If you follow me at all, you probably know that I’m a big fan of LinkedIn for the professional. I’ve written about it a time or two, offering some specific ideas on how to properly fill in your profile. Plus, there is a lot of good advice peppered throughout many publications and blog articles on tackling it. I’m not here to add to those details; I want to give you something to think about regarding the messaging on your profile.
People who are looking at your profile are usually doing so because they have some kind of business issue, and they want to know if you might be able to help them in some way.
Since they're looking to you for some possible help let's be sure your profile gives them the answers they need. Obviously this profile is about you, the individual, but to be more precise, it's actually about what you can do for the client/potential client – the person viewing the profile.
What I mean by this is when clients/prospects read your information it should be apparent to them what that they'll gain by working with you. Do you offer something by way of knowledge, areas of expertise, or skills they need?
Take a look at your Summary and the descriptions you've written for your Experience (current and former jobs).
If any of these describe what you've got written on your profile, then it's time to re-write it. Put some personality into it and let people know what it would be like to work with you. Let them know what they'll get, what you'll bring to the table, and how you'll be able to help them in their business. Do this by explaining what you've done at your jobs that helped the company or its clients. Were you responsible for managing and implementing programs, driving growth, managing financials, coaching teams? Let us know what kind of an impact you had while you were there.
Your profile is there to speak on your behalf, and let people see how you could be a good fit for them. If you're not telling people about yourself as an individual or you're making the same promises every other broker makes – great service, free quotes, lots of experience – then you're not getting much value out of your profile beyond it being just a contact page for your connections.
Looking at your Experience or your list of Skills, is it all focused on the tactical things you do in your job? Or are you also thinking from the client perspective and describing what you offer? Are you sharing what kinds of things you've accomplished that a reader could project forward to see how you might be able to help them?
You may know every insurance product under the sun, but I would expect that of a broker. As a profile viewer, my question instead is something along the lines of -
These are the things that are going to catch my attention if I'm a CEO or an HR/Risk Manager because these are things that are going to directly affect my business. I want to see up front that you think about these things first and foremost. That's what's going to entice me to call you.
Here are a couple of great summaries that do exactly this. As I read both of these examples I have a really good idea of what I'm going to find when I meet with each of them. And knowing both of them, I can vouch that these are spot on - great examples of how you can use LinkedIn to represent yourself well and with personality.
Excerpt from Jennifer Lincicum, Fickewirth Benefits Advisors
"I can't stand inefficiencies. My natural drive in life is to find the most effective solution to any problem that comes my way. Whether it be how best to organize my closet so that I can put my laundry away the quickest, or how best to communicate with employees so they feel informed enough to make the right decision and also appreciate what is offered; I find the optimal solution. And, I enjoy doing so.
When a company dismisses the strength and potential that can be gained from utilizing its HR department in a strategic way, it causes major inefficiencies throughout the company. My passion and skills energize me to find the most effective way to take an under-utilized HR department and turn it into a strategic powerhouse for the long term growth of the company."
Excerpt from Lori Crandall, Wick Pilcher Insurance
"As a mother of 2 young children, I use the word "no" on what feels like an hourly basis. Yet somehow I find that word does not exist in my professional life. My natural inclination is to find a way to help people accomplish their goals and objectives. There is always a way to get to the desired goal and there is no room for negative attitudes. I believe the biggest challenges result in our best accomplishments.
Whether is it communicating with employees to increase their understanding of the benefits package (resulting in greater employee satisfaction and retention) or strategizing with a CFO on financials, experience or compliance, I know there is a way. There is a formula, if you will, for every client, which will allow them to reach the company bottom line goals while taking care of the employees' wellbeing. The word "no" has little value in my professional life; I know if I simply dig deep enough, there is always a way to accomplish the goal."
Think different. Be different.
Photo by Coletivo Mambembe.
Before you read any further, I want you do a little exercise with me. No stretching or running or anything like that. However, this exercise may actually be a little more painful.
Here's what I want you to do: Pretend like you are your own prospect and research yourself. You know, Google, LinkedIn, website, the whole bit.
So, what did you learn about yourself?
Did the Virtual You give yourself a compelling reason to take a meeting?
I'm not sure I can adequately stress the importance of the Virtual You. The exercise you just went through is the same exercise your prospects will take themselves through when deciding whether or not to agree to a meeting. This same exercise will also set their expectations for any meeting they might take.
What you communicate through Virtual You, you will either tell your audience how you are different from your competition or reinforce the perception that "you are all alike". This second perception is one you can't afford to have applied to you.
