Tag Archives: thomas gay

Don’t Forget Your Best Strategic Weapon

There’s a lot in print and on the web about the concept of “engagement” and how it applies in the insurance and financial services sales process. We all know what engagement means at an everyday level as we work to connect with people in various ways or describe how someone is engaged or even engaging. It’s exciting when we hear of a couple becoming “engaged.”

In business, the word “engagement” has many applications, ranging from simply having an agreed upon appointment time (an engagement)… to reaching a deal, resulting in buying or contracting for some service.

When it comes to sales, client or prospect “engagement” needs to be understood much, much more. Engagement is a strategic asset or weapon when a professional intentionally and regularly stays in touch with their clients and centers of influence or trusted partners by connecting personally and relationally. Being highly engaged means the professional is staying focused with all these people in the continuing delivery of value, investing time, staying in touch every two to three weeks and building a deeper personal relationship with each person based on their individual interests and needs.

This type of strategic investment always builds trust, keeps the pathways open for serving added needs and finding new opportunities and always gains new prospect referrals and introductions.

See also: How Advocates Can Reengage Workers  

Research about engagement in the financial services industry brings some startling information to the table. The work by Julie Littlechild of Absolute Engagement of Toronto shows that clients who have a “satisfied” relationship with their provider have an overall loyalty rating of 99%, yet only 20% have actually provided a referral to their financial adviser. So they’re satisfied and are likely going to stay as clients, but only one in five has actually referred a new opportunity to their provider.

However, when the survey polled clients who felt their provider was very engaged, the results shift dramatically. These clients had a 100% loyalty rating, and 98% of these had actually already provided referrals to their advisers during the past year.

So, do the math: Highly engaged relationships provide more times more referrals than those where there’s less or little engagement. Now imagine you had all of your clients and trusted professional connectors feeling that you were in a real, connected relationship with them. What could that potentially yield to you in the way of new sales opportunities, month in and month out?

The national sales leader of one of the largest and most recognized Insurance companies in the world told me that “our competition really comes from inside… it’s the inertia inside of my firm…,” meaning producers keep doing the same things that they’ve always done and then get the same lukewarm results. All of that can be changed with added emphasis on training his teams on the importance and specific ways to create better engagement with clients and centers of influence

Today, insurance leaders are universally concerned about technology disruption… you know, the threats coming from startups like Lemonade right now, and Zenefits before. I know that any professional worth his suit can readily withstand these competitors by focusing on using his No. 1 asset: the ability to build highly engaged relationships with clients and other professionals that will increase loyalty and generate a multitude of new referred client opportunities.

As a producer, your best asset is your ability to strengthen each and every relationship in your network on a person-to-person basis to where trust is the glue and your personal connection provides the ties that bind. I’ll guarantee that no newcomer or technology can easily replicate what you’re building when you reach out and make a personal contact with the people in your networks every two to three weeks. That provides the inoculation against disruptors — essential if you’re serious about protecting and growing your business.

See also: MyPath: Engage the Next Generation  

Imagine how 30 to 35 of these important people would feel if you had a routine that showed them how important you believe they are. Imagine how they would feel if every two weeks or so you were to make an unexpected visit, send an email with something they are caring about, make a quick, unplanned phone call or write a short personal note of appreciation with no other purpose in mind but to make them know that you are thinking about them and that they are valued and important.

To build these engaged relationships, you first must develop a mindset of being a “giver.” To make it happen consistently, use tools to keep you scheduled and on track and systematically ensure that you’re staying engaged and in touch to provide meaning and value and create close connections. Then, as Robert Cialdini states in his noted book “Influence,” as you give meaningfully to people, they will have a desire to reciprocate, and if you teach them how to give back… with referrals and introductions, they will! Become one of the few getting excellent ratings for engagement in your industry, and you’ll reach every goal you have.

Someone once said, “Your network is the key to your net worth.” That statement has never been more appropriate than it is right now!

And I’ll add that engagement is the key to building your network!

No, Brokers Are Not Going Away

In 1997, the CEO of a Silicon Valley company told me I should give up on being an insurance broker and look for a new job because I was about to be disintermediated. Technology would let carriers and clients connect directly, and nothing I did could stop the movement of history.

Well, I ignored his advice, and the brokerage part of the insurance supply chain has grown by a factor of 25 in the past two decades.

But many people are now warning again of disintermediation. Was my friend just too early in his prediction? Will the doomsayers be right this time?

In a word, no.

