The Winds of Change for Insurance: How your buyer’s input is changing the model

Consultant presenting insurance concept and risk management

Buyers have changed the rules.  Sellers no longer are in control.  To survive and thrive requires a continuous interaction with your customers and your prospects.  Listening, observing, asking, and engaging are the key activities that will improve your rate of success.

No industry is immune to changing buying behaviors.  Insurance has long been thought to be a product that can only be purchased a certain way – through an agent or broker.  However, as Geico, Progressive, and now Hiscox have all proven this thinking to be outdated.  Buyers can, will, and do buy insurance online.  Sure, not all lines are yet available to secure via an online option but I believe it’s only a matter of time.  Why?  Because the buyer is demanding it.

In my white paper below, The Future of Insurance’s Agency Distribution Model, I provide insights for carriers and agents alike as to how to think about the buyer’s journey differently.  There’s no better time than the present to lean in and get intimate with your buyers to understand what’s important to them today, what’s trending for tomorrow, and what they will demand in the not so distant future.

The Future of Insurances Agency Distribution Model

Type A Personalities – 3 ways to confront anxiety

Worker thinks solution of his problems

Hard charging, Type A personalities, often struggle with taming their fear of failure.  Most would agree that fear, when kept in check and under control, is an emotion that can both protect and propel us.  Understanding the cause of the fear you’re experiencing is the first step to developing a plan to calm it, contain it, control it.

Anxiety is the result, or symptom, of fear. If I fear I won’t be able to hit the ball, anxiety causes me to dread my up-at-bat.  If I fear I will fail my statistics class, then anxiety will kick in and cause me to block any learning that will ultimately help me pass the class. If I fear I will miss my monthly sales number, my anxiety will cause me to go into rapid-fire mode doing as many things as I can simply to create the appearance that I’m working hard.

Anxiety perpetuates fear, creates the stress, and force, strong enough to shut you down.  Dealing with anxiety is critical to successfully navigating change, taking risk, and managing failure.  Here are 3 ways to keep your anxiety in check:

  1. Ask the question “why not me?” When we think we will fail it is because we don’t feel competent, smart enough, savvy enough, or insightful enough to win.  Why not? Rather than thinking about the failure, replace that thought with the question why not me.  I’m smart, why not me?  I’m intelligent, why not me?  I’ve accomplished a number of great things, why not me?
  2. Turn anxiety into excitement. Replace, what if I fail, with what will I learn? Replace what if this doesn’t last, with how much better will I be no matter how long this lasts?  What will I have experienced that will make me more valuable, more fulfilled?
  3. Breath. The power of 10 minutes of just breathing is quite powerful.  Call it meditation, self-reflection, self-empowerment, or self-love, whatever you call it the purpose of this 10 minutes is to rebalance your inner self.  To bring calm to any internal bubbling that’s taking place.  There are thousands of books on this subject, apps for your smartphone, and calming music for your ears.  Get one, or some, but act now to calm the storm from building.

12 Things Great Leaders Do Daily

McChrystal

By definition a leader is a person who leads or commands a group – at least that’s what Professor Google says.  My definition is a bit different.  Who wants to be commanded?  Sure there are times, situations, and circumstances when being in command is required.  Directing, ordering, and controlling are verbs that often come to mind when we think of leaders.

Just about anyone can be taught to do these things.  Just about anyone can dish orders, direct others, and attempt to control.  Many “leaders” regardless of training can do this for some period of time before being discovered as ineffective.  Great leaders however, take a different approach.  These leaders must do all the directing, ordering, and controlling as previously mentioned but it’s how they accomplish these things that set them apart.

Great leaders are great because they:

  1. Understand how to empathize
  2. Effectively communicate their vision
  3. Ask great questions, deep questions that provide insight
  4. Act in their own authentic way, not trying to be someone else
  5. Adopt a beginners attitude
  6. Surround themselves with people smarter than they are
  7. Spend time on self-reflection, how they operate and the result produced
  8. Network and connect with others to learn
  9. Ask for, and accept help when needed
  10. Lean on mentor(s) for coaching and perspective
  11. Roll up their sleeves, never asking others to do something they haven’t or wouldn’t do themselves
  12. Inspire others through their words, actions, and behaviors

So start today with some self-reflection.  What are you doing?  What do you spend most of your time on?  How do you interact with those around you?  What’s the reaction of others when you walk in a room, speak during a meeting, engage with others in a break-room?  Consider this list and strive to embrace each one in a genuine way and you’ll find your results improve in a timely manner.

