Every employee exposes his/her employer to significant cyber risk every single day. To say this is a huge area of risk for all businesses would be a monumental understatement. Computers, cell phones, laptops, iPads, flash drives, copy machines – anything that stores information and connects to the Internet is a potential opportunity for a data breach. If that's not alarming enough, here are a few stats to consider.
All of this exposure and all of these breaches, and only about 25% of companies are buying stand-alone cyber coverage.
Our friends at LeBaron and Carroll Insurance have shared the following ideas with us about what you and/or your clients should be doing to prepare your businesses for the inherent risks of using computers and mobile devices.
And, because you never know where the next threat lies, and no safeguards are likely foolproof, especially in the area of data breach, you need to be financially prepared. Not properly protecting yourself and your clients in this critical area could prove, well... critical.
Photo by mikogo.
You may have read a previous article I wrote about bringing your “inner child” to work with you. Children just have this great curiosity about what is happening in the world around them and aren’t yet saddled with knowledge of “what they can’t do about it”. Wendy recently shared a story of her son that completely reinforces this observation and is so relevant to what we're doing.
When she went to tuck her son (Cedric) in at bedtime, she found him sitting up in bed with pencil and paper in hand. He says to her,
“Mom, give me a problem. I can find a solution. Any problem. What's not working that we need to solve?”
Her response was something along the lines of “Well, what kind of problem would you be comfortable solving?” To which he replied,
“It doesn’t really matter. If I don’t know the answer right away, I’ll go figure it out.”
How cool is that?! How successful would we all be if we brought that attitude to our sales process?!
He wasn’t limiting his mom to a handful of issues he was already comfortable fixing. No, he had a blank piece of paper, was curious about whatever was his mom’s greatest issue, and was willing to do whatever it took to come up with an answer.
Next time you go to meet with a prospect, instead of taking a list of issues you are already prepared to address, maybe you should take a blank piece of paper, a number 2 pencil, and the curiosity, confidence and determination of a 10 year old boy.
Your prospect would likely be just as surprised and impressed with you as Wendy was with Cedric.
I’ve never been quite sure why I hate it so much. I love good food, and I enjoy cooking good food. I’ve never been able to figure out the disconnect between the food and the shopping.
We’ve got a great grocery store here that I’ve enjoyed more than any other. They have awesome customer service, a great meat department, and consistently fantastic produce. After making the commitment to shop there, despite higher prices, I actually started hating shopping a little less.
Then after many years of begging, pleading, and generally whining as a community, we got a Trader Joe’s. Now, I’m going to admit – I didn’t get it. I didn’t realize exactly what it was and thought it was a specialty shop that would have to become another stop on the dreaded shopping trips.
I gave it a try and to my surprise came to realize that they are a full grocery store. And I actually liked it! TJ’s quickly became my go-to store even though they are across town from me, and I have to go past a handful of other stores to get there.
But why?? I still didn’t know, but I knew that it worked for me.
I was talking with my mom about this recently and she very clearly knew the answer – they don’t overwhelm you with choices. If you want baking soda, you buy the one baking soda offered on the shelf. Period. If you want canned corn, you pick up the one available can.
See, they’ve done the hard work for you. They know what basic items you need and they find the best provider to deliver you the best solution. You simply have to go collect it.
They don’t overwhelm you with 10 different kinds and brands of corn. Every decision in a typical grocery store is actually an entire series of decisions…just to make one.
While it may seem like a good idea to let people know about the laundry list of offerings you have and then “let them choose”, it’s just overwhelming and often leads to a non-decision. Sticking with what they’ve got – even if it’s not working all that well – is better than having to wade through the piles of options and educate themselves about your business and offerings in order to make the best decision.
Remember – the client is hiring you to be the expert. They expect and WANT you to play that role. Do the research, do the vetting, and provide them with the best solution to solve their need. If you make them do the work to make the choice, you’re no longer the expert or a trusted business advisor – you’re simply a vendor.
