Death of a Salesman

Willy

Death of a Salesman, a powerful piece of work but this isn’t another discussion about Arthur Miller’s 1949 play. It’s about the insurance industry and I need to focus on advanced markets – the holy grail of the insurance business – because here is where the problem is most acute.

I’ve often heard the axiom, insurance is “sold” not “bought” and although that might be the case I’m not sure how relevant it is in 2015. More important, how it’s “sold” in the business owner market is another story altogether. Here’s the problem (from my perspective as a business owner operating for 35 years).

Advisors who work in advanced markets know quite a bit about complicated insurance issues. They understand how specific products correct a multitude of problems for business owners in protecting what they have worked so hard to build, as well as, helping them preserve their lifestyle and assets. These insurance folks are well trained…in product. And therein lies the problem. Business owners don’t like insurance, they don’t want to talk about insurance and they sure as h**l don’t want to learn about it. Thus NO SALE rings on the cash register many times due to client procrastination or the advisor’s inability to articulate the compelling need. Everyone’s time is wasted. The marketplace is further polluted. The stereotype endures.

Remember, as soon as Mr. or Ms. Insurance Person comes in the door and starts pitching their products (which they view as solutions – and they are correct in that assumption) they sound like everybody else. No differentiation. They are instantly substitutable. And the person they are talking to has either heard it all before or the producer is trying to “sell” long before their prospect has recognized three critical things:

  1. I have a problem.
  2. It’s a big problem.
  3. Here’s who will be affected if I don’t fix the problem.

The solution to this complicated issue is quite simple. When presenting to a business owner or group of business owners, do not talk about “product”. If you can help these folks recognize the problem, all the product knowledge you have will be very important…but only after they feel the pain and are ready for the solution.

So keep the ubiquitous brochures, flow charts, spreadsheets, etc out of sight while you go about this crucial first step.

P.S. It depends on what study you read but there is a fact facing many employers:

  • There are 76 million people born between 1946 through 1964, commonly referred to as the baby boomers.
  • By many estimates, 9.2 million business owners are over 50 years old.
  • An estimated eight million business owners will leave their companies in the next ten years.

Small business drives the US economy. Where’s the next generation of advisors who will help these entrepreneurs and how will they be trained?

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58. Young or old?

church

I suppose it depends on your perspective. One of my best friends died a few years ago. He was 58 years old. I think of him often and how his life was “stopped” much too early. He was a great person, an incredible talent and an inspiration to me and my partner.

He persevered, running his company for many years then finally hit his payday. This is what every business owner aspires to…but just about the time his “ship came in” he was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer. He chased every treatment option with a smile and even signed up for an experimental drug. Nothing could break his spirit or his optimism. Over the years he endured too many operations but was able to hold his own, walk his daughter down the aisle and see a grandchild born. Unfortunately, the disease still took this wonderful human being. (Isn’t that always the way it happens?)

My buddy was smart. Protected his family and lifestyle (with insurance) before cancer came knocking at his door. Many business owners believe they are invincible. We all know that’s not true. Many will never plan.

I learned a lot of things from my friend. One (very) valuable lesson was to prepare for the unexpected. It may be looking for you and no one can fix “it” when your luck runs out.

I spent as much time as I could with him through his illness. Yep, I cried a few times leaving the hospital or his home. There was much to learn from my good friend; I miss him very much and think of him – and his family – often. I’m sure they still struggle with the loss of a great husband, father, grandfather…but thankfully, nothing else.

He was young.

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The King of Story Telling

250px-Stephen_King,_Comicon

If you want contemporary horror, suspense, science fiction, fantasy… Stephen King gets my vote. He’s certainly scared me a few times. The Shining is my favorite. I remember reading that book years ago on the beach – in the middle of July – and getting chills.

Storytelling is extremely powerful in any world. And the most successful communicators in the business world are great story tellers; they know how to engage with their audience. It seems like a simple observation but many people still don’t get it. They believe facts, data, training, or (their) product details are so important it doesn’t matter how that information is delivered. People will inherently see the value and digest it all. That is frightening.