Reverse Prospecting: Your Buyer’s Looking For You

 

Reverse

Understanding your buyer’s journey is the first step to delivering explosive growth results.  The age of the buyer has arrived and the seller no longer is in control.  Buyers today are prospecting more than sales people.  How?  By scouring the internet and leveraging social channels to learn and make decisions.  In fact, if you’re the seller, you’ve become the passenger on this purchasing trip.  So make yourself comfortable, stay observant, and most of all have fun on the trip.

Your buyers know more about what they need than ever before.  There was a time (and it goes further and further back each day) when the buyer had to rely on a sales person to identify his problem and present a solution…the seller’s solution.  Not any more.  Have a runny nose and sore lower back?  A quick trip to the website WebMD can provide you with information on what may be going on with you.  You need to put in a new garbage disposal?  There are hundreds of how-to videos on YouTube that provide step-by-step instructions that take a job that previously required a plumber and turned it into a DIY project.

We have all become addicted to information.  In fact, more than 80% of 18 – 44 year olds say the first thing they do in the morning, immediately after opening their eyes, is to check their phones.  Information.  We want lots of it, all the time.

Buyers have this access to information and are using it more and more.  They Google, Facebook, YouTube, Tweet, and ask their LinkedIn groups for information, recommendations, and ideas.  If you’re a seller without a social selling strategy you’re already trailing the pack.  And if you think your product or service is too complex to promote via social channels think again.  General Electric has hundreds of videos on YouTube on MRI equipment, jet turbines, and lighting.  Toll Brothers, a national builder of custom homes, provides a website that allows someone to design and build their dream home and see it!  Buyers are not just using the internet to shop for shoes, sweaters, or books.

Having a social presence isn’t enough. You can’t set up a Facebook or LinkedIn page and check off the box and say its done.  You have to be active…engaged.  You have to create content, share content, weigh in on content others have shared.  This is where your buyers are looking for you.  Your paradigm must shift.  Buyers are now conducting a form of reverse prospecting.  They’re looking for you…you just don’t know it.  So if you’re a seller, and you’re not visible in the areas your buyers are looking for you, you simply won’t be found.

So get started.  Take it slow.  Don’t try to boil the ocean in a day.  A retweet here, a LinkedIn post there, a blog here, are all activities to get you on the road to being found by your buyer.

Strive For Mastery, Not Perfection

obi-wan-kenobi

Recently I was having a conversation with a long-time mentor, coach, and friend.  I was sharing my thoughts on a new endeavor and happened to mention that I was “trying to perfect” the thing I was working on, before attempting to market it.  My mentor stopped me in my tracks and said, “Not perfect.  Don’t focus on perfect, you’ll never get there.  Focus on mastery.  You want to be a master.  No one is perfect, nor will anyone ever become perfect.  But you can become a master.”

While certainly a profound statement, it wasn’t the first time I had heard this.  In fact, I recently went back and re-read one of my favorite books by Seth Godin, Linchpin. For Seth fans, you’ll know that he strongly believes in creating remarkable experiences.  In Linchpin he talks about being an artist.  Making your work, art…and art by definition isn’t perfect.  Some of the most valued art in the world is not “perfect”, instead it was created by a master, and even loved for its flaws.

Mastery is an ongoing journey while perfection suggests you’ve arrived, you’ve made it, you’re done.  What lies after perfection?  What’s left to learn?  What’s left to develop? What’s left to explore?  What’s left to invent?  The world is a timeless collection of things and events that simply prove perfection isn’t possible.  Instead, the world is changing, evolving, reinventing every day, minute, and second.

So with that, I will begin reframe my perspective to focus on mastery rather than perfection.  By accepting mastery as my goal versus perfection, it empowers me to accept life’s fact that there’s always something new to learn and invent.  Will you join me on the journey to mastery?

What Happens When The Suits Meet The Customers?  3 Outrageous Stories.

Suits

As a self-proclaimed buyers journey geek, I love watching and observing buyers during their buying process. In fact, there’s only one thing I enjoy more than watching the buyer, and that’s watching “the suits”. The suits are the folks that work for corporate. They arrive either on their magic carpets or white horses. Decked out in flowing robes, the suits have arrived to pass the ultimate judgement on how things are going with the business. They travel in packs, Starbucks in hand, and armed with Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility. The moment they walk through the door all activity seems to go into suspended animation. Time slows…painfully slow.

Just what does an experience with a suit look like? Below are 3 recent examples where I have observed the suits in their “unnatural habitat”. I ask you think about these examples and whether you, or your company operates in a similar manner. Next week I’ll provide alternative strategies that demonstrate how you can turn the time the suits spend at the business into revenue.

