Archive for July, 2005


OK, here’s where we separate the wheat from the chaff, to coin a phrase (!) — the dreaded workflow. So you got the prospect to the site with SEM or traditional marketing, you have a good product and presented the value proposition in an intelligent and attractive manner. Now the prospective enrollee is ready to “Apply Now.” Here’s where they lay their money down on the table and sign-up. And here’s where the vast majority of online insurance sites have crashed and burned. What follows are brief discussion points of best-practices gained from much trial-and-error with insurance workflow…


Open a new window for the workflow? I’ve seen it both ways and there are pro’s and con’s to both. My opinion? New window. That way if they do bail-out, they still have the main site open and might either try again, bookmark and come back later, or try another product.

Customizing quotes — This is supposed to be consumer-driven, so design the product with some options and let the customer decide. Remember, people like to buy stuff and not ‘be sold.’ Choices increase buy-in and eliminate buyer’s remorse.

Default settings — These are rarely a good idea. Definitely don’t pre-fill health underwriting questions to “No” (yes, I saw this done!)

Confirmation pages — Always a good idea, especially with critical data-points that drive premium or plan design.

Phone numbers — Yes, put a phone number on every page. If people get stuck for some reason, route them to a call center or other live support. And make sure the help desk notes the issue and routes the feedback to the Web designer so the page can be changed if appropriate.

Prioritizing questions – Think about it — if you were buying a car, would you want to be asked your home address first or what features in the car are you looking for?

e-signature — I’m amazed that there are still insurance companies struggling with this, over-complicating it, etc. It’s easy. If you want a model e-sig policy to give to legal and compliance, let me know and I’ll send you one.

Display and print receipts/apps/instructions, etc. — At the end of the process, go ahead and let the new applicant display their information. Give them instructions on how to print and save data. Send them an email receipt – or all of the above.

Thank you confirmation — At the end of everything, give them a quality thank you message with a “Close this Window” button — or better yet, use the grocery-line approach and present them with a small and simple ancillary sales item like a discount card, low-face life, critical illness product, etc. “By the way – good news!! You automatically qualify for…”

What about general workflow Architecture — the foundational stuff?

Security — Keep your Verisign logo or other security indicators in full view, prominently displayed, on every page right from the beginning. Trust is essential.

Drop downs and choice lists — Use these whenever possible. Don’t give people a chance to make a mistake or misinterpret something. Heck, just make it easier!

Embedded logic — Again, use whenever possible. Clean up your applications as they get filled. Generally, people don’t mind redoing an answer as they go if what they keyed doesn’t make sense.

Required fields — If it’s not required, it probably shouldn’t be shown at all (just adds to the clutter, like my mother-in-law’s entire house!) Only exception is marketing stuff — email opt-ins, etc…

Mouse-over descriptions — Always a good idea to help clarify important terms or concepts.

D’ing people — Try not to make the disqualification reason too obvious, otherwise they might be tempted to go back and change the answer just to get the policy, not understanding that their claims will likely be denied anyway for misrepresentation, etc…

Cross-selling at exit — A soft-sell on the Thank You page is a great idea. There are several proven methods for this, so don’t overlook this precious real estate.

Saving bail-out stats — You will need to know where people are bailing out of the process and try to reduce the frequency. It’s a fairly simple stat to keep.

Progress meters — Yes, people like to know how much more is left and, again, it’s a pretty simple bit of design architecture.

Save & Come Back later — Again, especially if it’s a longer process with more data requirements, give people the chance to pick-up where they left off if possible. Interruptions, calling a spouse for a data-point, system issues — stuff happens during a longer, more complex application process. Don’t penalize the customer.

A bit more miscellaneous e-app functionality:

Bar-coding if not using e-signature — A bunch of carriers do it this way if they don’t have an approved e-signature process. They transfer the data to the back-end, mark as ‘pending receipt of paper app’, and put a bar code on the completed app that the customer prints out, signs, and mails in. Then when the app arrives in the mail, they scan the bar code and that releases the data in the system for processing. Great work-around.

Mouse-driven ‘written’ signature — Sound a bit far-fetched. It’s not. I’ve used a couple different applets where I had a reasonably similar signature to a pen signature after only a couple attempts. Very, very cool.

Lastly, test the final results like a maniac. It’s critical that all data inputs and calculations, embedded logic, data-feeds, PDF-mapping, reporting and stats — everything — checks out completely. Don’t skimp on testing. Take at least a week and have several testing scenarios put through. Also load-test the software depending on the distribution scenario.

Hope this helps. Again, comments welcome. Next week: e-Issue and Online Policy Maintenance.


To review, the keys to selling insurance online are, 1. Search Engine Optimization and Marketing, both a ‘must’. 2. Effective site design is critical. Part 3 of this series deals with converting site visitors, specifically enabling them to take the action for which the site was designed

As with sales or marketing efforts in traditional mediums, the core value proposition, or ‘offering’, has to be attractive to the target audience of its own right. Even a well-designed Web site will do poorly without a quality product or program behind it. That being said, it is critical that the site itself does not detract from the offering.

