ItAmazon Buys Whole Foods was less than three weeks ago when I wrote, Etail Goes Retail – Amazon’s Opens NYC Bookstore. In that blog I discussed Amazon’s foray into retail bookstores, an interesting brick and mortar venture for a company that is a notorious retail killer. But that announcement pales in comparison to the explosive news on Friday, that Amazon agreed to buy the Whole Foods grocery chain for $13 billion!

Opinions were rampant on the potential reasons and impact of this paradigm shift. Stocks of traditional grocery chains and pharmacies suffered heavy losses during the day, as investors may have feared increased competition and concerns about market disruption. Amazon is now a behemoth with $136 billion in revenues in 2016, dramatically increasing from $10 billion in 2006. During this ramp up, Amazon has left their imprint on everything from shipping, to books, to electronics and online video.

Can Amazon reshape and rebuild retail? They will need to change the perception of Whole Foods, a chain many think offers choices that are too limited at price points that are too high. One thing is certain, it will be interesting to compare and contrast the Whole Foods of today, with Whole Foods a year from now.

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Top Tips to Improve Your Email Deliverability

  • Posted on May 11, 2017
  • by Alan Blume

Insurance Agency Email MarketingBusiness of all types can benefit from a well run email marketing initiative. Today however, they must take extra precautions to ensure they maintain a high quality sender reputation to optimize delivery, and improve conversions. Review these top tips and make sure your organization is following all of them:

Ping Test Emails

Always ping test your emails prior to your initial campaign, especially if it is an older list, a trade show list, or a prospect list. And once ping tested, never use failed ping tested emails.

No Longer At

Monitor your autoreplies and remove no longer at and retired immediately after every campaign. These email responses must be closely reviewed, as the autoreply can come for a source that is different from the actual email that should be removed.

Consistency & Frequency

The consistency and frequency of your email campaigns is important in maintaining a positive sender reputation. ISPs attempt to create and evaluate the email marketing history for your domain. The more consistent you are, and the more reasonable you are with your frequency, the more likely you are to create a solid reputation as a sender. That assumes you are following the other tips listed herein.

Avoid/Diminish Complaints

Lots of complaints will spell lots of trouble for your sender reputation and domain. The best way to avoid complaints is to limit campaign frequency (every two weeks for most general campaigns is a good rule of thumb), honor opt-outs immediately, focus on quality content and collateral, and restrict “sales” pitches.

Avoid Spam Traps (Honeypots)

Spam traps, sometimes referred to as honeypots, are email addresses specifically created to catch email from marketers who don’t follow email best practices. The traps target marketers who are scraping email addresses from the web or are simply blasting emails using poor quality lists. Sufficient “catches” by spam traps can result in low deliverability or even domain blacklisting.

Use Relevant, Educational Content

“Buy my stuff and save money now”! If your content is salesy, spammy and irrelevant, your sender reputation will be adversely impacted, and it will happen quickly. Try to make your content relevant and educational. Changing regulations, industry innovation, important news of the day, and educational webinars are going to be better received than an invitation to buy your products or services.

Email marketing is both an art and a science, and is increasing in complexity and deliverability nuance. It can be a great lead generator when properly used, or a waste of time and money when used with an email “blast” mentality. Agencies and businesses seeking guidance on their email marketing and lead generation can contact StartUpSelling for a complimentary email marketing and lead gen review.

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Social Media Tips For B2B Insurance Agencies

  • Posted on March 1, 2017
  • by Alan Blume

Insurance Agency Social Media Marketing

A strong social media presence can be challenging to accomplish for B2B (business to business) insurance agencies. Many B2B companies struggle to showcase their professionalism, and build an audience through social media marketing. Consider the following tips to help make sure your agency is maximizing your social media marketing efforts.

Create Your Online Persona

Your social media presence should have a well-defined personality. Informative, helpful, engaging, timely and relevant are all characteristics top B2B social media accounts consider when creating their online persona. Decide what your online voice will sound like. Will you be formal or informal, speaking to individuals or businesses, sounding like a reporter or an op-ed contributor? Will you be sharing company employee events, creating contests, reporting on industry changes or regulations, or all of the above? Your agency goal is to build rapport and a sense of community with both clients and prospects. But first you need to determine your social media persona.