Meandering emails littered with information, printed materials, reports, and the like have hit the recycle bin faster this year than the year before. And that trend will continue unabated in 2015. How worn is the Delete key on your computer?

If you want to share information, technology has crowned the king. Video. It’s much easier to produce than in years past and it doesn’t require a lot of time or energy on the part of the “producer”. Yes, there are very professional productions out there, but I would argue that an amateur video is a more effective communication tool than any carefully written email. Professionals who ignore this fact will find their audience ignoring them.

In this mobile-enabled universe, the majority of individuals maintain torrid love affairs with their smart device. They can never be apart. Not even when they sleep. The populace is broadcasting daily how they want and access information. Smart communicators have gotten this message and are now (frequently) using video. Short video.

So what makes Stephen King so darn good at his art? He doesn’t have a magic word processor, computer, or typewriter…long ago he recognized the power of a story and he remains a monster storyteller.

The Green Mile, which I believe was the only movie based on his writings to gross over $100 million, is an adaptation of a King short story.

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Wisdom Teeth

teeth

I believe everyone gets their wisdom teeth but few get to keep them. Something about the jaw, not enough room, coming in sideways, and when these choppers show up they start pushing everybody else around. Not pretty. And if they get impacted you have more issues. No wisdom there.

Both of my kids had to go the extraction route. But my son is late to this party; his appointment is near the end of August. He’s 21. That’s old for wisdom teeth I think. Now I’m sure there are plenty of oral surgeons qualified to do the job but I didn’t have to look. My initial experience with these teeth brought me back to one of my favorite topics, the insurance industry – and I don’t mean who’s going to pay for this…that’s another story.

The selection (aka buying) process is a common exercise most people go through and the topic almost never matters. There are three simple steps:

  1. I recognize I have a problem (well this time my son does).
  2. It’s a problem I have to fix.
  3. I need somebody I trust to fix it.

That’s it. I don’t care where the doctor bought his instruments, what brand of anesthesia he’ll be using, where he bought the sutures, needles, pliers, scalpel, or how he hired his nurses, etc. I’m focused on the individual doing the work and his skill. Do I trust him? Can he fix my problem? Will he do it the right way? Has he done this before? How’s his reputation?

The products and support people he’ll use during the prep, surgery and recovery will never influence my choice. I don’t want to learn about medical instruments or the dental industry and I don’t want a chemistry lesson on drugs. Where he got his training did interest me but not enough to outweigh the other factors.

Tower to the insurance industry, do you see a parallel here?

One final point and one final comparison… Being 21, my son wanted to handle this himself. But my past conversations with the surgeon and experience with my daughter’s extraction were so good I offered to save my son the time and energy of locating a dental practice.

Referrals.

Priceless.

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A Phone and a Toothbrush

Funny teeth

I read a statistic somewhere that more people own a cell phone than a toothbrush. I believe it. But I won’t be whispering any secrets to folks who only have the phone.

The evolution of the smart phone has surely changed behavior. It’s changed mine. And the pace of technology will continue to drive people away from the conventional computer and onto mobile devices, as if they’re not already. So any professional who wants to stay connected – and communicate with frequency and relevance – better get comfortable with an efficient mechanism to take advantage of a mobile, media-rich world. The younger generation, “digital natives” have been there and are a very receptive audience. They don’t know any other way. The challenge is for “digital immigrants” (like myself) who have been drawn into this new environment. It’s not without its problems but the opportunities are infinite.

Sometimes you see people talking on the phone. (I don’t like loud talkers.) More often than not, they are looking at it texting with both thumbs; I still have a trouble with that. Next time you’re out at a mall, movie theater, sidewalk, grocery store, beach, boat, concert, airport, train station, college campus, high school, wedding, hospital, office park, restaurant, sporting event, conference, waiting room, trade show, party, family reunion, holiday dinner, bus, bar, bathroom…take notice. Have you ever seen anyone (under age 60) without a phone?

