Grant Barra, the Managing Partner and CEO of Barra & Associates, increased his company’s revenue 93% from $2.7m in 2014 to $5.2m in 2017.
Barra & Associates is an insurance and financial services brokerage with divisions specializing in all personal and commercial solutions.
In this interview with Eversprint‘s Malcolm Lui. Grant shares how he and his team accelerated their high value sales by:
- Focusing on hiring new agents and agency owners.
- Increasing win rates and agent retention through technology.
- Riding the shift away captive insurance to independent agencies.
- Providing the maximum value to their agents and their agent’s clients.
Actionable High Value Sales Insights:
Grant shared three key High Ticket Sales Insights that you can begin implementing in your business today.
Insight #1: Identify why you’re losing deals, and close the gap
For Grant, he realized back when he was a captive agent that he was losing 80% of the deals because his firm’s offerings simply were not competitive. And the only way he could provide his prospects with the best solution is go independent and have access to more carriers. But carriers have minimum production requirements for their selling agents. This brings us to the next insight.
Insight #2: Grow exponentially by adding sales and sales teams.
To increase production and revenue exponentially, Grant today is adding new sales and sales teams. But to make this strategy successful, the new sales and sales teams still need to win more deals, which leads us to the final insight.
Insight #3: Make it as easy as possible for your sales team to win more deals.
Grant accomplished this by providing a back office team and a tech platform that lets his agents spend more time prospecting, selling and closing, and less time entering data and waiting for quotes. Their platform also tracks when their current carriers are not competitive, so they can quickly add a new carrier to close the gap.
: Malcolm Lui here. Welcome to Eversprint.com. Today we're speaking with Grant Barra, the managing partner and CEO of Barra & Associates, a fast growing insurance and financial services brokerage company. We'll be speaking today about how he increased revenue 93 percent from 2.7 million in 2014 to 5.2 million to 2017. Welcome to the call Grant.
: Thank you. Thank you Malcolm.
: Increasing revenue 93 percent over three years is really impressive Grant. Can you share how you did this?
Growing their sales force to grow their customer base
: Awesome so revenue is of course the driving force behind any growth any new business and the entrepreneur are out there looking to grow their business and our focus wasn't necessarily on the customer. Even though the end consumer is the person who is paying the money to drive the revenue into the organization really those consumers are coming from the sales force that we have within the organization. That's primarily put us in a spot where we wanted to focus on growing the sales force right the sales force who is going to grow our customer base. We've done that by creating a model that had a different model than is normally seen within our industry within our industry.
: The model the normal model as an agents coming into the industry is going to sign with what we would consider a captive insurance company so a captive insurance company of the company that that agent represents one company finds clients and sells that one company's product to the clients.
Having over 100 different insurance companies on their platform allows agents to provide customers with better solutions.
: The model that we built because we've seen what time that clients demand more value right. They want more value from the people that they're working with. It's no longer good enough just to have a relationship and jam that square peg into the round hole. There is an expectation that consumers are educated that has value and I don't want to discredit a relationship that is incredibly important but the value must be provided for that and consumer it's business. Even on that relationship basis we built a platform that works with more than 100 different insurance companies and by building that platform that works with more than 100 different insurance companies. We can we can now position our agents they find prospects in the field they can work with just about any prospects and have solutions that meet the need of those specific prospects by connecting them with the right insurance company
: Okay so which came which came first. Building your network of agents or building a platform that was available to your agents that offered the hundred different providers that they can choose from to get the best solution to their clients.
: You know. At the beginning it was awful. I remember when we first started we had a very limited number of carriers. So our focus was of course working the relationships that we had with the very limited number of carriers. Less than 5 less than 5 carriers and pretty much fine being an agent to represent our company and focus just on selling those five carriers. Now we during that process in order to grow we really had to sell the agents on the future vision of the company. Right. So credit to the leadership team are constantly selling the future vision of that vision of the company. So as we were able to get more agents into the company agents and then agency owners into the company we were able to drive enough revenue that allowed us to disperse that revenue over more companies. So as we added more companies the value proposition became better to be agents and ultimately the customers.
