As an independent insurance agent, Jack Kippling had been in the industry most of his career. To grow his clientele he would buy mailing lists of new area residences and send them a series of marketing letters spread over two years. This resulted in steady growth year after year. For two decades this provided a high close rate and excellent return on investment, but lately the results had tapered off. The low point came the end of last year, when his once dependable sales process resulted in no new sales for six months. Though other independent agents still scored big with this strategy, Jack no longer did. He had to find out why. He contacted Amanda Davis of Davis & Associates Consulting to research why this marketing plan no longer worked. Armed with his latest failed list, Amanda and her team went to work, contacting each prospect and conducting a phone interview whenever possible. A trend quickly emerged. One prospect, Andy Kibble, exemplified most respondents, so Amanda arranged an in-person meeting and recorded their conversation for Jack. Here is a partial transcript. Amanda: Thank you, Andy, for meeting with me. Your input will be most helpful. When you first moved to the area, do you remember receiving any letters from Jack Kippling Insurance? Andy: Boy, do I. He sent me a lot of them. At first I tossed them, but eventually I started reading them. They weren’t what I expected. I assumed they’d be some high-pressure sales copy, but they weren’t. Though the letters were professional looking, Jack came across as a humble guy, who just wanted to help me with my insurance—even if I didn’t go with him. After a few more letters I decided that when the time came I would switch to him. Amanda: But you didn’t did you? Why not? Andy: I almost did. I even called, but I hung up when I got his answering machine. Then I went online and found a different agent. Amanda: Just because of an answering machine? Andy: Indirectly, yes. As I listened to his recorded message, three things dawned on me. First, an answering machine is old school and didn’t match the professional vibe I picked up in his letters. Second, I realized he had a small operation, probably just him. I was hoping for a team, even if it was just one other person. Amanda: What was the third reason? Andy: It’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but he sounded old. Now I don’t have anything against working with older people, but it hit me that he was likely near retirement and once he retired I’d be in the same boat of looking for another agent. When I switched this time, I wanted this agent to be my last one. Amanda: I appreciate your candor. What would have made the difference for you? Andy: If someone else would have recorded the message, I would have likely assumed he had a staff, and I wouldn’t have considered the situation any further. But the ultimate solution would have been to have someone answer his phone and keep me from reaching an answering machine in the first place. Amanda: Like an answering service? Andy: What a great idea! Yes, an answering service would have made all the difference. Amanda: What about your concern of him retiring soon? Andy: That darn answering machine just brought it all to a head. If he had an answering service, I don’t think his age would have ever emerged as an issue. I’d probably be his client today, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation! Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan. Contact us to learn how a telephone answering service can professionally represent your business 24/7.