One benefit of writing a monthly column for California Broker magazine is that I get to address pet peeves. In the February issue, my column, offered advice on how to create better PowerPoint slides. Clearly, I’ve attended — and given — way too many speeches. Part 2 will be published in March . This version is slightly altered from the magazine version.
Powerful Presentations for Your Audience’s Sake. Part I
Do you give speeches? Maybe at carrier or GA product seminar? Or at association events? Do you use seminar marketing? If so, you probably use PowerPoint (or its Mac cousin, Keynote) and this article is addressed to you.
It’s written for your audience, however. Because sitting through presentations with lousy slides can be painful.
PowerPoint can turn an interesting speech into nap time. This isn’t the software’s fault. Like splitting the atom, presentation software can be used for good or evil. Slides can generate tremendous energy or radioactive tedium. If you use slides, for your audience’s sake, please use them wisely.
It’s About You
I’ve sat through hundreds of presentations. And I’ve given hundreds, too. This doesn’t make me an expert on public speaking, but it does make me experienced. Plus, I’ve spent time researching what makes good slides. In this article (about content) and next month’s (on design), I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned. Full disclosure: I may not always follow these rules myself, but I know I should.
In reading this advice, please remember that you are the presentation. The audience wants to hear you talk about your products and services. Otherwise they could stay home and read brochures.
Slides can help you deliver your message, but they are not the focus of your presentation. They can provide context and underscore key points. They should never distract. Slides should be something your audience glances at, quickly comprehends, and then returns their rapt attention to you.
Don’t Read Them. Your slides are not a script. That’s what notes are for. Reading your slides is a crime against humanity, at least the slice of humanity sitting in front of you. There’s a place in hell reserved for slide readers, right next to those who talk during movies and recline their seats on airplanes.
Your audience can read silently faster than you can read out loud. Once an audience sees you reading slides, you’ve lost them. They’ll read the slides for themselves. And then they’ll check their email.
There is an exception to this “no reading” rule. If you’re not reading every slide, when you do read one it can capture the audience’s attention in a very powerful way. I make use of this exception during talks based on my book, Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success. During that presentation I define sales professionalism. An agent surveyed for the book did a great job of describing the term. My slide shows his entire quote and I read it. As a result, the definition stands out. Because it stands out, the definition is more memorable. Use restraint when applying this exception, however. Read more than a few slides, and it’s back to the emails.
Slides Aren’t Handouts. As noted, slides can provide context and emphasis. However, what if you want to use the slides as something your audience can take with them to keep your message fresh?
Don’t. That’s not what slides are for. Flyers and brochures are for handing out. Links to articles and blog posts are for sharing. Slides are for supporting your presentation. Use the right tool for the right job. This requires a bit more effort on your part, but you’ll be much more effective as a result.
Sentences Are Unnecessary. You should talk in complete sentences. Your slides don’t have to. The audience should be able to glance at the slide, glean its meaning and return their attention to you (the star of the show).
This makes complete sentences counterproductive, with a few exceptions. For example, if you’re quoting someone, you want may need to provide the entire quote. Although there’s a reason they invented ellipses.
At first you may find it uncomfortable to not use complete sentences on your slides. Sentences can be reassuring. They tell you what to say. But you’ll also be tempted to read them. And that, as we’ve discussed, is unacceptable.
Phrases are friend. They too can remind you what to say. And they’re easier for your audience to read. Sometimes just a word or two can be powerful. In my health care reform presentation, I explain why brokers should not worry too much about proposals like Medicare for All. I could write out the reasons in cogent sentences. But that would transfer attention from me to the slides.
Instead, I explain the reasons and borrow a couple of reassuring words from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Don’t Panic”. That’s all the slide contains, two words: “Don’t Panic.” This not only underscores my message, it’s somewhat comforting.
Watch Your Words
Words Can Be Unnecessary. Sometimes you don’t need any words. Instead of telling your audience something, you can show them. Discussing what’s happening in Washington, D.C.? A picture of the Capitol or the White House provides context. Talking about impending danger from bad policy making? Use a picture of a tidal wave or an avalanche to underscore your message.
Pictures can also add a bit of humor to your message without distracting from what you’re saying. For example, when talking about what’s happening in Washington, D.C., use the avalanche picture. Your audience will get the point. They may even chuckle.
Finding the right picture is easy. Free images can be found on the web and stock photos are available for very little cost. It’s worth taking some time to search for the right “thousand words” picture.
Graphs can be effective, too. Just make sure you attribute them and that they can be read in the back of the room. If you have to apologize for how small the graph is, don’t use it.
