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Sound Marketing, Inc.

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WHEN RELATIONSHIPS GET TRUMPED

Author JackBurke , 3/20/2013

I think everyone in the insurance industry agrees that relationships are the trump card in most business dealings.  Often, the relationship has more value to the client than price, and – all other things being equal – it can tip the scales in your favor. That’s why I’m such a strong proponent of the relationship factor in business. However, sometimes the relationship just isn’t enough to save the day.

For more than a quarter century, our company used UPS exclusively for the vast majority of our shipping. We didn’t have any problems to mention; in fact, we only filed two claims for lost or damaged shipments during all those years. Although we never had a “relationship” with the company, we did develop strong relationships with our assigned drivers.  

Our UPS man in brown in California literally became one of the family, often seeking guidance from me about life issues after his father passed away. Just in case a competitive service might show up at our door, he presented us with a wall poster that said, “I love Kevin and UPS!”

After we moved to Branson, our driver here also became a good friend, as we got to know him and his family. Since we operate out of offices in our home, this comfort level allowed us to give him access if we were out and to trust that he would lock up afterwards.

Last week we stopped using UPS – and the toughest part of the decision was explaining it to our driver.

Our shipping needs and costs have declined over the years. As we shifted from bulky cassettes to CDs, DVDs, and online transmissions, UPS billing fell to less than 25% of what it used to be in the 80s and 90s. Because the decline came so gradually, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the billing detail until this past month. We received a bill with the fees for daily pickup, residential delivery, remote delivery area, and fuel surcharge coming to more than the standard shipping costs for the packages. In other words, $53 worth of shipments cost us $118 – and that got my attention.

After investigating options, we decided to move our shipping to the US Postal Service.  Their rates were competitive, and there were no fees for pickup, remote delivery, residential delivery, or fuel surcharge.  In fact, using USPS will actually cut our overall shipping costs by nearly 50%.  

I was also happily surprised by the helpful attitude of everyone at the postal service, from online web chats, to the postmaster, to the regional sales rep out of Kansas City. They treated us as if we were Amazon.com, despite the fact that we’re a relatively small shipper in the grand scheme of things.  When I mentioned this to the local postal manager, he replied, “There are millions of small shippers like you, and that’s why you’re important to us!”

On the other hand, when I called UPS to cancel our account, their telephone rep began going through a long list of discounts that they could offer in order to keep our business.  I passed because I wondered why they had not proactively told me earlier that I was overpaying for their services. As the saying goes, he was “a day late and a dollar short”.

Now I’m not saying that the switchover was nice and easy. Some of the USPS programming is not compatible with Mac computers – and we’re 100% Mac. However, we’ve been able to work around the issues until their programming catches up with the expanding world of Mac. Although the temporary solutions weren’t perfect for us, we were willing to make accommodations due to the attitude and helpfulness we’ve experienced at every level within the USPS.  

“Going postal” has taken on a whole new meaning for Sound Marketing!  I salute the new and improved Postal Service for the changes that they have implemented and their attitude of service.

Are you taking any of your client relationships for granted?  Do you assume that the relationship is so long standing that you don’t need to worry about it? Are you allowing the existing carrier to handle renewal billings for clients without extending any effort to assure that they’re getting the best value for today’s dollar?  Have you approached clients proactively to say that you might be able to save them money by moving their account to a different carrier or program?  Have you reviewed your Personal Lines book to see whether declining real estate values might necessitate a review of coverage values?

Relationships, like marriage, are only as good as the continuing effort that you put into them. Very few relationships fail due to a major event or issue; most end because one partner feels that the other doesn’t care enough and takes them for granted.

I wish all of you the energy you will need to sustain and nurture healthy relationships in both your business and personal lives!

It's Hard to Be a Customer

Author JackBurke , 3/14/2013

 

Companies such as Nordstrom’s, Walt Disney, and Southwest Airlines are legendary for their customer service.  Unfortunately this can make life difficult for a customer!  If nobody focused on creating excellent customer service, there wouldn’t be any “benchmark” companies on which to base our expectations as consumers – expectations that are often crushed by other companies with whom we try to do business.

