insurance companies face today is how to manage the rapid advances in MarTech. New technologies that help engage buyers are constantly emerging, but insurance companies are typically slow to adopt them. We’re very old school in that regard.
Tony: Have you seen that at Abram?
John: Yes. Our audience is multi-generational, and while younger agents tend to embrace new online tools, many agency owners are older and aren’t aware of them. We had to find ways to effectively communicate about our products to both groups.
Things were further complicated by the fact that we have a large portfolio of offerings, and much of our revenue comes from upselling customers with products they may not even know they need. We had to educate them before we could sell to them, and they have many niches in their business, so our communications had to be both frequent and targeted. We just weren’t set up to do that.
Tony: How so?
John: We had a very old CRM called ACT, and we were using Constant Contact for email. Both platforms had functional limitations, and they weren’t integrated, so we had to manually manage, segment, and update our data, which was very time-consuming. It was difficult to track the activity of our buyers, and we had very little insight into how effectively we were engaging them. We were operating in the dark.
Marketing Automation as a Catalyst for Change
Tony: Your solution was to adopt Act-On and SugarCRM. How did you get there?
John: We did a thorough evaluation of every major marketing automation platform, including Marketo, Pardot, and HubSpot, but we ultimately chose Act-On because it had all the functionality we needed and was very easy to use. The platform came highly recommended by customers of yours that I knew personally, and the demos confirmed we could quickly build emails and automated campaigns and easily segment our audience. We saw that Act-On’s reports would give us the campaign insight we were missing, and the company’s active contact pricing model made the platform very cost-effective.
We were also evaluating CRMs at the same time, and we really liked Sugar, so it was critical that our marketing automation platform could integrate with it. Once we saw that Act-On and Sugar worked together seamlessly, we were sold.
Tony: Many companies that want to modernize their MarTech worry that adopting new platforms will be complicated.
John: We were one of those companies. My biggest concern was that using Act-On would create an IT burden, but implementation was fast and smooth. The onboarding process was well structured and got us up to speed quickly. We’re all non-technical marketers, but Act-On’s intuitive interface made it easy to access the entire platform.
Tony: How have you used Act-On to engage your buyers?
John: When a prospect is entered into Sugar, they’re immediately enrolled into a new-customer campaign that automatically nurtures them for three months. As we gain more information about them from their interaction with our content and site visits with our sales reps, we move them into more targeted nurture campaigns.
Tony: What kinds of content do you send them?
John: Most of our messaging is product-centric, and the more we know about a buyer, the easier it is to tailor it to their needs. In addition to email campaigns, we send newsletters with business tips, thought leadership articles, and online tools that provide a service, such as generating an instant quote or estimating replacement costs.
We also run monthly webinars designed for both prospects and customers, and we use Act-On to manage the entire process – from email invitations through registration and follow up campaigns.
Tony: How were you running your webinars before Act-On?
John: We didn’t have any. Act-On’s integration with WebEx is what enabled us to launch the program.
Tony: You said Act-On’s integration with Sugar was a deciding factor. What does your sales team think?
John: They love Act-On. They love the buyer data it gives them, and they love being able to access it directly through Act-On’s dashboard in Sugar.
Our reps sell to a wide customer base, which makes it hard to keep track of where buyers are in the purchase process and what they care most about. The insight Act-On provides makes every exchange sales has with customers more meaningful and effective. They can pick up any conversation as if they just left it, even if a long period of time has passed.
They also love using Act-On’s templates to personalize their emails and send small campaigns to segments within their audience. It gives them autonomy and makes them feel empowered.
Reaping the Benefits of Marketing Automation
Tony: How has Act-On impacted your business? What kind of results have you seen?
John: The ROI with Act-On has been great. Out Time-to-Value was very quick – we ran our first campaign in less than two months. And our engagement rates have soared. Our email open rates have improved by as much as 75%.
The data Act-On provides has dramatically shortened the buying process. The insight Act-On provides allows marketing to optimize their programs, and helps sales move through the discovery process with prospects more quickly. These enhancements have cut our sales cycle in half. In fact, our email campaigns frequently convert a lead without any further involvement from sales, and prospects can even finalize their purchase by completing the necessary forms online. It’s an amazing way to work.
Tony: One of your biggest pain points before Act-On was the amount of time you had to spend managing and segmenting your lists. Has that changed?
John: Yes – significantly. Act-On has enabled us to implement campaigns five times faster. It’s like night and day. And Act-On’s customer support is excellent – knowledgeable and responsive. Any time we’ve had an issue, they’ve helped us resolve it quickly.
Act-On University is a terrific online resource, too. We can answer many of our questions without even having to call for support.
Tony: It sounds like Act-On has fundamentally changed the way you engage your audience. How has it changed the way they experience your company?
John: It’s deepened our relationship with them by allowing us to send them meaningful content at the times they need it most. Personalizing our exchanges with them creates a sense of trust that we understand their concerns and are looking out for their best interests.
Tony: I think many marketers will be inspired by your success. What advice would you have for those who are just beginning their marketing automation journey?
John: Make sure to fully evaluate your needs and the ability of your users, and let those drive the product you choose. Act-On has worked out so well for us because we had clear requirements and were confident the platform would meet them.
And keep in mind what your needs will be down the road. One of the nice things about Act-On is that there’s so much functionality we have yet to tap into. It’s one of the keys to making sure our future remains bright.