Title and Closing Slides. You’re most likely being introduced before you approach the podium. A title slide with your topic and your name is good to have on the screen during this time. If it also includes your company’s name and logo, even better (more on logos next month).
And there’s no need for a slide at the end that reads “Questions?” You’ll tell your audience when it’s time for questions. Instead, your last slide should be a near duplicate of the title slide. This end slide, however, should include your contact information. After all, they came to hear you. Use this slide to help them follow-up with you.
Your slides need to have the right context. They also need to be legible. That’s where good design can help. And that’s next month’s topic.
Alan Katz is one of Cal Broker’s 2020 editorial advisors. He’ll be writing monthly about marketing and sales growth as well as health care reform. Katz is a co-founder of Take 44, Inc., the company behind NextAgency, an agency management system for life and health agencies. He is a past president of NAHU, was a senior vice president at WellPoint and general manager of the general agency Centerstone. Katz also served as chief of staff to California’s Lieutenant Governor and on the Santa Monica City Council. You can follow him on Twitter (@AlanSKatz) and contact him at Alan@Take44.com.
I am honored that California Broker magazine has asked me to write a monthly column for their publication. The magazine has been an important resource for insurance agencies in the Golden State for decades. I’ve written numerous articles for them over the year, but this is the first time I’m doing a regular column.
Since the topics I’m writing on are not geographically limited, I thought I’d share them here as well. This first article, Putting Politics Into Perspective, published in the January issue, explains why there is almost no chance of Medicare for All becoming law in the next administration. While the COVID-19 epidemic changes the calculus slightly, I stand by the conclusion made here. Unless something remarkable happens in the Fall, there simply won’t be the votes needed to enact legislation this sweeping. The article has been slightly edited since its publication.
Putting Health Care Reform in Perspective
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day events that comprise America’s politics. Like an easily distracted dog, every day brings another squirrel. Or three.
By the time you read this, for instance, cable news is no doubt obsessing over the twists and turns of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. (As I write, the Judiciary Committee is getting ready for its first hearing, but where this road leads is pretty easy to map). Once the trial is over, the news channels will resume fixating on the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. That means we’ll be hearing a lot more about Medicare For All, Medicare For All Who Want It and all the other permutations that are healthcare reform in 2020.
A winning issue
In the 2018 mid-term elections healthcare reform played a critical role in helping Democrats capture a majority in the House of Representatives. That’s in part because Republicans badly botched their “repeal and replace” approach to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), misplacing the “replace” part of the formula. For Democrats, healthcare reform is a winning issue. They’ll keep it front and center in 2020.
Listening to politicians debate an issue that could devastate your profession and livelihood can be … upsetting. Especially when the issues involve something as complex as healthcare reform and the politicians, by choice and necessity, talk in generalities and principles that often only glancingly connect with reality.
For example, the Democratic Presidential Debates over the past few months have spent considerable time on the need to fix America’s healthcare system. They often fail to separate health insurance practices from, say, pharmaceutical company pricing decisions. There should be a warning on the screen: Politicians conflating insurance policies covering the cost of care and providers setting the cost of care may lead to indigestion and high blood pressure.
Or consider the appropriation of Medicare to sell a single-payer system. Any and every health insurance professional knows that when candidates talk about Medicare For All they are not referring to Medicare As It Is Today. Medicare As It Is Today includes premiums, co-pays, deductibles, coverage limits and more. It limits costs by setting reimbursement levels for doctors, hospitals and other providers. Medicare For All includes no cost-sharing. And it sets prices providers can charge–a fact no politician will emphasize.
However, Medicare As It Is Today is popular. Co-opting the term “Medicare” for a government-run single payer plan is simply good marketing. And good marketing is good politics. Which means this conflation will continue.
Governing isn’t campaigning
There’s a simple way to get through the coming stress-inducing political maelstrom. Relax. Pay attention. But don’t panic. What you’re hearing is the sound and fury to which William Shakespeare referred. He noted such noise signified nothing. In the case of healthcare reform, it signifies something, but much less than might be apparent.
That’s because campaigning and governing are two different things. Campaigns are about hope (or fear). Campaigns are aspirational. Governing is about counting votes. Administrations are pragmatic. That’s because the calculus each use is different.
Campaigns are about aggregating voting blocks to create a majority (or at least a plurality). In presidential campaigns this is complicated by the Electoral College, but let’s not go there. That’s why politicians talk about “big tents” and “coalitions.”
Governing requires cobbling together sufficient majorities in a legislature (let’s assume Congress). This process is focused on the needs and fears of 535 lawmakers, not 130 million voters.
