Engaging and retaining tomorrow’s customer

Snippet from ‘Engaging and retaining tomorrow’s customer’ webinar



Lets Not Run Towards the Creepy Line Before We Can Walk

Just Give Me a Signthe-man-with-two-brains

There is a very funny scene in an old Steve Martin movie The Man with Two Brains where our hero, Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, looks at a painting of his beloved, dead wife, Rebecca, and asks if she is happy with his feelings for the new love in his life, Dolores. An ethereal voice whispers noooooo, the painting begins to spin round, candlesticks burst into flames and an ungodly wind blows through the room. All the time the voice grows louder and then, when it all stops suddenly, a dishevelled Dr Hfuhruhurr says Just give me a sign … any sign … I’ll be looking out for it.


I saw a recent presentation from, err let’s say one of the big three global technology corporations, which reminded me of this scene. The presenter talked us through a scenario where a young man is presented an offer to use some loyalty points. In the world of #bigdata, the presenter, went on, we will know that he has been dating for a little over eighteen months so the offer will be personalised towards romantic destinations.

Using recent purchase history, presumably an engagement ring, the intent of the trip is determined and the couples experience is further customised.  A taxi, rather than hire car, to their intimate dinner for two and at a restaurant that provides just the right setting for them rather than say, a young family or a solo business traveller. No piece of data or algorithm is left unturned to create the perfect weekend for our fictitious couple.

I am not sure I am ready to be second guessed about major life decisions by businesses that have yet to work out that googlemail.com and gmail.com is the same email suffix

Creepy Line

I know, the presenter conceded at one point, some of you might be concerned that we are crossing ‘the creepy line’ here. And the room relaxed a little and listened intently to a world where algorithms applied to increasingly personal data ensured that each need was carefully met before the couple even realised for themselves that they needed it.

The story concluded with a marriage proposal and an assertion that all of this is possible in a world of big data, machine learning and predictive analytics.

Second Guessing

Now, I welcome a world where cars are recalled before we experience a breakdown, where risk is assessed and mitigated and where fraudulent use of my credit card is spotted before any real damage is done to my own or my providers finances. All good.

However, when it comes predicting what we will want next, to second guessing us, I am not so sure. And here’s why.

based on their  personalised  marketing,this is what I think they actually know about me. They know my email address and that I buy mens clothes. And err, that’s it.

Personalise This

I am a man , no longer in the blush of youth. In spite of that, I maintain a distant interest in fashion. I care, actually very much, about the clothes I wear even if those around me might be surprised by that. I apply two universal rules. I don’t ever want to buy clothes that my Dad would wear and, even more importantly, that my Son would wear. I tend towards blues but don’t want it to be the only colour in my wardrobe and whilst the trend is towards slim fit trousers (pants for my US pals) I have to check the fit carefully because I have (let’s saystrong) calves. I very rarely wear knits, like jolly (but certainly not ‘humorous’) socks, prefer smart over casual, never go double-breasted and I almost always wear a collar particularly for dinner. As I say, older dude. I shop on-line, actually pretty frequently but I have to know the store well before I do because I have little time for the rigmarole that comes with returning parcels using  a service that seems largely geared to those that live in 1975.

And Here is What You Really Know

I buy from what I believe to be pretty innovative retailers but, based on their personalised marketing, this is what I think they actually know about me. They know my email address and that I buy mens clothes.

They don’t even have a firm grasp on the email thing to be candid. I am not sure I am ready to be second guessed about major life decisions by businesses that have yet to work out that googlemail.com and gmail.com is the same email suffix and that offering me an item at a discounted prices makes any sense if they don’t have it left in my size.


I occasionally send an email or respond to a survey to grumble about an unhelpful web site or to call out a particularly helpful assistant that didn’t assume I was looking for everything in beige. However, according to Gartner, whilst 95% of businesses collect feedback only around 35% use the insight that they have collected. A tiny 10% improve their business with this information and only half of that small group circle back to the customer and tell them that they did so.

Our customers  talk to each other on social platforms and they comment on their experience of our businesses in their own voice. Many also talk to us as directly. They leave reviews and some, though the rates are decreasing, respond to our surveys. More would answer our questions too, if they were asked thoughtfully and if we demonstrated that we did something with their feedback from time to time.

