If insurance companies better understood what you have to offer, would they beat a path to your door?

Creating new strategic partnerships with insurance companies can provide a new market for a business and create a huge growth opportunity. Unlike most sectors of our economy, insurance companies don’t pick and choose times to buy goods and services. Insurable losses, for which they must pay, occur in good, as well as bad, economic times. Damage to walls and ceilings often occurs in the wake of tornadoes, hurricanes, vandalism, floods, fires, broken pipes and other insurable losses. Insurance companies obligated to repair businesses and homes covered under their insurance policies need the services and expertise of local wall and ceiling contractors—and more times than not, they need them yesterday!

Business policy

The insurance industry is largely an untapped market, despite the fact that it is almost in constant need of services for its policyholders. While most claims adjusters have a working knowledge of many trades, they cannot be experts at all of them. Beyond the Yellow Pages, many claims adjusters simply don’t know a great deal about many of the service providers with which they do business. Experts estimate that between 20 percent and 40 percent of all insurance claims require the claims adjuster to find and use at least one service provider or contractor with whom the adjuster has no significant prior experience. The challenge is to get out in front of insurers and let them know what you have to offer.

The first thing claims adjusters look for when evaluating a contractor is a competitive price. Competitive businesses are likely to do well in the insurance claims marketplace. They are likely to find that by giving insurance companies a good deal, they are able to add to their volume, more than compensating for the more competitive pricing structure. Many contractors have discovered that when other business is slow, insurance work can provide a good, steady income.

“In selecting contractors, we look at a number issues,” says David Narigon, senior vice president of Employers Mutual Casualty Co. “While costs are a factor, more important are experience and dedication to quality. We want to make sure that the contractor adds value to the claims process.”

Insurance companies don’t want to deal with service providers who do shoddy work. Second-rate repairs only serve to make policyholders dissatisfied, possibly resulting in lost business. A wall and ceiling contractor wanting to get into this market should be certain he has the capability to handle the work.

The impression that contractors make on policyholders is also important.

“The contractor must recognize that not only does he represent his own company, but also the insurance company,” says Narigon. “As a company that relies on independent agents to sell our product, the only time our customers generally come in direct contact with us is when they have a claim. Therefore, in the eyes of the insured, the contractor is the insurance company.”

“As a direct extension and representative of our company, we expect that wall and ceiling contractors who service our policyholders will consistently uphold our commitment to quality and accountability,” says K. Sue White, manager of property loss for Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. “It is essential that our wall and ceiling contractors provide a prompt response, superior workmanship at a competitive price, and demonstrate a profound commitment to customer care.”

Teaming up with insurance companies can be difficult. A lot is expected of a contractor before the partnership is formed, and much more likely will be required throughout the partnership. But once a relationship is established, insurance companies can become loyal customers.

“We seek a ‘full service commitment’ toward satisfying our policyholder needs,” says Peter Reid, Senior Assistant Vice President and Property Loss Manager for Amica Insurance. “We promise the best possible service to policyholders, and depend on our contractors and vendors to look at the big picture to fulfill the promise, not simply take a single assignment at a time approach.”

Easy contact

One way to catch the attention of an insurance company is to simply cold call on the telephone. Contact the local claims supervisor or claims manager and schedule a meeting in which you might give a sales presentation.

Wall and ceiling pros also may find it beneficial to join some of the same organizations that insurance claims people do. In this way, they can get to know claims professionals on an informal basis and learn what is important to them.

Another way wall and ceiling contractors can penetrate the insurance market is to take advantage of e-commerce. An emerging means of gaining access to insurance companies is through extranet Web sites where contractors can post information about their services. One site boasts that claims professionals from 900 different insurance companies visit it daily. These insurers are looking to locate contractors who can provide estimates and perform repair work on insurance claims.

The Web site is called ClaimsGate and members of the Property Loss Research Bureau, a not-for-profit, national insurance claims association formed in 1947, use it. In total, PLRB’s member companies have about 130,000 adjusters that use ClaimsGate. This is about two-thirds of the United States property and casualty insurance market and these insurers spend about $80 billion a year resolving claims.

Prior to ClaimsGate, penetrating the insurance industry market was difficult for small to mid-size contractors. ClaimsGate provides a level playing field that gives smaller businesses the same market access to the adjusting world as big businesses. For a fee, wall and ceiling contractors can sign up to be part of a network of product, repair, and service providers to the insurance industry. Once at the site, companies can click on the sign-up button and obtain a password. Once a member, a company enters its business information, such as what services it can provide.

ClaimsGate allows a wall and ceiling contractor to:

• Edit its company profile;

• Post its contact information;

• Choose the categories to be searched by;

• Edit the content of each page of its site by typing or pasting text or pictures;

• Change the site to a different look and feel by using new templates;

• Upload images or a company logo to the ClaimsGate site;

• Post a weekly or monthly E-Newsletter to be sent to clients and adjusters;

• Receive and reply to “Request For Proposals” from claims adjusters;

• Include links to other Web sites;

• Display a portfolio of work or a products line, and;

• Post a calendar of upcoming events or seminars.

The Web site is designed to give claims adjusters an efficient means of locating and communicating with the type of expertise they need, when they need it, at both the right price and with high quality results. ClaimsGate creates a communication tool that helps adjusters quickly find and select the best-qualified and most competitive services.

“We believe electronic search engines like ClaimsGate will replace more traditional search avenues,” says Amica’s Reid. “If we need a service provider beyond our usual, we’re going to ClaimsGate first to find providers interested enough to be on an industry site. We haven’t the time for endless phone calls and meetings to develop potential partnerships. When we have a need, we need solutions NOW. As we learn of new service providers, we expand their knowledge of who we are and what makes working for our policyholders profitable for them.”

The insurance industry can be an important customer for the wall and ceiling industry. Companies that wish to remain competitive and successful will find ways to reach this market through the formation of strategic partnerships.

“Wall and ceiling contractors who make it happen for our policyholders receive further assignments from us and direct return business from well satisfied customers,” Reid notes. W&C