TJ Staelgraeve once worked in the auto industry. Now, he manages a successful auto insurance agency.
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, Precise spoke to Michigan-based Allstate agent and agency owner TJ Staelgraeve. Ten years ago, he entered insurance with no background in sales or the insurance industry. Yet through persistence and the help of internet leads, Staelgraeve has built his auto insurance agency from the ground up.
PL: Can you tell us how you got into the insurance business?
Staelgraeve: I was laid off from the auto industry. A good friend of the family had purchased another agency and wanted to see if I’d like to come work for them. I never had any sales experience at all, but I said let’s give it a shot. Ten years later here I am.
PL: What was it like getting your feet wet in insurance sales? What was the learning curve like?
Staelgraeve: Working for Allstate, it takes a good year to get extremely comfortable with all their processes. It took a good year to feel really comfortable.
PL: What would you tell yourself now about the experience of entering the insurance industry?
Staelgraeve: Looking back, I don’t know how much I would change, but I would make sure to try to take in as much information as possible. I had different people who influenced me such as co-workers, the agent I worked for and other agents.
You also have to be patient at the same time because you’re not going to know everything right away. You don’t want to get frustrated. Learning about insurance does take time, but always try to take in as much as you possibly can.
PL: You specialize in auto insurance. What are some of the challenges you see in the auto field?
Staelgraeve: In Michigan our auto rates are among the highest in the nation. It’s a constant battle with rates for us. I’m sure the rest of the nation struggles with auto rates, too. It’s a big thing. Bringing on new customers is another challenge. It takes work to find good, quality customers.
PL: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry in the last 10 years?
Staelgraeve: The biggest change for me in the past several years has been technology. Everything is going more internet-based. For example, Allstate has gone to an app. The technology advancement in the past few years is the biggest change in the industry.
PL: Do you think it’s easier for you because you’re younger?
Staelgraeve: Yes, it is. The older generation may be struggling with that, but the newer generation of agents is definitely going to like the technological advancements. A lot of insurance processes are moving into telematics and using your cell phone to do things, from paying your bill to filing a claim. That’s the biggest advancement I’ve seen.
For example, I’ve done paper applications before for certain companies. We switched over to different operating systems from DOS to Windows, but the biggest advancement is definitely telematics. Everything is going to be based off an app real soon.
PL: Can you talk about your background with leads and what brought you to them?
Staelgraeve: We’ve always used internet leads even since I’ve been in the business. I started my office from scratch, so I started day one with no customers. The majority of my prospect sources have been internet leads.
When I opened, I worked with Precise and three other vendors through my first three to four months. The most successful was Precise, so that’s who I settled on. I use Precise almost exclusively now.
PL: What was your experience with the other vendors?
Staelgraeve: I experimented with several internet vendors. I settled on Precise. As far as quality and price, I was getting the best bang for my buck. I was closing the leads at a higher percentage than the other vendors.
PL: Any advice for agents and for those getting into internet leads? What’s the best way to utilize them?
Staelgraeve: Be patient. You’re not going to close a lead within the first seven days, so you have to stick with it. You have to make sure you call these leads until the person tells you no. With Allstate, it’s statistically 23 days after you receive that lead that you close a policy if you’re going to close it.
PL: Any success stories you can tells us about?
Staelgraeve: In one instance, I had been working on a sale for six months and I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to write it. I tried and tried, but on the sixth or seventh try, I landed a large multiple-policy sale — six cars, two homes, and a motorcycle.
Persistence pays off. It took us six months to close a really big case that originally I didn’t think we had a shot at.