Surveillance and Second Guessing is Creepy. Listening is Human

Privacy is an important issue, I don’t mean to diminish it, but let’s forget where the creepy line is for now. Instead, why don’t we try something fundamentally human as businesses. Why don’t we try listening.

So my message to the CMO of those very large and resourceful businesses that currently have my tentative loyalty. Rather than looking for patterns, trends and algorithmic intent in data you have no place being you can read this blog, my tweets, my comments or even ask me what I like or what (to quote Spencer Trilby played by Charlton Heston in True Lies) blows my skirt up. And on that subject, I am not going to wade through 50 questions designed for your departmental silos. Let me tell you in my own words and in my own time.

Or you can continue to wait for a sign and risk me moving on to someone that listened.

Is Cold Calling Dead? More Importantly Who Gets to Kill it?

Is Cold Calling Dead?

Cold calling is dead, at least as we know it, according to Forbes contributor Ken Krogue. Wait a minute, perhaps not. Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing, blogger and author, holds the contrary view in his post If you think Cold Calling is Dead, You are Doing it Wrong. As it happens, for every article heralding the end of traditional cold calling there is another extolling the virtues of the very same thing, providing you just do it right. Most only seem to disagree in the headlines.

Who Decides if it is Alive or Well?

When I speak at sales conferences and workshops, I often ask the assembled group of professional sellers ‘Who really enjoys cold calling?’ Inevitably, I will see one or two defiant hands reaching high and I have made it a habit to seek them out during a break to find out more. They are invariably resilient, optimistic and interesting people. However, I am not sure I am asking the right crowd.  If I asked a room full of business buyers ‘how many of you enjoy receiving a cold call?’ then I suspect I would see either no hands or a similarly small number. In fact a study on buyer preferences commissioned by IBM revealed that cold calling is 97% ineffective. As buyers, we simply do not like the intrusion.

It is difficult to believe that businesses would continue with any activity that only works three times in a hundred let alone an activity that is not welcomed by more than 9 out of 10 of prospective customers.

Is it the Right Question?

Those three positive connections must seem pretty good to the caller after ninety or so curt and dismissive responses. I have heard it called ‘living for the yes’ a euphoric high as a result of affirmation after a truck load of human rejection. I have nothing but admiration for those that do it, do it well and manage to stay positive dial after dial. However, it seems to me that we are asking the wrong question of the wrong people.

The Connected Buyer

We are living in the age of the connected buyer. Sophisticated business buyers that use online resources and their professional social network to make their purchasing decisions. These, often senior decision makers, prefer to find their own information and validate with social proof through those they trust. Connected buyers are in control of their buying process and are simply not interested in being invited into a sales process at the wrong time through a cold call.

The Right Question

Whilst my audience of business buyers is hypothetical, all the evidence is that they want cold calling to stop. This is why they screen their calls and don’t return messages. It is also why receptionists, office managers and assorted colleagues tell sellers that the target of their call is ‘with someone right now’ when they are not. Business buyers have wanted cold calling to end for a very long time, Seth Godin introduced the term interruption marketing in the 90’s and it wasn’t a new problem then.

For sellers, cold calling may be dead. Or it may not. For business buyers and decision makers though, its demise, whenever it was or is, will not have been soon enough.

The Business Buyer Manifesto

As our own business grows, I find myself more frequently in the role of a business buyer. It is a stark reminder of why we do what we do at Artesian.

CC Bloom Syndrome

A meeting with a potential supplier, only a few days ago, was a classic example of what will now be forever known to me as  CC Bloom Syndrome, a behavioural trait described by Forrester’s Scott Santucci in his blog post Closing the Divide Between Sellers and Executive Level Buyers: A Plea ! Three colleagues and I sat through a forty five minute demonstration peppered with questions and answers. Our time had been well spent and having done a great job, the pre-sales consultant handed back to the seller. At this point we were asked how we would now rank their product against others we had seen.

The preceding highly interactive session had revealed much about our specific needs. We’re an interesting company, in a growth space, tackling a new market, well funded and introducing new systems and processes around old ones that we are outgrowing.  I didn’t understand why he didn’t have more questions about, errr, us. Instead, like the character CC Bloom in the film Beaches, we were asked Anyway, that’s enough about us, over to you, what do you think about us?

