You might not think of an insurance agent as a marketer. You might need to think again. I recently had an opportunity to speak with Stephanie South, a State Farm agent in the Richardson, Texas area. I found her business practice and personal dedication and love for her business to be interesting and impressive. But with Stephanie, it was the path that got her there that I found fascinating.
You and I might think of State Farm as a huge mega-goliath company, but Stephanie thinks of it as a family – a family of 18,000 members. According to their website, State Farm is huge. It has over 65,000 employees, 18,000 agents and holds over 81 million policies in the US and Canada. But Stephanie feels like all 18,000 agents are available to her at the drop of a hat. For her, it’s all personal. I think it’s an interesting way to feel about such a large organization. Here at bloomfield knoble we have a fun and close personal environment, but I can walk up and down the halls and see my work family. Hers is spread all over the US and Canada. Here’s what I learned from my conversation.
Q: How did you become a State Farm Agent?
A: I had been in the telecom industry for years, and 12 years ago it was less than stable. I was, and still am, on the board of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County and I started asking people there about other employment opportunities. One of the guys on the board recommended I consider being a State Farm Agent. One test and one year later I became an Agent for State Farm. It turned out to be the best decision for me – both personally and professionally.
Q: How did you come to be so strongly associated with Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County?
A: When I moved to Texas in 1998 I was looking for a way to meet people and get connected with the area. A co-worker recommended Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County. He was unaware that I happen to have a family member who suffered abuse as a child; so it sounded right up my alley. I started volunteering there 16 years ago and have been on the board now since 2000. I feel it was divine intervention that took me to Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County and that led me to State Farm. State Farm has been very involved with Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County projects and grants and we hope will continue to be more involved in the future.
I believe that when you give of yourself the pay back is 10-fold. I am always amazed at what I have gotten back by my involvement with Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County. It’s been fulfilling work and I would do more if I could.
Q: Can you tell me a bit more about the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County?
A: Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County is not a government agency. It is a freestanding 501c charity. We provide healing, justice and safety for any abused or neglected child and their “non-offending” family members for the life of a child at no cost. Child abuse affects the whole family. We provide financial support, counseling, emergency needs and job training and placement as needed for these families. In 2013 we provided support for 4,400 children. Which may seem like a lot, but statistically only 1 in 10 abused or neglected children are reported.
Q: What’s it like to be an agent for State Farm?
A: It’s very different from the high level jobs I had in telecom. There it was internally competitive and the higher you got in the organization the less contact you had with the client. At State Farm it is a very cooperative, team-sharing environment. We often talk to other agents in other parts of the country to see how they are achieving marketing success in their communities. And most important to me is the daily contact with the client as an agent.
I love how I am with my clients through all the phases of life. From the happy part of my job – watching young individuals get married and start their families – to the hardest part of my job, which includes the loss of some of our clients. I know where they live and care about them through all of their life changes. Last week when the tornado set down in Princeton I was in my own storm shelter with my daughter worried about a young family right in the path of the storm. Unfortunately, their home was hit. But fortunately, he filed the claim online and we are talking with them daily to get them back to normal.
Q: Who is your target audience?
A: Adults who own a car and/or property.
Q: What type of marketing do you do and what has been most successful for you?
A: We have found our best successes from direct mail and direct contact at events. My personal favorite is event marketing at apartments. We bring the good-neigh-BEAR (an actual character costume) to entertain the kids and bring breakfast for people leaving for work. We often meet 100 people in 45 minutes and have a good success rate with those personal contacts converting to clients. Another huge success is our referral program. We provide gift cards for referrals and nothing makes me happier than to send those out to my current clients. This is a personal business and the best vote of confidence I can get from my clients are their friends and family referrals.
Q: What changes have you seen in your business over the last 11 years?
A: This used to be a paper-intensive business. I am happy to say that the website now allows people to make more rapid changes to respond to their needs. And more importantly I have found that State Farm used to be a slow response to change organization. Today they are less “corporate” and more regional, therefore way more responsive.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
A: I enjoy the support I get from State Farm and helping new agent recruits figure out if being an agent is right for them. But what I really love is how personal this business is. I love the ability to know so many clients and I get emotionally attached to them. It’s nice to be able to provide help for all the important stages in my client’s lives.
Thank you to Stephanie for sharing her experiences. For more information about Stephanie, you can find her on her State Farm site at www.stephaniesouth.com, on LinkedIn or on Facebook. For more information about Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County go to www.caccollincounty.org or on Facebook.
Luann Boggs is the Vice President of Business Development for bloomfield knoble. She works with new and existing accounts as a liaison between client and creative. Her favorite part of the job is meeting and working with interesting and intelligent people. Her personal interests are family, friends, good books and travel including all 50 states and over 25 countries.