Think you're great at sales? Think you can sell ice to an Eskimo? Could you have sold insurance to President Coolidge? The book, The Quotable Calvin Coolidge: Sensible Words for a New Century calls the president a skilled and effective public speaker who in private was a man of few words, commonly referred to as "Silent Cal."
The book details a story about Dorothy Parker, seated next to him at a dinner, asking him, "Mr. Coolidge, I've made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you." His famous reply: "You lose."
I had never considered selling the silent until recently. Aaron, a young friend and I were having lunch when he asked, "How do you sell insurance in a nonverbal world?" To save me the embarrassment of answering his question he quickly explained, "Mike, I'm working with nonprofits today that are delivering counseling to veterans and others via text messaging and smartphones. The demand is unbelievable. A lot of folks aren't comfortable meeting with someone even for something as personal as counseling."
His question caused me to flash back to earlier conversations with others -- some familiar with and others confused by this new world. Trish heads up distance learning for a university. She's enthusiastic about the technology, the learning opportunities it provides, possibilities created, Gen Ys and their realities.
Her major concern ? "Gen AARPers believe Gen Ys or Millennials don't have empathy. But, they do! If you let the technology 'speak,' there is no empathy. It is cold, harsh and one dimensional while providing instant responses/gratification. However, for Gen Ys, the technology is invisible and emotions, like empathy, run deep. For them, technology provides instant information, answers and access to friends and peers, as well as instant gratification.
Robert teaches advanced placement classes at a private school. He told me the stereotypical 16 year old in his classes is extremely bright, knows technology and can work miracles with it. Unfortunately, (s)he can recall little on demand and Googles everything. He reinforced his statement by reminding me that our education included a knowledge base -- what we learned and later recalled. Their world is more one of information overload and understanding that they can find what they need, when they need it.
A day after my visit with Robert, a contemporary commented that he had the night before watched six teenagers at a table in a nice restaurant all texting each other or someone else while waiting for their meals. This is foreign to us.
I now ask you Aaron's question, "How do you sell insurance in a nonverbal world?
As I feebly attempted to respond to Aaron's question, he interrupted. "Mike, my dad's like you. He's dealt with one agent for 40 years. He really liked the guy. I went online and checked out what he had been buying. I was amazed at how bad this "friend" had been screwing him all these years! I moved his coverage to an online carrier. He'll never go back to that agent."
His words pierced my delusions and comfort zone like a pin in the balloon of hot air that I am. I remember my Momma referring me to her agent when I needed to buy my first insurance policy on my own. I suddenly discovered that the Millennials will soon be teaching their mommas and grandmommas to buy online.
Our knowledge and relationships will be as important in the future as they have been in the past -- the delivery of knowledge and the development of relationships will be significantly different.
The time has arrived for us to worry less about innovations in processes and to understand better and work harder at the need to innovate our communication practices and how we bond with people. In yesterday's world communication was whatever the "guy" in power said it was. In today's diverse society, communication is the negotiation of meaning.
As you commence on this new adventure into tomorrow, ask yourself:
- Who will our clients and prospects be in the future?
- How will we communicate?
- How will we establish and sustain relationships?
- What will they want and need?
- How will we profitably deliver this at a price they are willing to pay?
- How will we sell in a nonverbal world?
My friend Trish substantially reshaped my thinking and the words in this article. When my thinking changed -- I remembered the quote from Marshall McLuhan, "The medium is the message."
I hope I'm beginning to understand this brave new world. It's incumbent upon us to adapt -- our transition will impact others.
Thanks Trish and Marshall.
MICHAEL G. MANES is owner of Square One Consulting, a New Iberia, La.- based consulting business focusing on planning, sales and operations, and change management and architecture. He has over 37 years of insurance industry experience, including serving as an instructor of risk and insurance at Louisiana State University.
January 30, 2012
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