The 60th Senator
The implications of this difference are profound. Despite all the attention paid to the presidential contest and the nearly $2 billion that will be spent to influence who sits in the oval office, the president doesn’t get to decide the final shape of health care reform. That power resides with one senator.
Interestingly, we don’t know who that is. Yet. But let any president, Democrat or Republican, try to push through healthcare reform and we’ll find out. That most powerful Senator is whoever positions themselves as the 60th vote. (There are ways to change laws in the Senate with a simple majority, but let’s consider the traditional method for now).
Getting to 59 votes is tough. Getting to 60 votes is much tougher. Senators who commit late are extremely powerful. They can often determine what the final bill contains.
In 2017 we saw an example of this phenomenon. Senate Republicans needed 50 votes to pass a “skinny” repeal of the ACA (why 50 were needed as opposed to 60 isn’t relevant now). That crucial vote turned out to belong to Senator John McCain. And neither the president nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could capture his support. In that famous “thumbs down” moment, Senator McCain doomed the Republican effort to kill the ACA.
Medicare for All: Not happening
Come November 2020 we’ll find out which party holds the majority in the Senate. Given that every Republican and several Democrats oppose Medicare For All, that proposal will be dead on arrival.
It’s totally appropriate for Democratic candidates to use Medicare For All to define their aspirations and build their coalitions. When it comes time to govern, however, no matter who is elected, Medicare For All is not going to happen. The 60th senator–whoever that may be–won’t let it.
This doesn’t mean the healthcare reform debate this year is meaningless. This doesn’t mean, as knowledgeable health insurance professionals, we can be detached or silent. Quite the opposite. Momentum matters. Education makes a difference. And advocates for a single payer system are not going away. Engaging in the debate is necessary and useful.
Just keep things in perspective. Your blood pressure will thank you.
Alan Katz is a co-founder of Take 44, Inc., the company behind NextAgency, an agency management system for life and health agencies that saves them time, money and clients. Learn more at www.NextAgency.com. Alan is a past president of NAHU, was a senior vice president at WellPoint and general manager of the general agency Centerstone. He has served as chief of staff to California’s Lieutenant Governor and on the Santa Monica City Council. You can follow him on Twitter (@AlanSKatz), connect on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/alankatz44) and contact him at Alan@Take44.com.
Insurance agencies have lots of choices when it comes to technology. Take insurance agency software. These platforms come in all shapes and sizes. Well, not so much shape and sizes given that they’re basically zeros-and-ones. They do, however, come with different functions.
Two types of software available to insurance agencies are easily confused: agency management systems (AMS) and customer relationship management systems (CRM). This isn’t surprising. There’s considerable overlap in the benefits they deliver. Each can help you sell more. Each can help you be more organized. CRM and AMS software are not the same, however. Understanding the differences can help you decide which type of software you need.
This article will focus on CRM and agency management software designed for insurance agents – and, in particular, agencies focusing on benefits, senior and life products. If you’re interested in an AMS system for your realty company, there’s probably a blog out there for you. This is not it.
What is Customer Relationship Management?
There’s a slight difference of opinion concerning what a CRM platform is. Some people claim customer relationship management is a strategy, not a technology. They define CRM as making the customer the center of everything an agency does. Technology may help implement this strategy, but the software is incidental to a customer-centric strategy.
Others focus on the technology involved when discussing CRM. Salesforce defines CRM as “a technology for managing all your company’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers.” That Salesforce focuses on the software, rather than the philosophy, is not surprising. They are, after all, one of the world’s largest customer relationship management platforms. That doesn’t make their definition a bad one, however.
These two definitions of CRM are not mutually exclusive. CRM can be a strategy for putting customers first. It can also be the technology that enables this. For purposes of this post, we’ll define CRMs as software that helps agencies manage contacts, track sales, measure productivity, and understand the history of their customer interaction and more.
What is an Agency Management System?
An agency management system is software. Someone somewhere may claim that AMS is a strategy. If so, I can’t find their posts. Agency management systems help you organize your agency. It helps with sales, but goes further. AMS helps you manage information about carriers, general agencies and your own agency. Agency management software helps you deliver better customer service, track your commissions, keep commitments and more.
Agency management systems are a subset of data management software. Techopedia defines data management well. “Data management refers to an organization’s management of information and data for secure and structured access and storage.” When data management software is built for insurance agencies it’s called an agency management system. But at the end of the day, it’s a data management system.
Comparing CRM and Agency Management Systems
Whether an agency management system or CRM software is the better choice for you depends on what you want to accomplish. CRM tools are great if your goal is to dive deep into customer interactions. Agency management systems are better if you’re looking to improve more than just sales issues.
