One of the biggest problems small agency owners face with marketing is that they aren’t seeing the return on investment that they’re looking for. They’ve never been taught to market and advertise like a small agency owner. Most owners look at marketing as an expense. That thinking is all wrong and doesn’t get many of us very far when we’re trying to grow our agencies. It’s true, corporate offices are experts on marketing their brand image. You may envy the corporate budget, but being small has its own unique advantage. Bill Gough emphasizes his keystroke therapy approach in their organization. He says the key is to write down your goals because everybody knows what they’re doing when everything is written down to the keystroke. This has been the key foundation that helps them utilize relationship techniques and direct response marketing to get ahead of the competition. Bill started with Allstate Insurance in 1984 working in a booth at the Sears Department store in Florence, AL. Fortunately for him, he had an outstanding manager (who he now realizes was his first mentor and coach) who got him off to a great start. He now shares his considerable expertise in securing returns in investment with small agency owners.
Listen to the podcast here:
Keystroke Therapy: The Importance Of Writing Out Goals with Bill Gough
I have the good fortune to be interviewing Bill Gough of BGI Systems. Thank you for joining us.
Thanks for having me.
Let’s go back in time a little bit because I know you didn’t start out as a marketing guru. How did you get started?
I was welcomed into the business world way back to 1984. I first got into the insurance business as a kid right out of college. I didn’t know what I was doing. I got hired by Allstate Insurance Company. For people that have been around in this world for a while, they might remember. Allstate had little booths inside of Sears’ department stores. I had the good fortune that I was hired by what I call my first mentor and my coach. I was 24 years old at that time. I had no idea of what I had been at the time. The lady that hired me did an excellent job of onboarding new agents. She taught me the importance of writing out my goals, writing out my plans to achieve those goals and the importance of once we get everything written out, to start taking action.
We added accountability to it as well. I got off to a great start in Allstate. She was so good at her job that she got promoted into the corporate culture and went all the way up to the vice president’s position. I lost her after a couple years. I got divorced. I started acting like a silly 26-year old. I had a lot of fun. I managed to keep my job, but I’m not a very good agent. After three or four years of that playing and goofing around, I started hanging around a better class of agents. We have a couple of guys in my area that we’re always at the top of the sales leader board. I had my first couple of years I worked towards the top of that leader board. I started hanging out with them a little bit and they were older gentlemen. They were old enough to be my father. They took me under their wings. I think it was good for them too, because we were all lifting each other up until I started competing with those guys.
The nice thing about Allstate is they do these wonderful recognition trips. You get to meet other top agents from across the country on these trips. I started hanging around some really good ones. After a year or two, I started hanging around the very best ones and then I became one of them. We rolled that way for a long time. I started building systems and processes. I got ahold of Mike Gerber’s book, The E-Myth Revisited. It’s a book that’s got to be read every year by entrepreneurs. If you haven’t read it in awhile, you might want to grab it off your shelf and read a couple of chapters. It’s always good reading.
I’ve been working for Allstate for all those years. Allstate is one of the best known brands in the United States. They teach us how to do brand marketing. That doesn’t really work well for a small business and entrepreneurs. I discovered direct response. I got introduced to Dan Kennedy. The first book I read of Dan’s was No B.S. Time Management. That first chapter changed my life. He had a little exercise he does in there in chapter one, teaching the real value of your time when you’re working productively on your business. I started reading everything and get my hands on with Dan. I started going to conferences. I started treating my agency as a small business rather than just a franchisee of a big major corporation. I started taking advantage of direct response, plus I was leveraging the big Allstate brands and things started working very well.
In 2007, I went through something that changed my life completely. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and that was the death of my son. He was 23 years old at that time and he drowned accidentally while we’re on a family vacation. In 2007, I’ve been in business for 23 years. I’ve done it very well for about twenty. I was at the top of my game. I was known at Allstate. We were just a couple of years away from being inducted into their hall of fame. I wasn’t a very good parent. I wasn’t a very good a husband. I was not a very good brother or son or any of that, but I was a hell of an agent. I was a hell of a business person.
