In the early days of the internet, a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management said something to me that’s been rattling around in my head ever since: “Once you can manage something by wire, it doesn’t matter how long the wire is.”
The professor, Mohan Sawhney, was referring in particular to the possibility of managing factories from a great distance, but his insight from the late 1990s describes so many other possibilities, too. Basically, once a process becomes digital, you can do it from anywhere — and COVID-19 is greatly accelerating the digitalization of insurance processes.
So, let’s ponder for a moment what has historically been done face-to-face that will now be done remotely. Lots has been written about the surge in telemedicine, and that’s certainly an important trend that seems likely to continue, but that’s just the start. Remote handling of claims and sales will get a big boost from our experience during the pandemic and, perhaps, fear of future ones. So will an area I hadn’t thought much about until recently: property inspections.
Telemedicine has dominated the “tele-” discussion for good reason. We’ve been social distancing for months now, but people still need medical care beyond COVID-19, and a lot have realized that a doctor doesn’t have to say, “Stick out your tongue, and say ‘aahhh,'” to diagnose and treat many issues. Telemedicine had already been proven as a concept. It was just being held back by regulatory issues such as how to license doctors communicating across state lines and by the sort of uncertainty that comes as any truly new approach is adopted. So, when COVID-19 demanded remote treatment, telemedicine was ready.
Telemedicine is so much more convenient for both doctors and patients that it will continue to grow, though I see it becoming an integrated part of healthcare rather than a separate form of care. A doctor can’t fully evaluate me remotely, but if tele-visits become part of my relationship with my primary care physician, they could remove any worries I might have while helping the doctor spot problems sooner than he or she would if we waited for my annual seven minutes in front of the doc. Similarly, telemedicine capabilities could be added to what on-site clinics offer at many bigger companies. Telemedicine is already starting to be done to triage injured workers. I can imagine plenty of uses in caring for mental health, even beyond what’s possible via phone hot lines; a sympathetic face can mean a lot. Elder care seems promising, too — just looking into a nonagenarian’s eyes and talking to him or her for a minute can tell you a lot. (My mother, who just turned 90, still beats most of us at bridge online, so I’m excluding her from the possible beneficiaries of any acuity assessment.)
(If you’re interested in reading more about the possibilities of telemedicine, this article from McKinsey is quite thorough.)
Claims have been getting attention, too, because they were already heading in a do-it-yourself direction before COVID-19, and the trend has picked up speed. I remember how radical it seemed when Robin Roberson founded WeGoLook and we helped her promote her network of thousands of “lookers,” who were dispersed around the country and could go take photos of damage, saving an insurer the cost of dispatching an adjustor. But who needs lookers now? Everyone has a camera and, guided by a remote expert — on as long a “wire” as you like — can document the damage without the need for a visit by an adjustor. Claims will keep getting more “tele-,” and probably quickly.
Sales have been slower to go remote. People do much of their research online but have still finalized an awful lot of contracts face-to-face. Not so much now. Avoiding handshakes and wearing masks has taken a lot of the magic out of in-person meetings, even when they’re allowed. And, now that sales can be done remotely, we’ll have to see just how remote they become. I have a feeling I won’t see nearly so many “Insurance” signs in strip malls any more.
Property inspections have already gone a bit “tele-.” It’s now possible to have a drone fly around a house and take photos of the exterior while providing exact measurements, without making a guy with a tape measure spend an hour crawling through the bushes and climbing onto the roof. But that seems to be just the beginning, partly thanks to COVID-19. Startups such as Flyreel are enabling DIY inspections: You walk around your home or apartment, documenting everything that’s there while the expert on the other end of the video call asks questions. “Are those countertops granite?” “Could you go a little closer to the wall; I need to see if that’s dry rot?” You not only save time by not having to dispatch an inspector but wind up with a precise, video record of the state of a property — “Sorry, but no, that couch wasn’t brand new….”
Brett Jurgens, who is the CEO at an interesting “smart home” startup called Notion (and who introduced me to Flyreel), speculated that DIY could move beyond inspections in a way that blends insurance and maintenance. Why would you have to call a plumber, for instance, when you might be able to just call one, show him or her the problem and ask for advice? How many other visits could be handled remotely, perhaps as part of some sort of subscription service? (Free idea, independent of insurance, for someone: Having killed my share of plants over the years, I’m betting some “plant doctor” could sell inexpensive subscriptions for remote monitoring and advice.)
I think that Jurgens is on to something and that, if we let our minds roam, we can imagine all sorts of possibilities for remote handling of processes, well beyond healthcare, that now just have to happen in person. And that’s without getting into the sort of internal realignment that companies in the insurance industry will go through as they decide how much work will be done in the office and how much can be done from home — another topic for another day.
P.S. Here are the six articles I’d like to highlight from the past week:
How companies respond to these changes in workers’ comp may determine their survival in a challenging economic environment.
