Top 10 tech tools for 2012
Manage your time and wow prospects with an integrated selling system
By John Love, CPCU
What's your favorite technology-based device or service right now? A flipcam? Your iPad 2? Salesforce? Most producers today are fired up by new technology, and the latest hot devices are always on display at industry gatherings.
For example, I recently attended a two-day industry event, and over 40% of the producers had iPads or other tablet devices. I suspect that number will be 80% or more by the end of this year for a simple reason: The device solves a problem. But you need to go beyond that and ramp up your game to make maximum use of the available technology.
Your most precious commodity is the time you have available for production. If you had 30 hours a day to sell, you could simply out-work your competition. However, every producer is limited to 24 hours in a day and can work only a portion of that.
Consider a critically important agency metric: revenue per employee. Over the past 20 years, the average has increased significantly. Information technology was the hero in almost all of that improvement. You have to work smarter each year by using the latest tools as effectively as possible.
The downside to new technology is that fatigue sets in when producers are constantly trying to learn and use the latest, greatest tools and services. Equally troubling is that some producers put off using new technology with the excuse that they are waiting for training on the new system or service. So, like most things in life, it's a balancing act.
Here are some suggestions on items and providers that should be in every producer's toolbox. We are not endorsing these vendors, and you should make your own choices based on your particular needs. This article offers a utopian perspective: "In a perfect world I would…"
Because selling time is your most valuable commodity, how you manage your time is ultimately the most important overall influence on your success. Of equal importance is the effectiveness of your communication. This means that the most efficient way to communicate with the highest number of quality prospects is a wonderful foundation on which to build your sales success.
Top 10 tech tools
In no particular order, here are 10 self-improvement opportunities to lead you into a successful sales year in 2012:
1. Your e-mail system—specifically, learning how to use folders, automatic filing, search, and converting an e-mail to a task or action item (either with a follow-up flag or a separate task list that integrates with your calendar). Tons of apps are available, but you also need to actually spend an hour reading more about the capabilities you aren't already using. When I started in the business, there was no e-mail or mobile phones, and I thought returning 15 calls in a day was a big accomplishment. Now most producers handle 100 to 150 e-mails a day, plus spending two to three hours on the phone. Whew!
Create folder structures that work for you and integrate with your customer relationship management (CRM) tool (see below) and, if you want to achieve nirvana, your agency management system.
2. A customer relationship management (CRM) tool—You can use Outlook or a more purpose-driven tool like Salesforce, Highrise, or similar CRM, SaaS service. The key is to spend dedicated time in it each week performing your prospecting activities and tracking them with the software.
Your CRM tool should integrate with your e-mail system and your mobile device so that all folders sync and allow you to deal with e-mail and prospecting activity efficiently. I think most CRMs are overblown for what a producer really needs, and you should not adjust your work activity just to make the CRM author happy. It should work for you, not against you.
3. Browsers and e-readers—Managing information is one of your most important jobs. Spend an hour searching for and installing additional browser plug-in tools that enable you to (a) store and index bookmarks and (b) save valuable information for later reading (or forwarding to prospects and clients). Google's new Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Explorer all have third-party plug-ins, and I think the most important one is storing information for later reading with a tool like Instapaper.
4. Dropbox—is a popular file-sharing system that provides cloud-based storage to facilitate sharing among all your devices (laptop, tablet, phone). You get the first 2G for free, and it's great for storing your marketing collateral materials and other tools you use for prospecting.
For example, you can create a subfolder with promotional videos (which are bigger files you don't want to have to copy directly onto each device) and invite a prospect to share the folder.
5. Hootsuite—or a similar tool for managing multiple social media sites. Hootsuite takes minutes to set up, and then you can manage your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and YouTube accounts.
6. Video-enabled prospecting tools—When you are developing a prospect, he or she may ask for a plethora of different pieces of information. A video-based explanation can be a highly effective way to answer prospects' questions and convert them to clients. Examples include:
a. Testimonials of three to five clients.
b. Representation of the five to eight key points about your specialization or expertise.
c. Three to five success stories.
d. Two or three examples of how your agency's special services make you unique (disaster recovery planning, HR consulting, design safety consulting). You say "what" these services are, but you need to show "why" the prospect should care about them.
7. An information service with specific insurance and risk management tools—which you will actually use. My favorite—and I'll admit I'm biased—is Producer Online. The explanations, checklists, and tools for warming up a prospect save me a lot of time; they always have.
You can access Producer Online from any Internet-connected device and find what you need quickly. There are more than 10,000 pages of content, and I combine that with other sources and keep the pieces I especially like as PDFs in Dropbox so I can e-mail them to anyone.
8. Tablet device—I love my iPad because it's instant-on and I can type much more easily with it than I can with my iPhone. And the battery lasts all day. I carry about 40 demo videos on it and since most of my meetings are one-on-one or one-on-two, the size of the screen works well. I do carry external speakers ($30) for better sound volume.
9. HD video camera—Early in my career as a producer, I got used to carrying a digital camera with me everywhere. It saved a lot of time and hassle by enabling me to take photos of clients' exposures that I could use to help the underwriter like and trust the account—and prevent a loss control visit. Now I use it to interview producers and agency principals for videos we create for their Web sites. I can carry a portable green screen cloth, lighting system, wireless microphone and camera in a carry-on bag. Have camera—will travel.
10. Proposal software service like Bidsketch or Proposable—This may be a stretch for some producers, and your volume of proposals may not justify it, but I love being able to quickly crank out a proposal in response to an inquiry. The fact that you can embed Flash videos into the proposal allows you to really impress prospects with whom you won't be meeting (see #6 above).
The 10 tech tools described above set you ub for success and allow you to develop a precise selling process. You can connect with prospects online and off, and get back to them quickly with valuable information. The video capabilities impress them and set you apart from other producers.
When you get the feeling that you are overwhelmed and cannot get back to everyone on time—stop. Take a deep breath. Think about the most important opportunities and respond to those first. Then, over the weekend, consider how your use of technology, or failure to use it properly, contributed to this problem.
Your agency is expecting more from you in this sustained soft market in a rough economic stretch. Your sales volume needs to increase, and to accomplish that you need to implement a process improvement plan now that makes smart use of the latest tools.