First of all, disintermediation rarely happens as rapidly or completely as the technologists tend to think, with their binary, one-zero, on-off approach to the world. There are actually many more bank tellers today than there were when ATMs were introduced decades ago and were supposed to put tellers out of business. Remember when realtors were going to disappear, as buyers and sellers connected directly? Realtors are thriving. Even travel agents are still around despite the spread of sites like Expedia. There are only about 40% as many as there were two decades ago, but they deliver more value now, because they handle more complex problems or have developed specialties, such as exotic fly-fishing vacations that few have the expertise or confidence to plan on their own.

See also: Why Aren’t Brokers Vanishing?  

Insurance is even less likely to face disintermediation than bank tellers, realtors and travel agents because, if you think finding a fishing guide in Alaska is hard, try explaining how a workers’ compensation “experience modification” is factored or how the Affordable Care Act will affect the buying public if the new administration has its way. Even though the rise of comparison sites suggests that policies are easily comparable, they are not. It takes sophistication, based on lengthy experience, to help a client evaluate his or her needs and to sort through all the carriers and policy options to find the right fit. Product, price and relationship all have to fall into the right place at the right time.

Besides, as the founder and chairman of Insurance Thought Leadership, I have a ringside seat on the startups that are providing tools that will make the broker’s role even more important than it is now. In addition to the main site, where nearly 800 thought leaders have published more than 2,500 meaty articles on innovative ideas, we recently launched the Innovator’s Edge, which is tracking the more than 725 insurtech startups. I can say with confidence that the role of the broker will broaden for the foreseeable future.

Here are just some of the companies that will help ensure that all of us brokers have a Happy New Year – and many more to come:

RiskGenius – This startup, run by Chris Cheatham, uses artificial intelligence to instantly compare and contrast policy coverage and produce a report in layman’s terms. That helps clients see what’s going on. It also helps brokers keep track of changes in policies, making back offices much more efficient — serving clients better, at lower cost.

The RiskGenius solution plays into a trend that seems to be generally missed but that will be profound, in insurance and elsewhere. While some entire jobs will be automated — look at what robots are doing to many manufacturing jobs — the broader effect is that pieces of jobs will be automated. It used to be that every senior executive had a secretary, but as typing, some answering of phones, some scheduling and so forth have disappeared from assistant jobs, the span has become one assistant for every two, four or even larger numbers of executives. The same sort of winnowing of functions will happen with brokers, because of solutions like RiskGenius’. Brokers and brokerages will take on more strategic work as they let go of the more mundane tasks that can be taken on by technology.

Refer.com, run by Thomas Gay, likewise makes brokers more efficient as we prospect for business. While social marketing and social selling have attracted so much attention, but haven’t panned out, Refer.com scours the internet 24/7 to find topics of interest to prospects and puts them in an email format. The system prompts the broker about the optimal pace at which to send the emails, providing a high-tech, high-touch approach that can build the sort of referral network that brokers crave.

Agency Revolution, whose CEO is Michael Jans, offers complementary capabilities by automating marketing campaigns — for instance, sending out emails on clients’ birthdays, as policy renewals near, etc.

Pypestream, which has the good fortune to have ITL advisory board member Donna Peeples as its chief customer officer, can greatly improve customer service for larger brokers. Pypestream’s chatbots mean that customers can text queries to brokers — a means of communication that so many prefer these days — rather than call and wait on hold, negotiate a phone tree or face some other indignity. The chatbots filter through the texts, query any and all back-office systems that have anything to contribute and answer routine questions so fast that Pypestream sometimes has to slow the response so the client isn’t tipped off that it’s really dealing with a computer. Clients are happier, and brokers offload routine questions so they can handle more substantive issues.

GAPro, where Chet Gladkowski is chief marketing officer and chief information officer, also can make brokers much more efficient by providing what it calls verification as a service. GAPro addresses the huge time sink that is certificates of insurance. These are important, because they let parties to a deal know that other parties are carrying the requisite insurance — but they’re only as good as the paper they’re printed on (or the PDFS that contain them). Just because someone can show he had insurance a month ago doesn’t mean that certificate is still in force today, when the deal is finally coming together. Brokers spend an inordinate amount of time verifying these certificates — but GAPro automates all that, so it’s possible for everyone to know in real time the insurance status of all relevant parties. Again, this means faster and better service for clients.

GroundSpeed automates loss runs and the processing of claims data, simplifying a complex, painful process and letting clients and brokers see on a dashboard all the claims they’ve made under an insurance policy.

Risk Advisor, whose founder is Peter Blackmore, helps brokers extend risk management services to small businesses. These services had previously been practical only for larger businesses, because of the expense of the work involving in identifying and mitigating an individual business’ risks. But Risk Advisor has automated the process so much that far smaller companies can enjoy the sort of attention and expertise that big clients have traditionally received. That change pushes brokers in the direction that both they and clients would like to move: The brokers will increasingly help prevent losses rather than coordinate payment after losses occur.