: Right now. How. How challenging was it to grow your your your list of carriers from 5 to over a hundred.
Bigger agencies have significant competitive advantages - they can add carriers to their platform that smaller ones do not qualify for.
: Extremely extremely difficult. So the carriers that we work with they're not just going to appoint anyone. And there are very high revenue requirements which with just about every single carrier that must be met on an annual basis. So that actually works in our favor because it's not like any agent or agency can just go out and get contracts with these insurance companies and start offering their products. So essentially it limits the competition to individuals who can drive revenue to those companies.
: Okay so what is the process. What is the process for growing your businesses that you are adding agents who could sell your existing list carriers and as your business grew you continued to add more carriers pushing the envelope finding those would be would be willing to bring you on board. Is that the growth strategy. Two prong growing agents
: And carriers
: So you
: At the same time.
: So we want to continue to add carriers. No we did this in a strategic way. We want to constantly provide value to the consumer and in order to provide value to the consumer. Right. We had to be able to find them. So we had to have agents finding more than consumers to manage with agents. We found that those agents were constantly gravitating towards captive insurance carriers like the farmers the state farms the all states. And while they're very good companies. My belief is that their model their agency model is dated. So because the consumers are demanding more value right our model than boxes and the logical components of the sale and the agents all they have to do is find that relationship.
: Okay. So when you added carriers adding carriers to meet the needs of your agents and their client base or were you or do you prematurely know in advance which carriers you wanted to eventually bring into the fold.
: We actually only brought in carriers on an as needed basis. So the metrics that we manage to within the company was out of every 10 consumers that we ran through our platform. We wanted to be competitive in nine situations if they already had existing coverage in place
: So you came across a if your best package that you can offer was not competitive due to a client having another carrier. Then you would perhaps consider adding that carrier to the fold.
When bid competiveness falls below 9 out of 10, they review and add carriers to fill the gaps.
: 100 percent. So we have the technology internally to be able to track our competitive cases versus our not competitive cases. And for example last year we had about a 45 day period in which we fell out of favor of that every 10 households every 10 Queen households were read through our platform being competitive and nine we actually dropped down to about six point seven out of every 10 we'd rent through are competitive and fixed point seven because of the technology we use internally and technology being a huge part of why we're able to move quickly and grow. We were able to identify the holes in which did not allow us to be competitive. We identified two additional carriers in the marketplace that would fill those holes and we boarded them. We did this all within a 45 day period bringing our numbers back up above that 9 competitive out of every 10 we ran through we even our total 2017 numbers out of every 20 clean household that were in through our platform we were competitive in more than 19.
Captive State Farm agents are competitive 20-30% of the time, while his agents are competitive 90% of the time.
: So that gives our agents the competitive advantage to close more clients because our competition. Who are the state farms the American family the all states are run in 20 households through their platform. They're competitive in two or three. Right. So right there you can see the advantage of an agent being with us as opposed to a captive.
: Oh yeah definitely. Now is the technology that you're using to track all this is this develop all in-house or were you able to find a third party that helps you create this platform.
: So we actually leverage the existing technology that's available in the marketplace. One of the best most well-known respected companies in the marketplace we package three different platforms together and we worked with a programming team on the back end to customized this to our needs within the organization. So we have to the best of my knowledge the best technology and software available in the independent marketplace. And I don't believe anyone else can compete with us. Traditionally an agency or an agency owner is going to have that type of information in the independent market place a minimum of four places sometimes 15 16 places to get the information within our system. You're only typing it in once and it's transitioning to all the carriers it's transitioning to the CRM system and it's transitioning to our sales center to be able to track where each prospect in the sale cycle.
: Sounds fantastic. Oftentimes I hear him when I worked at the for the iMac for investment banks in my previous roles getting the employees that's the staff to use the tech was always very challenging. And how were you able to get your agencies or your brokers you or your field agents used attacked so that in turn can help them win new business.
His back office team and platform takes all the road blocks out of the way for their agents and lets them focus on finding clients.