Create a Written Strategy Including Prospect Scorecard & Buyer Persona

When creating your social media marketing strategy, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is your target online audience – and how diverse is this group? Start by creating a Prospect Scorecard and Buyer Persona.
  • Which social platforms will best target that audience? You may have to search the different platforms to see which social media platforms are most applicable to your clients and prospects.
  • What type of content will that target audience find most useful? Would it be infographics, long-form articles, tech support information, breaking news commentary, regulatory updates, or some combination of all of these?
  • What are your short term and long term social media goals? Perhaps your short term goal is simply consistent content sharing. And your long term goal includes an ad budget for growth and prospect engagement.
  • How are your competitors using social media? You can learn a lot about what to do and what not to do by studying your competitors.

Comment on News & Regulations Relevant To Your Target Industries

Offering commentary on breaking news and changing industry regulations is a great way to demonstrate your knowledge in your industry and to provide your clients with insights on how to understand these updates. This can lead to higher engagement levels and increased exposure to your social media pages. You can use Google Alerts and social media alerts to monitor industry keywords and stay on top of dynamically changing events.

Organic Vs. Paid Posts

Once your agency is consistently posting quality content, you can consider posts boosts and ads. You may want guidance with this, as the budget can get spent quickly, and multivariate split testing with compelling images and custom graphics can dramatically improve your reach and ROI.

Achieve A Respectable Follower Base

Looking professional and demonstrating a respectable number of followers and engagement level is half the battle when starting on your insurance social media marketing initiative. The top platforms your agency should leverage are: LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Google+, likely in that order, though your target markets could impact this. LinkedIn and YouTube can be very valuable to B2B businesses. LinkedIn is a good place to start, it’s very much a business centric platform. Then leverage YouTube using videos, recorded webinars or even simple voice over PowerPoint updates (StartUpSelling has uploaded hundreds of videos to YouTube, some of which have over 10,000 views). Try to build up your follower base, as quickly as possible, to a respectable number. For example, this might be 500 followers on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Though 5,000 or more would be great, initially your agency is striving to attain a baseline of professionalism and credibility.

Looking for assistance with your insurance agency social media marketing plans? Contact the insurance agency marketing experts at StartUpSelling for a personalized review.

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Malware Trends Agencies Should Look Out For In 2017

  • Posted on February 7, 2017
  • by Alan Blume

Insurance AgencyWebsitesInsurance Agencies and Brokers should remain vigilant when it comes to their websites and possible malware attacks. For specific tips on website security, check out our cyber security blog post. To learn about malware trends in 2017, continue below.

Malware is Becoming More Evasive and Aggressive

There has been a large increase in evasive malware behavior in the last year. Evasive malware tries to undermine traditional security technologies with new methods. Novel methods must be continually created to thwart these attacks. Make certain you are using a quality website security option that keeps its malware solutions up-to-date and at the cutting edge. Hosting providers such as GoDaddy, 1&1 and many more all offer a variety of security and malware monitoring and removal options. Malware advancement moves quickly and your insurance agency security solutions need to remain updated and current.

Modified Browser Settings

All major browsers (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari) have been seeing an uptick in malware programs that modify browser settings and important security-relevant proxy settings are being changed. Attackers are turning compromised systems into proxies so that further malware injections can be implemented. To help prevent this attack, never open unknown or questionable links, and train all employees to follow this important best practice.

Password Guessing Attacks

For this type of attack, the malware starts the authenticating process procedure and uses common username and password combinations to attempt to gain access to a website and escalate privileges. Brute force attacks are not new, but they are no longer contained to desktops. A recent study found that 53 popular mobile applications were vulnerable to password guessing attacks. Those vulnerabilities placed around 600 million users in danger of being hacked. Always use complex, unique passwords to keep access to your site protected against this type of attack, and use a sophisticated password time out option.

Enterprise-Level Database Leaks Via The Cloud

Cloud services have become an increasing solution for businesses. This, in turn, has caused an increased interest in exploiting cloud vulnerabilities. Awareness of the vulnerabilities and risks of storing commercial information on the cloud is not growing as fast as the sophistication of cloud attacks. As cloud data management becomes too difficult to wield, new security vulnerabilities may be discovered. It is important that your agency utilizes reputable cloud based solutions, and that you follow the best practices above, for all your cloud based applications.

If your agency is interested in updating your insurance agency website, creating high quality videos, or optimizing your insurance agency marketing and lead generation, contact StartUpSelling, for a complimentary insurance agency lead generation or web marketing review.

