What Questions You Need to Pose and Answer to Help Your Digital Agency Thrive

That starts by selling the "why" to make sure everyone knows what's important.Then you have to make sure you have the right people in place to handle your technology.

If not, you end up with a lot of uncommitted and unqualified people sailing your insurance ship.

Because it's not your job to always do the heavy lifting, your job is to know when to take the boat out of the water.

Quincy Branch, President, and CEO of Branch Benefits Consultants talks about the digital journey his agency is almost done navigating.

Joey Giangola: Mr. Quincy Branch, how you doing today, sir?

Quincy Branch: I am blessed and doing excellent, sir. How about you?

Joey Giangola: Quincy, I can't complain. I cannot complain, sir. Before we get started, I want to jump. This feels like it's always top of mind, especially in the insurance agency, but I have to know this first. What's one place that you waste more time than you maybe care to admit, and is there a solution for it?

Quincy Branch: Now, is this personally or professionally?

Joey Giangola: Quincy, you can take it any way you want.

Quincy Branch: Well, I guess I'll probably say social media. Personally speaking. But at this point, given everything that's going on with COVID and everything else, it's sort of like my only real, just sort of minds release, to just scroll through random stuff, but I do catch myself sometimes like, "Oh, gosh. I've been scrolling on this for way too long. Let me get back to the real world." So, if I had to say something, I would probably just say mindlessly scrolling through social media right now.

Joey Giangola: Well, at least you can have that sort of reality check moment and sort of catch yourself. Is there a place in the agency that you feel maybe time is wasted unnecessarily? I mean, that's a dangerous question. I don't know if we have enough time. But I'm going to give you a shot.

Quincy Branch: Right. I was going to say, and plus, I don't know who's going to listen to this. But at the same time, I think like anything else, honestly Joe, we probably... We asked ourself that question probably about a year ago now. And because of that, I'll say with COVID we were probably wasting too much time in agency just on inefficiencies. Just with process inefficiencies. And not really embracing technology the way that we should have been. And I'm pretty sure you probably know this to be the case, where our technology platforms were one of those things where we had the Cadillac, but we were driving it like it was a Pinto and it's like not taking advantage of those certain things.

Quincy Branch: So, we really have, man, over the last 12 months or so with this COVID grace time just taken time to step back and really just sort of realign ourselves and say, "Okay, no. We're going to do this smarter. We're going to implement this." And so, had you asked me that 12 months ago, I probably would have started crying, but now we got light at the end of the tunnel.

Joey Giangola: All right. Well, then I have to know this. When did you stop crying? What was the thing that said, "I think I've finally found my way."

Quincy Branch: Well, I think probably we're still in the midst of it, but really probably maybe about nine months ago.

Joey Giangola: All right.

Quincy Branch: And I'll say that only because like I said we had that epiphany moment, like oh my gosh, we're not doing all this, and that's the part that you cry. You're like, "Ugh!" But after that, I got to admit, I got some really good, strong leaders within the organization, and so we rallied around that and came up with a plan, and after that I stopped crying. It's like, "Okay, we got a plan. Let's continue to implement it." And we are probably maybe about another 60 days away from where we were 12 to 15 months ago, to saying, "Okay, this is where we wanted to be with implementation of everything." And so, there's light.

Joey Giangola: So, what was that thing? What did you mark down, sort of pin up on the wall, to where is that place that you wanted to be? Was there sort of a guiding mission?

Quincy Branch: Well, I think it was more so a couple things. And even our theme for this year as an agency, we're calling it this is our gap year. This is our growth, automation, and process year, so those are the things that we're focusing on. And really, it's one of those things where we really wanted to make sure that our processes were buttoned up, and so all three of our departments went through this major undertaking of just revamping all of our processes. And right now I'd say again we are literally about 60 days away from saying, "Okay, all that's buttoned up."

Quincy Branch: We wanted to automate and optimize some of our technology. Like for example, we're an applied agency with Epic, and we were not maximizing Epic to the best of its ability. But now we've added a couple more widgets. We're going to be putting in [Indio], we're going to be putting in Salesforce, so I'm really excited about some of those things that we're putting in. It's been a pain up front, but it's really going to help us out long term.

