SUMMARY: If you are hoping to partner with brand name companies online, this Case Study is for you. InsureZone's site design uses clever Best Practices to help them land new business partners, and their partnership tips are extremely helpful.
When InsureZone started in 1999, the Company initially planned to be a destination site. However, as VP Marketing Tara Herberth explains, "It became clear that building a brand online was not an economically savvy thing to do." And in the insurance business, brand is incredibly important. "People are buying a feeling of security. They want a trusted source for that."
So the Company decided to switch tactics and create an online insurance store that could be private labeled by established partners customers already trusted -- such as banks and major small business portals. The store would carry a variety of small business insurance products from name-brand providers
Now InsureZone had to convince the banks and portals to add it to their sites.
Before approaching any potential partners, the team set parameters clearly defining the type of partner they wanted (and what type would not be worth the time.) Herberth says, "You have to be really thoughtful. Partners have to have a certain number of small business customers with characteristics matching our insurance carriers. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to fulfill, and that would be disappointing from a customer satisfaction standpoint. Also it costs us money every time we fill a quote, so a partnership has to be economically smart for us."
Next InsureZone hired business development professionals who already had extensive knowledge of and personal contacts in the particular sector they'd handle. Account Executive Jon Reineman says, "For example, in the banking area we have a person who's been working with banks for a long time. So he has contacts with the insurance groups in banks and understands exactly what they need and what their customers look like."
Herberth completely revamped InsureZone's old "brochureware" Web site to support the partnership development effort. Most companies seeking partners simply put a little information and an email contact on their Web site. The new InsureZone site goes far, far beyond this to serve as a truly serious tool.
The site's navigation buttons are all clearly focused on topics of interest to potential partners, such as "Private Label: use the power of your brand" and "Success Stories: Learn about our partners." Beyond the home page, the rest of the site contains an astonishing amount of information. (Yet the site's clean design keeps this from seeming overwhelming to the eye.) This information includes:
- Tools and calculators potential partners can use to figure out how much money they could make and understand how much work implementation entails.
- Marketplace research and data from industry analysts, along with details on legal and regulatory compliance.
- Product details and comparison charts versus competitors.
- The ability to test-drive a live online store as a customer.
So far InsureZone has signed partnership deals with two major banks, Chase and Wells Fargo, as well as eight small business portals, including NetBusiness Marketplace, Insurance.com, PurchasePro, BuildNet, Small Business Resources, BuyerZone, Law Commerce and eInsure.
Reinman says the information-rich site has helped generate partnership leads. He says, "Every day leads come through!"
The first live store implementation launched in November 2000. By December 31st, it sold more than $150,000 worth of premiums. Sales quadrupled in the first two months of 2001. Herberth says, "Every month we've consistently seen huge increases. We surpassed a million in total sales by February 2001!"
NOTES: How different is it to close deals with banks vs. portals? Very. Reineman says, "With a portal you can do the entire deal over the phone without meeting in person. A portal deal may take weeks, where a bank deal may take months."
One reason is that while a portal might have 10 offerings for small business customers, a bank might have 250. So deals will take longer with banks just because they have to spend more time making sure your offering fits with all their other services.
Reineman gave us three key tips on creating partnerships with banks:
1. "ecommerce" is the word to use instead of "Internet" because "commerce" means revenue. Banks that used to have Internet initiative committees now have ecommerce committees.
2. Find out what the bank's objectives are before discussing anything else. If your objectives don't match, it's not worth anyone's time going further. (This is one of the reasons that InsureZone's site includes the revenue calculator to give prospective partners an up front dose of reality.)
3. Banks can have more personnel turnover than you'd expect. So, you definitely need a strong relationship with more than one champion on the ecommerce committee. Otherwise your hard work could end up walking out the door.
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