What I decided I wanted to do was create a legacy and more of a life with significance than just a lifestyle. We started BGI Systems, we called it BGI Marketing Systems back then, now we call it Business Growth Systems because marketing is just one of the systems that we teach to insurance agency owners across the country. We’ve modeled our coaching, consulting, and info marketing business after the Bill Glazer-Dan Kennedy Model. We are coaching and consulting different groups. We do a lot of done-for-you services. We also put in something that was near and dear to me. It was creating this legacy for my son, we formed a foundation. A portion of every dollar that comes into BGI is now put into BGI’s charitable fund and we help support our members’ favorite charities, and granted scholarships. It’s been pretty rewarding when you start giving.
My second favorite book of is No B.S. Wealth Attraction. It talks about the hole you receive from, is often the hole you yield from. Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn, and some of the greatest philosophers in the world talk about this. I have found that to be true in what I’ve done. In 2008, I started BGI Company and we teach insurance agency owners and their teams how to grow their businesses with the same systems and processes that we used for all those years to take our business to the highest levels. It was so rewarding for me that I decided that I wanted to get out of the insurance agency business. We sold our three agencies and when we started BGI. I’m concentrating on this fulltime now.
It’s an absolutely incredible and inspiring story. You’ve had quite a few bumps in the road, what would you say you wish you knew when you started that you know now?
I don’t know if I’d change anything, Seth. It’s easy to say I wish I knew direct response marketing back in the ‘80s. That was probably the biggest thing. I wish I had probably got to that a little bit quicker because I was already looking. Things happen for a reason. I probably needed to have those bad years in Allstate. When I first got started, they gave us a recognition ring, it’s called Honor Ring. It’s a pretty nice ring and they keep adding little diamonds to it. The middle stone is a little stone. It’s either a sapphire, a ruby, or an emerald, and then the big stone is the diamond. The big diamond is given after you’ve won this award for 25 years. I won it for 24 years out of 27. I could take it to a jewelry store and have that emerald taken out of there and put a diamond in. I purposely left that emerald in there to remind me of those three years that I barely held on to my job. It serves as a good reminder. I wish I would have read more back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I didn’t really start reading a lot until 2004 when I got into Kennedy. I’ve read a little. I’ve read more than most average people. I really started reading a lot when I started listening to a lot of what Dan Kennedy and Bill Glazer had to say.
With all the success you’ve achieved, what’s your biggest challenge now?
One of my favorite quotes I like is, “Timing is everything.” The difference between a dinner salad and garbage is all about timing. The biggest challenge that we have is some of the insurance agency owners are going through some pretty tough times. That’s our market. The last three years had been strong. It’s like, the good times you need to be doing all things on purpose and during the tough times, you have to be doing a lot of things that you may overlook during the good times. Right now, it’s a challenge for us to grow. We’re overcoming those. We’ve put in some good systems and process for adding new members. One of the best things I do still is I hang out with other people in my peer group, people that study marketing, people that study sales. I keep educating myself and keep pushing forward.
With all of the information that you must get bombarded with every day, how do you stay on top of it all?
We’ve got specialists. One of the big breakthroughs that I had in my insurance career and it’s happened in 1999. I was doing really well. We were in the top 5% of agents all over the country. There was an agent that I was good friends with. We were in the same region together and he was the Tiger Woods of Allstate Insurance agents. He was it. I knew them all. I hang out with all the top agents of the country. I’ve been hanging with a lot of them at that time for five or six years and this guy happened to be in North Carolina. I knew him very well. He and I were having a conversation and it was a breakthrough moment for me. He was talking about his team. The way he was referring to them, I could tell that he had specialists in his office rather than generalists. In other words, in an insurance office, what you’re doing every day is you’re servicing the existing customers that you have or you’re trying to write new business with new prospects.
Those are the two big things and in front of those two big things are several things that fall under there. You really need two separate employee types, personality types to work that business. You need what I call Sales Superstars to work on a new business sales, especially to new prospects that you have little or no relationship with. The second type of specialist employee that you need is what I call the Customer Service Heroes. People call them CSR, customer service Reps. I call them customer service heroes because in my business and pretty much most other businesses, the easiest money we’ll ever make is the money we’re already making if you book a business. In the insurance world, that’s what we have. We have a big book of business.