: Sure sure we met that third efforts hammerings that we had from the beginning. I'm glad you brought that up. We really have two distribution channels right for distributing through our agency owners and we're distributing through our agents within that within the organization. So the agents that we bring into the organization we want to remove as much of that burden as possible so they can have access to it and we give access to it for the right people but we have a support team behind the scenes that will do 100 percent of the data input quoting searching for the right carriers. They don't have to do anything except for find the client gather information submitted it get kicked back to them within one business day and big law prevents closed the business it's good for the client it's good for the agent because we've taken all the roadblocks out of their way. They're able to grow and drive a lot more revenue than the traditional agent is. That's allowed us to grow exponentially every single year and the agency owner side they really had no option to begin with. So it was easy to get those individuals to adopt the technology simply because they're already typing being picked up into 4 5 6 sometimes 15 different places. So because our technology allowed undetected and once and it would can roll over to the carriers and CRM and fail center it was a no brainer.
: All right. It really sounds like the tech platform that you have is one of the keys to your competitive advantages and the big driver of enabling you to grow your sales so rapidly.
: Yet without a doubt there would be it would be impossible to scale without the leveraging technology.
: On the Asian side what was your strategy for finding new agency Brigg to come onboard.
: So we take the approach of job postings by platforms such as Monster CareerBuilder indeed the recruiter and leveraging the recruiting options within LinkedIn to find both licensed and unlicensed candidates that are looking to come into the insurance industry.
: That's from the agent side on the agency on our side. We post in franchise type form environments and also do fairs or anything that's relevant to individuals looking to start businesses.
: Okay. Do you do any sort of advertising to help find the agencies and the agency owners.
: By advertising if you'd consider job postings advertising and or job posting job downland can answer in job postings. Yes outside of that we do not do any advertising for agents or agency owners.
: Like a heavy you. Why is that. Is it because what you're doing so far is more than enough to meet your needs or or is it because you tried it and the results were just really poor
: We have not tried any other form of advertising.
: We just haven't had a need to explore that area yet.
: Right okay in terms of your future plans. What are you what are you thinking about doing next to further grow your business.
Their focus is on getting more agency owners onto their platform.
: So the focus is on growing our agency owners in the field because we find that they're the most engaged and it's going to be the quickest way for us to create a bigger footprint in the area that we operate. So we've brought in technology it comes back as technology and this aspect as well. So we've brought in a good number of agency owners within the organization and they've all had a lot of success.
: One thing that nobody has realized is when you leverage technology and you change platforms sometimes a lot of times there are problems that you encounter. One of the problems that we encountered during our data conversion was an air that was caused by the backend by the external team that we employed to do the conversion from one system to another. Now you're probably wondering why are we converting to another system our old platform was fantastic.
: But our new platform that I described was going to allow us to exponentially grow without necessarily needing to add staff and in particular functional areas so because of that problem they got belayed for a period. Now when we got delayed we had delayed for a period of about seven to eight months. We had to operate off two platforms and it didn't affect anyone in the field because we're internally operating off to platform. So everything was working just as it always had for everyone in the field. But what it did was it prevented us from being able to continue to grow at a rate that was significantly higher than we've even been growing the last several years. Now that happened in 2017 and we still grew. Right. I mean we still did offend we still grew a great amount but our technology definitely helped us back from having higher numbers than our even already shown on the 5000
: Ok. So platform how much bigger can you go before you need to do another round of investment to scale it up further to build it up further.
: We've never taken an investment. We bootstrapped
: Well what I mean
: The entire
: You've invested in your in your I.T. platform using your internal funds and you did you know in in 2017 you did 5.2 million. How much can you scale up your revenue with your current platform before you need to invest more into your technology.
: So the technology and the ongoing cost and it's going to increase on a annual basis. But that cost is going to increase based on the number of individuals we bring into the company. So the way it's set up now unless there's a huge breakthrough in technology that we need to bring in I don't see with the current offerings in the marketplace anything that we'd have to spend additional on other than what's already planned through our growth strategy if that makes sense.
: Yeah it does. So the way your platform is set up it's it's it's something it's really easily scalable so if you add 100 new agents it sounds like it can handle it, you just pay up for the cost of having these hundred new agents onto your platform.
