When you’re flat out getting quotes out the door, the idea of trying to build relationships with potential referral partners or crack new market segments is pretty much pie-in-the-sky stuff.

But handing these tasks over to a dedicated business development manager (BDM) and leaving the broker principal free to deal with other business challenges could be a solution.

Anthony Pagano, Vero’s commercial intermediaries manager, believes on-staff BDMs can play an invaluable role in a highly competitive marketplace. “Brokers need to reassess their business model as the market is getting tougher and new distribution channels are appearing.”

It’s a view shared by Kay Jackson, director at Victorian broking firm Simplex Insurance Solutions, who believes the answer is to head in a different direction. “We can’t compete with the direct channel. That’s why a BDM is important in this environment and what makes relationships even more important.”

She is adamant the solution is not sharper pricing. “Our BDM model is to speak to groups and referral partners and explain that we are experts who can help them. Broker products are tailored and you can’t do that based on price.”

Having someone to go out and spread this message is the major benefit of a dedicated BDM, Jackson says. “As a broker I do not have the time to develop special external relationships and tailored products. For us, that’s the role of the BDM. It’s not about sales.”

CONSULTANT OR SALESPERSON?

A strong BDM can help a broking firm reposition itself from focusing on transactional business to being a valued business consultant.

This approach would be welcomed by SMEs, according to the 2016 Vero Insurance Index, which surveyed more than 1,500 SMEs. “The research showed small business owners are looking for help in not only making sure they are adequately insured but in running their businesses. This is a golden opportunity for brokers to be trusted advisers for SMEs,” Pagano explains.

BUILDING BRIDGES WITH A GREAT BDM

“Good BDMs can help firms reposition themselves as specialists or having a point of difference that helps separate them from other broking firms.”

This BDM-led strategy of differentiation and developing strong relationships is the key to Jackson’s current business model. “We need to get the right people to contact us. The majority of business we write is from referral partners, so we don’t need to spend big on mass advertising,” she notes.

“By the time we see people, they are a qualified lead. We are seen as the expert, so people are not ringing around for competitive quotes.”

COMMUNICATION SKILLS ARE VITAL

If a great BDM is one of the keys to success for a broking firm, what do these rare beasts look like? And what attributes do they possess?

According to Anton Barnett-Harris, general manager education events & international at ANZIIF, successful BDMs have strong technical skills they continually develop. “This helps them to truly understand their clients and provide value. After all, one of the main reasons people use brokers is because they know more about insurance and risk than they do.”

Good BDMs can help firms reposition themselves as specialists or having a point of difference that helps separate them from other broking firms.

Jackson agrees a deep understanding of the insurance industry and a client’s specific risk requirements are vital, but believes a great BDM does not need to come from within the industry. “Our BDM didn’t have an insurance background, but she had a marketing background and a good knowledge of how a number of different industries operated.”

This marketing focus has seen industry jargon removed in client communications and replaced with simpler language and a consumer focus. She explains: “Our BDM brought different thinking on how people buy, not just an insurance focus. You need somebody with strong marketing skills, not sales expertise.”

Barnett-Harris agrees soft skills are vital for successful BDMs. “Working in an intermediated space you need to have excellent client relationship skills, be a good listener and be exceptionally results-driven,” he says.

“As much as you sell on product and price, relationships are still key and they will always be. Really listening to people and getting good results for them goes a long way to building and maintaining those relationships.”

Pagano too agrees good communication skills are vital. “People need to understand this is a relationship business and so you need to be able to relate to people and connect with them.”

STAYING ON TOP

High quality education and training also go a long way towards ensuring someone is a top-notch BDM, according to Barnett-Harris. “Formal qualifications and ongoing professional development support BDMs to increase and enhance their soft and technical skills.”

Our BDM model is to speak to groups and referral partners and explain that we are experts who can help them.

With the insurance and risk space changing rapidly, BDMs are looking to upskill quickly and in a focused way. “In recognition of this, ANZIIF recently launched the ANZIIF Skills Units, which are concentrated on particular areas and are shorter so insurance professionals like BDMs can skill up quickly and when the need or desire arises.”

On a personal level, Pagano believes key characteristics for great BDMs include being disciplined and consistent in their approach. “They also need to have accountability and a willingness to take on responsibility.”

HELP FOR SMALL FIRMS

Although it sounds like a great idea, what if your business simply can’t afford a dedicated BDM?

Pagano believes the answer is simple: “If a broker doesn’t have an in-house resource, they can use the skills and resources of their insurer’s BDM.”

Insurance BDMs can “add real value if they are a good one”, particularly when it comes to accessing knowledge or skills the firm lacks, he explains. “It is not about sales, it is about the knowledge they can bring about claims or ways of doing business, and providing information to support you when you are dealing with clients.”

A great BDM will “open up a wall of talent and tools for the broker and that makes the broker look good in front of their clients”, Pagano says. This includes access to risk management and technology experts brokers normally cannot access.

This article was written by freelance journalist, Janine Mace and appeared in the September 2016 issue of Insurance Adviser.