Next time you’re going to present your plan offering to your prospect, do the Trader Joe’s test:
“Am I being the expert and offering the best solution that will improve their business? Or am I simply compiling available options, not taking a stand on any one, and leaving the prospect with the job of research and decision-making?”
Photo by manwithface.
Don, a friend of mine, recently hit one of those mile marker ages. You know, one of those that require a trip to the doctor for a checkup.
Actually, he wasn’t all that concerned about it. After all, he takes decent care of himself, has always considered himself healthy, and other than some fatigue, felt really good. So in he goes to see his family doctor, Phil. Phil had been the family doctor long enough that they really were on a first name basis.
So Phil tells Don, “Overall, you’re in good shape. Sure you could lose a few pounds and a little more activity wouldn’t hurt. However, the results of your tests are just a little off. I really don’t think its anything, but I have a colleague who is a cardiac specialist I would like you to see. Really, I don’t think its anything at all. It would just make me feel better.”
Not overly concerned, off Don goes to see the specialist, Dr. Ting. Dr. Ting asks a whole bunch of questions (some that Don wasn’t able to answer in the way he would have liked; maybe he does have some warning signs), runs a whole bunch of tests, and is much more concerned about Don’s health than was Phil.
Dr. Ting, “Well, I’m sure this will come as a shock, but you came to see me just in the nick of time. We’re going to have to install a pacemaker. It wasn’t easy to detect, but you have an arrhythmia that we need to control.”
After getting over the initial shock and feeling a little anxious about the surgery and thought of a pacemaker, Don was still very relieved to have found out sooner than later.
Dr. Ting explained that, although there are several pacemaker manufacturers, there are only 2 or 3 that are likely to be the right device for him. Dr. Ting assured Don that he would meet with the manufacturer reps, explain Don’s circumstances, and pick the right one. After meeting with Joe, one of the manufacturer’s reps, Dr. Ting knew he had the right device.
Just a week later, Dr. Ting performed the surgery and it was a complete success. Just a few days later, Don realized that he felt better than he had in 20 years. Obviously, he hadn’t been as healthy as he had thought. Good thing he went in for that physical.
Okay, so you might be thinking that I’m writing this to encourage you to go get a physical. Even though that’s a great idea, that’s not my point. What I want you to consider is which of the three individuals who played a part in Don’s medical situation are most similar to your business model?
Are you Phil, a generalist who can provide a decent amount of help in many different areas, but no depth in any one?
Are you Joe, a vendor whose contribution was to provide the right product?
Or, are you Dr. Ting, a specialist who truly diagnosed the problem and then installed the right solution?
Of course, each of the three played a significant role, but their contributions definitely were not equal. While you’re thinking about your model, also think about:
Obviously, the answer to each question is the specialist. You can identify the problem and even the right solution, but if you don’t ensure that the solution is installed/implemented properly, nothing positive happens.
Photo by Erich Ferdinand.
Have you ever thought about how exhausting it is to be mediocre? That may seem like a crazy question at first. After all, almost by definition, doesn't mediocre mean that you are putting forth very little effort? And shouldn’t less of an effort require less energy to be exerted?
Well, I guess if you are talking about pure physical effort, then maybe mediocrity is easier. But, as I look at it, total effort is only about 20% physical and 80% mental. It’s the mental exhaustion that comes with mediocrity that is truly exhausting.
You become so worried about not making them upset in some way that you leave no opportunity to truly impress them. You become so afraid of losing the prospect that you cede control of the sales process to the prospect. Trying to direct a process without maintaining control is going to suck the energy right out of you, leaving you totally exhausted. Trying to control 5 prospects who are all wandering in different directions is significantly more exhausting than you controlling 20 whom you are directing down a single path – yours. I don’t mean identical solutions for each, but I do mean an identical process.
