Tag Archives: addis

The App That Keeps Your Goals on Track

In Summit: Reach Your Peak and Elevate Your Customers’ Experience, I explain why it’s important to set goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound.

Integrating technology into the tracking and organizing of your goals may be just the thing you need to stay on track, so I found a comprehensive, user-friendly website called Life Tick that uses SMART goals as the jumping-off point to achievement.

Once you’ve assigned your core values and SMART goals, the software provides an assortment of graphics and tools to keep you on track and motivated:

  • Charts and reports: This feature is excellent for the visually inspired goal setter. See your progress charted in a variety of ways based on criteria you set.
  • Tracking: You choose what gets tracked and how it gets tracked, whether it be how many times you worked out during the week, how many times you closed new business this month or how much money you saved this year.
  • Teams and groups: The software easily integrates goals for groups such as teams at work or family members at home.
  • Cheerleaders: You can invite loved ones or friends to view your progress. They will be allowed to send you messages to cheer you on the path to success.
  • Dreams: If you have a long-term dream that you are not quite ready to set as a SMART goal, you can jot it down, and the software will remind you about it later. You can convert the dream to an actual goal when you are ready.
  • Easy access: You can interact with the software from anywhere, anytime, as long as you have Internet access.

If you want to try it out free of charge or jump right in with their very reasonable subscription-based service, click here and give it a go.

 

A Brave New World: Move Away From the Commodity Trap

A controversial McKinsey Report, “Agents of the Future: the Evolution of Property and Casualty Insurance Distribution,” compares the impact of the Internet on travel agents to the proliferation of online insurance websites and considers whether the local agent will disappear if he continues to do business as usual. The report says: “Local agents are not in danger of extinction, but the role they play will continue to evolve. Those who can adapt to a new set of circumstances will thrive.”

The report talks about the dangers of online commoditization to our industry. From the thousands of agents and brokers I’ve coached, I know that the enemy is not technology; it is the dominance of the insurance bid … a commodity force that must be removed as the focus of the customer experience. It must be replaced by the risk-management process — a consultative and diagnostic approach founded on risk evaluation and mitigation … strategies to protect a family and business properly with the goal of reducing claim frequency and severity.

What does this mean for the insurance industry in 2014?

Insurance producers are tired and frustrated with competing in the “commodity trap” — the 90-day insurance bidding process. They are beginning to lose confidence in themselves because they are playing a game in which they have little impact on the outcome.

Commoditization is a battle that insurance agents, brokers and carriers confront each day. It occurs when the consumer perceives little or no distinguishable difference between products, services and resources — and when price has become the primary differentiator.

Picture commoditization as a disease that is eating away at insurance producers’ knowledge, wisdom and professionalism. It is so cruel and debilitating that it is stripping away the value proposition of even the most seasoned producer by reducing professional purpose to a number.

Time for a Q&A

To determine if your agency is affected by commoditization, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you losing your passion and purpose for the insurance business?
  2. Are you able to change the consumer’s perception of you?
  3. Are you angry and frustrated with the 90-day bidding process?
  4. When you introduce yourself as an insurance agent at a social event, do people treat you with dignity and respect? Are you perceived as a professional, trusted adviser, like a CPA, attorney or physician, or do consumers perceive you as an order taker?
  5. Is the insurance transaction, the 90-day bid, getting in the way of your ability to learn the customer’s business and its issues?

Solutions to combat commoditization

You may ask, “How can I stop being caught in this vicious game?” First, I remind you that you sell an intangible product. The less tangible, the more powerfully and persistently the judgment about the product can be shaped by packaging. You must position the package in a way to enable the consumer to change his or her perception about it.

Second, I ask you to consider three questions:

  1. To what degree does the small- and middle-market consumer have the time and ability to identify exposures? (0, low, to 5, high)
  2. To what degree does the typical insurance agent or broker assist his or her client with exposure identification? (0, low, to 5, high)
  3. To what degree does the small- and middle-market consumer enjoy the traditional insurance bidding process? (0, low, to 5, high)

Unless you’ve scored a 15 overall, your score gives evidence that you must stand out in a crowded marketplace!

Third, you must have a means to differentiate yourself by applying a consultative process focused on the identification, measurement and mitigation of risk. My personal formula is I3 (i.e., issues, implications and interventions).

When agents or brokers apply the I3 system, they improve their professional image, income and work-life balance. They discover a renewed purpose and passion for the business.

Fourth, if you are commodity-driven and chasing the 90-day insurance bid, you are headed toward extinction. Every day, consumers come face-to-face with transactional websites or agents. The surviving insurance agents or brokers of the future will transform themselves into indispensable, remarkable, trusted risk strategists.

