As more businesses rely on digital tools to communicate with customers, it’s essential for independent insurance agents to make sure they can provide excellent digital experiences for customers.

Enhancing the digital customer experience includes things like creating a modern website and implementing tools that let customers contact you how and when they want. Often, this means bridging the gap with technology solutions or partnering with a vendor.

But with all the different options out there, choosing a vendor can seem overwhelming. How do you decide which solution is right for your agency?

Here are a few of the things I advise agents to do when evaluating a vendor.

1. Map out your agency’s needs

When considering any vendor, it’s essential that you take the time up front to know whether they’re the right fit to meet your needs.

To do this, you must have a clear picture of what your agency needs and what you are trying to accomplish with this purchase or partnership. What are the pain points you want this vendor to solve? What systems and processes do you have in place that this product must integrate with?

List out your required “must-have” features. Then list the features that would be nice to have but are negotiable. Finally, list the features you’d be willing to give up. This list will help you narrow down your options and keep you focused on what’s most essential so you can narrow your search down to vendors who’ll be the right fit.

2. Understand what you’re getting for your money

After you’ve mapped your agency’s needs, research vendors and compare their offerings to see how well they align with your requirements.

Use your “must-have” list to evaluate the options. If the offering doesn’t meet your requirements, move on. For example, if you’re looking for an e-signature tool, make sure it works with the carriers you write the most business with.

As you narrow down your options, ask for a product demo. Make sure you understand exactly what the vendor provides and how your partnership would work moving forward. You might ask questions such as:

  • How will the vendor’s offerings integrate into your agency’s workflow? For example, how does that agency management system handle the types of business you write most?
  • Is that SEO vendor writing original content, or do they expect you to do it?
  • What are they setting up once, such as claiming your Google business profile, and what are they managing on an ongoing basis, such as PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns?
  • What resources do they have to help you and your staff get trained to use the service or tool?
  • Will you have a dedicated person working on your account? How often will you be able to touch base with them? For example: Is there time included each month for them to update your website, or does it cost extra every time you ask them to do something?
  • Will this product be able to grow with your agency? Are there features you can customize or add on if you need them?
  • What kind of feature enhancements are in the works? Are there any substantial changes coming to the product?”

3. Decide how you will measure success

Once you’ve signed on the dotted line, how will you track the impact of the vendor on your business?

Part of this depends on your goals for using the vendor. Are you hoping to attract/retain more new customers? Increase efficiency? Save time?

If the vendor aims to grow your business through various means, it’s critical that your agency obsessively tracks where your business comes from. For example, are you tracking leads from those optimized landing pages on your new website? Are you monitoring any changes in customer referrals? Or noting increases in people calling you because of positive online reviews? Is everyone in your office asking customers detailed questions about how they found you?

Or, if the goal is to increase efficiency or save time, are you tracking the impact on your internal processes and time savings?

To paraphrase what an agent once told me, “If you’re not tracking results, the only thing you’ll know is that you’re writing a big check to a vendor every month.”

This article first appeared in IA magazine. Find a shortened version of this article along with many other tips for using digital adoption in our new e-book, Digital, Accelerated: The Essential Guide for Independent Agents.