The evolution is unstoppable because innovation benefits both the insurance markets and the underlying consumer.
Take this time to plan how to restructure your business. As things settle out, you need to have permanent adjustments ready to go.
An uncomfortable reality is that a TRIA-style “make available” requirement would separate policyholders into the haves and the have-nots.
In the New Normal, you cannot do as you did in the old normal, just harder. You need a new approach to strategy.
We can’t expect collective, nationwide resilience to flood events without innovation from FEMA and decisive action from Congress.
If empathy is the ability to experience some of the feelings of pain that another person is feeling, then compassion is the ability to translate that feeling into action. Empathy and compassion are two qualities that can fundamentally transform the growth trajectory of your sales organization.
Dear Sales Leader, For the sake of your people: Read. Digest. Apply.
1. Get to know your people. They are human beings. They have lives outside the office. Respect that. If they have small kids, perhaps they’d appreciate a little flexibility on that Monday 9am or Friday 3pm sales meeting. Particularly during the summer months. Assume the best at all times. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Provide some breathing room, and you’ll receive their support 10x in return. A salesperson is not a number. Don’t treat her like that. Get to know each individually and as a group. What gets each of them out of bed every morning? What role does each of them play on the team? Trust me, they all play a role.
2. Be vulnerable. Especially if you have just started a leadership role at a new company. Sure, you’ve worked in many great companies and been super successful at those companies. But you haven’t done beans at this company yet. Sure, you have years and years of experience. You’ll have the opportunity to apply what’s relevant down the road. Right now, accept and publicly share that you need their help getting up to speed. You need their help understanding the business, the market, the product, the challenges, what’s been tried before and what has not. Be super-inquisitive. Don’t be afraid to ask why things are done a certain way if something doesn’t make sense at first glance. But remember, maybe there is a valid reason for it. Once you have absorbed it all, only then can you add real value. While you are doing this, continue getting to know your people.
See also: 6 Tips to Augment Sales and Prospecting
3. Walk in their shoes. Don’t just say: “I wouldn’t make you do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.” Actually go do it. You might learn a few things. Assign yourself a few accounts. Do some prospecting. Book some meetings. Take the call from that frustrated client. Take the feedback to the cross-functional partners. Close a deal. More importantly, close it out in Salesforce (or whatever CRM you use). Is it an easy process for your pepole? Experience a typical day walking in their shoes. Only then can you be truly emphatic. Titles don’t make leaders. Actions do.
4. Be there for them. Listen. This is important. Genuinely be there for them. If you have done 1), 2) and 3), then they will come to you as their leader. They will look for your guidance, help and support. If you have done 1), 2) and 3) well, you may find that your role as a sales leader morphs into somewhat of a counselor. That’s okay. Our role as sales leaders is to spend 90% of our time watching and listening. It is in these moments that you can apply your years of experience. Apply it. Share it. Leverage it. There will be times when your people are frustrated, and they just need to talk. Be there for them. There will be times when things are happening outside of work, things that they are dealing with. Apply empathy, give them some space, some flexibility, some breathing room. Nine times out of 10 they will thank you for it. Nine times out of 10 they will share with you what’s happening in their lives. You may even be given the priceless opportunity to provide advice that will genuinely affect that person’s life. That’s what gets me out of bed every morning. Too often we underestimate the power of a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
5. Earn the right to coach. If you have done 1), 2), 3) and 4) well, then you’ll earn the right. Your role as a sales leader is to make your people more productive and successful (in my opinion, both personally and professionally). Get out in the field with them. How else can you provide in-the-moment coaching? Newsflash: It’s often the tiny tweaks that you suggest after a client call or meeting that can translate into game-changing performance. Let people leverage your professional network. You’ve been in business for many years and worked for all those amazing companies, remember. Why have them struggle to find a way into the decision makers at their target companies, if someone in your network could provide a warm introduction? Be compassionate.
6. Celebrate success. Whether big, or small, celebrate it. And remember, it’s not just about the numbers. What are the biggest challenges facing each of your people? Celebrate their success. Recognize them. Salespeople are human beings. Sure, they get paid commission on those big deals but what if that’s not what motivates them? Maybe they are motivated by other things. A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what was expected.
7. Let them fly. There is no greater feeling than seeing your people embrace everything you have given them, all the time you have invested and watching them fly. Hearing them use some of your suggestions, seeing them get the expected reaction from the client, seeing them grow in confidence and seeing them pay it forward to those around them. This is why you chose a career in sales leadership, right? Back off slowly and let them fly.
See also: Agencies: Grow Sales AND Develop Staff
Empathy and compassion are two qualities that can fundamentally transform the growth trajectory of any sales organization. For the sake of your people, if it doesn’t come naturally, please keep trying. They will respect you for it.
Thanks for reading.