I recently had to cancel a Delta airline reservation after buying an expensive, but non-refundable ticket.  As part of the decision to cancel, I had two lengthy conversations with Delta customer service agents.  We went over all the ramifications, fees, and charges related to canceling an international flight.  The bottom line: I now have a substantial credit for future flights on Delta.

This past week, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with a serious illness that will require my wife to begin traveling to assist her mother.  I assumed that we could begin using up the credit with Delta.  That assumption created an unrealistic expectation on my part.  The nice conversations I had during the cancellation process were replaced with very short and curt conversations about their requirement that I could only use the credit for me, not my wife.  I tried all the arguments; even pointing out that the credit card used to purchase the ticket was in both our names.  It didn’t budge them.  Sick mother, caring daughter didn’t work either – nor did threats to quit using Delta.

Yet somewhere in the back of my mind lurked the thought that if it had only been Southwest Air, everything would have been different.

A good friend in both the personal and business sense recently called me to complain about his insurance agent.  One of his workers had an accident with a company pickup truck, and things weren’t going their way in getting it repaired.  They were balking at having to “waste time” in getting estimates for the damage.  As a result, it was taking a long time to resolve a fairly minor claim.  Sound familiar?  I think we’ve all seen a client get upset over minor inconveniences.

The background, however, is that this particular client is a huge account.  They have operations in numerous states and a number of industries.  I called the agent, who is also a friend, and helped get the problem resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

However, I couldn’t help but think that if I had been the agent on that large an account, I would probably have taken the vehicle myself to get the estimates.

We often allow ourselves (and our clients) to be held hostage by policies and procedures designed primarily for our benefit, not that of customers.  Of course, this gives every agency the opportunity to create heroes among their employees – people who are willing to put the customer before the procedure, thus creating that elusive element of client loyalty.

One agency owner told me that he refused to write any Personal Lines business on his Commercial Lines accounts.  Because our industry preaches cross-selling and multi-line marketing for greater profit and retention, I was aghast at his comment.  Yet, in a weird sort of way, I understood his logic.

He went on to explain that neither his agency nor his carriers were positioned to provide exceptional service in Personal Lines.  That being the case, he was afraid that valued Commercial Lines clients might not get the special treatment they expected.  In his words, “I can’t afford to lose a big Commercial Lines account because we screw up an accident claim for the teenager of an owner or executive.”

That’s sad!  Forfeiting new business for fear that poor customer service could cost you the pre-existing business.  This can also open you to attacks from agents that get in the door with Personal Lines and then go after your Commercial business.

However, it’s sadder is to be put in a position where you anticipate problems on the Personal Lines sides,  If it’s a company problem, find a different company.  If it’s an agency problem, fix it.  If it’s not fixable, at least create a unique “Platinum” Personal Lines department that can offer special service to special accounts.

I hearken back to the old urban legend about a Nordstrom’s customer who brought back a set of automobile tires for a refund. The store allegedly credited the customer’s account, although the company had never sold a tire in its history.  When asked about the story, Nordstrom’s president reportedly said, “I don’t know if it’s true, but it sounds like something we would do.”  Hmmm, I wonder if Nordstrom’s is interested in a Delta Airline ticket?

How responsive are you to your customers?  Does this responsiveness change when the account moves from a prospect to a client?  Are you prepared to deal with emergency situations in serving your clients?  Do you treat all clients equally?  If so, why?  All clients are not equal and your top clients deserve your very best service and attention.


DIS-CONNECTING

Author JackBurke , 3/7/2013


We build our lives and our businesses through the development of relationships.  Hopefully, we put time and effort into the nurturing and growth of these relationships.  In fact, many businesspeople refer to their “clients” as “friends.”  Over the years, I’ve dedicated myself to the relationship aspect of business, helping people create customer connections on an ongoing basis.  This blog is one of many ways that I attempt to carry that message.

Yet there’s another side to relationships – and it’s not an easy one.  Sometimes it becomes necessary to end a relationship for the betterment of all.  Perhaps you’ve grown apart from someone who was a personal friend.  Perhaps a long-time employee needs to be terminated.  Perhaps the fit with a client is no longer conducive to good business.  Regardless of the situation, ending a relationship is not an easy task.

