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Meeting customers on their territory: insight: getting involved in the community, school or church grows relationships that eventually lead to business.

Recently I went to the dentist for a crown, and the cost was as bad as the discomfort, which is probably no surprise to anyone. I endured both for two simple reasons--I had a need, and I trusted my dentist's recommendations.

I thought about this after a discussion with Mike Chapman, chief sales officer at Hub New England. Mike appreciates that selling insurance involves more than placing print and online advertisements, although both have value. It's also about engaging customers in personal interactions that often have nothing to do with business, the kinds of interactions that spring from community involvement. As Mike put it, "When mutual trust develops among people in a community, these honest relationships help build a business."

Many Hub agents have built relationships with customers by participating in activities and charitable causes, which helped producers meet both their personal and professional goals, and later guided business through the agency doors. Hub is not alone in recognizing the value of community involvement. The Hartford's 2012 Small Business Success Study, a survey of 2,000 small-business owners, found that 64% gave back to their communities when starting their business and another 20% didn't do it then, but would do so now.

The study also revealed that business owners are taking time during the slower economy to strengthen existing client relationships and prospect for new clients.

For producers who are not currently involved in their communities, it is worth considering the intersection of three key elements--one's philanthropic goals, personal passions and potential client base. Look for activities aligned with the interests of target customers. This involves far more than merely going to a meeting or event. It's about giving back and formulating strong relationships. Whether it involves supporting youth sports or a nonprofit building project, or volunteering at a local hospital or museum, the important point is to align the activity with one's own goals and interests, as well as those of one's customers. Leads generated in this manner typically have a higher close ratio, retention rate and, yes, referral rate.

I think back to my dentist. She and I had met years ago on a church committee. We connected over a shared commitment to a cause that was important to both of us. She never made a pitch or handed me a business card. I liked and trusted her as a person and wanted her to be my dentist. As the trust grew, it became easy for me to recommend her to others.

Her practice has since grown from a one-person firm to a thriving business with multiple dentists. I envision a similar scenario had she been an insurance agent! Given our foundation of trust, when I had a need, I didn't think twice about her recommendation for a crown. I knew it was in my best interest.

Sincere relationships with people sharing in community activities based on mutual interests--that's how businesses grew in the "old days." Nothing really has changed.

In business, trust is everything.

Best's Review columnist Marie Alvarado is assistant vice president of The Hartford School of Insurance and Business Management Group at The Hartford Financial Services Group. She can be reached at marie.alvarado2 @thehartford.com

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Title Annotation:Agent/Broker Selling
Author:Alvarado, Marie
Publication:Best's Review
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 1, 2012
Words:551
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