The first five thesis of the Business Buyer Manifesto

Our seller hadn’t appreciated that the world has changed. He hadn’t figured out what our business, a business that has social selling at its core, would want from a seller. Irony upon irony.

In a world where the dynamic between buyers and sellers has changed dramatically there are at least five new imperatives to observe, to underpin each and every customer interaction. I make no apology that the tone is inspired by the Cluetrain Manifesto one of the most prescient pieces ever published on the future of business.

  1. It’s the Buyers Process. I am not part of your sales process, you are part of my buying decision. Like many B2B buyers according to research from the Corporate Executive Board, by the time I contact you I am 57pc of the way through my decision. That’s right, if it was  a sales process, then how did I get more than half way through it without you?
  2. Buyers Needs are increasingly Transparent. We are all busy but I will have done some research on you, your products and your competitors. Many of my needs as a business buyer are identifiable from news about my company, from my LinkedIN updates, my tweets and blogging. It is all out there so return the favour.
  3. Do the Right Thing. I don’t need an introduction to your existing customers, I can  find them, their views and what it is to work with you today because all of these things are on-line. I will not  take any single view, rating, recommendation at face value. Connected buyers are more sophisticated in their use of social media than that. We are looking for patterns. Ask yourself, have you been doing the right thing for your customers? I will be.
  4. Be Authentic. Like most B2B buyers, according to a Forrester survey, I  have read three pieces of content for each carefully created corporate marketing piece you offer me. And, as a connected buyer I place more trust on the views of my extended network anyway. Don’t position, posture or handle my objections with pat techniques or scripts. Instead, be open and honest. I am not looking for perfect, few of us are. But I demand authentic.
  5. Exercise Leadership. Much is said about power shifting from seller to buyer but the new reality is parity, not control. I understand that wherever there is change there is sales. Sellers that exercise leadership help us challenge the status quo, provide answers and offer direction. You should be good at this stuff, you have been on this journey before.

Social Sellers

The social seller then is not waiting for a key word in the conversation so that she can launch into a sales pitch. Instead she is looking to understand, to learn, to help and to lead. The social in social selling is less about the media, the tools and the platforms and more about recognising the 5 imperatives. To serve the buyer and proactively interpret their need as a result of being immersed in their customers world.  Understanding, openness and authenticity earns trust and builds reputation that gives social sellers the right to take a leadership role taking them and their customers to a place of mutual success.

For those that continue to ignore the changing dynamic between buyer and seller, the Cluetrain will keep stopping … perhaps they should take a delivery.

Big Data Indescribably Large

Lost for words

I have been the first to be overly critical of those that define big data solely by size and (absence of) structure. That being said, it is inescapable that data volumes have reached an inflection point. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Andrew McAfee makes a pretty startling observation. Data has gone from being measured in terabytes to petabytes and exabytes. He explains that in 2012 Cisco announced that its equipment was recording a zettabyte of data. Not startling so far and, in any case, outside of the circle of data geeks, few will have heard of a zettabyte.  The more jarring fact is that the next metric for measuring data is the final one. After the zettabyte is a yottabyte (10 to the power of 24  as you asked ) and then that’s it. We have literally run out of words to describe how big, big data is.

Big v Different

Commentators such as Jeff Jonas and Kenneth Culkier make the point that big is not just big. Big can be different.  David Weinberger, one of the authors of the CluetrainManifesto, makes a similar point in his book Too Big to Know. He proposes that knowledge has been shaped, perhaps even limited by its medium. Only the most important, meticulously researched facts were  committed to paper until the invention of the printing press. Even then, the printed medium carried figurative and literal weight.

In describing Big Data in Decision Sourcing, we  contrast transactional data with ambient data. Transactional data was limited by traditional data processing originally in the form of the punch card and more latterly the relational database. Ambient data, however, exists all around us. It’s size meant that it went unobserved or at least uncaptured. This is what has changed. Affordable and available technology means that signals generated through the internet of things and human social interaction can be captured in digital form providing new (and different) sources of insight. The relational database limited us to recording invoice lines and account details whilst new forms of data management allow us to capture every human gesture, comment and click. Meanwhile  the machines are logging everything they do.