In the 80’s and 90’s, insurance consultant John Jaques used to say that every agency should “fire” the bottom 10% of its clients every year. It’s generally true that these clients usually generate the least amount of revenue, the most problems, and the greatest expense to your operations.  It only makes sense to “fire” them in order to create capacity for better, more profitable clients.

On the side of personal relationships, action often isn’t required.  The waning of a friendship usually entails a slow diminishment of contact and an eventual death.  

When it comes to employees, difficulties arise.  An outside observer can quickly see the dysfunction to which the agency has become accustomed.  We often don’t realize that a particular employee is truly hurting our business.  When we do come to that realization, especially with long-time employees, fear often rears its ugly head.  Will they sue us?  Will they take information with them that could hurt us?  Who can possibly fill their slot?  How much business will we lose if they go?

If you properly plan for the termination, seeking legal and HR advice along the way, most of those fears will evaporate.  Quite frequently the agency is amazed at how easily the termination went down and that dramatic improvement in morale afterward.  I frequently hear such comments as, “We should have done this long ago!”
However, as I’ve recently learned, a rational and pragmatic understanding does not necessarily make such decisions any easier to implement.  Despite our intellectual rationality, fear is patiently awaiting the opportunity to strike.

As Board Chairman of a large, non-profit charity, my primary relationship was with the Executive Director.  Several years ago, this person was responsible for recruiting me to the board and had become a friend.  Slowly over time, it became clear that the direction and focus of the board was diametrically opposed to the direction and focus of the Executive Director.  Eventually, this created an untenable situation with two pitched camps facing off against each other – Board vs. Executive Director.

To resolve the situation, the board assigned three people to talk with her about her attitude and performance.  The conversation seemed to go well, and everyone assumed the problem was history.  Yet, within short order, things became worse, as she became more defiant in a “passive/aggressive” manner.

Again the board looked for resolution, and one of the most respected members engaged in a one-on-one conversation with her.  One more time, the conversation seemed to go well and everyone assumed we had entered a period of resolution and recovery.  Yet, within short order, things became even worse.
Since this woman reported directly to me, I began to feel guilty and wondered if I was the problem, not her.  I discussed these feelings with the board openly and honestly, offering to step down if I was causing the dissension.  The board then met privately and extended a unanimous vote of confidence in my continuing leadership.  However, they also issued a unanimous vote of “no confidence” in her ability to lead the organization.

That’s when the fear set in!  She had done an admirable job for many years.  She was the highly visible face of the organization within the community.  Operationally, everything was in her head, not in a policy and procedures manual.  She had a strong base of fans, which only saw the positive results of the charity, not the inner problems.  If we fired her, the road would obviously become very muddy and difficult.
Luckily we were able to move beyond the fear and plan the most effective and sensitive manner of releasing her from her duties.  We determined who would be involved in the conversation, decided on what the parting package would contain, and drafted two versions of a highly specific termination letter (one based on her resignation, the other on her termination).  We also spent a lot of time in crafting a press release for the media and announcement letters to the major supporters of the organization.
The conversation took place three days after Christmas, and her final day of working for the organization was New Year’s Eve.  Despite all our fears and concerns, our planning held true.  The media ran with our pre-prepared releases and our supporters understood our need for change.  The phones did not ring off the hook.  Granted there were a few calls, but most of them were more of an inquisitive nature, rather than confrontational or argumentative.  Yes, we did have a couple volunteers quit in sympathy – but the great majority accepted the change and kept doing their work.

I had a discussion with her assistant who was a close friend of hers, because we needed to know if she would be accepting of the board decision and continue in her role.  She pointedly said, “On a personal level, I’d like to leave with her, but on a professional level it’s even more important that I continue to serve this organization to the best of my ability.  I chose to be professional.”

We’re not yet at the point where we can say that we should have done this long ago.  Time will provide the results on that.  However, the transition is taking place in a far smoother manner than we anticipated – and everyone within the organization seems excited about the operational changes and improvements that are already underway.

Severing a relationship is never easy, but sometimes it’s necessary.  I hope that you will find the strength and commitment to take such actions when needed within your organization.  In most cases, your projections of possible negative outcomes will be far worse than the reality that unfolds.

BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS: YOUR TRUMP CARD

Author JackBurke , 2/28/2013
 

Lately, I’ve been giving more thought than usual (if that’s possible) to the concept of relationships in business.  

Webster defines relationships as “the state or character of being related or interrelated,” but somehow that doesn’t resound within my psyche.  I prefer to think of it in such terms as “mutually beneficial” and “service oriented.”  Other descriptive words that come to mind include respect, integrity, selflessness, empathy, and concern.  To boil it down to one word, it’s all about “love.” People love to do business with people who love what they do and love the interaction with clients.  

The normal human condition is basically self serving.  It’s all about us.  

In sales training, we learn that the prospect is only listening to WII-FM (What’s In It For Me>).  Although this is important in the initial phases of a relationship, all too often, we never proceed beyond it.  In essence, the client takes us hostage.  When it’s not mutual, it’s not healthy.  Granted that we need to keep the needs of the customer as a priority, we also need to define our own needs. Remember .the Webster definition contains “interrelated,” which indicates a two way street.  Communication, for instance, is a dialogue, not a monologue.  Relationships, if you will, are all-encompassing dialogues of the spirit.

One of my primary mentors once taught me a great lesson.  He was reviewed a letter that I had written to a client.  After reading it, he simply said, “Count the “I’s”, then rewrite it.” I was amazed at how much of the letter was about me, rather than the client.  It definitely did not represent a healthy relationship of mutual respect and benefit.  Whatever the form of communication, we always need to maintain parity between the “I’s” and the “You’s”.

In a social situation, how attracted are you to braggarts – the people who are always talking about what they did, how well they did it, and all of their accomplishments and areas of expertise?  Yet don’t we often do the same thing in business?  Without taking a breath, we rush in to tell about our years of experience, all the insureds that we have helped, and that no one can do insurance better than us!

Or are we attracted to the person who draws us out with questions about us – who seems interested in who we are and slowly gets us to talk about ourselves.  Although this is more attractive, it also fails the relationship test.  After a while, we will begin to feel that the conversation is more an interrogation than a dialogue.

True attraction has a little bit of both.  Relationships begin when both parties show interest in the other. Each asks questions to seek tidbits of information and both feel valued by the other.  This attraction, fueled by mutual sharing, can eventually develop into a relationship – much like a courtship.  As each person gets to know the other better, the foundation becomes stronger.  That’s what business is all about!

I recently attended a Dynamics of Selling class.  The instructor hammered on the fact that there are four cards in play when it comes to selling insurance: price, product, service, and relationship.  Insurance prices and product are always in flux; we can never guarantee the lowest price or the best product.  Although we have some control over the service our agency offers, we have little or no influence over the service the company provides. The trump card is the relationship.  The only thing that we can control is the relationship factor – thus, it remains the most critical factor in business today.

Going back to the social setting examples, ask yourself if your clients know as much about you as you know about them.  Is there a healthy and mutual interchange of information?  Have you each established the boundaries or parameters of the relationship – or do you each maintain unreasonable expectations of each other?  Have you taken your clients hostage or allowed them to take you hostage?  Does each of you feel that the other has your best interests at heart?  

I urge you to focus on creating and nurturing your business relationships.  As the trump card, it holds the key to your long-term success.


CONNECTING IN TODAY'S WORLD

Author JackBurke , 2/18/2013
“Connections” are the relationships that drive our business and provide the trump card in client retention and writing new business.  

As I write this column, it’s the turn of the year to 2013. Reviewing the past year, I’ve reached the age where attendance at funerals has become an ongoing and ever-more-frequent event. (Can anybody relate to this?)  The interesting thing is that the largest funerals and most eloquent eulogies were not necessarily for those who had accumulated the greatest riches or power in life. They were for those people who tended to put the welfare of others first. They were more interested in how you were doing than in how they were doing.  The relationships they forged in life were based on love and caring, as opposed to self-interest, and the results were evident during the commemoration of their lives.