Customer Relationship Management Systems
Strong customer relationship management systems go beyond just tracking client data. They may offer auto dialers and caller ID. They may have built-in text systems. More sophisticated customer relationship management systems can adapt your web site to the status of the visitor. Prospects will see certain content. Clients will see something different.
Because CRMs are fixated on sales, they can seem like one-trick ponies. They aren’t much help beyond selling. Sales are critical. But customer relationship management systems don’t help you run a more efficient agency. Agency management systems do.
Agency Management Systems
AMS software usually include CRM tools. Improving sales results is just a part of what an agency management system should deliver, however. For example, NextAgency helps you track prospects through your sales pipelines. NextAgency also helps you store notes and automatically associate emails related to each prospect and client. NextAgency makes renewing — and cross-selling — your clients easier. Our software makes it simple to implement a drip marketing campaign. The platform also helps you assign policies to specific employees. These are all CRM tools.
NextAgency is an agency management system, however. Which means it does more than help you sell. NextAgency helps you deliver better customer service with service pipelines and benefit portals for your clients. Our software helps you manage your carrier, general agent and vendor relationships. NextAgency helps you keep commitments made to clients and others. NextAgency includes a built-in agency library. This keeps your forms, documents and collateral handy wherever you are. NextAgency helps you manage commissions. NextAgency syncs with your existing email account. Not all agency management systems do everything NextAgency does. Most do not. However, all agency management systems deliver more than just sales tools.
Which is Best for You, an Agency Management System or CRM software?
How to choose between a CRM or an agency management system? The answer depends on what’s most important to you. Customer relationship management software has a narrow focus: sales. Do you need – and will you use – every sales tool available? We all want to improve sales. But buying tools you won’t or can’t use wastes money. If you will use all the sales tools available in a CRM, however, that may be the right choice for you.
Are you looking for software to address more than sales? A strong agency management platform will include CRM tools, just not as many as dedicated customer service software. Agency management software can help you track commissions, manage documents and carrier appointments and so on. If you want to make your agency smarter, more effective and more efficient (while increasing sales), you probably want an agency management system.
A number of agencies have come to NextAgency from CRM systems. They thought they only needed help with sales. These agencies realized that managing their client relationships was critical. However, they realized they needed something more. They found that CRM tools were a part of the solution, just not the entire solution. They needed an agency management system. You know, one like NextAgency.
There’s numerous types of software that can help insurance agencies succeed. For example, social media management tools can optimize marketing processes by having a single, centralized dashboard to manage social media activities. Still, two of the most powerful tools available to these agencies are CRM and agency management systems. Choosing the right one is critical.
Whether you sell benefits, senior or life products, NextAgency can save you time, money and clients. NextAgency is a powerful, modern agency management system (NextBroker) with CRM, marketing and commission management tools. Please visit www.NextAgency.com to learn more. And to see NextAgency in action, please sign-up for a free demonstration at one of our regular webinars.
Change. Whether you’re implementing insurance agency management software for the first time or moving from one software platform to another, you’re engaged in change. And change can be hard.
Change can be uncomfortable. You may realize the need to improve the way you run your health insurance agency. After all, that’s why you’re shopping for a CRM or agency management system. However, you and your team are used to doing business a certain way. And that way is, usually, familiar and comfortable.
There is also that pesky “change takes time” thing. You’re in the insurance business, not the software business. You have prospects and clients to attend to. You have insurance carrier reps to talk to. Products to learn. Employees to train. When it comes to priorities, learning new software will rarely be at the top of your list.
So, how do you make change?
For an insightful, in-depth dive into the subject, you may want to read Switch: Making Change When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Health. It’s entertaining, helpful and well worth your time.
In the meantime, however, here’s three lessons I’ve learned in the past 30 years of developing and implementing sales software. During that time I’ve engaged in new technologies at health insurance agencies, general agencies, health insurance carriers, and insurtech start-ups (like NextAgency). Given that this is a NextAgency blog, I’m focusing on implementing insurance agency management software. But the lessons apply to any change — buying new equipment, entering new markets, selling a new product and so on.
Lesson 1: Appoint a Champion
Implementing new software requires everyone in your insurance agency to be involved. Your entire team needs to make time for training. They need to use the new agency management system so that the data is current and stays relevant. However, you can make things easier for everyone by appointing a change champion. This individual is on point, leading the effort to implement your new software. Others can procrastinate (a bit), but not your champion. Your champion works with the software vendor’s success team (like our NextConcierge group). Your champion schedules training, helps other find training videos and helpful articles. They offer encouragement to others and pay attention to progress. They’re the go-to person in your agency others talk to when they have questions.