: Okay. It's fantastic. What about trends. What trends longer term trends do you foresee happening in the insurance business that that you either want to take advantage of or perhaps you want to get out of the way so it doesn't hurt you.
Sees a trend that's going against the traditional captive agent model
: So there's two trends. One the positive and one that some people view as a negative. The first trend is the shift away from the traditional agency model and the traditional agency model with agents coming in and joining captive companies.
: It's well known that it's very difficult to have success underneath that model.
They offer their agents the same training they would get joining a captive carrier. They've eliminated the need to hire staff or meet production requirements that carriers require.
: Not impossible. Companies are fantastic. The model is just dated. So because of whites we've done and others are trying to do. We have really leverage what's already available in the industry. But we've packaged it up so we can really work with an agent that is nil bring them in train them get them up and running just as if they were originally joining a captive company. Because that's the reason people gravitate towards them. They had no idea how to get started. And then the independent side they didn't have the contacts that didn't have the revenue they didn't have the funds to get started. We've eliminated those barriers. We've eliminated the need for those individuals to hire staff immediately. We've eliminated the need for them to meet specific production requirements with every single carrier. Right. So that where we can bring them in train them and give them an opportunity to close more sales than they've ever closed before.
: Ok. What was the second trend you talked about. You said one was positive and another one was negative or potentially negative.
Second trend is the fear that insurance will become a commodity.
: The second trend is and the reason I even bring it up is because it's talked about so often individuals have a fear that things are going to be a 100 percent commodity and everyone's just going to purchase it online.
: I don't believe that to be an issue in any middle or higher end type of market. Maybe in the very low end. But people don't know what they're buying. Right. They need an adviser to help them through that process to make sure they're properly covered. What I would compare that to is or even to go visit with an attorney for an issue or even a Beilby document on legal xem
: All right.
: Well Legal Zoom is a fantastic service. The simple stuff. I think it's going to get taken off the table and people are going to go to the legal view the online route. But there's so much complex situation out there that those individuals are always going to need agents to work with.
: Right. Yeah. People doesn't have time to figure it out. You know if you're out everything themselves they would want someone to give them the right solution quickly at times.
: And if you're looking at products like life insurance disability income long term care. I mean those are products that I would consider sold not necessarily purchased and I'm not saying no one up there just goes out and purchases them. It does happen but a vast majority of the policies are sold.
: Right. Meaning that people aren't necessarily looking for those things right now at the very moment. Is that what you mean by sold
: As oppose. Right. OK.
: Now in terms of how you came up with your strategies of growing your business what was the foundations for that. I mean where did you get the initial ideas to go that route.
If you only close 20%, how can you help the other 80% who didn't buy from you?
: And so I originally started out as a captive insurance agent. Right right college I didn't know any better. I didn't even know and being independent was an option. Being able to work with multiple companies my understanding at that time and it's most people's understanding is that if you want to work in the insurance business and have an agency need to find a company such as an American family or State Farm interview with them and start an agency within that within that environment. So I did exactly that started up an agency within a captive environment. And what I saw over time was we would be loading so many would be finding building relationships and courting so many people. And the statistics were right around 20. We'd meet with and offer a proposal to in order to be competitive. Two were three of those times. So in all reality the opportunity that capital environment to actually write clients because we don't want to be writing clients in products that aren't necessarily in their best interests. We need to find 20 to really find two or three people that we can offer a solution to that in their mouth interests. So we can only close that many. Now I'm looking at it. Oh my gosh what's happened to those 17 to 18 individuals that we can't do anything with. Well they're going somewhere.
: Right exactly.
: And wherever they're going. Why can't that be with me. I'm going to put in the work. We're going to do the right thing for the clients. So it was a very small office I had three assistant it was myself at that time. And then we decided I decided that there has to be an option available to be able to get to be able to work with these clients right. You already have the relationship. That's when we explored and followed the path of becoming independent as opposed to offering one company offering multiple companies.
Build relationship, offer a logical solution to put them a better place, they'll do business with you.
: So as we started doing that quickly we learned that it just works right. It just makes sense. So if you can build the relationship with the clients and you can offer logic logical solution that just makes sense for them and putting them in a better place they're better off because they're doing business with you. And you have that relationship. You're going to do business with them. So as we were we decided that the only way for us to be able to grow exponentially on an annual basis is to be able to do that through other people.