Years ago I wrote about “Mac”, our first bichon frisé puppy to grace our lives for fourteen years.  From the start, a single veterinarian took care of him.  Our memories of that vet are not based on the great medical care he provide Mac, but on his actions after Mac’s passing. When it was time for Mac to move on to puppy heaven, we took him to the vet for that final shot.  Afterwards we received a two-page, hand written letter consoling us. We later received a letter from the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine thanking us for the donation made in Mac’s name by our vet. The doc had donated his entire fee to the school. He put our feelings above his own self-interest – and that’s what we remember about him.

Many of your clients are feeling the pain of economic conditions, struggling to survive and making decisions on this basis.  The question is: “Are you putting their interests above your own?”

I realize that many of you are struggling as well, and might be motivated more by fear, than good will.  However, history has proven that current economic conditions will change eventually; and, like a forest fire, those agencies that remain will be stronger and more durable than ever.  If you put relationships first, you’re improving your odds of survival by maintaining the loyalty of your current clients and attracting new clients through referrals and word of mouth.

Putting client interests above your own isn’t easy!  It often means placing the relationship above the premium and the commission.  This is extremely difficult for most of us to do in tough times because we fear for our own survival.  However operating on the basis of fear will destroy your future success.

Based on recent conversations with agents who have lost renewals and new clients to their competition, here are a few questions for testing your “relationship factor”:

1. Do you actively provide your clients with a full report of their risk management program, including potential risks that they might assume so they could lower their premiums to meet their budgets?
2. When quoting a new prospect, most agents will find the program or coverage that offers the best value for the premium dollar in order to maintain competitiveness.  Do you take the same approach on your renewal business?
3. Have you sold out a client’s interests in order to position yourself better for a contingency from a specific carrier?
4. Have you discussed the problems facing your client in order to determine whether there are ways (other than insurance) in which you can provide assistance, guidance, or relief?
5. Do you take time to acknowledge, in writing and in person, the difficulties or problems that a client might be undergoing?
6. With real estate values plummeting, have you suggested current appraisals to align value to coverage?
7. Have you accumulated a list of value-added resources you can bring to the table?
8. Do you position yourself as a problem-solving resource, rather than a peddler of insurance?
9. Do your clients see you as an essential source of information critical to the business of their business?
10. Have you told your clients, by action and deed, that you truly value the opportunity to serve them?

Some of the answers might not be in the immediate best interests of your current bottom line. However, these actions will position better you to build brand loyalty and attract new business for the long-term growth and success of your business.  All you have to do is step into the sunlight of the spirit by nurturing your relationships.


The Interest Factor

Author JackBurke , 8/6/2012
By: Jack Burke 

I was attending an Ozark Auction yesterday with some friends.  As the auctioneer warbled on, one friend asked me if I had seen an interesting article in the newspaper about a local insurance agency.  I asked why and she replied, “Because it made some really good points about human resources.”  After a few more questions, I finally confessed that I indeed had seen the article because I had written it.
 
The purpose of the article was to promote some value-added HR services being offered by the agency in conjunction with Workers’ Comp and Health & Benefits.  It highlighted one person within the agency who had achieved the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) designation and the formation of an alliance with a local HR consulting firm.  Fairly dry reading for the most part.
 
As it turns out, my friend had been attracted by the opening paragraph that quoted HR attorney and consultant Don Phin.  Don’s comment was that most employers would be much happier in their work if they didn’t have to deal with employee issues.  Business owners could relate to that comment, thereby attracting them to read the article.
 
One of my core beliefs is that business is based on a connection between two human beings.  Some factor of commonality, respect or caring binds the two together into what becomes an eventual transaction.  However, press releases, marketing, promotion – even websites – generally fail to take into consideration the human factor – the factor that creates the interest!
 
So what makes up this “connective” factor?  Unfortunately it is easier to say what it is not, than what it is.  On the agency side -- good service, years in operation, experience are not good connectors because everyone uses them.  On the personal side – years in insurance, designations, career history and promotions are not high on the connector list either.  Although alumni of colleges and even high schools may have a propensity to identify with other alumni.
 
People identify with people.  People identify with similar likes, hobbies, activities, etc.
 Parents with young children can quickly identify with other parents of young children.  Ditto parents with children in college.  Antique car enthusiasts identify with other enthusiasts – and the same goes for any other hobby or sport.  Perhaps that is why golf is such a common denominator for business dealings.
 