Without a champion, everyone has plenty of excuses. “I have other things to do.” “This isn’t my job.” “I haven’t been trained.” Change champions, however, cuts through the excuses. She answers questions. She provides an example. She gets things done. Whether you are implementing new agency management software or adding a new product line, someone needs to lead the charge. And as the agency owner, it’s your obligation to appoint — and support — that champion.
Lesson 2: Embrace Frustration
Even bad habits can feel familiar and secure. By definition change — and change — forces people out of their comfort zone. Change demands a learning curve. The status quo does not. The learning process can be frustrating simply because it’s different. “Why is that button blue? In our old system it was orange.” “Why is search field on the right instead of the left?” “Why do I have to enter my notes in the software instead of on a Post-it?” You get the idea.
This frustration is natural — and even helpful. It shows your team is thinking about what they’re doing. It’s part of the process of developing new habits. And it’s very human. Does it matter whether a button is blue or orange? Probably not. But you’re moving your team out of their comfort zone and they’re annoyed. Expect frustration and know it will pass. In a few weeks, the change becomes the status quo.
Lesson 3: Choose Flexibility
Some change is needed. Some is not. If you’re successful enough to consider insurance agency management software, you’re doing something right. So why would you change what’s working? Learning new software is one thing. Abandoning what’s made you successful is another thing altogether.
Instead, choose software (or hardware) that helps you do what you do — just in a more effective and efficient way. You know, software like NextAgency. We designed NextAgency for health and life insurance agencies. We know, however, that every agency is different. Which is why we made NextAgency flexible. So you can personalize the platform for your agency.
Change is Inevitable
In today’s reality, change is inevitable. Laws change. Products change. Client expectations and needs change. Insurance agencies who pretend the status quo is permanent will lose. This is why agency management systems more agencies are adopting software like NextAgency every month.
Given that insurance agencies like yours — you know, the ones that will be around for the long-term — will adapt, make the change process easier. You can do that by 1) appointing a champion; 2) embracing frustration; and 3) choosing flexibility.
NextAgency saves health and life insurance agencies time, money and clients with a powerful, modern agency management system featuring CRM and commission management tools. Please visit www.NextAgency.com to learn more. And to see NextAgency in action, please sign-up for a free demonstration at one of our regular webinars.
Take any two health insurance agencies. Or life insurance agency. Or Medicare agency. They may look alike to an outsider. However, I guarantee you, they’re not.
Insurance agencies have their own skill sets. They have their own way of doing things. In short, each insurance agency is unique.
This benefits consumers. They can find the insurance agent that is their best fit. Perhaps that’s why life and health agencies thrive in the face of online alternatives, unlike what happened in other industries. Travel agencies, you have our deepest condolences.
Who’s the boss? You or your software?
Which raises an interesting question. Why does insurance agency software treat you like you’re all the same? Too many technology platforms seem to be designed from the top down. The software company decides “This is best practice. It’s our way or the highway.” They demand their users adapt to the software
NextAgency is different. We built NextAgency to, as much as possible, adapt to the way you work. In short, we’re flexible insurance agency software. You know, the kind of software you need.
NextAgency delivers an agency management system with CRM and commission management tools, We built the software specifically for insurance agencies selling and servicing health, life, senior and similar policies. But we know each agency is unique. Generic software requires a lot of customization. NextAgency is built for insurance agencies. There’s no need to configure NextAgency to your business. You can use NextAgency straight out of the box. OK, we’re cloud-based software so there’s no real box. We’re talking metaphors here.
We made NextAgency flexible
We’re saying NextAgency works for benefit agencies as is. However, you can personalize NextAgency to an amazing degree. Yes, we have insurance policy templates. But you can edit them or create your own. You can even create templates for non-insurance products. And sure, we provide a host of fields to capture data about your prospects and clients. Yet you can add custom fields — as many as like. Our commission management tools are considered among the best around. However, feel free to track additional compensation information.
You get the idea. You don’t have to personalize NextAgency. But you can.
A lot of health insurance agencies are looking for software to help them grow. They want to organize client data, keep their commitments, manage their commissions, and, well, work smarter. You may be one of them. If so, ask any software company you consider about their flexibility. Do they offer a one-size fits all solution? Or can you adjust the fit like you can with NextAgency?
Building flexible insurance agency software isn’t easy. But we find it worth the effort. Because the result is an agency management system that doesn’t change the way you do business. Rather, our software helps you do your business your way, just better.
And isn’t that what your software should do?
NextAgency saves insurance agencies time, money and clients with a powerful, modern agency management system. To learn more please visit us at www.NextAgency.com and sign-up for a free demonstration at one of our regular webinars.