Whats’s next?

Metric prefixes were last updated in 1991 at the 19th General Conference on Weights and Measures and beyond yotta, we got nothin’. Big Data means disruptive, transformational change in a way that we don’t completely understand today. In fact we don’t even have a name for what comes next. Yet.

The future of CRM is here. What it is might surprise you.

surprise-01The future of selling

I often post on the impetus for social selling; why sellers need to adapt to the changing world of the social buyer. I am not alone of course. It is the subject of any number of books including the New Handshake (Joan C Curtis, Barbara Giamanco) , eSelling (Sean Mcpheat) and is at at the heart of Dan Pink’s latest To Sell is Human where Pink articulates the changing dynamic between buyer and seller as a change from Caveat Emptor to Caveat Venditor. The inevitable question is where all of this taking us?

The future of CRM …

To me the answer is not emerging in the world of CRM but in the thinking around Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) Doc Searls, one of the Cluetrain authors, in his book The Intention Economy, vividly describes a world where the systems that manage the relationship between buyer and seller are owned and operated by the buyer. Communication between the two is not controlled by monolithic supplier side systems and processes  but by a multitude of buyer side applications. The first clue to the future of CRM is that it is not the Customer being managed. It’s the vendor.

… is Apps

I was thrilled then to read a post from Anshu Sharma, in enterpriseirregulars.com which makes exactly the same point. Sharma suggests that the new breed of CRM is here, it is inherently vertical and it manages the relationship from every perspective. It is apps. He points at Airbnb, Uber and OpenTable amongst others  where the customer is driving the relationship not the vendor. Applications like Tripadvisor allow customers to book hotels, flights, restaurant tables but supported with the social validation of others. We are becoming sophisticated social buyers, looking for patterns in ratings from others rather than being swayed by a single positive or negative review. We can all spot the overly enthusiastic and the terminally underwhelmed. Sellers are, quite rightly, getting a voice too. Sellers get a right to reply and they get to describe their own property, menu or venue. They have to keep it honest though. Social is not like traditional marketing platforms and those that misguidedly think it is are taken to task. JP Morgan executives started to think that their tweetup was a bad idea when their #askjpm attracted questions like ‘Is it easier to purchase a congressional representative or a senator?’ When the number of abusive posts reached two out of three they called it off.

The future is here
Sharma uses one of my favourite quotes; William Gibson ‘The Future is already here – its just unevenly distributed’. If we are looking to the future of CRM I would suggest that it still has a long time to play out. Like Sharma, I can see Salesforce becoming a $10 billion dollar baby and adapting to the increasingly social buyer. Beyond this though, you can see the future in fragments of apps and social platforms and sellers are going to have to deal with massively increasing complexity. The future of CRM is a misnomer. It is not one where sellers manage customer relationships at all but one where they are being managed on the customers terms. It can’t come too soon.

Intending (not resolving) to Simplify my Life in the Cloud

Life in the Cloud


I am not much of a resolutionist. I don’t judge those that  resolve to improve significantly annually on January 1st but permanent personal change, for me, comes from small but frequent adjustment.

Out of (minor) Disaster

The latest set of changes came about as a result of a determined thief ‘having it away’ with my Macbook Air whilst I was out with a customer one evening.  What followed was an acid test of how protected I was from such an event as a result of living the vida nube.

It was also an opportunity to review my personal productivity.

What worked and Not so Much

Surprisingly the only real painful experience was with my Time Machine. I abandoned a full restore to my new Air based on its own interminable estimates and the experiences of others who had suffered similar impossible waits only to be rewarded with a last-minute fail. All attempts at a selective restore have thus far eluded me. 

Other than that I had the comfort of being able to quickly remotely reset the stolen macbook and my lastpass session. I was then able to log on to another home machine and reset all my passwords. The number of cloud services that I use meant that this was not quick but once this was done I  got my payback.

I was instantly able to get to my company email (365)  personal email (Google) office applications (CloudOn) daybook notes (Evernote) music (iTunes and iTunes Match) pictures (1TB Flickr) and all my documents which live variously on Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive. Of course, all my social applications live in the cloud too. Other than a few minor exceptions I was up and running in surprisingly short order.