  1. Large national discount retailer, selling name brands for less. I accompanied my wife to the store as she had some “things” she wanted to look at. That’s code for it’s going to be a while. I sat at the front of the store watching customers go in and out. It was busy. The cashier line was never shorter than 10 – 12 customers deep. The suits had arrived, dressed to the nines, Starbucks in hand, trying to be inconspicuous but looking as out-of-place as a surfer would in Syracuse in January. They huddled around one another, not separating more than a couple of feet from one another. After all, you never know when one of these customers may get a little nutty. In 30 minutes, I watched as not a single suit said hello or smiled to engage a customer. I think they actually thought they had Harry Potter’s invisible cloak on. As my wife finished shopping we got into line to cash out. The tension at the register was real…fear. Our cashier asked her manager if she thought they would be getting a “5 star rating”. The manager looked like she was about to throw up and said “I don’t think so.” Mission accomplished for the suits. They successfully avoided customers and proceeded to collapse employee morale…all in about an hour’s time. Perfect!
  2. Large grocery store chain operating under a number of different brands in the northeast. Call me crazy but I’ve always enjoyed grocery shopping. It was Sunday morning two weeks ago and I went to “our store” to do our weekly shopping. The store was a madhouse. Lines at every check-out lane and cashiers who looked ready to drop even though it was only 9 am in the morning and the day just started. Huddled together at the front of the store the suits had their arms folded, whispering to one another with one hand covering their mouth…as if they were calling plays into the huddle for the Philadelphia Eagles. More than half the registers were closed. It took 30 minutes to check out. The suits never moved. Never spoke to an employee let alone a customer. Mission accomplished. They now know what was wrong. Not enough cashiers on Sunday morning at 9 am…except this past Sunday nothing had changed…another 30 minute wait to cash out.
  3. Regional tire and auto service business. I took my wife’s Chevy Tahoe in for a standard oil change and tire rotation. Got there a few minutes before 8 am (opening). Spoke to Sam at the counter who told me they’d have me in and out in no time. That is actually why we’ve been going there for the last several years. They know us and treat us great. But not today. I asked for Mike and Bill only to be told that “they left in the last month”. Hmm. And so it began. The technician pulled my vehicle in at 8:10 am, put it on the lift, and then got some coffee. At 8:30 nothing had been done to the truck. He was having a donut. At 8:45 am I asked Sam for an update and he told me the tech would get to it soon. The Service Manager was hanging out in the garage area where there were 3 other techs… my Tahoe being the only vehicle in the garage. After several failed attempts to get his attention I blew past the warning sign on the door that says “For Insurance Purposes Customers Cannot Enter The Garage Without Being Accompanied By An Employee.” I called the Service Manager and he came over. When I asked him what was going on with my truck he looked as if I had asked him to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle. He went over to the tech who was now on his 3rd donut…no lie…and said something that caused them both to turn and look at me simultaneously. Awkward. At 10:05 am I pulled out of the parking lot for something that should have taken less than 30 minutes. Mission accomplished. Avoid the customer, duck and cover, and talk about them in the most obvious way.

You just can’t make things like this up.

 

 

 

Why Generosity?

generosity

Lately I’ve been paying more attention to the actions, words, and behaviors of the business world.  Observing acts of kindness and generosity. Watching folks give their time, talent, ideas and coaching to others.  Providing insights and perspectives that make a positive impact in someone’s life.

The world of business can be difficult at times.  It may even be difficult most times.  We live in a hyper competitive environment where the rule of thumb has always been to outshine those around you.  If I can just outperform, over deliver, sell the most, build the coolest this-or-that, I’ll be vaulted to the top. That was then…

Today, the there’s another way to shine, be seen, rise to the top, and excel.  It’s a paradigm shift, and perhaps a shift some either don’t believe in or feel is too soft.  That shift revolves around being generous.

Generosity isn’t a weakness.  It’s not about being soft.  Being generous demonstrates the ultimate control.  You’re in control of your choices, actions and decisions.  You choose where to spend your time and where not to spend it.  Generosity is about both quality and quantity…the two MUST be tied together to be a generous act.  Giving someone a mountain of feedback without any guidance or coaching as to how they might use that feedback isn’t being generous.  It’s also not showing great leadership either but that’s for a different day.  Generosity comes from being “genuinely” concerned for another.

Think of those who have helped you in life and your career.  Can you think of someone who helped you for no reason at all?  Perhaps someone who took an interest in you and at the time you couldn’t understand why?  It appeared then that they would have had nothing to gain by helping you but they did anyway…willingly giving their time and attention to you.