WeGoLook, whose founder and CEO is Robin Smith, provides arms and legs (and brains) to brokers for any sort of service. Her 30,000 “Lookers” across the U.S. are currently handling tasks such as taking photos and gathering other information after car accidents, but their work is really limited only by our imaginations, because they give us the sort of inexpensive, free-lance workforce that Uber has brought to transportation. How valuable is the sort of service that WeGoLook can provide? Well, Crawford just announced that it was buying 85% of WeGoLook in a deal that puts a $42 million valuation on this young startup.

See also: Calling all insurtech companies – Innovator’s Edge delivers marketing muscle and social connections

This list of seven companies is just the start, as a visit to the Innovator’s Edge will show you. So, my bet is that if my Silicon Valley friend and I reconvene in 20 years, we’ll see that the role of the broker has become even more strategic and has moved by leaps and bounds beyond where it is today.

Let’s Make Lemons Out of Lemonade

Especially since the announcement of its plans by Lemonade, there’s been an awful lot of buzz and concern about the arrival of so many new disruptive technologies and how they’re going to change the insurance marketplace. Many of these changes are welcome, bring benefits broadly and root out inefficiencies and costs in places where they should be reduced. I say, more power to them.

Some people, however, fear that new selling systems will reduce or eliminate the need for producers and brokers, who are such a part of the traditional insurance buyer’s journey. That will happen to some extent but will only disrupt your business if you let it.

The ancient warrior Sun Tzu said, “Swift as the wind. Quiet as the forest. Conquer like the fire. Steady as the mountain.”

When the enemy is at the gates, you’d better be ready to both defend your holdings and also strike out strongly to expand your position. Here are four ways you can both hold your ground and expand your territory by using the unique advantage and value positioning that you already have today:

See also: Lemonade: A Whole New Paradigm  

1. Your Network is Your Net Worth. Focus on identifying a group of network partners who will become what I’ll call your “A list,” where you’ll be building deep, high-trust relationships. Network partners should be professionals in your market area, your city or county who are already serving people who look like they’d also be ideal target clients for the products/services you feature.

Imagine having a group of 10 to 12 other key professionals who agree to work together as a team, a trusted team, an inner circle. Now consider they are all committed to and known for delivering the highest-quality products and services and all then actively agree to introduce each other to clients when the need for another’s products become apparent. Once this team is formed, there are myriad ways that members can nurture relationships and promote each other without being costly or over the top. You will increase the value you’re each delivering to clients, and, then, your network will grow your net worth. (Here are 17 ways to build your business by working with referral partners.)

2. Engagement. How many times have you wondered if a service provider you were working with really cared or was committed to you after the sale was made? Many times, I’ve thought, “Because I haven’t heard from XYZ in so long, maybe I should just check out what I can learn online.” Sadly, I’ve had that thought many times with my insurance providers, who let the gap in the relationship build and made me feel unappreciated (except maybe at renewal time). In one case, I went so many years without hearing from my provider that I switched brokers.

Today, web marketers have positioned themselves to exploit your weakness if lack of engagement is your modus operandi. But know, this weakness is so easy to fix. With just a little focus here, you’ll produce huge results.

A highly reliable survey conducted over many years showed that professionals who stayed in touch with their clients in various informative and personal ways every two to three weeks had extraordinary retention rates and virtually a 100% incidence of getting referrals! Lower that engagement level, or make conversations just about sales, and that referral rate fell to no higher than 7%.

I found those results amazing. I still do.

Building highly engaged relationships with your clients by staying in touch personally is easy and is the best offense against the wave of disrupters trying to move your clients over to their offerings.

3. Influence. Give and Give. A few years ago, Arizona State University Professor Dr. Robert Cialdini wrote a seminal book titled, Influence: The Power of Persuasion. It speaks to the amazing human force or emotion I’ll call “the law of reciprocity”: When one receives something of value from someone, there’s usually a desire ultimately to give something back. So imagine what happens with your clients, your trusted network, even your friends and family when you are building your stance as the “giver.”

Getting in touch, staying in touch, giving and giving, in various ways produces huge returns as the people you give to build this desire to reciprocate. In this “economy of giving,” everyone benefits, and it is very, very hard for an outside influence to come in and dislocate this relationship. We’ve seen many insurance professionals apply this process in a systematic way to a small group of key connections and end up with as many as 40 new referred opportunities in just 90 days.

Relationship “glue,” higher retention and a filled new prospect pipeline… how does that sound as a good offense to face the external market changes coming at you.

4. Do Your Job! That comes from coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, and, regardless of your feelings about the Pats, his simple demand has helped produce the most consistent success among all NFL teams over the last 15 years.