Mediocre service only means that you are capable of reacting to situations your clients throw at you. By the time they throw it your way, they are upset and expect something to be done immediately. And, even when you hit that expectation, you don’t really get any credit because doing so actually is their minimum expectation of you. How exhausting is it to have countless clients who may be throwing you something urgent at any moment knowing you have to catch every single one? Instead, take control.
On your terms, proactively deal with the issues that eventually result in client problems. They will be much more appreciative of you preventing problems than they are of you fixing them.
Remaining one step ahead may be fine for some of the tactical issues, but it’s insufficient for hitting strategic goals/objectives. Now, compare that to a leader who paints an extremely clear picture of where the team is going, where they will be 5 steps from now, how they will get there, and the contributions expected from each team member. When every step is perceived as the destination, you operate in constant panic mode and it feels like you run the race countless times over.
However, when the course is laid out in front of us, we can run the race with more confidence. A confidence that leads to a much more comfortable pace, one that is much less exhausting.
If you are a mediocre performer, the stress that comes with knowing you’re likely to be outperformed at any moment is exhausting. The stress that comes with knowing your mediocre performance leaves no margin for error is overwhelming. The stress that comes from not ever being able to take control will wear you out.
And, if you are on the receiving end, the frustration that comes with mediocrity is just as exhausting. After all, it will always require more effort on your part to work with someone who is simply adequate.
Just look around you at someone who is consistently excellent. I would just about guarantee that you will also find someone who consistently has more energy for what he/she does. Don’t fool yourself, its not the energy that creates the excellence, it’s the excellence that creates the energy.
Photo by Evil Erin.
What’s your perspective on your competition? Do you think about them regularly and obsess over what they’re doing at all times? Do you worry that they’ve got a new solution, employee, or carrier relationship that you don’t?
Knowing who your competitors are and having an idea of what they’re doing is a good thing. But if you are obsessing over those things, you’re ceding control of your own business to them.
If you have a strong company vision, a team you trust, you’ve empowered them to take the reigns in their own area, and you’re all driving hard on a vision toward a common goal, then you’re actively running toward something.
Yet if everyday is a focus on what the guy down the block is doing, and you’re worrying about that new solution they’re offering or the new sales guy they hired, and you’re looking for ways to one-up that other business, you’re not building a better company. You’re still running; you’re just running away. You’re running away from your competitors.
When you’re running away,
This limited scope, short term thinking will get you a random business model continuously disrupted with reactionary changes. It will also produce an inconsistent client experience.
Companies obsessed with the competition ultimately pursue damaging activities and create the scenario they’re working so hard to avoid – being beat-out by the competition.
Instead of focusing on what we don’t want, we need to affect change by focusing on what we do want. It is only with that driving focus on the goal that we’re able to choose the behaviors and actions we need to achieve the positive results we so desire.
The greatest financial opportunities lie in helping clients build better businesses, and without this properly placed focus, growth will prove elusive.
Direct your thoughts, energies, and resources on what you can control – what you’re offering your potential clients and the experience you’re giving them after they’ve hired you. That is the best competitive advantage you can give yourself.
Photo by Tiffa Day.
When you get right down to it, especially in a solutions/service industry, what you are selling is confidence. You have to give your prospect the confidence that what you will deliver will improve their situation.
That’s not an easy task. Not because their current situation is so ideal, but because they can’t hold and experience what you are selling before they commit. Therefore, you have to very directly address the specific issues that will build that confidence.
Client Experiences – Be able to share success stories of other clients who were in a similar situation. I’m not talking about the generic, testimonial letters (although these are important to), but rather customers who were struggling in the same manner as the prospect, and whose situation was improved because of your solution.
If they are struggling with effectively communicating to their employees, share a story of a current client who had a similar communication struggle and become very effective because of working with you.
It Takes A Team – As producers, we often think that telling the prospect, “I’m your guy/gal. Whenever you need ANYTHING, you call me, and I’ll take care of it,” will be reassuring. Guess what? Your prospect is going to be much more confident knowing that there is an entire team to take care of them rather than one individual whose job it is to apparently know everything, plus be out looking for the next new client. Introduce your team early and often.
