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Can IT Learn to Embrace Sales? Would Sales Let IT Get That Close?

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In my first insurance job, I supported agents, one of whom refused to put ‘Insurance Agent’ on his cards. He said, “People will think I just sell insurance.”  A top producer heard this, and said, “Are you afraid you might actually sell some?”

This reminds me of a challenge facing insurance IT and Sales today.

Why some  IT folks don’t love sales

Like our colleague above, some insurance IT folks are reticent to be too closely associated with insurance sales. In my experience, I’ve heard variations on two themes:

  1. Sales people don’t seem to take to technology, and
  2. The insurance profession doesn’t have the same cachet as other financial institutions and high tech firms.

Let’s dig a bit deeper and see if there is an opportunity to improve.

Sales folks and insurance technology 

As much as IT wants to distance itself from insurance sales, insurance agents and brokers have similar feelings about insurance technology.  And this is based on sometimes bitter experience.

As we have discussed in this space, insurance was an early adopter of information technology.  The majority of applications focused on automating accounting/reporting and, somewhat later, policy and claims administration.

Because the focus was elsewhere, marketing and customer management were after-thoughts for the first few decades.  Some of the attempts were counter-productive, forcing sales folks to use tools that were non-intuitive, time consuming, and counter-productive.

As a result, sales and marketing professionals learned either to continue to rely on manual methods or to acquire their own tools for customer service and sales tracking.  As a by-product, some sales folks learned to avoid IT when possible.

There are better solutions  now, with the advent of user friendly digital tools and common standards for integration.  However, sales folks have long memories, some of which are unpleasant.

The insurance industry isn’t as ‘cool’ as other sectors

I don’t feel this way now,  but,  I confess,  insurance was an acquired taste for me.  Fortunately, I had some great, patient mentors and now I stand in awe of the importance and power of insurance.

I am not alone with this.  I had a conversation last week with Ryan Rist, Director of Innovation at American Family Insurance.  Ryan was a prime mover in working with Microsoft to develop smart home technology, and is working on a number of digital innovations.

Ryan will be presenting on his work at our 2016 Insurance-Canada.ca Technology Conference, and we were talking about the content.   I told Ryan that we ask our presenters to take a business-first approach.

He was delighted.  I spent the next 10 minutes listening to Ryan wax eloquent on  the virtues of modern insurance and its ability to support growth in the economy and to innovate with risk mitigation for cyber transactions as well as real property.

So how could we bring Sales and IT closer?

A colleague (who is a top insurance sales professional for an international broker) recently sent me an article that provided excellent perspective.  The author, John Halter, is a long time sales manager who began his career as an operations supervisor.  His journey began with an exhortation his District Manager gave him: He needed to not only understand sales, but embrace and lead the sales effort.

Halter became extremely successful based on a conclusion he came to early on:  There is no fence between sales and operations.  There is only the customer.  “Whatever side of that fence you think you are on, your job is to find out what your customer needs and deliver it to them better than anyone else,” Halter writes.

Halter provides several common sense suggestions.  For example, he encourages operations staff to join sales staff in customer calls “and help them say ‘Yes!’ to customers.”

Unfortunately, the suggestions are not common in practice. When was the last time you saw an IT manager join a field rep on a broker call?

Do you think this is important for insurers?

Increasingly, the business of insurance is not only relying on technology, but becoming intertwined with technology strategy.  Can we continue with two solitudes?

 

 

 

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