Dick Valentine attended St. Ambroise University in Davenport, Iowa, on a football scholarship. He majored in business with a marketing focus and minored in economics. His dad ran a body shop in Dubuque, Iowa, where Valentine grew up. He worked in that shop during the summers he spent home while in college.
“I wasn’t any good at auto body, but it paid for college along with the football scholarship,” says Valentine, who was one of six kids in his family and had to pay his own way. It was in this body shop that he got to know his dad’s best friend, an insurance claims adjuster at State Farm, who often pulled his father out of the shop to take him golfing.
“I wanted to be able to do that,” Valentine says, laughing. Luckily, his father’s friend hooked up several family members with contacts at State Farm. Today, 13 people in the Valentine Family are employed by State Farm in one capacity or another.
“I’ve been with State Farm 37 and a half years, ever since I graduated college in 1986,” Valentine says. “At first, I was in claims management. Both my brothers started in claims and went on to open their own agencies. They were good at it, so I figured I would be a good agent too. I certainly had the confidence to do it. I also had three kids at the time, so I had no choice but to be successful, but I was turned down five times, until finally they felt sorry for me or got tired of me asking.”
In 1999, Valentine opened his agency in Romeoville, Illinois and he’s been the owner ever since. He has six agents working for him, including his daughter, Taylor Wilkens. “She has worked for me now for four years,” says Valentine. “She’s my office manager and also writes a lot of business.”
Valentine’s agency is now the number one producing State Farm agency in Illinois. They mainly sell auto, home and life insurance. Things are different now than when he first opened, however. Back then, you could open the phone book and start dialing without getting fined for calling someone on a do-not-call list. Valentine bought insurance leads a few times over the years, but the agency’s growth was mostly through referrals until last year.
Valentine explains. “This was the first time we started gaining traction from leads and converting calls into business.”
Valentine only buys warm transfers, not shared data leads because prefers not to compete with three or four agents. “Shared leads are just too labor intensive for our agency,” he explains. “My account manager knows what works for me. I’ve got someone who’s got my back at SmartFinancial.”
Every two to three weeks Valentine and his SmartFinancial account manager talk numbers. Apparently, his agency is doing better than most offices in terms of conversion rates. Valentine attributes much of that success to the support he’s gotten from his account manager: “I can email her any time, and she gets back to me right away,” he says. “SmartFinancial is a company that has great customer service. Other vendors are nowhere near as good.”
“Last year we averaged 239 policies a month and now we’re averaging 307 policies a month,” he continues. “Not all of that came from SmartFinancial, but the leads have contributed to our increase in sales without question!”
Valentine also cites authenticity as a reason for his success. He explains why they don’t use a script. “I let the lead first know I’ve been doing this for 37 years,” Valentine says. “I sell my experience. I then promise the best coverage and price. Leads are guarded when you first talk to them. I spend a couple of minutes finding out things about them, without talking about insurance much at first. I ask what they do, if they have kids. And then I educate them on coverages. It’s not a sales pitch at all.”
When asked what’s in store for the future, Valentine says, “I’m 60 years old. I’m not going to buy multiple agencies. We’re growing like I’ve never grown before in 24 years, so I am happy. We may expand our staff here but that’s as big as I want to get.”
3 Golden Insurance Sales Tips From Dick Valentine of State Farm
- You have to try new strategies with leads and see what works for you. These warm transfers work well for us, but not for everyone. Determine what works for you, and modify your agency to maximize your time and efforts with what works. I’ve been diddling for 24 years and these are the first leads that have worked for me.
- If you’re not working very hard, you’re not going to grow your agency. There is a direct correlation between the efforts you put in and what you get from those efforts. You have to invest time and hard work to succeed. If you work hard, you’ll grow.
- Don’t throw your agents out to the wolves. You’ll lose those people or they won’t do well. The key to everything is hiring the right people and working hard to train them. You can’t be too busy to do it. You have to put in the time and effort to train them to be successful. I train my reps on every aspect of insurance. I hired them, I'm paying them, therefore I train them. If they do well or poorly, the buck stops with me.