Strategic VS. Tactical – When you are introducing your solutions (could be a wellness program, a communication strategy, an employee engagement survey, etc.) don’t stop at describing the tactical impact of the solution, go further and explain the strategic impact. It is the impact made strategically that will give them the most confidence.
Here’s an example of the difference – Tactical impact is communicated by describing the features of the solution. If introducing ID Theft Protection as a solution you would describe how it monitors the credit bureaus, has a reimbursement feature, etc.. However, the strategic impact would go on to describe what it will allow to happen. How by keeping their employees’ identity from being stolen, the company will also be protected from lost productivity due to employees spending work hours trying to regain their identity.
Plan For Success – Despite all of the obvious benefits of your solutions, the prospect will struggle with a belief that they will actually be able to enjoy the benefits. Their struggle will come from concerns (probably based on past experiences) that the solutions will actually be put into place. By delivering a detailed plan of implementation and execution explaining what will happen, when it will happen, and who will be responsible for making it happen, your prospect will have a newfound level of confidence.
Communication – Nothing will build and maintain your prospects/clients confidence than having a relationship with you built on effective communication. By telling them during the sales process how/what/when you will communicate, they will understand that they won’t be left on their own.
So, while you are ultimately selling confidence, it is actually more of a transfer of confidence. You are working to transfer the confidence in your ability to deliver a better experience to them. To state the obvious, you can’t give away what you don’t yourself possess. So, make sure you believe in your ability to deliver in each of these areas. If you don’t currently have that belief, go fix whatever needs fixing. Because if you don’t believe, the prospect never will either.
Photo by gerriet.
Benefits – From an Employee Perspective
Want to get creative with your employers in their benefits offering? Try moving away from the traditional programs and ideas to help them find some things that are relatively easy, directly relevant, and meaningful to employees.
Start with a couple of easy internal brainstorm sessions:
Work with these folks and see if they would be interested in directly targeting employees through some kind of employer-sponsored program.
Maybe the employers could offer a directory of services with discounts or a getting started coupon. For the employees, it isn’t necessarily even about getting it for free – it’s about the convenience and the pre-screened recommendation. In a lot of these cases, the providers themselves might be willing to make special offers under the umbrella of their marketing budget – as a sales person, wouldn’t you love to have a list of potential buyers handed to you? It makes a win-win for everyone.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate like an on-site daycare or gym. I had an on-site gym at one employer and the equipment was eventually sold and the space leased out to another company because it wasn’t valued or used. But our Costco memberships – now that was a different story! Back in the early days of Costco, it was a huge deal to work for an employer who sponsored their employees to be members. That itself was considered a great benefit – the privilege to buy a membership to something exclusive.
As an employee, of course I appreciated the medical benefits, but as I thought about things that I needed to handle in my personal life, I always wished my employers would share their resources with me and just make it easy for me to get things done. I’m sure I spent many wasted hours searching for services and solutions. I don’t have the expertise or time to research local attorneys to write up a will or settle a property dispute, but I have no doubt that through company connections, someone is connected to someone who would love my business.
As an agency, you’ve got connections with such a variety of local businesses that you could put to work for your clients, their employees, and the providers themselves. I realize there are EAPs that can help with a lot of things, but I’m talking about connecting local folks who are looking for new clients with other local folks who need help.
Instead of having employees sitting at their desks trying to find solution providers, give them a list with some incentives to try out your collected group of providers. That alone would keep me closely tied to an employer – and the employer may not have had to pay anything for this offering, except for time invested.
My personal wish list over the years:
What’s on your wish list that employers could offer outside of medical benefits?
Photo by Aoife Ni Mhathuna.
In fast-changing benefits field, "not losing" won't be good enough
How are you playing the game? Are you playing to win or are you playing to not lose? As hard as it may be to believe at first, a strategy of playing to not lose has produced pretty good results, at least up to this point. However, benefits producers whose continued goal is to avoid losing will find they are facing certain defeat.