I was recently having lunch with a friend who is an insurance broker. Over this particular lunch, we were catching up with one another, but also because he was looking for some advice on a hostile prospect he was meeting with the next day to talk about employee benefits.
He had met with this prospect a couple of months earlier on their P&C coverage. His first meeting had been with the owner, and everything seemed to be great (at least on the surface). The owner seemed to love him and was anxious to introduce my friend to the person in charge of all of their insurance. Turns out, she wasn't nearly as excited as the owner.
Thinking things were initially looking positive because of the owner's seemingly enthusiastic response to their meeting, my friend was more than a little surprised to be accidently cc'd on an e-mail from the owner to the benefits manager. Basically, the email said,
"I'm not sure if this guy is full of [crap] or whether or not he can/will do anything he says. What do you think?"
To which the manager responded,
"I've been doing this for 25 years and the brokers are all the same. None of them are worth a [crap], they'll tell you a bunch of lies, and then deliver nothing."
So, is that a fair stereotype of our industry? Maybe, maybe not. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter whether or not it's fair. It's an all too common perception and one you have to overcome.
If your online presence and your in-person reality don't clearly demonstrate what makes you different, you're going to be lumped in with everyone else. If you Tweet about the same topics, promote the same skills/expertise on LinkedIn, and have the same conversations as everyone else when you show up for a meeting, then don't be surprised if you are assumed to be just like everyone else. And, unfortunately, that's not necessarily favorable company to keep.
I’m concerned about the social media activity I see from so many benefits and insurance agencies. In the quest to say “we’ve gone social!”, unfortunately many have gotten off on the wrong path because they got started without really understanding what they were getting started doing.
It is like a relationship – two people have to actively participate and be interested in one another in order to make it work.
It isn’t a one-way marketing activity where we just put our promotional information out for others to see and hear.
Have you ever been in a meeting or maybe at a dinner party where you just sit and say nothing because the other person does all the talking? They don’t really care what you have to say, and don’t even need any social queues to keep going.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a situation like this, I often end up not listening because my mind has moved on to any thought that doesn’t involve the current “conversation”.
When people or companies choose to participate in social media and they don’t understand that it’s a two-way relationship, then they are guilty of committing this very same social flaw.
If all you do on social media sites is log on, Tweet or post your seminar information, blog post, or most recent charity contribution, and then log off, you really don’t understand the purpose of social media. You’re losing out on valuable opportunities to connect with others, build relationships, and keep current with your clients.
When you log on, you can do each of those things I mentioned, but you should also:
What are these people looking for? What’s going on in their worlds? What kind of needs do they have or things to offer?
Once you’ve read this information – you should respond. Say something.
Your stream of activity tells a story. A story about you and what you’re like – as a person, as a businessperson, or as a business if you’re tweeting under the company name.
Be intentional about what that story says. Have a plan.
Ideally, you want to provide ideas and share articles that compel people to read it and hopefully respond to you. Challenge people by making them think about ideas they’ve not previously considered.
Look at your own stream of activity. If you were a client, would you find it interesting and compelling? Would you learn something new? Would you recommend a friend also follow because what you share is so relevant to their business and makes them think?
If it doesn’t immediately catch your attention as being interesting and interactive, then you’re probably being glossed right over as people take a few minutes to catch up on activity. There are people you follow who you know always have something interesting to say.
And then there are those whose avatars you see and skip right past without reading because you know they have nothing interesting to say – they’re the infomercials of social media and thankfully you’ve got the TiVo remote.
If you chose workers’ comp as a regular topic and talked about it, shared your ideas and thoughts, offered helpful tips, and found relevant articles then you’d be building your story as being a go-to resource for workers’ comp. Then when you wrote a related blog post I’d want to read it because it’s obviously in your niche. And if you were holding a seminar or webinar, I’d be interested in attending. Because you’ve proven you are genuinely interested in this topic, find it important, and want to help me improve my situation. Now your information is interesting to me as a reader.
Don’t make your own business promotion the center of your activity.
Instead, build your base of contextual information for your go-to topics and then you can share your own business information around that established foundation of relevant and useful topics.
First impressions can have a pretty big impact on what happens next – or doesn’t – in a relationship. When you contact a potential new client, what is the first thing they’re going to do after they get off the phone or back to their desk? They’re going to search your name and your agency name. What they find is that first digital impression.
Search yourself and search your agency. Look at it from an outsider’s perspective, someone seeing those results for the first time. What will they learn from the results of the search?
I see three likely scenarios based on how you participate in online activities. Take a look through these and see which one best describes your participation and subsequent search results.
