- Based in Tawas City, Michigan
- Founded in 1950
- 65% personal, 35% commercial
- 6 Employees
“Don’t just do what everybody else is doing. And really consider who you’re working with. At the end of the day, that was my decision-maker to go with Partner Platform and continues to be. We know and appreciate who we’re doing business with.”
When Cliff Miller bought Tri-County Agency in 2018, he knew he had a knowledgeable and committed staff that served its clients faithfully for over 65 years. But he didn’t see the same high-caliber effectiveness and efficiency in his management system.
In a search for a real partner focused on growth and improvement, Cliff was introduced to the Partner Platform team. A well-timed introduction and a road trip to Columbus gave Cliff and his team exactly what they were looking for: a system that worked for them and a team that did, too.
Tell us about Tri-County – what makes you stand out in your industry?
Tri-County has been serving Northern Michigan and the surrounding areas since 1950. I was introduced to the agency in 2011 when I came on as a producer and ended up taking over in 2018. We are about 65% personal and 35% commercial, and we’re looking to grow that commercial side in the next few years.
As an agency, we’re a small crew with high passion and deep knowledge. We’re all invested in providing the best protection to the individuals and businesses that come to us, and we have the experience and education to do just that. It’s uncommon for small agencies like ours to have the level of knowledge we do, and that’s what makes us unique. We’re able to navigate complex risks and help our clients make some tough decisions. We’re proud to be able to help them through those moments.
What prompted you to consider upgrading your management system experience?
When I came on as a producer in 2011, we had been on our old system since the 90s. When I took over, I knew we needed something better. As a system, it was outdated. Though the provider had a planned upgraded system coming, we didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into a new system we didn’t choose ourselves. So, we started doing our research and came across Partner Platform in 2019.
As an owner, what outcomes were you after in your search for a new agency management system?
From a system standpoint, ease of use and some key basic functionalities were important. But we also wanted to be intentional about who we were doing business with. That was something that stood out right away when we met the Partner Platform team. There was just this sense of “these are the right people.”
Was there a specific functionality that was top of your list?
One of the things that stood out in Partner Platform – and one that we knew we wanted – was the integrated accounting.
While there are agency management systems out there with a high degree of functionality, they lack that accounting environment. Agency accounting is complex, and what works for a “normal” business just doesn’t fit for us. With the integration, we can download policies, split commissions, and reconcile with carriers all in one system. Overall, the fact that accounting is supported within the management system is a vital component to our efficiency and confidence in accuracy. It’s a real game-changer that kicks us up a notch.
How did you get connected with the Partner Platform team? What were your first impressions?
I first heard about Partner Platform from a fellow agent who owns an agency in southeast Michigan. Eventually, I was introduced to (SIS Director of Sales) Jordan Owens and (SIS President) Michael Doran at the Michigan Association of Insurance Agents (MAIA) Conference. When I met with them, there was – for lack of a better term – a warmth about the conversation. We went to dinner and had a very open dialogue about what we were looking for, and they had a healthy view of what was going on in the industry.
After some further conversations, two of my staff and I took a road trip to Columbus (Ohio) and met with the team on-site. That sealed the deal.
How has your partnership with Partner Platform evolved over the years?
The relationship continues to evolve positively. It’s stronger today than yesterday, and it’ll be stronger tomorrow than today. The folks at SIS always support us. We engage with them probably once a week with a question or suggestion, and they’re always right there to listen and help us.
Also, the fact that I’m asked about to provide feedback specific to product development is mind-blowing. It’s one of my favorite things about SIS and Partner Platform. When my team has an idea, the Partner Platform team is all ears, and they make it happen. They know the system will never be in a state of completion – it’s constantly evolving to be better. And the team is interested at a high level, working to enhance and get better every day. That culture of improvement is fantastic.
What stands out to you and your team about Partner Platform today?
Beyond the focus on continual improvement, I appreciate the drive for integration. Even small things – like our recent integration with the Lightspeed phone system – can make a huge difference. With the Lightspeed integration, when a call comes in, we get an automatic pop-up with the client’s or prospect’s complete profile. All their information is right there, so we don’t have to worry about digging around to get them what they need. That makes the initial conversation a lot warmer and speeds up processes for our team. Eliminating those barriers with integration makes such a difference.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the industry in the next 5-10 years?
I see an incredible shift in ownership within the next few years. That brings risk but also a great deal of opportunity. Agencies will need to grapple with the constant change in technology and how they can integrate that technology while harnessing their valuable knowledge and experience. Technology can make things more efficient – which is essential – but it can’t replace that person who can guide you to the right solutions.
With direct marketing, the direct relationship between insured and insurer doesn’t exist. But the reason we’re here is that this is a complex product and a sophisticated financial investment. We can gain data from the technology, but you need that educated, personal interaction to assess risk effectively.
Agencies that wait for the phone to ring – who act as order-takers – are going to phase out of the marketplace. Agencies that wish to thrive will need to become more sophisticated; these “agencies of the future” will be held to a higher standard and in a higher regard due to their knowledge and experience. Agencies of the future will be required to move away from transactions and move towards process-driven activity. With the speed in which these changes are evolving, I need a management system provider that can keep up with the pace.
How do you see Partner Platform supporting you through those challenges?
It’s about continuing to evolve and enhance to stay relevant and thrive, utilizing the technology to become more efficient. Anything that Partner Platform brings to the table that makes us more efficient – so we can continue to focus more on conversations rather than paperwork – the better. I see that happening today, and I know it’ll continue far into the future.
What advice do you have for other agencies looking to upgrade their management system?
Don’t just do what everybody else is doing. Don’t pick a system just because it feels comfortable. Don’t be afraid to ask for something you might not see, but know is possible. And really consider who you’re working with. At the end of the day, that was my decision-maker to go with Partner Platform and continues to be. We know and appreciate who we’re doing business with.