Yet so many of us don’t work the process in a consistent, disciplined manner. Instead, we float from idea to tactics to new idea, and the simple things that are so clear and proven fall by the wayside or slip through the cracks. Imagine what a “15 minutes a day” new habit of following the steps above might do for you and your clients, for your 2017 and for the long-term viability of your business. Imagine how your producers could move from struggles to abundant pipelines with a little more structure and focus on the basics… of simply doing the job of building deep, connected relationships with clients and influencers in your market area. Things will very quickly turn “right side up” across all areas of your business.

See also: Why Can’t We All Get Along?  

So if you’re concerned about the markets running away from you because of outside forces, stop and make a decision to do the things that are fundamental to every good business. Get yourself and your team aligned on the right behaviors and focused on making a daily effort on the steps that will withstand the intruders.

You’ll not only have a defensible castle with a huge moat around it for your business, but you’ll be building a strong offense and growth pathway that makes your business even more valuable. You be taking Lemonade and other threats and turning them back into nice, juicy lemons.

I’ll guarantee the ROI on your following these steps will produce so much more than any other marketing or social media programs you might be considering.

4 Myths on Social Marketing and Selling

Everywhere you look, marketers and companies are promoting the merits of “social marketing” and “social selling” for insurance producers, and there is certainly value to be derived from content marketing and from increasing brand awareness. But social marketing and social selling don’t lend themselves to insurance.

There are four myths about social media that an insurance producer has to account for to reach his ideal target client and reach his sales goals.

Myth #1. Social media marketing is useful in and of itself.

Yes, it’s inarguable that you need to have a quality LinkedIn and Facebook presence, but that is only a “backstop activity” that allows someone to check you out after meeting you … by some other means. As one blogger recently wrote, LinkedIn is a place for “hunters and the hunted.” Most people don’t go out to a place like LinkedIn (or Facebook) to find or to shop for an insurance provider. All the carriers and brands are on those sites, shouting positioning messages and trying to get noticed, but more than 75% of LinkedIn users go to that site just once a month, or even less often.

So, don’t expect that people will find you on social media and that you’ll be distinguishable.

See also: 4 Marketing Lessons for Insurtechs  

Myth #2. Content is king.

Publishing good content makes a lot of sense as it can add authority and credibility about who you are. But throwing content alone into your social stream is like casting a big net onto the waters hoping to catch someone swimming by. When you push content out broadly to your networks and your contacts, you’re expanding your reach but are still just hoping that someone will swim into that net and want to have a further “discovery” conversation.

How’s that working for you now?

Myth #3. I can get noticed by being active in the social marketing stream.

Don’t fool yourself. Ask the question: Who is my ideal target client, and how noisy is that person’s world? With all of the messaging coming at us all every single day, how can you expect to get enough mindshare to stimulate a response from whomever you’re targeting? We’re all inundated and have created barriers so that only those people we already trust are let in to our worlds.

The walls are only going to get higher, and social marketing will become even less effective.

Myth #4. Mass promotion using social marketing tactics fits my audience and will fill my sales funnel.

Wait! Just stop and ask yourself: Why do people now choose you as their insurance professional? Then ask: How many leads do I get now from my social media sites?

At the top of the list as to why people choose you will be reasons like trust, relationship and your proven competence. But how can a prospective new client get to learn about you and your character and competence without you focusing on building a highly engaged relationship?

If I glance at your social media pages, I can do it quickly and privately. You won’t even know, and then I’ll be gone. You can’t build trust with these drive-by lookers.

You need to focus first on building connections that really make the walls come down or the doors open, and no amount of mass or social marketing can make up for your investing a part of yourself into the personal relationship. You’re in a market where people and relationships matter the most, so this is where your focus should be.

Mass “social” tools are actually un-social and are a poor substitute for building a true one-to-one connection.

The Right Approach

In my firm, Refer.com, we know how valuable a focused, personalized, relationship-marketing approach can be for insurance producers. We have seen how, in less than six weeks, a producer can gain eight to 10 new clients and can generate referred sales opportunities each and every month thereafter.

We urge our clients to build their quality LinkedIn and Facebook pages and gather their great content to provide to the connections that they’re making but to focus on building highly engaged, one-on-one relationships with a small group of people. This includes clients, other professionals, connectors and influencers in your marketplace. Then, initiating a continuing, “high-touch,” personal connecting plan enabled by a sophisticated app will turn those key people into focused sources of introductions and new-client referrals.

See also: How to Capture Data Using Social Media  

You’ll quickly set yourself apart from others in your area who are undisciplined and unfocused while you’ve built a team of committed partners working together to help you grow.

My next article will present the reasons why this approach is guaranteed to change the direction of your business and fill your prospect pipeline with high-quality opportunities. And then we’ll show you, step by step, exactly how you can easily make this work for you.