Can you think of a person like that?  I can.  Several.  And without exception, every one of them is super successful with reputations as strong leaders, mentors, confidants, and friends. They’ve filled their buckets by helping those around them and by doing so their successes multiplied.  We all know that one person at work who everyone loves.  They never have a bad word to say about anyone.  They are trusted by everyone and intimidated by no one. Without seeking power, they’ve acquired it through their generosity.  They use that power to help others, foster relationships, calm storms, and generate new ideas.

Think about how generous you are.  It’s not about money…it’s far more than that.  It’s about giving something much more valuable than money. It’s about giving some of yourself to others. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want the world to see.” Start small and see the difference it makes.

5 Things To Prepare For Before Mapping Your Buyers Journey

5

It doesn’t matter if you’re a start-up, or a business that’s been around for 50 years, your buyer has changed. He changed last month, last week…he even changed yesterday. Thanks in large part to Moore’s Law (technology doubles every two years), we know that his access and availability to information is endless.  Today’s buyers are more connected, more savvy, more social than ever before.  In fact, it’s likely your buyer will know more about you than you know about him before you ever meet one another.  That is if you ever do meet one another.

We have all heard the statistic that 92% of all B2B purchases begin online.  That means that 9 out of 10 prospects will be checking you out well before any meeting ever comes to fruition. We also know that many sources report that at least half of the buying process is complete before the buyer ever meets a sales person.  For some companies like Amazon, Apple, and Tesla, they thrive on this disruptive buyer.  The buyer who shops at her own pace, educates herself on what she wants, with the content she wants, and from the sources she wants it from.  For other companies perhaps not as sophisticated in their understanding of this evolution…this buyers journey…the need to gain this understanding is critical.  It’s urgent.  It’s truly about survival.

To map your buyer’s journey requires time, access to customers willing to participate and answer questions, and likely the most important requirement being the business’s willingness to listen and change based upon these findings.  This is critical work, not easy, but certainly doable.  The rewards of understanding your buyers are many. The risk of not understanding your buyer is simple…irrelevance that leads to extinction.

Here are 5 things you need to prepare yourself, and your company for as you begin to map your buyer’s journey:

  1. Open-mindedness. Start this work with a beginners attitude. If we were launching today, knowing what we know, what would we say to our buyers, how would we say it, when, and where would we say it?
  2. Honesty. If your brand promise is “fast and easy” but your delivery is slow and confusing be honest about it. Guess what, your buyers already know this about you.  Resist the denial urge.
  3. Customer mindset. Our buying habits and expectations as consumers are gradually following us into our business lives. If I can buy a new computer fast and easy at home, I expect to be able to do the same thing at work no matter what product or service I’m shopping for.  My expectations for speed and ease, transcend the business experience.
  4. Acknowledgement and Acceptance. All change requires acknowledging there’s a better way, and accepting the fact that we will have to do something(s) different to achieve that better way.
  5. Action. Be ready, willing, and able to act. Some people, and businesses, are ready for a different outcome, but are not willing or able to implement the change required to generate that better outcome.  Change only happens when a different action is taken.

The age of the buyer is here.  Those who decide to align their business around the buyer will survive and thrive while those who still believe they control the sale will slowly fade away. Your job is to understand how you can best facilitate your buyers process – their journey – not your sales process. Helping and serving have become the keys to success in the age of the buyer. Now you just need to know where to help, and how the buyer wants to be served.

3 Big Learnings from the Digital Growth Conference 2016

DigitalGrowthConference

This week I attended the Digital Growth Conference in San Francisco put on by SalesforLife.  It was a remarkable event packed with great content, inspiring and thought provoking speakers and some of the industries most respected thought leaders in the digital and social selling world. The attendees listened, asked questions, pondered, and talked with one another about how to effectively interact with today’s digital buyers, all while grappling with the ever-present challenge of how to transform our sales people into social sellers.

Here are my 3 Big Learnings from the conference:

  1. Today’s buyer is far more disruptive to the buying process than technology. Social selling evangelist Jill Rowley said during her keynote, “The buyer has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous 100.” The disconnect between our buying habits and preferences as consumers, has not followed us into our businesses. Buyers are hyper-connected, plugged in, educated, informed, and knowledgeable. They are no longer waiting to be sold, but instead, they are controlling the sales conversation and process. This evolution begs a change to traditional sales processes. Your sales people today must be brand ambassadors both for your company’s brand, as well as, their own personal brand. Jill drove this point home by saying, “Your online digital footprint is how trust will be built before you meet your customer, your personal brand is so important.” The modern sales person sees this, embraces this, acts on it, and is constantly working to develop his or her personal brand. The question we should all be asking is, what about those sales reps who are not making the transformation to the modern sales representative? What to do?
  2. Since the buyer is now in control of the sales process, the job of the sales rep is no longer to sell, but to facilitate the buyers journey. Viewing a sale in this different light may be quite stirring…perhaps even provocative to many. However, the digital buyer is here.  There’s no going back. Sales people need to be socially engaged where the buyers are learning. It’s no longer enough to simply know where the buyer is.  The sales person now has to be interacting with that buyer before the sale in the places the buyer is learning and with those who are helping to educate and inform them. Tiffani Bova, Global Growth Strategist for Salesforce said, “How much of the journey they (the buyer) have gone through is irrelevant. It’s where they went in between that’s important.  Who are their advisors, where did they go to get info?”.  The sales rep is no longer leading with the sale, but leading the buyer to the sale. The question we should all be asking is what are we doing to aid in this transformation from a focus on the selling process to a deep understanding and alignment to the buyers journey?
  3. While the buyer has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, business has been much slower to change. Sure, it may feel to many that things at work are changing at light speed, but our sales process is still the same. Fill the pipeline, manage the pipeline, close the pipeline.  We may have changed the words we use, going from prospects, to pipeline, to funnel, but it’s still the same message, and same management. A true transformation to a buyers journey-centric focus requires great preparation, training, knowledge and assets that provide Sales with the tools they need to align with this “new buyer.” According to Sales Enablement guru Jim Ninivaggi, Chief Strategy Officer at Strategy to Revenue,” The #1 reason sales people fail to make a sale is due to their inability to effectively communicate the value proposition.” This reason, and its #1 ranking, hasn’t changed in 5 years. Why? The reason can be connected back to the disconnect between what we expect from our buying as a consumer, versus what we expect as a business person. This has to change.  To make this transformation we need to begin with hiring the right talent, providing that talent with the most effective on-boarding and training, and build a process that acknowledges the buyers journey by focusing on “education, solution, and selection.” It’s all about enabling your sales team to maximize all of their buyer interactions, because what got us here, won’t get us there. The question we should all be asking is what are we doing to better enable our sales teams?

As I reflected on my Conference take-aways on my flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia, I found myself thinking about the pace of change in our consumer lives and Moore’s Law – the speed of technology will double every two years. We all use technology to improve our lives, educate ourselves, inform one another, and buy things. The age of the customer has arrived.  They’re looking for an advisor. They want answers. And while today’s buyers conduct much of the buying process on their own, results of an Accenture survey presented at the Conference showed 65% of buyers still want a combination of digital and human interaction when buying.  This requires being there (where the buyers are), and being prepared (talent, training, knowledge, assets). Business needs to recognize and acknowledge these changes have happened.  We all need to begin to let our behaviors and expectations as consumers follow us into our jobs. Those willing, capable, and brave enough to make this transformation will be the companies that become the high-water-mark the rest will be chasing in the future.

 

 

 

An Execution Lesson for Business – Compliments of the Military

McChrystal

Planning is important. Training is important. People knowing what the goal is, and the actions necessary to attain the goal is critical.  But great planning and training is not enough to beat your competition.  Companies spend millions each year doing both. The infamous “strat plans”, and training sessions, and off-sites all take time and money. Yet the list of companies that actually execute on their plans and achieve their goals is a much shorter list than those that fail. So what’s the lesson that business can take from the military when it comes to successfully executing a strategy? The answer is organization.

A well-trained employee (solider) can not be effective operating in an unorganized environment.  A fairly trained employee operating in a highly organized environment can be very successful.

Current military leaders suggest that an enemy who is well-organized – regardless of training – is the enemy to be feared.  Likewise, companies with strong organizations, processes, infrastructure, and culture of execution, will take the talent they have and win nearly every time.  This understanding is summed up by the great management consultant Peter Drucker who said, “No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it.  It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”

Are you organized?  Is your company?  Your department?  Do you have goals that are clear and understood by your entire team?  Have your “organized” your business around meeting those goals? Or have you simply created a new goal to execute within an existing organizational structure?

Goals change each year.  Sometimes more often depending on circumstances.  That’s the nature of business.  If all you do is change the goal without organizing you business around the specifics of that goal you’re bound to fail.  The old saying, “what got you here won’t get you there” will prove correct.  Take the time to test your goals against your current organization structure.  Chances are you’ll quickly identify gaps in your structure that may prevent or hinder the achievement of those goals.  Act quickly to identify them and address them.  Once you do…you’re on your way to successfully executing your plan.