The problem lies within today’s busy world.  Basically you don’t have enough time to really get to know prospects, even some clients, well enough to find this points of commonality.
 
I recently rewrote the personal bio’s for all of the people within a client agency for their website.  And I mean everyone, including the telephone receptionist.  Although the bio’s contained the required information about career and education history, here are some of the other comments that can now be found within the bios:
 
“Sport hobbies include golf and race horses.  He and his wife, own interests in about a dozen race horse that have run in The Kentucky Derby, The Belmont, The Illinois Derby, The Travers and The Super Derby in New Orleans.”
 
“An avid golfer and skier, most of his time is spent at the horse stables and soccer fields with his four daughters.  Between his wife, four girls and two female cats, he admits to being totally outnumbered (and sometimes out-maneuvered) by the females of the household.”
 
“The mother of 2 children, she and her husband of 13 years, enjoy spending as much family time as possible at Disneyland.  She is also very active at her church, singing for weekend services and participating in the drama program.”
 
“An analytical and organized problem-solver, she likes to relax with her parents, siblings, nieces and nephews.  She also enjoys travel, having recently returned from extensive travels in Hong Kong and Japan.  Other non-work interests include gardening, cooking, food-related reading, running, hiking and biking.
 
Similarly, anecdotal information of a personal nature should be built into press releases about the agency and its staff members.  These are the comments that people remember and with which they identify.
 
I’ll never forget a business contact made with a manager/scientist at NASA.  He had done a Google search for 1967 Thunderbird wheel covers.  The search led him to a personal page on our website that had a picture of a 67 T-Bird I had at the time.  He contacted me to ask for help with the wheel cover problem and ended up contracting with us to do some educational productions for NASA.  Without that common point of identification, we never would have done business together.
 
Madison Avenue seems to be moving more towards these points of commonality.  A slew of recent television commercials show activities that have absolutely nothing to do with what’s being advertised.  In fact, you don’t even know what’s being advertised until they flash a company name at the end.  Target and Penney’s are two good examples.  The commercial is merely intended to draw in the viewer, so that they can focus on the company or the product at the very end.
 
A local Nissan dealership’s television commercials now feature “home video footage” of clients that are enjoying their Nissan.  They then close the commercial by asking you to send in your video.  If they select it for a commercial, you get $100 in free service.  Their satisfied customers are being used to attract more customers – and the videos see people doing things with the cars that other people can identify with.
 
An insurance agency here has another take on it.  If they are advertising for restaurant clients, the ads include logos from other restaurants they insure – and ditto for other markets.  Two things happen.  Prospects identify with their competitors and they also notice the fact that their competitors are getting free advertising, courtesy of the insurance agency.  A double winner!
 
Take a look at your website and press releases, along with other promotional, marketing and advertising material.  If you can’t break out of your invested perspective, have an outside look at them. Do they pass the “interest” test?  Are there interesting personal tidbits or anecdotal incidents that attract and interest the reader/viewer?  Can people identify with the topic or the information about an individual?  If not, maybe it’s time for a change.  Identification is a powerful aphrodisiac to business.  Try it, you’ll like it.
 
Jack Burke is the founder and president of Sound Marketing, Inc. www.soundmarketing.com, author of Creating Customer Connections and Relationship Aspect Marketing, host/producer of Audio Insurance Outlook and editor of ProgramBusinessNews.  He can be reached at by phone 1-800-451-8273 or by e-mail at jack@soundmarketing.com.


The Auditory Connection: 10 Ways to Power up your Business While Saving Time & Money

Author JackBurke , 6/27/2012
By Jack Burke

I love sound! Be it the music of a symphony, the harmonious tones of a well-trained voice, or the descriptive narratives of a veteran storyteller, nothing stimulates my mind and my imagination more than sound.
 
Years ago, when everyone said radio was on its last leg, the Radio Advertising Bureau unleashed
 a massive advertising campaign that defined radio as the “theater of your mind”. Either the doomsday experts forgot to tell the public that radio was dead, or that campaign really worked, because radio continues to break all records in advertising power, prestige, and revenue.
 