Let's start out by discussing what it means to play not to lose, as opposed to playing to win. Don't get me wrong, playing not to lose doesn't mean that the players aren't good. However, it does mean that they play defensively and most likely don't go out with an exceptional performance.
Playing not to lose is actually the result of having successfully played to win at one point. Producers build up a nice book of business, generate a nice income, enjoy a great lifestyle, and achieve an enviable work/life balance. When they realize they have more than they ever really expected to have, a switch is flipped and a level of complacency sets in. Instead of continuing to do the hard things that resulted in all of their wins, they start focusing on protecting what they have. And, up to a certain point, that actually works pretty well.
Instead of continuing to be aggressive, they become defensive. Instead of looking to give reasons for new clients to say "yes" to them, they become much more concerned about not giving their current clients a reason to say "no" with the hopes that no one else comes along and gives that same client a reason to say "yes" to them.
The primary reasons that the same strategy has worked reasonably well for so long is two-fold.
First, at the risk of offending a few, I believe that the financial reward for mediocrity in this industry has been ridiculously high and has perpetuated a game that has too many players playing to not lose. Why play harder than you have to when a fairly simple game has generated such unbelievable financial rewards?
Second, the rules of the game have remained fairly static. Yes, the game has been threatened at times. Hillary brought the threat of nationalized health care, Spitzer threatened their contingency income, the Internet and direct writers even threatened to take them out of the game. However, those threats largely passed with glancing blows and no real damage.
So, there producers sat, going into the sales equivalent of the "prevent defense." They wrapped their arms around what they had accumulated and even fooled themselves into thinking they were playing to win as their revenue and income continued to grow, but only because premiums on what they already had continued to rise. Well, the circumstances that have allowed that to be a successful strategy have changed. The old saying, "What got you here will keep you here," is a saying whose time has come and gone. What got you here in the world of benefits will now take you back to where you once were. For many, a place they haven't visited in a long time.
Before it's too late, benefits producers would be wise to take a lesson from our friends on the P-C side of the fence. They have been in a soft market for years. If they successfully retain every account they have but don't go out and generate new business, they are slipping backwards 15%-20% every year. While the words "soft market" don't even exist in the benefits dictionary, the changes to compensation coming from health care reform are starting to drive the same results. It is for that reason that playing to not lose on the benefits side of the field is a game plan that assures the players' defeat.
So, let's look at some critical areas and the difference between playing to win and playing to not lose.
For quite some time, competing for benefits business has largely been focused on a list of value-added services that benefits brokers' attempts to use in order to differentiate themselves. The reality is that the services brokers have acquired in an attempt to be seen as innovative have quickly become commodities themselves.
Brokers who are playing to not lose will focus on the needs of the clients that happen to fit the solutions they have available. Those playing to not lose will open conversations that could lead only to solutions they already have.
That may seem pretty reasonable, until you contrast that to a producer who is playing to win. When you play to win, the focus is on filling the most urgent needs of a prospect, even if it's a solution you don't currently possess. Those playing to win are willing to create a solution if that's what it takes to win the game. A perfect example is an agency that went into the game competing for the benefits of a very large company. One of the greatest needs of this particular company was some help with sales training. Determined to win, this agency took its internal sales process, turned it into a solution for the prospect who not only turned into a new benefits client, but who also engaged the agency for help with a sales training program. Not a bad win, huh?
Lesson: Don't manipulate the client's problem to fit your solution; adjust (or create) a solution to fit their need.
It is true that producers playing to not lose understand the need to learn from their failure. When they lose out on an opportunity, they debrief with their team and review the "game film" to learn what went wrong. Sometimes, they even get brave enough to go and ask the former prospect why they didn't win.
Producers playing to win go one step further. They aren't just satisfied with learning why they lost or even satisfied with getting a win. No, the exceptional producers want to learn why they won. They will go through the same team debriefing, the same reviewing of game film and will always ask their new client why it was that they were chosen.