Security and credibility messages must shout to the visitor, “You can trust this site.” “We know what we’re doing, and we’re doing it online to make your life easier.” Confidence in the site from an aesthetic standpoint should enhance confidence in the program. For example, prominently showing the VeriSign logo if you will be collecting premium or other fees is vital (above the fold, of course — see Part 2). BBBOnline is a trustworthy image as well. Corporate and affiliate logos also add “safe and secure” components to the look and feel of the site.

Once you have the product and branding in place, sequencing of messages and workflow is the next important aspect of facilitating conversions. The slightest misstep can result in a change of heart and mind — and a bail-out of the Web page. If the desired behavior is “Enroll Now” in the product or “Join Our Team” for agents or brokers, asking for the right information at the right time is essential.

Lastly, avoid the dreaded mistake of asking for too much information at one time. Overwhelming the user often results in a bail-out. An effective site is like an effective sales person – too much talking is bad, too much asking is bad. A give-and-take experience for the visitor will lead to the desired result. So a moderate quantity of content at any given point is just as important as asking a moderate quantity of questions.

Again, there’s a lot more to effective conversion rates, but hopefully these are some tips that will be helpful. If anyone has anything to add, feel free. Later this week: more on enrollment workflow best practices and e-signature.


Last week, I covered the importance of Search Engine Optimization and Marketing. This week — site design.

How important is it? Critical. The vast majority of Web front-end initiatives have crashed and burned because of poor site design. Think “restaurants” — if you didn’t like the aesthetics, would you stay and eat or keep looking?

Remember — your Web site may be the first and only visual image a prospective customer or agent has of your insurance company or insurance product. Make sure it’s a great impression. The site should be clean and professionally designed. Consistency is important, so type-font and graphics should remain similar throughout the site. Images, flash files, and other broadband features are bad. They decrease SEO effectiveness and slow the site down. And colors and illustrations should support your message. You don’t have to have a one-size-fits-all site if you design the site correctly. “Templates” are your friend!

Navigation design can make or break the site as well. As an example, studies show only 10 percent of users “scroll” down beyond the information visible on the primary screen, so long scrolling screens are not good because ninety percent of users won’t see the content “below the fold.” Links should be recognizable, prominently placed and most often open a new window. If you have a large site, perhaps a site map should be added so users can easily find what they are looking for. “Bread crumbs” are helpful as well.

And most important, fresh, useful content is a necessity. For the online insurance sales industry, that includes:

  • a clear, concise description of the product(s)
  • dynamic educational resources including relevant news and RSS feeds
  • an agent locator as appropriate
  • a product quote engine available to the agent or customer
  • online enrollment with e-signature
  • and, behind an agent login, an agent resource center and a new-agent enrollment system

Remember, even the greatest site is of no use if it becomes too complicated, causing users to bail-out. And let’s not forget it all has to be tied in with an insurance carrier’s existing back-end system.

In addition, all good Web sites should include a contact telephone number prominently displayed on the home page, a “Contact Us” section, “About Us” section, copyright and privacy disclaimers.

Obviously, I am leaving a lot of important stuff out so as not to give away the store. And sorry for the lingo, but I’m crushed for time as usual. But know this:

  1. Site design is a lot more complicated than people give credit (the age of the brochure-ware Web site is long gone). And,
  2. the competitive playing field over the next few years will clearly be on the Web, especially relative to sales and marketing.

A warning: Many insurance carrier execs are misled into thinking they can just turn over the process of Web-enabling their sales and agent enrollment to their in-house IT departments. Be careful. While they may have raw coding knowledge, what about design experience? SEO (see previous post)? Aesthetics? eApp Workflow? Back-end integration? Security and e-commerce? It seems outsourcing to a company with a reputation for designing, developing, maintaining and marketing successful online insurance sites might at least be worth considering. There’s a LOT at stake.

Next look for best practices in converting the site visitor to an insured or enrolled agent. After that, e-applications and effective workflow design leveraging e-signature.


It’s a brave new world out there for insurance sales. Companies adopting online sales systems seem to be jumping ahead of the pack. And if you take a look at successful online insurance sales systems, there are a number of given attributes that make them work. This week we take a look at search engine optimization and marketing, an attribute on which all successful insurance sales systems are based.

When people look to purchase something online – such as health and life insurance – the vast majority will go to a major search engine like Google, Yahoo, or MSN to locate Web sites. These Internet indexes use automated robots, also known as spiders, to analyze Web sites and rank them appropriately. The process of making your Web site readable to the search engines – and the resulting ability for prospective customers to find your site – is known as search engine marketing (SEM).

SEM should be considered and planned for BEFORE the Web site is designed, BEFORE any text is written, and BEFORE any programming is begun. Keywords need to be selected, studied for the frequency in which they are searched upon, and distributed judiciously about the text. Placement of keywords and phrases need to be weighed against placement of graphics in the Web site. Whether or not to use pay-per-click advertising and pay-per-submission needs to be considered.

It can be mind-boggling. That’s why it is important to either spend the time to become a search engine expert, or hire a Web development and design firm that is. So from the very start, your site is easily found in the search engines. Too often, SEM is considered after the Web site for the insurance sales system is completed, leaving the carrier wondering why its products aren’t being found – and then, hobbling together an SEM program hoping to make it work.

Next week, we’ll talk about effective site design for insurance.

Archives to 2005