Joey Giangola: Do you have a little applied hack for anybody? The one thing, little tiny thing, that you sort of found, picked up on, that made a big difference? Is there any little thing that you can point out? Highlight?

Quincy Branch: Have someone internally that really understands and embraces this stuff, and not at the agency-owner level. Because if that person had to be me, Joey, we'd probably still be sitting where we were sitting at 12 months from now. But again, my hat goes off, I have an amazing operations technology officer, and he has really taken this initiative and ran with it. Again, our agency would not be where we are today if it wasn't for him helping us put this in.

Joey Giangola: Well, Quincy, you said something that is I would say relatively unique to most insurance agencies, and that is technology officer, so I don't know if... Do you realize that that's a somewhat unique position? Because I don't think most agencies have that.

Quincy Branch: No. See, I would think just the opposite. And I guess just given where everything is going now, to me if your business, whether it's insurance or not, Joey, is not embracing that aspect of it, you're going to be behind the eight ball, and behind the curve. To me, gone are the days where just having a website and a social media presence considers you a technology agency. Our goal is really to be a digital agency in every sense of the word. And so, we are well on our way of doing that.

Joey Giangola: I guess for one, how long have you had that position and what sort of triggered you to say, "Listen, we need somebody in this capacity guiding the ship?"

Quincy Branch: About three years ago. I actually started to recruit him, if you will, and we went through about a six to nine-month recruiting process. He was working with us doing some smaller IT stuff on the side, and I think we both sort of felt like there was an opportunity for some alignment, but obviously he had to make a major decision. Strictly, he was in a totally different industry. Not insurance related at all. And so, he came in about two years ago now and just jumped in both feet, and has really been leading the charge as far as cleaning our security up, as far as optimizing where we're at with we switched over from TAM to Epic, so that right there is a fun task in itself.

Quincy Branch: So, and then from there, like I told him, my main thing was I didn't want to be one of those agencies or the agency owner that just always found the new, shiny object, but then after a minute just stopped playing with it. So, I wanted us to make sure that whatever we got, we actually had adoption with it and we actually integrated it into our operations. And so, he's really been the person that's been holding me accountable to make sure that we do that, and really holding all of us accountable to make sure that we do that. So, his main component is if we put a new process in, okay, is there technology that can help with that? Okay, we put a new workflow in. Okay, what can the systems that we have in place today really do to help with that?

Quincy Branch: And again, not to replace people. Sorry, I want to be very clear. We still are human. We still touch stuff. But you know, that's really our thing. How can we work smarter and not harder?

Joey Giangola: Yeah. So, a couple things from there. One, how do you sell somebody on insurance in the technology capacity? To say, "Listen, it's okay over here. Why don't you come out and play?" And then two, how do you make sure the toys get played enough to where they feel worn, broken in, and like you actually really have gotten the most out of them?

Quincy Branch: Well, I think one was not so much about the insurance space when we talk about that recruiting in technology, especially with that one particular person, or any other people. Which is more so selling the why, and I think for him especially in particular, Joey, he was more in line with the, "Okay, I'm taking a business from here to here." It just happens to be insurance. And so, okay, that's just a component of it, and I joke with him all the time now, but because of his immersion in it, he can talk direct bill, and agency bill, and everything else like he has an insurance license. And he even told me, he said, "Man, I think I might even want to get my license pretty quick, just to have it, just to be around it."

Quincy Branch: But really, we've done so many things gearing up to that, just business related, I think he's just been more excited and pumped up about that aspect of it. And then I think internally for us, again, that was one of the biggest things we wanted to make sure that we did, was not just roll out a product or a platform or whatever just because someone said, "Oh, we got this. Oh, yep. This happened. Roll it out." We really wanted to make sure it made sense. We really wanted to make sure that it spoke to the why of what we were doing. So, I think when we talk about internally, we've gotten some really good adoption with our technology, and that's old, and that's young individuals alike, because we've just taken the time to say, "Yes, this is not the next greatest thing." No, this is what we're doing. Here's why we're doing it. Here's why it makes sense to your process. Here's why it's going to make your life easier. Here's why it should make your life easier. Okay, let's run with it.