You have profile accounts with virtually no information. Your LinkedIn profile or Twitter account was forgotten almost as soon as it was set up.
Either there are no search results for your name or maybe just an old outdated press release about your CIC designation.
Scenario #1 tells the prospect that you’re serious about your business, your career development is an important part of the business, and you are interested in and likely capable of helping the client with their business. And you believe the Internet offers powerful tools for conveying your message and conducting business.
With #3, it’s a mixed bag. There are many possible speculations about those without any results, but we can’t know for sure. A likely possibility is that you don’t believe in social networking as an effective tool for business development. And we don’t have anything to go off of in terms of rating you as a businessperson, so it’s all just unknown.
Now, #2. This is the most dangerous and damaging of the possible scenarios. You know what I mean – you created an account and didn’t finish completing the profile (no photo, no bio, only 3 connections, no experience or only the most recent listed, etc.) or you got really excited and started using it…then stopped. Like 6 months ago. We call these ghost town profiles that have obviously been abandoned. And what this tells that potential new client is that you don’t take Internet tools and networking opportunities seriously, you don’t follow through on what you start, and you leave half-finished projects just laying around.
Does #2 sound familiar? If so, then go fix it right now.
As you go through your search results, make a list of everything that you need to clean up, then go do it.
Avoiding scenario #2 is definitely in your best interest. Cleaning it up will be time well invested in your personal and agency reputation.
While #3 is actually better than #2, understand that clients and prospects who are looking you up online must believe in the power of the Internet as a business tool. So if you are falling into either of these two scenarios, you’re already at a disadvantage with those prospects before you even get started.
Take control of that first impression and put your own positive message out there for people to find.
Photo by Bill Marrow.
LinkedIn is such an amazing business tool and it’s getting more robust and more useful all the time. If you do nothing else to promote yourself online, I cannot stress enough the importance of having a complete and professional LinkedIn profile. Even though profiles are completed on the individual level, it is a critical tool for promoting yourself and your insurance and/or benefits agency.
I look at many, many profiles, and I’ve seen them all across the quality lines. It’s quite simple to put a good profile together, but there are a few things of which you need to be aware that will make it a much more useful tool for you.
Take a few minutes to review your profile in comparison to this list, and see if you need to make any changes.
This is quite possibly your first impression – let’s make it a good one.
We’ve talked about the evolution into social business and offered some ideas of what that might look like in your agency. Here I’m going to offer some specific suggestions for getting started with that process.
Remember, social should not be an end goal itself; social media tools should become an integrated tactic within the operations of departments. And for it to be effective in helping you achieve your company vision and goals, there is a hierarchy that needs to be followed:
In order to effectively integrate social into the plan, you first need to learn what it can do for you and then you can figure out how to go about accomplishing it. And that starts with education.
Since we’re talking about integrating into business operations, we want to have a team of folks across disciplines participating in the learning process and the strategy. If a department thinks it doesn’t relate to them, be sure they’re on this team at least in the beginning - good business decisions are made based on what we know.
Your team should consist of people who:
It can be tempting to hire someone young who’s comfortable with the technology and pass all of this off to them. But that’s a mistake. Notice that we’re talking about business operations and strategy. Your best friend’s niece who’s in college and has a million friends on Facebook does not know your business operations, your strategy, or your messaging. And she likely doesn’t understand what significant or nuanced ideas she comes across that could be really important to the future of your business.
Working in the agency and industry and having a healthy dose of business acumen is what gives you that level of practical knowledge. That’s what you want to tap into. People can learn to navigate the social platforms with a little education. Learning your business inside and out takes a lot more.
Unless you’re a large company with a major marketing strategy, hiring someone specifically for social media is unnecessary. Most independent benefits and insurance agencies will be just fine within your existing structure.
However, while you don’t need someone specifically in charge of social media, you do need someone to be in charge of company messaging. They need to make sure that everyone participating in social has the knowledge they need to be on target with the company message and are working within your corporate guidelines and strategy. Again, this likely comes from someone already on your team.
Now that you’ve got the team together, read a couple of books and get your arms wrapped around what this means for your company and how each department can use this as a part of their business processes.
Discuss each book and talk specifically about what it means for your company. Have great debates on how it relates to you and what you might do with it. Take rigorous notes on these discussions and use this as the basis for forming a plan of action and eventually communication with the rest of the company on what you’re doing and why.
Here are a couple of foundational books that will help you really comprehend social business:
I recommend reading The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuck to understand the evolution of social media and why it's important for business today and into the future.
