Dave Wells, Agency Development Field Specialist
“So, what do you do?”
Whether at a social function, a networking event, a conference, or even among friends, we’ve been asked this question countless times. As insurance professionals, how do we respond? And more importantly, how do others react to our answer?
Usually, we might say something like, “I’m an insurance agent,” or “I work for an insurance agency.” As an agency producer, we might simply say, “I sell insurance.” These answers are brief, factual, and accurate. However, such statements are unlikely to lead to deeper conversations. Some people may ask us polite follow-up questions like, “Oh, what company do you work for?” or “How long have you been in the insurance business?” If given the opportunity, we might be able to explain that, as independent agents, we are not tied to one company and that we have options to offer. It is rare, though, for the other person in the conversation to want to dig deeper, and the conversation will usually drift off to other topics.
There are two primary reasons for this lack of engagement. First, most people have some basic knowledge of insurance. They may not know the details of what’s covered by their policy, but they do know that insurance is intangible, complicated, and expensive. In personal lines especially, consumers tend to view insurance products as commodities with little difference other than brand. Consequently, they may view insurance agents in the same way.
Second, we may not be positioning what we do in the most favorable light. Commoditization is not unique to insurance; every industry faces it. The challenge is how do we differentiate ourselves? If consumers don’t see us as different from other agents, whose fault is that?
In his ground-breaking best-seller, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, author Simon Sinek points out that most businesses tend to emphasize what they do, then explain how they do it, and finally (if at all) allude to why they do it. So, when asked, “what do you do?” we typically start with the “What”: I sell insurance. We may explain the “How”: I work with multiple companies as an independent agent. The “Why” may be a bit fuzzy: so that I can recommend the right coverages for my customers, or find the best value, or (worse yet) get the cheapest price in starting with “What,” we are appealing to the rational thought process of consumers. Still, there’s a fundamental problem: most consumers make buying decisions on an emotional, gut level and then justify their decision rationally after the fact. It is the “Why” that connects with people at the emotional level that differentiates us from our competitors. Sinek examined companies such as Apple, Southwest, Walmart, and others and discovered that the common thread among them was that their marketing efforts all started with “Why.” They led with the value proposition that answered, “Why are we different?” before getting to “How” and then “What.”
Our challenge, then, as insurance professionals, is to start with “Why.” Why do we do what we do? Why did we get into this business? Why is it important to us? Why does it matter to the consumer? By leading with “Why,” we engage and connect on an emotional level with our customers and prospects.
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