Bill Gough understands the value of a good mentor. He started his consulting practice to impart his years of insurance knowledge to other agents in need of guidance.
Thanks to our unique commitment to quality, agent support, and value-driven service, Precise has been able to build strong long-term relationships with leaders and innovators throughout the insurance industry. In our Precise Spotlight series, we want to showcase some of these outstanding partners for our readers. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or an up-and-coming agent, we hope that their wealth of experience and sustained successes will guide you as you work to realize your own business goals.
In our latest installment, we spoke to Bill Gough of Florence, Alabama. Bill began as an employee agent with Allstate in 1984, but after Allstate decided to convert all of its agents into independent contractors in 2000, he suddenly became a small business owner. Bill soon realized that he needed help to run his agency, so he reached out to other successful business owners and coaches to push his business to the next level. He was so inspired by their work that he launched his own consulting and coaching firm, BGI Systems, designed specifically for insurance agents. Today, he’s hoping to share some of the wisdom that he’s gleaned over the years.
PL: After the shakup at Allstate in 2000, you became a business owner and independent contractor. How did that transition change your approach to selling insurance?
Gough: When I first started with Allstate, I was just 24 years old. I was fresh out of school with a wife and a young child at home. I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time, but I was lucky enough to have a great mentor to guide me through all of the growing pains.
Then in 2000, Allstate decided to make us all independent contractors. I didn’t realize what a big deal that was at the time, but a few years into it, I realized that I wasn’t just an agent anymore. I was an independent business person, and I needed to start acting like it if I wanted to succeed. So I sought out other smart business people, picked their brains on how they ran their business, and tried to emulate them.
In talking to them, I realized that insurance is a people-oriented business. Like the old saying goes, insurance is only as good as your agent. Our business is about developing relationships with prospects, customers, centers of influence, referral partners — anybody we can help. Like my great inspiration Zig Ziglar once said, “you help enough people get what they want, you’ll get all you want and more.” Putting others first like that has always served me, my company, and my people very well.
PL: How important is it for insurance agents to seek out coaching to help update their sales strategies?
Gough: Let me put it this way: the greatest athletes in the world have coaches, somebody who can see things they can’t see. Insurance agents should look at their peers in the same way.
In fact, coaching has been a major influence on my own professional direction. I started networking with other great agents in the 1990s, but I didn’t have a formal coach or mentor, somebody whose advice I actively sought. I hired my first coach in 2004 and joined my first Mastermind group a year later.
It was the best decision I’ve made in my career. I was so inspired by the coaches and agents I met that I started BGI Systems in 2008 to share my own processes and systems with colleagues. I sold my agency in 2012, and since then, I’ve been able to spend my time helping agency owners take their business to another level. It’s made my job that much more fulfilling.
PL: As you know, social media has had a significant impact on how consumers look for insurance. In your time as an agent, agency owner, and now mentor and consultant, what’s been the greatest change in the insurance industry?
Gough: The greatest change is definitely technology. It keeps changing so fast. When I started, we used a microfiche machine. We didn’t start using computers until the late ‘80s. Now, you can access everything you need on your phone.
Social media is probably the most important outgrowth of the tech revolution, at least today. It’s easily our most accessible channel for clients and prospects these days. Automation has been invaluable, as well. I used to write and file every quote and every new home and auto policy by hand. Now, we have a program that can handle all of the paperwork.
Even with all the technology, though, I try to remind my agents that we’re still in the people business. People want to work with people they know, like, and trust. At the end of the day, insurance agents still need to develop relationships that could last for decades. I always tell my agents that there’s nothing as satisfying as renewal commissions. New sales are fun, but so is watching your retention numbers grow. The easiest money you’ll ever make is the money you’re already making.
PL: As someone with your extensive experience in insurance, where do internet leads fit into an agent’s larger sales portfolio?
Gough: The great thing about internet leads is that you know that somebody is searching for insurance information right then. You know they want to talk to someone immediately. But internet leads are like any other lead, of course — you need a process to follow up on the lead.
I discovered internet leads in 2002, but I soon realized that it’s not the lead itself, but how you handle it. We have leads from 100 miles away, so we have to show them why we’re a better option than an agency closer to their home. We do that by communicating with them as often as we can. We send out a monthly newsletter with a short commercial talking about what’s in the newsletter. You can’t just send a renewal notice in the mail every six months. You have to communicate with your clients regularly with the information they want.
PL: When you work with agents, what mistakes do you see them making over and over again? In other words, do you have any advice for young agents?
Gough: In most cases, it’s just a lack of discipline. They sometimes let outside forces dictate how to run their business. Try to block them out. If you find a system that works for you, stick with it.
More importantly, I urge agents to manage their time well. My first coach, Dan Kennedy, changed my life with his book, No B.S. Time Management. It taught me how to manage my time and run my business how I want to run it. One of the lessons in the first chapter of the book was figuring out the value of my time, which, in 2004, was only $222 per hour of “productive or revenue-producing” work.
I’m happy to say it’s multiplied since then, not just because my business got larger, but because my work adds value to my business in some way. Agents sometimes confuse activity with productivity, but cleaning out your inbox isn’t productive; it’s just busy work. The key is to do productive work. If you’re always creating value for your business, the results will come in no time.