In my business now, I have a book of business. I have a number of clients. They’re in my coaching programs, they’re in my done-for-you services and programs. It takes two different personalities for prospects and customers. The sales superstar, they’re better at closing. They can overcome objection. They don’t take no personally. The customer service heroes, they hold the customer’s hand. When the customer’s got a problem, they need to be nurtured. If it’s an insurance agent, they have a client, and they’re all nervous about it. They don’t know what to do. They’ve got a billing problem. They need to change services. Not that they can’t sell a few products here and there, they can, but for the most part, customer service reps are quote givers and order takers.
They know how to give a quote on a new product or service that you offer, and order takers and they present the price, but most of the time, they’re not really good at overcoming objections. Where a sales superstar is very good at overcoming objections. Customer service people can be taught how to overcome simple objections. They certainly can, but I don’t want to take my chance on those guys. There’s a third type of employee that I added to the mix right after that, which is what I call the Administrative Aces. There’s grunt work in every organization, there’s the entry level work. They support each of our customer service teams and my sales superstar teams.
I’ve done the same thing in my BGI company. We have specialists. We have a sales department and a service department. We have content department because we put out a lot of content. We have marketing and I have an executive assistant. In studying the Time Management book, I put some tools and processes and systems in place to how people get ahold of me and everything. It’s structured. This call here is scheduled now. In my office, my first appointment wasn’t until 9:55 and notice I didn’t say 9:30 or 9:00, it was 9:55.
My day was already structured and my day usually starts somewhere around 7:00 to 7:30 in the morning. It always starts with a meditation. It helps me get started. If it’s a stressful day, I can grab five minutes just to relax and do breathing exercises. That’s how I get stuff done. The day is laid out and I have great people surrounding me and I have these specialists. Everybody knows what they’re doing and everything is written right down to the keystroke. In other words, how we do things in our BGI business now, it’s down to the key stroke. If somebody left our business, then whoever we hire to come in and replace them or promote them into that position, they should be able to get trained pretty quickly.
You have become an incredible student. You mentioned your two favorite Dan Kennedy books. What are two other books by other authors that are some of your favorites?
Anything that Nido Qubein does. I’m a big fan of Zig and Jim Rohn. This book that Zig did with his son a few years back called Born to Win. My all-time favorite is The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes. I’m a Tony Robbins fan, too. He had a book about money, although I think it’s a big sales letter. Robert Ringer is another great author.
I greatly appreciate it. It’s a fascinating interview. I’ve got tons of notes. I’m sure everyone does too. For our folks who are resonating with what you were saying and want to learn more about the amazing work that you’re doing, where is the best place for them to go?
We’ve got a website. It’s BGISystems.com. I think there’s a free DVD on referrals. We teach a lot of stuff. Even if you’re not in the insurance business, it should be able to help any business owner or entrepreneur.
This has been Seth Greene with Bill Gough. Thanks everybody. Bill, thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you Seth. It’s been a pleasure.
- Bill Gough
- Allstate Insurance Company
- The E-Myth Revisited
- No B.S. Time Management
- No B.S. Wealth Attraction
- Born to Win
- The Ultimate Sales Machine
About Bill Gough
Bill is the author of the Insurance Agency Sales, Marketing, and Operations Toolkits, plus 3 books. His latest book; “Insurance Agency Success” will be available later this year. Bill has been featured in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, and many other publications. He has spoken on many of the biggest stages in the insurance and marketing industries.
Just like you … Bill has owned a local insurance agency for 27 years. For 21 of his 27 year agent career Bill’s agencies ranked in the top 1-5% of all agency owners in new sales production. He has won over 117 top sales awards, and was inducted into the Allstate Insurance Hall of Fame in 2011.
In 2008, after the death of his son, Bill Gough, III – Bill founded BGI Systems offering his toolkits and systems to agency owners wanting proven successful systems that guarantee growth while not killing themselves with added work or expense.
Bill is a true insurance marketing rock star and currently commands $1,500 per hour consulting fee with a 3 month wait list.