Then I recommend The Now Revolution by Jay Baer & Amber Naslund to understand how to structure your organization to incorporate social media as an integrated business tool throughout your company – to some degree you will need to restructure your business/processes. This book will provide a great road map for what you need to know and how to get there.
As you get going and start the process of becoming a social business, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you need to do something with the information you learn. Keep this team together to have ongoing meetings about what you’re learning. Have everyone bring their findings to the team and decipher what it means to your business – should you be changing processes or product/services as a result of what you’re hearing?
It’s important to have leadership involved in these meetings because you’re not simply talking social media, you’re talking business strategy.
Photo by nagora.
Continuing the topic of integrating social media tools into business operations, here we take a look at how to begin thinking about what that might look like.
If you’re looking at social media as a sales channel, you’re going to be very disappointed and give up, rightfully so. Instead, take the time to explore what it could mean to each of the functional areas within your company. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Sales team: Connect with clients, prospects, centers of influence. Share relevant articles and ideas with them, promote their activities, help them make necessary business connections with people you know. (Social makes amazing relationship management tools!)
Customer service: Answer client questions (obviously some things need to be off-line for privacy, but there are plenty of generic issues that arise), conduct employee communications for your clients (host a benefits communication platform for all client employees or feed that information for clients to post on their own platform), provide information on local issues that people need or might want to be aware – like risks and hazards, or health related events.
HR: Search the platforms for talent – find people who fit the profile for your ideal staff. Connect with them and keep a running pipeline of potential future employees. Find out what they like in an employer and in a job. Watch their interactions and see how they handle themselves. Be sure they know what’s happening in your company that makes it a great place to work.
Marketing: If you have a marketing person, they should be scouring the airwaves for any company mentions, industry trend discussions, conversations that are happening about any relevant topics – not necessarily about your agency (e.g., company benefits, open enrollment, wellness programs, hazard risk, business risk, etc.). Watch these conversations for trends, and gather ideas from the complaints and praises you hear.
CEO: This is a biggie. The CEO should definitely be participating online. In fact, if no one else does, it should be this person. The head of your company is the name, the face, the person most closely associated with the company. It’s such a great opportunity to have your top person talking online because your clients and prospects are able to make the direct connection with him/her, and from that, the CEO can then perform the most important role for your sales organization – rainmaker. They set the tone, share the company ideas, philosophy, values, culture and promote people within the company who are making it the great organization that it is.
Social media tools should be integrated into the big picture of what you're trying to accomplish. They should be tools you use as tactics to help you accomplish your strategic objectives, rather than "social" being the end game itself. There are as many ways to use these platforms as you can envision. And that’s a great place to start. Even if you’re already on Facebook or blogging or Tweeting, it would be beneficial to think about this, and have some team discussions for (new) ideas on how to connect with your audience instead of just talking at them.
I’d love to hear some ideas you’ve got on how to use social media effectively for your organization – feel free to share with the rest of us.
Coming up next in this series will be some ideas for getting a team together to tackle this business evolution.
Photo by Lenore Edman.
At our BGNLive! conference in Chicago this year we focused on the need to change the agency business model and how to effectively communicate those changes to our clients and prospects. Len Strazewski, writer with Rough Notes magazine, attended the conference and following are his takeaways of the content discussed at the session.
Agents and brokers that do not
manage that first impression run the
risk of letting random online information
or misinformation control what
prospective clients learn about them
By Len Strazewski
Do prospects really learn what you want them to learn about your agency?
Google says your agency sells insurance. Facebook says you have a great softball team. LinkedIn says you went to a state university.
Is this the way you want present and prospective customers to know and understand your agency? Do these sources communicate what you really offer your clients? Click here to read the full article at Rough Notes magazine.
Photo by Paul Downey.
You know how kids start out being cute cuddly babies that we need to constantly care for and monitor? Then as they grow into their teen years we begin to see them as independent people with whom we can have mature conversations. We allow them their own freedom to make decisions, get jobs, drive cars. We begin to rely on them for daily tasks because they’re capable of it – we can see their potential and ask them to do more. Hopefully they step up to the challenge and perform.
This is the same type of progression that’s taken place with social media. Many of the popular platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, started largely as personal communications. People had fun and played around with friends sharing photos, videos, and daily life anecdotes. In the meantime, there has been a contingent of people working very, very hard to make the connection between these platforms and good business practices. Unfortunately, the mainstream media has not kept up with this contingent and instead continues to report on the mis-guided and trashy ways some people use social media (former Rep. Anthony Weiner comes to mind).
