CII Thinkpiece on networking:: the smell of bs in the morning…no thanks!

imageI’ve been in this business for a long time and, despite there being plenty of people able to bear witness to the fact that I’m a pretty “social animal” the truth is I have always despised networking! I cringe at the type of gathering that has, otherwise typically reserved Brits, feign joy because somebody who sells printing or dry cleaning services has just done some business with the person who sells life assurance or will writing. It’s all…well, how can I say this, FALSE! There is never the enthusiastic whooping and hollering of a Jerry Springer show and I’m sure an awful lot of that is down to the simple fact that most people are there under duress. Their boss or their sales figures sent or led them there out of desperation and the first measure of their success is how many business cards (even compliment slips) they offloaded or collected!

Nor am I keen on engaging with people purely on the basis that there might be some business in it. Exchanging pleasantries and small talk over a glass of wine and canapés whilst trying to ingratiate ourselves to each other would give anyone indigestion.      

If these are the basic ingredients for forming worthwhile, longstanding, business relationships then, to me (because this is only my opinion) the business world (particularly in Financial Services) IS as shallow and undeserving of trust as it has consistently shown itself to be in recent years. The thing about it is that, ALL the people who recognise these scenarios from their own past experiences are both vendors and buyers of a range of different products and services! So, we know bs when we smell it in the room or on our new best friend’s breath. Often it is the smell of fear or business-sponsored insincerity worn like an ill-fitting suit!!!    

That isn’t to say that there aren’t genuine people. Of course there are. I consider myself one of them and am proud to say that I have come to know plenty of them over the years. But, very rarely, have any worthwhile business relationship or genuine friendship been formed without, first, establishing that there is a basis for mutual trust, based upon shared values and respective capabilities.

“Trust in our industry is like the bread in your lunchtime sandwich – without it, everything falls apart.”

This is a great quote from John Heaney, of Hiscox Insurance, that, for me, just about sums things up, not just for the insurance industry, but for financial services and just about any business intent upon longevity.

Trust is earned: not bought or sold

For me and for most savvy people Social Media (Social Business) offers are far more palatable and credible platform. For, if you aren’t who you say you are, or don’t know what you claim to and don’t deliver what you promise, any success will be short-lived. If you are not authentic, there is no basis for trust and the disgruntled or dis-satisfied will gladly let others know. When they do, no amount of salespeople, business cards, rhetoric and networking will provide a long term solution, just perpetuate the need for more networking.

Vicious Circle or Virtuous cycle?

Instead of wasting money on training salespeople to sell and sending them out to network with the like-minded, I would always recommend investing in their knowledge to maintain of enhance the capability to “deliver”…consistently. And if/when things don’t work out to everyone’s complete satisfaction, don’t hide from it. Treat it as the great sales opportunity it is: acknowledge it, relish the satisfaction in dealing with it and even boast about it the next time that someone tries to drag you along to a 07:00 networking meeting with bacon rolls, pastries, coffee-breath and suits before you can get to looking after the people who really matter to your career!

I particularly liked the sentiment in a blog I came across that deals with probably the most critical time in a relationship that SHOULD be built on trust but has become just another occasion when the insurance industry (and the secondary industries it funds) has been found sorely wanting and, as a result, need to extend the vicious circle approach. This HAS to change!: what’s it to be sell the, oft unfulfilled, promise of insurance protection or deliver peace of mind and (re)build trust???:

…events such as riots, floods and storms have reinforced the value of having appropriate insurance cover to help people to quickly get back on their feet should a disaster occur. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the way insurers have reacted to these events will lead to public confidence in the industry being restored.

Managing a claim is a great opportunity to engage with customers, provide superior customer service and communicate a value proposition that goes beyond price. Get this right and the customer is likely to be more open to doing more business with you in the future, as well as recommitting when the policy comes up for renewal. It can therefore dramatically improve profit and customer lifetime value in the longer term.

True, you could instead make life difficult and be slow to settle a claim in order to avoid paying out for a few more months. However, customers are going to be left wondering why they bothered to pay their premiums and you’re unlikely to get any repeat business the following year.

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