Joey Giangola: I don't know if you're going to have an answer for this. I'm curious. What's the thing that's the shiniest out there right now, that you think is maybe causing more harm than good in terms of distracting agents from things that maybe might be a little more cost effective, beneficial?

Quincy Branch: Man. You can go so many different ways with that, because I just think I don't necessarily have one specific item, but I think Joey just that agency management systems, raters, technology platforms for communication, social media, to me there's so many different shiny new objects out there. If you're not just focused on, "Okay, who do we want to be as a business, as an agency, and how does that fit and work with it?" Yeah, you're always going to be chasing. And I can truly admit, I was that person. I would go to a conference and back in the day, pre-COVID, when conferences happened, you hear a seminar, you're like, "Oh my God, that was awesome." Come back to the office. "Yep, we're going to sign up for this and do this."

Quincy Branch: And then six months later, where's that product? I don't know. What are we doing? Have no clue.

Joey Giangola: How hard of a habit was that to break?

Quincy Branch: Extremely hard. And only because I was in that space where one, my mind, Joey, is always thinking, trying to think ahead, and wants to say, "Okay, I know where we're at today, but this is what I want us to be." But I also had to take a step back and realize that one, dial it back from that standpoint, but then also dial it back and realize that me, I'm not necessarily the person that needs to be or can be the person that walks this all the way out to fruition. I think that was also the pressure that I was putting on myself, like, "Okay, well hey, yep, we're going to get this shiny new toy, but I got to be the person that plays with it, I got to be the person that cleans it, I got to be the person that puts it back up."

Quincy Branch: When I realized, "No, you be the idea person. And you give the why, why we're doing this, and you let the smart people get in there and really figure out okay, this is what we're going to do with it." Quincy gave us the why, this is the what. And then we go from there. But it was really hard.

Joey Giangola: What does it take to trust somebody to kind of actually be able to catch that, take it and run with it, where some agency owners might be again, still reluctant to like you said, step or remove themselves from that process?

Quincy Branch: And I can't speak for everyone, I can only speak for myself when I answer this one. Joey, for me it's important that individuals that come into our organization buy into the vision. Yes, insurance is insurance. I get that. We can talk policies and all that all day long. But that person really needs to buy into the vision, because the vision is what's going to create long-term success, and then ultimately for me what's going to create trust. Because as the agency owner, yeah, I got trust issues if I'm just being honest, and rightfully so. I've been burned in the past. But at the same time, you kiss enough frogs, once they find your princess in this case, or your prince.

Quincy Branch: But I think again, if people are not coming in just to do a task, per se, but they're coming in because they truly do buy into the vision of the organization, then I think it's a lot easier for me as an agency owner to establish trust. Because now I know you're not just here for a paycheck. I know you're not just here to, "Once we get these policies sold, then whatever." No, you're here because you want to be here.

Joey Giangola: I guess the one thing I'm interested to know is, is there something that kind of through this time, where basically every agency has really had to take a hard look at what they're doing, why they're doing it, really expand their capabilities, is there something that you think you're going to hold onto tighter than maybe others, that's really going to last in the industry? That we've kind of learned through this time of saying, "Listen, we can no longer get by just doing it this way."

Quincy Branch: Joey, one, I got a quote on my desk, sir. Sitting here right now, I've been watching this quote for the last probably 15 years of my career. It just simply says, "Change is inevitable. Growth is an option." For me, that quote always is my true north in business and or in personal. So, to answer your question, I think a lot of what we're going to keep, COVID and all this time has taught us how to be adaptable. What'd they say, that the great Bruce Lee said, "Be like water." You know, and I think for me that's really what it is. We have to realize as the insurance industry to always realize to be like water. To always realize that okay, you know what? Clients change. Clients' needs change. And if we truly are here to serve the client, then our business model has to be adaptable.