There has been a lot of trial and error, discussion, and working collectively to figure it out. People have banded together over the commonality of trying to crack the code for how these tools can be successfully integrated into business practices. And what’s come out of it is a whole new way of doing business. Social media has grown up.
Participating or not, like it or not, we have now moved into the era of social business.
Unfortunately, many companies think that these social platforms are just another form of broadcast marketing for their company, like advertising, or radio ads.
But they’re not.
Social media tools are not stand-alone outposts where we set up shop to post promotional messages about our business. Or hold silly contests for people to follow us and win an iPad. This has incorrectly been the perception for many people and many businesses.
If your company is using social media that way, then you’re doing it wrong – and most importantly, you are at risk of losing valuable client goodwill and loyalty because of it.
People do not want their streams clogged up with spammy, look-at-me! promotional messages. Would you voluntarily sign up to receive junk mail or telemarketing calls? Absolutely not. And that’s the equivalent of promotional social media use. No one wants it.
Instead, people are looking for answers. They have questions – either general questions for which your company may be able to provide an answer, or specific questions related to your company. The way that we’re all looking for information and answers has changed, and businesses need to change the way they offer information. The old way of doing business does not correspond with the way today’s consumer wants to and expects to work with businesses.
If you jump in and start using these tools without educating yourself and your team on what they mean to your businesses and how your customers expect to be interacted with, then you’re wasting time, resources, and you’re eroding your company reputation.
This is easily solvable though – take the time to educate yourself and your team.
Yes, it takes time.
Just like any professional endeavor you undertake, there is a learning curve involved. Did you understand the ins- and outs of policies before you started selling benefits? Likely not. Did you understand self-funding before you started offering those services to your clients? Again, likely not. Just like any business tool, you need to educate yourself.
Bottom line – there has been a business evolution and you need to evolve your business with it.
In future posts, I will continue this topic and offer specific suggestions for what it means to educate yourself and your team, and how to go about pursuing social media channels in a way that is more meaningful to your clients and prospective clients.
Photo by Josh Wedin.
The purpose of the military is to be so intimidating that the enemy dare not attack. – Sun Tzu
This is one of my all time favorite quotes. However, it has become obvious to me that not everyone shares in this belief. As I watch and observe agencies and producers, some of the actions and inactions I see, seemingly driven by paranoia, concern me a bit.
It ranges from not wanting to include relevant and important information on websites (e.g. list of employees and backgrounds) to not taking a visible role in social media. Regardless of its various forms, it all originates with one concern - that the information would some how be used to hurt them. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand and agree that there are certain secrets we want to protect, but that is a rather short list most of the time and should mainly be comprised of “how” we do what we do rather than “what” we do.
Besides, in today’s electronic world your ability to completely hide any information is difficult at best. If someone really wants the information, chances are they will find it anyway. Isn’t it better for you to control the flow of the information in the first place?
If you’re guilty of some level of paranoia, I challenge you to write down two things. First, describe the worst thing that could happen if that information is shared. Secondly, write down what’s the best thing that could happen. If after making this comparison and the scales tip in favor of shrouded secrets, then, by all means, lock it away.
Worst that can happen – Your competitors will try to hire them away. Guess what? If they are worth stealing, your competitors already know who they are and will contact them anyway. Just make sure you are taking good care of them and this shouldn’t even be a concern.
Best that can happen – Your prospects get a much better picture of the depth of expertise and talent you have and feel more secure in moving their business to you.
Worst that can happen – The competition will try to copy it. In that case, just make sure that what you do is not easily replicated. Think about it - any time you introduce your model to a prospect who doesn’t become a client, you have to know that the information is likely going to be shared with your competition anyway.
Best that can happen – If you make it very clear how effective you are at what you do, the competition will realize that they can’t compete with you and will take their prospecting elsewhere. Additionally, prospects that are looking for what you offer, now understand they should be working with you.
Worst that can happen – I’m not really sure what bad could happen as long as you are careful what you write. (Some are paranoid about connecting with clients on LinkedIn for fear that those clients would become easily identified and targeted by your competition. If that’s you, don’t connect with your competition and use the setting that only allows your connections to see your other connections. )
Best that can happen – Your prospects and clients are able to learn what it is that you have to offer. By using social media to enhance and communicate your personal brand, you will give yourself a running head start against your paranoid competitors.
Like Sun Tzu said, if you are the biggest, scariest competitor out there, the bullies will pick fights elsewhere. Similarly, for those future clients who need the protection that you have to offer, be sure they know where to seek shelter.
Photo by HikingArtist.com