The industry’s evolution?

Another industry study, conducted by Forbes for Zurich in 2013, supports the importance of a consultative process. In the study, 414 U.S. executives were interviewed. The study found that the majority of executives admitted that they were worried that they lacked knowledge of how to best mitigate risk; understand the sources of risk; and develop a sufficient risk-management budget. These are the same responses I’ve heard from small- and middle-market clients for years. The only difference is that most Fortune 500 organizations have fulltime risk managers, and middle-market consumers do not.

You can fill this void and serve your clients in a new, more consultative and diagnostic way.

When you serve as a risk strategist for your clients, you offer solutions that they cannot obtain if they purchase coverage online. As a risk strategist, you advocate for your client with the goal of designing and developing enterprise risk-management strategies. In other words, you find out what keeps your clients awake at night and take these worries away.

Secrets to success

Below are seven secrets to you help you implement future success in your agency.

  1. Value proposition. Summarize the reasons why a potential customer should buy your particular product or service, how it exceeds that of the competition and why it is worthy of the price she pays. Your value proposition of the future should be concise and appeal to the client’s strongest decision-making drivers. It must be an irresistible offer, an invitation that is so compelling and attractive that a customer would be out of her mind to refuse.
  2. Confidence. Wherever you are in your career, display the knowledge, skill and attitude to serve as a risk strategist for your clients.
  3. Criteria filter. Screen out price shoppers. Determine quickly if your prospective client meets or falls below your standards. Rather than taking a random approach to prospect research and qualification, make your approach disciplined and strategic. You know what is at risk!
  4. Unique process based on I3 — issues, implications and interventions. Focus on deeply engaging the client. Develop emotional connections with your clients that transcend price and product.
  5. Relational capital. Build long-lasting relationships. Understand that relationships rarely are pursued and captured. Rather, relationships are rooted in rich soil, consisting of a blend of mutual trust, respect and shared values. These relationships produce bonds and connections that enhance both parties’ opportunity to succeed.
  6. Servant leadership. Connect with others and find ways to make them more successful. Make your approach about generosity, not greed. Always show credibility, integrity and authenticity. The degree by which you practice relational capital and servant leadership will be evidenced by higher hit ratios, retention, referrals and cross-sell opportunities.
  7. Purpose and passion. Rediscover your purpose and passion for our industry. Love what you do, and touch your clients’ hearts.

When you begin to serve clients as a trusted risk strategist, you will climb out of the commodity trap. Using the I3 process is your best, most powerful tool to escape commoditization and thrive.

This article first appeared in Professional Insurance Agents Magazine.

Dare to Be Different: It's the Only Approach That Works

In today’s dog-eat-dog business environment, it is essential that you develop a strategy to stand out in a crowded marketplace… to separate yourself from your competition.  Simply put, to be different! 

Theodore Levitt, the renowned economist, professor at Harvard Business School and editor of The Harvard Business Review, had the following to say in his 1991 book, Thinking About Management:

“Differentiation is one of the most important strategic and tactical activities in which individuals and companies must constantly engage.  It is not discretionary.  And, everything can be differentiated, even so-called commodities such as cement, copper, wheat, money, air cargo and insurance.” 

Price is the enemy of differentiation.  By definition, being different is worth something.  Consumers are willing to pay a premium, redefine the buyer/seller relationship, erect barriers to the seller’s competitors and establish the seller as a trusted adviser when a differentiated platform offers perceived value in the marketplace.

Research on Brand Differentiation

Even with all of the attention paid to branding these days, more and more companies are being commoditized.  In other words, fewer and fewer are able to differentiate themselves through the eyes of the customer.  Commoditization occurs when the focus of the consumer’s decision is on the offering rather than the quantifiable difference that you bring to the business.  You cannot see commoditization.  However, it can be felt with a negative impact on your confidence, reputation, time, money and relationships.  Brand Keys, a loyalty and engagement research consultancy, analyzed 1,847 products and services in 75 categories via its Customer Loyalty Engagement Index.  It found that only 21% of all the products and services examined had any points of differentiation that were meaningful to consumers.    

So what is missing?  A differentiated value proposition supported by a unique consumer experience.

Differentiated Value Proposition

Value proposition is the reason for your professional existence.  It describes how you create value for others.  It makes you stand out in a crowded marketplace.  Without a compelling value proposition, you are ordinary and disposable – a commodity.  With a distinguished value proposition, you are unique and indispensable. 