Quincy Branch: I think also on the flip side, though, and I know you maybe will agree with this, our industry has stood the test of time. So, we're doing something right. And through all the recessions, and world pandemic, and everything else, insurance industry has stood the test of time, so we're doing something right. But at the same time, I think the way we deliver that can always be made better and can always be made different. So, that's our biggest thing, and that's the mantra that we're taking really out of all this, like, "Hey, guys. What do our clients want? How can we do business better?"

Quincy Branch: And I think just that mentality, Joey, we're going to take out of these times.

Joey Giangola: So, let's rewind back nine, 10 months ago, when you were potentially a little bit lost, maybe potentially sobbing into your own hands. What's something that you would say to your either future self or another agency owner who's back at that same point saying, "Listen, this I think is really the best, easiest way to get started if you have no idea, to kind of feel like you're on the right path to knowing some of those things that maybe don't matter as much and really digging into the areas that will ultimately provide more results."

Quincy Branch: Wow. I need a sofa, because that's sort of a counseling question there, Joey. But if I could tell a 12 month or a 15 month ago me what I know today, or even like an agency owner starting today, would be don't be afraid to take the boat out of the water and really figure out what kind of boat you want to have, first and foremost. You know, and I say that only because, Joey, I think again, we've had some success throughout the years. We'll be celebrating 10 years as an agency this coming June. But at the same time, we've always been building the boat at sea. It's always, "Okay, put patchwork here."

Quincy Branch: And I go back to it and I'm not trying to say this in a disrespectful manner to anyone that's been adversely affected by COVID, because we all have, but COVID really gave us a time to take the boat out of the water. And just say, "Okay, what do we want to be? Do we want to be a speed boat? Do we want to be a tanker? Do we want to be a tugboat?" Let's fix whatever want to fix, so when we put the boat back in the water this time, it's going to sail the way we want it to sail. It's going to go where we want it to go. I think 12 month ago me, 15 month ago me, I would just say stay the course. It gets better. And truly I say again, now I see light at the end of the tunnel. That's even for me personally, if I'm just being very candid.

Quincy Branch: I realized that, how to recheck my priorities, and not get so caught up in having to be here, there, and everywhere, and realized, "No. This is where I should be." And so, the last 12, 15 months ago, Joey, I've had more time, and more energy, and more focus, and more joy working on my business instead of in my business, if that makes sense.

Joey Giangola: Certainly does, Quincy, and you came close to answering this next question, but I'm going to ask it anyways, see if it's a little bit of a different answer, so I got three more questions for you, Quincy.

Quincy Branch: Sure.

Joey Giangola: And very simply, what's one thing that you hope you never forget?

Quincy Branch: Wow. To slow down. To smell the roses. To actually celebrate the wins and take in the losses. But yeah, to slow down.

Joey Giangola: Now, on the other side of that, what's one thing that you still have yet to learn?

Quincy Branch: Celebrate the wins.

Joey Giangola: All right.

Quincy Branch: And I say that only because the late, great Kobe Bryant, I sort of like and have that Mamba Mentality, where I'm always just thirsting and hungering for that next big thing, that next thing. But really taking time to just... Nothing grandiose, but just to celebrate. Just to say, "Okay. Whew, that was cool. All right!" So, still working on that one.

Joey Giangola: Last question, Quincy. If I were to hand you a magic wand of sorts to reshape, change, alter, speed up insurance in any way, shape, or form that you kind of see fit, what is that thing, where is it going, and what's it doing?

Quincy Branch: Wow. Magic wand. I think if I could wave my magic wand and sort of do a dippity-do Disneyland, I would solve the issue of diversity in our industry. And again, I don't know what that magic wand solution looks like, but I think our industry realizes that we need diversity, and I'm not just saying from race. For obvious reasons, I think there are gender, race, creed, color, all kind of different diversity aspects that we could be better at, and so if I really could, I would wave that wand to do that.

Joey Giangola: All right, Quincy. This has been fantastic. I'm going to leave it right there, sir.

Quincy Branch: All right. No, it's been awesome, sir. And again, I appreciate you.