I’m really not sure why they are still called phones. If Steve Jobs were around he’d probably introduce a new name for this portable computer that comes with a telephone.

P.S. When a jet lands why does every person turn on their phone immediately?

 

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Microwave Popcorn

popcorn

This is our world. Immediate = good. Most microwave ovens have a popcorn button; who wants to be bothered entering minutes or power selections?

Getting things quickly can provide enormous benefit, but other things take time. And they should. Cultivating a mutually rewarding client relationship may take months, or perhaps years. Unfortunately, many industries view the sale differently.

Now, the insurance sale is something I know a little bit about. And Advanced Markets is the industry terminology for the “business owner”. Every insurance producer wants to be there. That’s where the real money is… Business owners need a lot of help and they have a lot to protect.

But you’ll never leave your first meeting with a bag of money. The advanced sale takes time. There’s a lot to know about products, people and human nature. A big decision is going to take careful and thoughtful planning. You don’t just pull products out of a bag and hand them to your client or prospect. There’s likely going to be a lot of education and some self discovery. It would be extremely beneficial for every producer to recognize this fact in the beginning. It’s Advanced Markets 101, or it should be.

One other important note, involve the spouse (male or female) in every conversation. That person will be a powerful ally. Plus, you can never predict how any relationship will evolve. From the adviser’s perspective, you will want that business to stay…for a long time. Ignore the spouse and you may be the recipient of similar behavior at a later date.

I love popcorn. For many years I used the microwave. But recently I went back to the old-fashioned way. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a deep pot, coat the kernels thoroughly while heating, cover the pot, and swirl the corn over a hot flame. You’ll want oven mitts. Varying the oil you’ll get a profound difference in the taste. Try it.

It’s certainly worth the time.

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There’s Nothing New on the Internet

internet

 

 

 

 

 

 

I read a quote. The name of the author escapes me. The content stuck.

The gist of the comment was that the internet has not created anything new. It simply provides an easier way to do things we were already doing. Insightful.

The internet is certainly a positive thing; I use it a lot. But every miracle has it’s price. Here’s four problems. I’m certain there are more:

#1. People don’t talk to each other. Human interaction has been compromised. We’re chained to smart phones. You can trade a thousand text messages with somebody but when you try to call that person they don’t answer.

#2. Everybody thinks they are a movie producer/director. It’s difficult to imagine why people record and share the most bizarre situations…once uploaded these antics have a life of their own. Daniel Tosh built a career around YouTube and he’s eager to tell his audience that fact repeatedly. Smart guy.

#3. Nobody cares what you had for breakfast. Or what your kids did last night at the dance recital, where you went on vacation (except criminals) or your mood today. It reminds me of those endless newsletters people used to circulate at Christmas. If we were good friends, I would know everything about your life because you would have told me – in person. In a conversation. Over a glass of wine. Or a dinner. Etc. But please, no pictures of your vacation. No one even looks at the pictures they take of themselves. Just enjoy the vacation. Relax and turn off your phone. You won’t die.

#4. People have stopped spelling (or can’t) or compose a sentence. But they’ll use 10 exclamation points after a comment. One is enough. And if you don’t answer a text message instantly something must be wrong. Are you mad??????????

I read a statistic that people look at their smart phones EVERY SIX MINUTES. Most sleep with the darn thing.

I use technology every day, but thankfully I don’t have to enter a 12-step program to address any addiction to it. I actually believe there’s a ground swell of support to go back to the art of conversation. That would be a good thing in business and in life.

Corporate Sominex

sleepytime

We’ve all been there. The obligatory presentation…everybody has to go. It’s 8:00AM and the presenter is not good. Not even a little bit. Monotone voice, lumbering through slides nobody cares about; he has trouble formulating a complete sentence. Rehashing the same content we’ve all heard a thousand times, he reads each slide. (That helps?) And we’re supposed to be engaged? Get the hook.