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Highly Targeted Email Marketing That Works

  • Posted on December 29, 2016
  • by Alan Blume

sell-more-work-less - insurance email marketing

It’s difficult to get published, by many estimates less than 1% of would be authors ever receive an offer from a reputable publisher. Of course it is easier to get published if you have a literary agent representing you than if you approach publishers directly. Landing an agent is a formidable challenge; nonetheless, it seemed that literary agents offered the most viable path to publish my book.

Finding and signing with a literary agent seemed no different to me than finding and closing a prospect for any product, service or solution. I would simply use the same approach I use every day. It was a simple beginning, after a half dozen Google searches resulted in many sites listing literary agents. Next, I downloaded about 1,200 agents from several of these online list sources into an Excel file.

Many agents list their emails for book query submissions (a brief letter or email to whet the interest of a prospective agent). As a proponent of the virtual model, CEO of a virtual company, and would be author of the benefits of virtual business, I couldn’t imagine working with an agent who did not accept query submissions via email or a web form. If they didn’t accept email solicitations, they were culled, cutting my list to about 800. My list was then culled further to 100 agents who were interested in business books, non-fiction and prescriptive books (most agents listed the types of books they typically publish). And lastly, emails were sent to these 100 agents, with a succinct message about my book and background.

Here are the results of the highly targeted email campaigns to the 100 literary agents:

  • 100 Sent
  • 9 Interested
  • 32 Not interested
  • 59 No response

The results were impressive, as 9% of the targeted agents expressed interest, and responded as such to the email call to action. Normally I would follow-up an emailing like this with a phone call, however most literary agents prefer no phone calls, many stating so on their web site. Of the nine agents who expressed interest in my query, four of them asked me to email my full proposal (a proposal usually has a biography, marketing section, competition section, chapter outline and sample chapters). Another four asked me to print out a full proposal and mail it to them, and one asked me if I would like him to immediately contact publishers on my behalf to determine if they had interest.

I sent my book proposal to all four agents who requested it via email attachment, and called the agent who expressed interest in contacting publishers on my behalf. Two of the agents quickly reviewed the proposal and asked if I would speak with them right away. One of these was Wendy Keller from Keller Media, who asked if we could set up a conference call the next day. The call (actually a web meeting) lasted about 30 minutes, and I was impressed with Wendy’s background and enthusiasm. She was excited about the direction and topic of the book. During the meeting I secured a commitment from her for representation. It took less than four weeks from the time I approached the literary agency market to sign with a prominent agent.

Six months later, with help and guidance from my agent, we secured an offer from a well known business book publisher, Career Press. My book, Your Virtual Successwas published, and my second book, Sell More & Work Less was published a few years later.

Although there are additional nuances involved with successful current email marketing best practices, the basics used for this seven year old campaign are very similar to that which can be used for effective digital marketing and lead generation today. Contact the email marketing experts at StartUpSelling and learn how to extend your reach and jump-start your pipeline in the new year.

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Microsoft To Buy LinkedIn for $26.2 Billion

  • Posted on June 13, 2016
  • by Alan Blume

MInsurance Web Marketingicrosoft Corp. and LinkedIn Corporation announced today they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Microsoft will acquire LinkedIn for $196 per share in an all-cash transaction valued at $26.2 billion. This represents a 50% premium over Friday’s closing price. It’s currently trading at around $192, after closing Friday in the $130 range. This is a bold move for Microsoft, but a move which will make them a serious player in the Social Media space. Microsoft has an enviable cash reserve and can easily bankroll this acquisition, and LinkedIn looks like it could fit in nicely with their cloud computing strategy.

www.StartUpSelling.com

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Leveraging Web Meetings For Insurance Agents And Brokers

  • Posted on April 19, 2016
  • by Alan Blume

Insurance Agency Website Analytics
In 2009 I wrote a blog about integrating web meetings into the insurance agency and broker sales process. Now that seven years have passed, are commercial agents now embracing this more efficient meeting solution into their sales and marketing methodology? Have traditional con calls been surpassed with the improved opportunity offered by web meetings? Or has it been business as usual, with agents seeking in-person meetings, with a simple phone call prior?

There are many reasons why a web meeting offers an upgrade above and beyond a simple phone call.