In my book, Creating Customer Connections, I delineate numerous ways that audio, or sound, is critical to maintaining client relationships--from the voice on the telephone to advertising on radio. In this article, I would like to review the intrinsic value of audio to the ongoing growth and success of a business.
 
Rather than laboring philosophically on the concept itself and research statistics, I hope to cite specific ways that audio can enhance the level of education, provide continual motivation, increase your marketing power, close prospects, increase suspects, and generally help “power up” your business.
 
Before getting into the different ways audio can benefit your operation, I did mention the word “time” in the subtitle. How many of you have extra time in your working day? If you’re anything like me, you not only don’t have any extra time--you’re trying to find more. 24 hours just doesn’t seem to be enough time to get everything done. As business owners and managers, there are twice as many demands on your time as there are minutes on the face of the clock.
 
Letters and brochures take time from your day. Books and videos usually mean you have to take personal time at home to watch or read. Only the simple audio cassette can be popped into your car’s stereo to accompany you during the commute to and from the office and appointments. It does not take a single second away from your personal work schedule. In fact, most of the CEOs and executive managers that I know rely quite heavily on this simple medium. Now, if it works for you--why wouldn’t it work for your employees, your clients, and your prospects? It can, it does and it will--and here’s how!
 
Here are ten ways that audio can help your business to prosper:
 
1. Seminar Tapes. Trade conventions and seminars provide educational sessions specifically aimed at your particular industry. Most of these sessions are taped and available for purchase at nominal prices. Whether you pick specific tapes of interest, or buy the entire set, these programs provide excellent reinforcement and training within your industry specialty. The secret here is to share the tapes with your staff, and sometimes your “special” clients.
 
2. Audiobooks. Nothing beats a good book, but who has the time? From Covey to Peters to Robbins to Cecil, and everyone in between, most of today’s business mavens have audio versions of their work. The nice thing here is that the audio forces them to condense the material into the most salient points. Even if you’ve read the book, the audio is a great reinforcement. Again, have you learned to share yet?
 
3. In-House Training Tapes. Every department within your organization has someone who literally knows everything about that facet of your operation. In many small to medium-sized companies, and sometimes even the biggies, this person is the unofficial trainer for new staff within that department. Unfortunately that training usually is detrimental to their personal productivity--and what happens if they get sick, or worse yet, leave? Why not invest in having them record one or more “training tapes” for the newcomers? It’ll save money in the long run and, if transcribed, can become the basis for that operations manual that’s been on the “to-do” list for years.
 
4. Sales Training. Do you wince at the cost of bringing all those outside sales people in for those meetings? Do you delay holding product training meetings because you don’t want to pull them away from making sales? Why not make a tape and send it out to them instead? You could have product specialists, suppliers, engineering staff---anyone you want or need--to make their presentation on tape and send it out to the field. The cost is minimal, especially in comparison to the costs of a meeting--and unlike a meeting where most is forgotten within a couple of days, the tape is always there as a refresher. And, the tape just might be the key element for a presentation to a detail-oriented prospect.
 
5. Sales Motivation. Maybe you have a sales specialist who’s doing a highly competent job in a certain area. Have that person interviewed, or simply record what they’re doing, and send the tape out to the others as an “idea piece”. The subliminal benefit is that every sales person strives to improve their performance so they too can be featured as an expert amongst their peers.
 
6. Audio Marketing Cards. Most companies today have had to seek out niche markets, diversify, and add value to their product or service. It’s becoming highly unusual to find a company that can state what it does in a sentence or two. Rather than a costly brochure that is seldom read, produce a 10 to 12 minute program that tells your story. It’s a perfect introduction and enables you to take the time to really tell a prospect what you do and how well you do it--you can even have clients providing testimonials in their own words. Best of all, unlike a letter or a brochure, a tape cassette is perceived to have an intrinsic value. That means they are not likely to throw the tape away.
 If they don’t listen immediately, it begins collecting dust on their desk and, believe me, the tape eventually gets played. I’ve personally received calls off such tapes a year after they were sent.
 
7. Product Introductions/Special Programs. As an owner/manager, did you ever want to be a fly on the wall when your sales people are making their presentations? Have you ever wondered whether they’re really telling the whole story---the way you would? Audio is the perfect way to ensure that every client hears exactly what you want them to hear when it comes to that special promotion or new product addition to your line. Send the tapes out by mail and then let your sales force follow up for the orders. By the time the sales people arrive, the client is pre-sold.
 