Lesson: Having complete clarity about what led to a win is the only way that you can ensure a repeat performance.
In case you haven't noticed, we work in a fairly conservative industry. We don't necessarily embrace change easily. Not many accuse our industry of being on the cutting edge. However, that doesn't mean that your clients aren't on the cutting edge and have similar expectations of those with whom they work, or at least favor those they happen to find who are on the cutting edge. Social media is a glaring example of what I mean.
We all know the need to make a strong first impression. Those who are determined to not lose will do their research, put on their best suit, look the prospect in the eyes, give a firm handshake and be confident that they haven't done anything to hurt themselves as they make this critical first impression.
Now, contrast that to the producers who are determined to win. These producers have created an online presence through their blog, LinkedIn, their Twitter content, and Google ranking. They have used that presence to communicate their expertise. Knowing that their new prospects will be doing their own research on them as well as their competition, they have used that presence to create an advantage and ensure their victory.
Lesson: The first impression is no longer made face to face. It is now made by what the prospect learns, or doesn't learn, about you online.
Those producers who are determined to not lose make sure they are able to make a strong presentation. They make sure they tell their prospect and client absolutely everything about themselves. They want to ensure that they can never be accused of not having told the prospect absolutely everything about them and their agency.
Now contrast that to the producers determined to win. Sure, they communicate the critical information about themselves, but they spend much more time learning about their prospects. They ask probing questions and then, not yet satisfied, they follow up with more questions. Then when they start to get a sense that their prospect/client may have a need, they drill down into the detail with even more questions.
Lesson: Leaving your prospect/client exhausted from answering your questions about them is a much more aggressive strategy than leaving them bored to tears from listening to stories about you.
This is a time in the evolution of the benefits industry that the professional players will be separated from the weekend warriors. This is no longer a game for the casual player. The spoils of victory are about to become greater than they have ever been before. However, if you don't create an aggressive game plan, sharpen your skills and take the field with a fierce determination to win, you'll be much better off on the sidelines.
The game is about to get bloody.
Originally published in Rough Notes magazine June 2011.
Photo by David Goehring.
Let’s be honest, when have you ever tried something on labeled “one size fits all”, stood back, and thought, “Perfect. Fits like it was made just for me”. Probably never; in fact, it seems as though anything intended to be one-size-fits-all rarely fits anyone.
Of course, most of the time when you’re shopping, you find a variety of sizes. And, although you are able to find something that is acceptable, it seldom fits perfectly.
If you want that perfect fit, you have to have something tailored to your measurements. It takes some time, effort and additional expense but the attention to detail that a tailor pays when customizing something to you usually results in something very special. When you put on a shirt, dress, or suit that has been made just for you, you immediately feel different - you know it fits well and you feel more confident.
Think about the solutions you take to your clients. If you are offering a one-size-fits-all solution, I promise that the chances it fits any of them perfectly is almost nonexistent. Maybe you are offering “Small, Medium, & Large” options. That’s a step in the right direction and may be acceptable, but it still isn’t just quite right.
A tailor isn’t selling a shirt as much as he is selling the fit.
I suggest that you take the same approach and become a tailor. Measure up your prospect, determine what they need, and customize the solution to their exact needs.
You aren’t selling a solution as much as you are selling a result. You tailor the experience of the solution through the unique implementation process you have developed. You tailor it through the strategic way you help communicate it to their employees. You make it fit just right by periodically making adjustments that may become necessary.
That’s what you should be selling. That’s what will differentiate you from your competition.
Will you have to charge more for such attention to detail? It’s entirely possible, but the additional value your clients receive will go a long way to making the price almost a non-issue. Of course, you will have to be able to sell the benefits of such a customized approach, but the right buyer will definitely appreciate the value that comes with a perfectly tailored solution.
Put yourself in their shoes - what would you rather have?
Photo by cuttlefish.