1. Lost travel time going
2. Lost waiting time
3. Automobile costs (not just gas – add wear and tear)
4. Parking and tolls when applicable
5. Lost travel time returning
6. Lost time to transition back to productivity after return

Web meetings can be used in place of introductory phone calls, or for follow-up meetings. Though they may not be a replacement for all meetings, they are a great augmentation for the producers’ sales process. With more and more millennials buying insurance, it’s time for agencies and brokers to embrace web meetings as part of their sales process. The millennials are a digital generation, and many are now in their 30’s, running the show and making decisions about their insurance, and their company’s insurance. For more information on insurance web marketing and lead generation, contact the StartUpSelling insurance web marketing team at (518) 222-6392.

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My 10 Favorite Books Of The Year – 2015

  • Posted on January 14, 2016
  • by Alan Blume

Insurance Marketing Resource LibraryEach year I write a synopsis of my ten favorite books of the year. My goal is to read across several genres, and I try to read about two books a month. This year I read some great fiction and non-fiction, classics, science fiction, business, technology and poetry. I read five business related books, though none seemed to make it on my top ten list for 2015. For what it’s worth, here were my favorites:

1913: The Eve of War by Paul Ham

A succinct but enlightening overview of how and why World War I began. Beyond perception, politics, panic and patriotism, it’s a review of how royalty sought to retain power by marrying within their own small family circles, and how this and other factors resulted in a disastrous confluence of events instigating World War I.

America’s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System by Steven Brill

America’s Bitter Pill is an exhaustive and sometimes exhausting look at how PPACA (Obamacare) came into existence. It is a detailed and dense work, informative, enlightening and frustrating, as the reader learns the nuances of Congressional infighting, special interest groups (pharma, bio, medical devices, hospitals, insurers, etc.) political turf wars and politicians quest for power and reelection. Though it sometimes reads as a tome, it is a worthwhile read, and reinforces in great detail America’s concerns about healthcare, special interest groups, lobbyists and Congress.

Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients by Jeremy N. Smith

Chris Murray, founder of the Global Burden of Disease studies, wanted to gain a truer understanding of how we live and how we die. A fascinating introspective about the importance and nuanced challenges in measuring mortality and improving global health.

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

Pollan helps expose the Western diet for the health nemesis that it truly is, where food has been replaced by nutrients, and fast food has become the norm. He offers insights into a society addicted to sugar and sugar additives, white flour and processed foods, which is resulting in an alarming rise in obesity, diabetes and cancer.  Pollan’s common sense approach to eating is summed up in the beginning of this excellent book, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Mountain Interval by Robert Frost

Mountain Interval is a classic poetry collection written by Robert Frost, which includes some of my favorite Frost poems such as The Road Not Taken, A Patch of Old Snow, and Birches.

  • I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
  • And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
  • Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
  • But dipped its top and set me down again.

Split Second by Douglas E. Richards

This fast and easy read is a techno-thriller which examines what would happen if you could go back in time for just a split second. It includes an interesting discussion about Einstein’s theory of relativity and how the universe would cope with time travel. Richards includes a very entertaining and thought provoking review of how “the Star Trek transporter” would work in theory.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis

When I read this, the third Lewis book I’ve read, it didn’t cross my mind that it could or should be a movie. That said, with Moneyball and The Blind Side already to his credit, a movie version of this interesting book should not arise as a complete surprise. Lewis follows some of the key players in the credit default swap market, including those that bet against collateralized debt obligations. The book moves along nicely considering the somewhat dry and technical characters and subject matter. I found it particularly interesting when those who identified the bad loans and likelihood of collapse were surprised that someone was willing to take the other side of the bet, namely those who believed that the positive real estate market trends would continue.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Not long ago I read The Beautiful and The Damned, and this year decided to revisit The Great Gatsby. It’s a wonderful work by Fitzgerald, though I actually enjoyed the characters in the former more than the latter, there is no doubt that The Great Gatsby deserves the attention it receives. A true classic written by one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

A funny, witty, light and bright comedy which is still amusing over 100 years since its first performance in London in 1895. Wilde covers the gambit in this play, from satire to comedy to intellectual farce. Anyone Wilde showcases his enviable range from this carefree and whimsical play to the dark and disturbing The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Moving from Frost to Longfellow, I revisited the classic epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha. Many may remember the greatly abbreviated children’s version which in reality is just a small section of this epic poem. The poem is a wonderful escape for both children and adults, vivid in imagery and folk lore. It uses trochaic meter, emphasis on the first syllable with four pairs of syllables in each line. This can grow tiresome when reading large expanses of the poem at any given sitting, but does help create a soothing feeling, conveying a feeling of simpler times, which I found appropriate for the poem.

