By Lloyd Lofton
“In the bottom floor of Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle you will find a store called Amazon Go. It’s a store of the future where customers shop for groceries, pick items up and just walk out of the store without standing in a checkout line or interacting with a store clerk.”
I wrote that opening in an article last year titled “Is There An ‘Insurance Go’ In Our Future?” I explored ways businesses are engaging consumers and why carriers need to see the agent as a customer and provide them tools, resources and methods to represent their products in the way the agent’s consumer wants to buy those products.
I worked in the home office of a large Midwestern insurance company several years ago, helping run their captive shop. It was 2004, ecommerce was hitting its stride and Palm Pilots were popular with agents.
I remember sitting in a meeting with marketing, product and legal discussing why we needed to start looking at these types of tools when someone from marketing asked me, “But will agents actually use something like this with people?”
It was right then I recognized the problem; carriers think from the “inside out” while salespeople think from the “outside in.” Carriers have a task or project perspective while agents look toward results. Teams inside a carrier focus on completing a task or project while agents focus on making money – today - to pay their bills.
The Field Test
Product and IT developed an electronic application at the time. They installed it on some laptops and sent them out to a few agents to test in the field. A few weeks later, they contacted my department and asked to meet. We provided some input in the development of the electronic application during the initial stages, but they took it from there. We weren’t asked to look at the final project, do a walk-through (today we call it a sandbox) or offer any input into how it would be field tested.
So why were we meeting? They had no results. The agents who received the laptops were not that good with technology. They didn’t understand how to transition from the sales conversation to the application on the laptop. To make things worse, the application was not laid out in the way a sales conversation takes place. The way the questions were asked in the beginning of the electronic application promoted objections from the prospect.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, the people at the home office failed to provide a wireless card (I know it sounds so antiquated today, doesn’t it?), assuming the agent would either have one (they didn’t) or the clients would have internet, much less (at the time) high speed internet (they didn’t).
Had they viewed our department as a valued partner, we would have explained how the sales conversation might be enhanced with the electronic application, that most agents didn’t have or use a wireless card, most of the consumers we met with had basic internet at the time and many were wary of someone “plugging in” to their internet (again, it was 2004).
Finally, we could have helped pick the areas, agents and managers who would be a good fit for this field test, do some upfront training and help drive usable results.
Success Is Possible If We …
It eventually worked out. We all began working as a team, and some $65 million a year in business was produced from those early efforts. But not all technology is right for all situations, markets or teams. Carriers need to involve the people who sell their products in their technology planning stages, let them tell you what consumers want, how consumers buy and why they would use what you create.
And when things aren’t working. take feedback constructively. “A Huge Pile Of Unsold Food From Amazon Go Was Found In A Seattle Landfill” is a headline that recently caught my eye.
“Asked about the trash with its logo on it, Amazon told BuzzFeed News that community partners who have received donated, unsold food may have discarded a heap of its individually packaged meals and grocery items.”
Not all innovations go as planned. Some are met with pushback and have unintended consequences. Amazon has a great idea; their Amazon Go store addresses many consumers’ buying habits for seamless shopping and purchasing convenience. It just may not be the right lane to have this service in or there may be some kinks to be worked out.
Today, in the insurance industry, startups like Ladder, Ethos and others are blazing new trails. Run by “technos” and not insurance people, they are showing what can be done with creative, forward-thinking teams who trust each other and have the willingness to meet the future head on.
The question is: Will insurance carriers include the field force when looking at technological innovation or technology? Do they see the agent as a valuable, hands-on resource? And not just the “top producer” but the struggling agent or the “neophyte” so they can get a good range of who, what and how their products can be marketed in a more social media-oriented society?
Agents matter. They stake their livelihood on the pulse of the market. They know what products are being bought, they know how consumers want to make that purchase, and they’ll tell you why they are willing to sell your product.
Amazon understands this. “Amazon Proposing To Employees: Quit Your Job And We Will Pay You To Haul Packages” is another recent headline. Amazon is offering employees in any of its departments an incentive to quit their job: three months’ pay and $10,000 to start their own delivery business. Amazon wants to provide 1-day delivery to its Amazon Prime customers and is willing to help their own employees have an opportunity to address this growing need by creating their own business.
Hey, carriers, there are a lot of “Producer Prime” customers out here, looking to grow their business, build a permanent income and do so with your product. Remember social media doesn’t work unless you are social. Partner up with agents, find out what they need to grow, think from the “outside in.”
Lloyd Lofton is the founder of Power Behind the Sales. He has hired and trained thousands of salespeople in his 30-year career, helps sales teams capture lost sales and speaks across multiple verticals. Lloyd may be contacted at [email protected].
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