Digital Simplification

In addition to reaping the benefits of living in the cloud, the experience also caused me to look for a few improvements in the way I work. This was mostly around the proliferation of user interfaces. For example, depending on the circumstances, I was working with email in Mac Mail or Outlook in their rich client and browser varieties. I might also use the equivalent apps on my tablet and smart phone. In addition to this, I was sometimes accessing the web clients through mobile browser as well as using other mail applications such as Mailbox which I used solely for it’s ability to keep my inbox down. All in all, I might have used eight or nine subtly different user interfaces to work with  email even if I ignore the fact that I use three different  browsers and that many of these interfaces are updated four or more times a year.

A similar picture emerged for office and social applications. There are almost as many ways to tweet as the 140 characters we are limited to when doing so.

Simplicity and Choices

So I made some hard choices. One way of emailing, a single way of tweeting and I am reducing rather than increasing all the other apps that I use rather than allowing them to proliferate to benefit from what ultimately ended up being minor benefits. It has meant that I have had to learn a little more about my chosen applications to find ways of doing things that I would have swapped to do previously. This has sometimes meant that I just ‘do without’ functionality if was only of marginal utility.

Interestingly, this process of simplification, is similar to one way innovators disrupts incumbent technology companies. Established vendors continue to add features that are often ahead of customer need and almost always at extra cost. Meanwhile, innovators disrupt their market with simpler, agile, cheaper solutions that are ‘good enough’. More on this and the subject of simplicity here in this excellent post from Ben Thompson.

So here I am in the first few weeks of a fresh year hoping that simplifying my life in the cloud will result in similar but personal benefits. The plan is to be able to do all the things that I currently do in the cloud in a cleaner, simpler and more efficient way. It’s not a resolution though.

Social Selling: Why 2014 is the Right Time

Social Success

According to a 2012 study from the Aberdeen Group, those that have adopted a social approach to selling are achieving far betters results than those that have not. Look at quota attainment, customer rentention even forecast accuracy and social sellers come out on top.

As we enter another New Year, social sellers are proving to be more successful.

What is Social Selling

Outwardly, Social Selling is about making use of social platforms to communicate with their prospects, customers, channel and colleagues. However it is not tools that define a social seller, instead it is how (and why) they use the tools that sets them apart.

Social Sellers have a Presence

According to the 2013 B2B Lead Generation Report by Holger Schulze, over 90% of B2B buyers begin their buying process online. Those sellers that have a presence and are contributing will be engaging with their customers far earlier than those that are not.  Those sellers that do not have a profile on the major social platforms  will not be noticeable by their absence. They will just be absent.

Social sellers maintain a professional on-line presence so that they, not just their companies, can be found when their prospects begin their buying process.

Social Sellers Make a Contribution

Maintaining a presence is just the start for a social seller. They want to be active in the communities they serve, educating, sharing, moving the conversation forward. Those that sell payment services spell out what new regulation might mean; those that sell unified communications explore how telepresence impacts an increasingly mobile workforce.

There is more to a Social Seller than their products and services. They are  focused on the challenges and opportunities that their customers care about.

Social Sellers Listen

Listening is the subject of countless books, is one of Dale Carnegies ways of influencing people and one of Stephen Covey’s habits of highly effective people. All social interactions begin with listening and the new world of social platforms is no different. By listening Social Sellers gain insights into their customer and understand their priorities. They listen carefully so that when their customers are ready to buy – they are ready to help.

Social Sellers Lead

Selling, in my view, has much in common with leadership. As sellers, we need to engage our buyers by knowing what their opportunities and challenges are. We can then offer a fresh and external perspective on how to meet them.  Sellers are  catalysts for change but buyers naturally have their own ideas of what works well, and it’s not easy to challenge the status quo.

Change comes from being a leader, from offering your customers new ways of thinking about their business. I have some issues with the  The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, not least of which is that I don’t believe sellers have a right to take control of the customer conversation. However, the key to Matthew Dixons and Brent Adamsons text is that sellers have a responsibility to challenge the established position.

Social sellers have lifted their game beyond understanding their own products and services. Instead, they understand their customers markets, invest in the issues their customers face and demonstrate thought leadership.