: And that's when we started building out the platform that created our ability to recruit agents bring agents in so they could then offer to their clients what we were doing
Easy to bring captive agents on their platform because it allows them to do more business.
: So we were already beating. We were already beating the state to state farms. The American families even the independent agencies that didn't have that many carriers or their technology with dated. Right. So because we were beating them it we found it to be the to contact their agents and their agents to change over to our platform.
: Right. Because they can write four times more business
: If they're only winning two out of ten. And then you come to your platform where they can also win a good chunk of the eight who aren't buying business from them. That's a very compelling argument to make a change.
: And when I say easy well when I say I don't want to make it sound like what we do with BP. It's absolutely not easy but it's definitely easier than what they're doing today.
: Yeah. Do you ever have agents or agents owners leave your platform. And if so what was their motivation for moving away. Because your platform sounds fantastic.
: So very few what I find is that and I believe this of course I'm biased because I would be creator of the platform. But if an agent can't make it with us they're not going to make it in our industry.
: So and have we ever lost agents and are agency owners. The answer is yes. The turnover within our industry is very high the turnover within our company is significantly lower than the turnover within the industry.
: Can you hear those numbers. The industry turnover and your turnover.
Out of 100 new agents, only 14 will still be in the industry 4 years from now.
: So if we were to bring if the industry was to bring in 100 agents today
: Four years from now only 14 of them would still be in the industry
: All right
For 100 agents they in on their platform, 65 will still be with the company 4 years later.
: So I'm not even talking about with the same company in the industry. If we bring in 100 agents today based on our numbers somewhere between 60 to 65 of them will still be with our company four years from now.
: Well fantastic. Do you have numbers also showing the difference in there in their business between those that work for your company as opposed to the industry average is a huge difference there as well.
: So we we have the numbers that show the competitive advantage in working with us. I don't really know where to poll industry numbers from
: But our agents are very happy right. And if they weren't happy with us they'd be going somewhere else.
: Yeah definitely.
: So in regards to leaving agents so we still do these people. And what I find is if someone follows our program we've never we've never lost an agent or an agency that's followed our program
: And it's not that anyone that doesn't want to necessarily follow the program. But there's a work ethic component involved and not everyone have it in them to put in the amount of work required to make it within our industry
: Doesn't make them a bad person. It just makes them not necessarily a fit for our industry.
: All right
: So we have lost individuals to other companies and we've maintained those relationships because if an individual is not going to make it with us and we know of a better fit somewhere else we'll give them recommendations we'll give them good referrals. I will introduce them to people who want to see everyone do well.
: All right. It sounds like it be difficult really for any of your agents or agency owners to move just because it sounds like a lot of your process is tied into your platform. So even though they might learn your process and know how to execute it they really can't do it without your platform. Would you agree with that.
Difficult for agents to leave the platform or to create their own.
: They would have a very difficult time doing that without our platform and there would be a significant financial investment in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to get anything even remotely resembling the platform that they're operating on
: Right. For the agents and agency owners out there who are listening to his interview what's the best way for them to contact you to to perhaps come on board and and and enjoy your platform or perhaps even you know for the business owners out there who are looking for insurance. You know how she can best contact you and your team.
: Sure if they did that WW w I asked brokerage dot com. So that's I for insurance for financial expert service brokerage dot com. There's information about both Agent opportunities and agency owner opportunities along with potential clients that wants to do business with somebody that operates on our platform. Without question they're gonna they're going to have an opportunity to get more value than they would from a captive company or an Independent that doesn't have access to so many carriers right. Because we're representing the client more matching them up with the carrier so they can get our information on the website as well.
: Awesome. Thanks for joining us Grant and sharing how you grew your company sail so fast.
: Thank you Malcolm.
: We've been speaking with Grant Barra about how he grew his business 90 percent plus over three years. To listen to other Eversprint.com interviews with other fast growing companies, or to learn how we can increase your firm's high ticket sales through automation. Visit Eversprint.com.