Your unique value proposition must summarize the reason why a potential customer should buy your particular product or service, how it exceeds that of your competition and why it is worthy of the price they must pay.  The ideal value proposition is concise and appeals to the customer’s strongest decision-making drivers.  It is an irresistible offer, an invitation that is so compelling and attractive that the customer would be out of his or her mind to refuse your offer. 

Customer Experience Journey

What is the Customer Experience Journey?  It is the sum of all experiences that the customer has with you and your organization … the actions and results that make the customer feel important, understood, heard and respected.  Each and every customer interaction molds and shapes the journey.  While you may take great pride in the “features and benefits” of your offerings, it is important that you assess the degree to which you are stimulating the emotions of those whom you serve.  To accomplish this, you must deeply engage your customer’s emotions in addition to, and even above, their intellect.  You will hit roadblocks unless you are able to form an emotional connection that transcends price and product. 

Emotional connections are essential components of the journey.  Research indicates that more than 50% of the customer experience is subconscious, or how a customer feels.  The self-conscious brain is a fertile garden in which to sow positive seeds.  The mind is highly selective, processing millions of pieces of information each second.  Whether you realize it or not, you are touching the subconscious in each step of the Customer Experience Journey. 

In designing and delivering a Customer Experience Journey, it is important that you have a plan to engage the consumer.  Emotional engagement is the foundation of the customer experience.  People rationalize personal decisions first but make decisions based on feelings.  A great experience transcends the rational attributes of a product or service (i.e., price). 

Cecil Beaton, the English Academy Award-winning costume designer, said: “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose, emotion and imaginative vision against play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of ordinary.”

Dare to be different?  You bet! 

Work/Life Balance … Your Tightrope to a Rewarding Career

Do you have proper balance between your personal and business lives?  Or are the demands of your work infringing upon the quantity and quality of time you have with family, friends, hobbies, and community?

The following work/life balance quiz will tell you the degree to which you should be concerned about work/life balance: 

Work/Life Balance Quiz 

  1. Do I work 60 or more hours per week?
  2. Do I have little personal down time?
  3. When I get home from work, am I exhausted?
  4. Does there seem to be precious little time to enhance personal relationships?
  5. Is “fun” no longer a word in my vocabulary?

If you answered “Yes” to 2 or more of the statements above, you owe it to yourself to learn more about work/life balance.

The term work/life balance first appeared in the 1970s.  The expression means having equilibrium among all the priorities in your life.  It is interesting to note that state of balance differs from person to person.  However, if there is little or no balance over an extended period of time, the vast majority of people experience stress and, eventually, burnout. 

Persistent stress results in fatigue, frequent illness, eating disorders, upset stomach, headaches, forgetfulness, sleep deprivation, aggravation, and irritability with colleagues, family, and friends.  Research indicates that the workplace has become the single greatest source of stress.  Let’s look at a handful of scenarios that create stress in the workplace.  Do any of these statements belong to you?

  • I have little impact or control over decision making
  • My expectations of work performance do not meet those of my superiors.
  • There seems to be little opportunity for growth, development, or promotion.
  • My workload is very heavy, requiring long hours and infrequent breaks.
  • My role is not clearly defined.
  • The level of communication within my firm does not meet my level of satisfaction.
  • I am involved in routine tasks that offer little or no professional stimulation.
  • My work environment is unpleasant.

Today’s intense, competitive business climate has created corporate cultures that demand more and more from agency principals, sales managers, producers, account managers, claim consultants, loss control specialists, and customer service representatives.  To get ahead, 60-to-70-hour work weeks appear to be the new standard.  Work overload has been exacerbated by computer technologies that were intended to make our lives easier.  Technology has allowed our clients to view the insurance and risk management profession as a 24/7 business, making the achievement of work/life balance very challenging.

History
In the early 1920’s, the average work week was 50 hours including a full Saturday work day.  Soon thereafter, pressures were put on businesses to cut Saturday to half a day or have the day off completely.  The ability to have two days of rest was unprecedented.  However, by 1927, half of all employers adopted this new practice. 

This new practice was short lived.  Beginning in the late 1920s, advertisers persuaded Americans that happiness would not come from leisure rather from the purchase of commodities – the mentality of “consumerism.”  Social scientists believe that this point in history radically changed the way Americans view life and work.  A shift from scarcity to consumption was adopted – a state of being that has grown stronger over the years. 

In the 1980’s, the computer revolution increased the demands of employee output.  It also brought new complaints of work/life balance-related stress.  The cases of stress and depression jumped dramatically during this timeframe.  As an example, the number of workers’ compensation claims from “mental stress” rose from 1,844 to 15,688 cases in the state of California alone from 1980 to 1999.  There was also a significant increase in workplace violence and absenteeism.