Where are these individuals coming from and who keeps hiring them? An intelligent person does not equal a good presenter. And honestly, some are not very smart. Check the calendar, know your marketplace and better yet know your audience. They are distracted. And unless you’ve got something or someone who grabs them in the first :30 seconds, it’s nap time.

This is where we are today. Our audience – regardless of the industry – has short attention span-itis. They are a picky crowd and have been spoiled by extremely high production value –  and great stories. One episode of GAME OF THRONES (my favorite show) is about $6 million. That’s a tall order to fill, and John Snow is likely not hosting your next presentation.

So when you dial up a potential lecturer you better look carefully at what they have to say and HOW they say it. These people are still out there stealing without a gun and pretending to deliver value. They will happily take your money, your time and rob your audience.

Worst of all, they represent you.

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That’s Not My Dog

Twodogs

There’s about 24 million small businesses in the US. Most of these individuals are extremely busy. Running a company is time-consuming. Of course, business owners will hear people saying, “oh, you have your own business, that’s great…no boss and you can do whatever you want. You are so lucky.”

Some of that is true. It’s like having a child. If you’ve never been a parent you can’t really explain that reality.

Small business owners make an enormous commitment of time, energy and money. There are no set hours but plenty of sleepless nights; and weekends may or may not be part of the work week. This is one reason why (insurance) advisers have so much difficulty getting an appointment. Business owners have enough to do. By the way they don’t like insurance, just ask them.

So now, how many insurance producers are going to devote any time to try and arrange a meeting with the CPA or attorney? That could be more difficult. All three work for the same person and all three want to help, but they are generally too focused on their own agenda. End of story.

Yes, Mr. or Ms. Business Owner would be much better served if these professionals cooperated. And their respective clients might be more willing to listen. But we all know what happens when an insurance adviser has a chance to meet with a business owner independently. Soon after they leave, the owner will call the CPA and/or attorney to ask,“should I do this?” Without knowing what “this” really is or having a clear understanding, there’s a good chance no one is going to get an intelligent answer. The owner can’t – or won’t – connect the dots. It’s a distraction. Everything STOPS.

So who should take the lead? Maybe the business owner should force the issue. Nope. I believe the producer, CPA or attorney (who all claim to be an adviser to their clients) have an obligation to take the initiative. If they do, everyone benefits. While many professionals in the business bark about why this strategy is the best course of action in Advanced Sales, few are committed to make it happen.

And everyone goes back to their own bowl.

SADE. Thank you.

SADE

When I was a “new” father my little guy would sometimes get fussy. He would not sleep. But, I discovered (quite by accident) that SADE’s voice, her music, her songs would gently lull him to sleep. I’d play her CD (yes a CD, it was 1993) and I would gently rock him on my shoulder. After a song or two my little buddy was out cold.

My son is 21 years old now. He doesn’t remember SADE. He has no idea who she is, but I do and can remember many of her songs very well. “Haunt Me” was one of his favorites. Maybe my favorite. He doesn’t know that.

We all look for a little comfort. Anything to make us feel better. Perhaps we’d all feel better if we knew our business, our family, our lifestyle was better protected. Maybe that’s the approach for insurance advisers. To make our clients feel better.

A new Dad is consumed with many things; I was was so anxious bringing home my first son. I think they made us leave the hospital too soon. But everything worked out OK and I found one small thing to help him sleep better; it helped me too. SADE.

Life is full of challenges, responsibilities, and the last thing anyone needs is another problem. Getting a newborn to sleep is a little issue. Helping a client (a nervous Dad) avoid much bigger problems is a wonderful accomplishment.

And maybe that’s why I love what I do. In a small way I can help an adviser – help their client – better protect and preserve what they have worked so hard to build. And their little boy or little girl will be so much better protected as well. Even if they never realize what happened…when they are 21 years old.

“Haunt Me.” SADE.

Thank you.

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