The Bottom Line:

Social Sellers are seeing early success. They are retaining their customers and making their numbers. They are not achieving this by simply being on LinkedIn, following Stephen Fry or Tweeting about their flight delays. They are  adapting to a new environment. They are adding value, building trust and creating meaningful relationships. What’s more they are unconstrained by limitations of time and distance because they are using online social platforms to extend their reach into new communities previously unaccessible to them. Most importantly though, they are establishing themselves in a new environment, an environment where their customers are already comfortable. Social sellers are getting ahead whilst those that refuse to see that their customers live in a new world are falling behind.

By the end of 2013, the voice of the social buyer grew stronger and louder. Were you around to hear them so that you can change in 2014?

Selling Trust: Social Selling in the Insurance Industry

Selling Trust



When I was asked to speak on social selling to a group that comprised senior executives from the insurance industry recently, the immediate and obvious subject was trustAfter all, It is difficult to think of an industry more dependent on trust.

With this in mind, I reached out to my network for ideas and I was directed towards three great reference points.

Firstly Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey, who I was privileged to see speak at Leaders in London many years before his sad passing, often spoke of the high cost of low trust. In fact he maintained that trust in all businesses was not just important but essential.

Secondly Amazon.love

The subject of trust is also at the centre of an email from the desk of Jeff Bezos shared by Brad Stone,author of a new book the Everything Store. One of the many revelations about Jeff Bezos is that he is somewhat preoccupied with the public perception of Amazon. Bezos wants Amazon to be a company that people trust and love rather than one that people fear and hate. Bezos wants to be an Apple, Costco, Nike or Google not a Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase or Wal-Mart. Interestingly the justice department and JP Morgan Chase are currently haggling over if $13 billiion is sufficient for losing the trust of its customers during the 2008 financial crisis

Thirdly the 3i’s Study: Insurance, Intermediaries and Interactions

The IBM Institute of Business Value  study, Insurance, Intermediaries and Interactions (Dec 2012) took input from 8,500 consumers and 1,300 intermediaries in 17 countries. What they discovered was that trust in the insurance industry has been low since the studies were started in 2007. In fact, in the current study, 56% answered no when asked do you trust the insurance industry? Eek ! Interestingly no one in the industry is surprised by this and whilst is has increased (slightly) in the 2012 study no one in the insurance industry is happy about it.

The Price of Trust

The study also identified that trust is highly correlated to loyalty. The people in that room, all experts in insurance, could assess what churn, the consequence of a lack of trust, costs them far better than I ever could. However, I think it would be difficult to argue with Covey’s wisdom that there is ‘a high cost to low trust’.

Trust is Personal

What interested me though is that whilst customers don’t trust the industry, they do appear to trust people. Three quarters of respondents in another IBM study, Trust, Transparency and Technology (these studies are also exercises in alliteration) said that they did have trust in their personal insurance adviser. Consumers don’t trust the insurance industry but they trust the people they buy their insurance from.

In fact, more than half of those studied still buy from a person. In a time when there is less and less human interaction in business (think Amazon) it remains a foundation for insurance because of all the forms of interaction, we trust human interaction the most.

Personal Interaction has Changed

However, it can’t have escaped anyones attention that the way we interact has changed. Interaction is digital. Insurance customers are using social platforms as part of their buying process. More than 70 percent of study respondents use one or more social networks. They might ultimately buy from a person but the purchase is just one of many interactions. Like many complex products, there are a lot of interaction points. Websites, aggregators and increasingly, social media are replacing many of those face to face interactions.

Customers might not be concluding their final transaction on-line but they spend 60% (and more) of their time being influenced here.

Insurance Customers are better Informed

Consumers are not just interacting differently either. They are better informed than ever before. Before the Internet, complicated products and the difficulty in getting information (and sometimes in complying with regulation) kept insurance a sellers’ market. Now that insurance customers can easily find each other, and exchange experiences and ideas, the rules are changing. To create customer trust through interactions, insurers and intermediaries need to adapt. These are old rules but new tools

Who is responsible for trust?

So who (insurer or intermediary) is responsible for building and maintaining trust? Whilst much of maintaining a personal relationship  is something that intermediaries have been doing well for a long time  it would seem that it is not that simple.