Burnout
Burnout is the last act of the stress cycle.  Stress turns into burnout when one suffers a loss of physical and emotional resources too great to be replaced.  When our coping efforts fail to produce results, we are prone to crash and burnout.  Burnout triggers include overwhelming workload, lack of support and reward, loss of control, and interpersonal conflict.

Burnout develops from a condition of endless, chronic stress, in which emotional resources are stripped away until there is nothing left to counter the drain.  It is the gradual depletion of an individual’s pride, purpose, and passion.  The result is a three-way, mind-body shutdown as evidenced by:

  1. Emotional exhaustion
  2. Physical fatigue
  3. Cognitive weariness.

The financial services industry is a main culprit of burnout.  Pressure to perform in our industry requires significant time, energy, and commitment.  Conditions of burnout continue to rise at an alarming rate in the field of insurance and risk management. 

Strategies to Achieve Work/Life Balance
You must make room in your life to take care of your physical and mental well-being.  It is essential that you attempt to balance all priorities of your life.  The following represent 10 suggested strategies to achieve work/life balance:

  1. Self Awareness.  The first and most important step to achieving proper work/life balance is your understanding of the importance of mind, body, and spirit.  Being “aware” will allow you to monitor stress levels, see danger signs, and take personal responsibility for your physical and mental well-being.  As your self-awareness grows, you will gain a sense of confidence over work/life balance.
  2. Support from Family and Friends.  In our great quest for balance between work and life, there is perhaps no more important attribute than your relationships with family and friends.  Getting the family aspect of your life right will enormously help you achieve and maintain life-to-work balance.  Support and encouragement from friends is also essential.  As you embark upon strategies to improve work/life balance, begin by turning to family and friends.
  3. Nutrition and Exercise.  Physical stamina is not a luxury in today’s fast-paced business climate – it is a required element for high performance.  Your mind and body cannot operate at full potential if you have poor nutritional habits.
  4. Exercise is also an important strategy to work off stress.  Exercise is essential to being healthy.  Choose an activity you enjoy.  Possibly one of your hobbies can be combined with an exercise program.
  5. Hobbies.  You may be so busy with work that you no longer have time for hobbies.  Having a hobby is essential to work/life balance.  It lets you escape from the rigors of work to focus upon something you enjoy.  Time completely absorbed in an activity unrelated to your business will do wonders for your productivity.  It will also give your mind and body a well-deserved rest from work.
  6. Recovery Strategies.  Professional athletes plan recovery cycles into their intense training programs.  They understand that their mind and body need time to recuperate from strenuous activity.  Work is no different.  Your work/life balance plan should incorporate recovery breaks into your daily or weekly routine.  These can be anything from a 5-minute walk at lunch time to dinner and a movie with family and friends to a weekend golf game.
  7. Sleep.  Sleep deprivation is a major issue for people under stress.  If you make it a habit to skimp on sleep, you may not even remember how it feels to wake up fully rested.  Sleep is an essential ingredient to work/life balance.  Make sleep a priority for a week and see how it impacts your performance.
  8. Stuff.  For many people, it is the “stuff” in their lives that causes stress.  Stuff runs the spectrum from unfinished projects to personality clashes with co-workers to a messy office.  Too much stuff depletes energy and causes stress and anxiety.  Stop and recognize all the stuff in your life.  You will gain immediate confidence and clarity as you begin to remove the stuff from your life.
  9. Learn How to Say “No.”  High achievers get ahead by taking on projects and handling them efficiently and effectively.  Far too often, the same high achievers are the go-to people in the office.  It is logical.  If a high achiever is so good at projects, let him or her handle more and more problems and issues.  If you are a high achiever, you must learn to say “No.”  Do not let someone else’s problem or responsibility become yours.
  10. Time Management.  You have heard the term “time management” a thousand times.  You may not have a time management issue.  Rather, you have become so conditioned to multi-tasking that you have forgotten to do just one thing at a time.  Your ability to focus on one issue at a time will reduce anxiety and stress.
  11. Rearranging Priorities.  Work/life balance means having equilibrium with all priorities of your life.  Please consider a simple exercise.  List the priorities of your life from 1 to 5.  Your priorities may include personal interests, family time, hobbies, and exercise.  Now, analyze the percentage of time you currently spend on these priorities.  It is likely that you experience frustration from the fact that your priorities are out of order.  Rearranging your priorities and designing a plan to measure progress is an important component of your work/life balance plan. 

Work/life balance is essential for a rewarding career.  You owe it to yourself to make sure that the proper balance is in place.