  • By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
  • By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
  • Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
  • Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.

 

And for those who might like to read one of my books, or learn more about marketing, please visit my website: http://startupselling.com/web-marketing-books/

 

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Liberty Mutual Insurance: Twice The Price – That’s Not Nice

  • Posted on November 11, 2015
  • by Alan Blume

Liberty Mutual Premium IncreasesIn 1974 I insured my first car with Liberty Mutual Insurance, the insurance cost more than the car, but then again, I was 17 and my clunker only cost $100. Since then, I’ve had a great track record, never an at fault accident, and only had a few small claims (glass breakage for example). On occasion, I’d compare their rates against competing carriers, and found them to be competitively priced. Their service was good, though rarely required.

I also had an apartment, then a condo, then purchased a home and umbrella policy, all subsequently covered by Liberty Mutual. That added up to 4 decades of premiums, with only one modest claim about 25 years ago (about $1,000 as I recall). Succinctly said, that’s a long term relationship, with a great loss history. So one would expect, that type of loyalty would be returned in kind.

Let’s fast forward to 2013 when I purchased a small boat, and then called Liberty Mutual for insurance. Insurance for non-speed boats, is very modest, and Liberty quoted about $170, which sounded reasonable. Meanwhile Progressive contacted me (likely from the boat registration) promising easy online service and great rates. So I did as they suggested, went on line, and a few minutes later purchased boat insurance for $110, for the same coverages and deductibles. While on-line I called their 800# and spoke with a representative promptly. Though the premium dollar difference was small, the percentage was significant, and I made a mental note to check my auto and home rates on the ensuing renewal.

A year later,  my 2014 Liberty Mutual auto insurance bill arrived with a fairly large increase, raising the premiums for my two cars to $1,593, a 6.3% increase from the prior year. That seemed significant in an era of low inflation. My cars were a year older, but my premiums were increasing at a rate well over the rate of inflation. So, I decided to compare prices and was shocked at the findings.

Every car insurance carrier contacted was significantly lower than Liberty Mutual Insurance. We’re not talking about $100 lower, I was quoted rates that were 25% to 60% lower for the same deductibles and coverages. I also requested home owners’ insurance quotes, and found that everyone was much lower for that too.  I called my Liberty Mutual representative to ask if there was some mistake. But they confirmed the rates quoted by Liberty Mutual were accurate, in spite of my great loss history. They even asked me to make sure my quotes weren’t for six months (that seemed to be an out of touch statement from my carrier of 40 years).

Why such a large premium difference? Is their service much better than other insurers? My experiences with them were quite satisfactory, but I know someone who had a very difficult time getting paid for damages to their home. Online reviews were mixed for all the carriers. So what’s up with Liberty Mutual, is this a buyer beware tale? Perhaps they’ve decided that personal lines accounts aren’t worth their time, or they want to move away from this market, or perhaps it’s their beautiful brick and mortar headquarter expansion that explains the difference (check out that cool rendering of their HQ expansion). If the latter is the issue, I wish they’d stop spending money on their new palaces, employ more people virtually, and return the premium difference to their policy holders. Then again, it probably didn’t help that their CEO was paid “an average of nearly $50 million a year from 2008 to 2010, making him one of the highest-paid corporate executives in the country” according to the Boston Globe. Last year their CEO was paid a more modest sum of only $14 million.

Well, I’m glad Liberty Mutual is doing so well, though I’d rather not be donating so much to their cause. So, after 40 years, I moved my car insurance to GEICO. How did GEICO’s rates compare with the Liberty Mutual auto insurance quote of $1,593? GEICO’s quote was $704, for two cars with the same deductibles and coverages.

Of course, the thought occurred to me that GEICO’s rate could be a loss leader, a thinly veiled attempt to glean market share – then hitting customers with a dramatic price increase in ensuing years. What happened one year after moving my insurance to GEICO? Their rate increase was a modest $30. And what about the boat insurance from Progressive? Well that went down 10% to $100 a year. Bottom line, regardless of your loss history, perceived rates, or longstanding relationship, consumers should compare insurance rates frequently, or work with an insurance agent who will do so on your behalf. And if you happen to have Liberty Mutual for auto, home, boat, etc., check your rates now!

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