The 3i study refers to a rare experiment in behavioural insurance conducted in 2011. The experiment was carried out at the Institute of Insurance Economics in Switzerland. One of the findings of the study was that customers see a perceived lack of quality as a reflection on professionalism and training i.e the fault lies with the intermediary and the insurer. With issues of reliability, customers see this as a reflection entirely of the insurer. Even a great intermediary cannot sell a poor product.

The experiment shows that the personal side of being a trusted adviser is only one part. Maintaining professionalism, knowing customers personally and treating them personably is something the vast majority of intermediaries have been doing for as long as they have existed. But intermediaries cannot do this alone. In fact the report concludes with a recommendation for insurers.

Insurers have to provide support. That can happen through training, through a corporate culture of customer first, through good and consistent products and messaging, and, last but not least, by giving intermediaries the tools and data they need to serve their clients well.

It would seem that even in a highly intermediated market trust is everyone’s responsibility.

Death of a (Maverick) Salesman

‘The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell and the funny thing is you are a salesman and you don’t know that’, Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, 1949

Sellers Beware

In Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human, Pink suggests that buyers and sellers have moved from caveat emptor to  caveat venditor.  Sellers are no longer the first point of contact when buyers want to know about our products and services. Google is. Sellers are not even going to our web pages. They are going to their networks.

According to a study from the Corporate Executive Board, buyers are almost 60% of the way through their decision before they even speak to a seller. They don’t need sellers until much later in their purchase cycle. They are better connected through social platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter than they have ever been before and they trust each other before they trust sellers.

Today, buyers have reviews, ratings, and comparison shopping at their fingertips, sellers have more incentives to be fair and honest. Seller behaviour must be about doing the right thing or “seller beware.”

Behaviour versus Performance

Think about what this means in terms of measuring not only the performance of a sales team but their behaviours.

Artesian Maverick Quadrant

In the diagram above is a set of quadrants that demonstrates how sales managers have historically managed their team. On the y axis is performance, on the x axis behaviour.

In the good performance/good behaviour quadrant are performers. If we do anything with performers it is about them helping and coaching others to their level. They set the benchmark for the rest of the team.

In the poor behaviour/poor performance are non-performers. These are likely to be going through some performance improvement plan.

An enlightened sales manager will work with TryersTryers are doing all the right thing but not getting the right results. With expert coaching, time and attention their performance usually follows.

The Maverick has left the building

Finally, there is the Maverick quadrant. These sellers exhibit good performance but poor behaviours. Let’s face it, Mavericks, have historically been tolerated. Their contribution to the quarterly numbers is tough to resist. In any case, their performance will eventually drop at some point so sales managers  play a waiting game.  When it plummets, and given that the Maverick’s underlying behaviour – it will, they are unceremoniously exited.

However, the damage has already been done.

If we are lucky, their short-termism was only making them unpopular with their co-workers. The Maverick will often be heard hurumphing around the office complaining about the ‘sales prevention department’ which was variously finance, services, sales support or whoever it is that has identified a flaw in their latest ‘deal’.

Equally as likely though, they are mis-selling or overselling and creating a legacy of customer problems and problem customers.

Few customers keep these problems secret. With complete control of a sales cycle though, sellers could steer around the debris. In a socially enabled world, not so much. And empowered customers are sharing it with their network. Their always-on, global network. A tweet or a LI status update can reach tens of thousands of prospective customers. Competitors too. It is also a permanent record. Some of that buying cycle (the 57% invisible to the seller) can be used to find out what existing customers think. Good selling behaviour leaves behind a trail of satisfied customers and positive comments. Poor behaviour also leaves a trail. The maverick can no longer be tolerated. Caveat Venditor.

Better Selling Is …

In To Sell is Human, Pink also demonstrates that the networked age requires more not less sellers. More of us sell than ever before and those that don’t have to persuade, convince and compel as part of an increasingly creative and collaborative workplace. Pink calls it non-sales selling. We all need to be better sellers. However better can no longer be defined by the numbers. It can not be determined by performance alone. Instead, it must be measured by how we conduct ourselves, by our behaviours.

In short, to be better sellers we must be better humans.