8. Audio Nurturing. As nurture marketing expert Jim Cecil asks, “When’s the last time you sent a love letter to your clients?” One of the best promotions I’ve ever produced was for automotive dealers who were trying to get their customers in a positive frame of mind for filling out the factory’s satisfaction surveys. The cassettes were sent in plain brown envelopes with no return address and the labels merely said, “Thinking of you today. Thank you.” The only way to find out who sent it was to play it, thereby hearing a two minute message from the owner of the dealership thanking them for their business and telling them the proper person to contact if they had any questions or concerns. It worked! Other ways would be to pass on (remember that sharing?) good audiotapes that you’ve found enjoyable to your clients. (You can usually get some pretty good prices if you buy a bulk quantity.) Or, instead of being one of hundreds of business cards at the holidays, I like to send an Audio Greeting Card that has a short message followed by an hour cassette of holiday music. “Little things” like that enable you to be “heard” above the roar of the competition.
 
9. Phone-On-Hold Audio. If your clients and prospects get placed on hold, use that time to provide them with information about your company--or just motivational messages. It’s not very expensive and it sure beats them hearing a competitor’s commercial if you’re using the radio.
 
10. When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It. Once you’ve invested in an audio production, send it out to your local radio stations--it may get some airtime, or get you an invite onto a talk show. But don’t stop there, send the tape out to all the print and television media too. It gets more attention that a standard news release and increases the odds of getting some free exposure for you.
 
These are just ten of the ways that audio can enhance your business and help nurture the internal and external relationships that are critical to your success. There are many, many more--if you let your imagination roam through the “theater of your mind”.
 
Jack Burke is the founder and president of Sound Marketing, Inc. http://www.soundmarketing.com, author of Creating Customer Connections and Relationship Aspect Marketing, host/producer of Audio Insurance Outlook and editor of ProgramBusinessNews.  He can be reached at by phone 1-800-451-8273 or by e-mail at jack@soundmarketing.com.


I love sound! Be it the music of a symphony, the harmonious tones of a well-trained voice, or the descriptive narratives of a veteran storyteller, nothing stimulates my mind and my imagination more than sound.
 
Years ago, when everyone said radio was on its last leg, the Radio Advertising Bureau unleashed
 a massive advertising campaign that defined radio as the “theater of your mind”. Either the doomsday experts forgot to tell the public that radio was dead, or that campaign really worked, because radio continues to break all records in advertising power, prestige, and revenue.
 
In my book, Creating Customer Connections, I delineate numerous ways that audio, or sound, is critical to maintaining client relationships--from the voice on the telephone to advertising on radio. In this article, I would like to review the intrinsic value of audio to the ongoing growth and success of a business.
 
Rather than laboring philosophically on the concept itself and research statistics, I hope to cite specific ways that audio can enhance the level of education, provide continual motivation, increase your marketing power, close prospects, increase suspects, and generally help “power up” your business.
 
Before getting into the different ways audio can benefit your operation, I did mention the word “time” in the subtitle. How many of you have extra time in your working day? If you’re anything like me, you not only don’t have any extra time--you’re trying to find more. 24 hours just doesn’t seem to be enough time to get everything done. As business owners and managers, there are twice as many demands on your time as there are minutes on the face of the clock.
 
Letters and brochures take time from your day. Books and videos usually mean you have to take personal time at home to watch or read. Only the simple audio cassette can be popped into your car’s stereo to accompany you during the commute to and from the office and appointments. It does not take a single second away from your personal work schedule. In fact, most of the CEOs and executive managers that I know rely quite heavily on this simple medium. Now, if it works for you--why wouldn’t it work for your employees, your clients, and your prospects? It can, it does and it will--and here’s how!
 
Here are ten ways that audio can help your business to prosper:
 
1. Seminar Tapes. Trade conventions and seminars provide educational sessions specifically aimed at your particular industry. Most of these sessions are taped and available for purchase at nominal prices. Whether you pick specific tapes of interest, or buy the entire set, these programs provide excellent reinforcement and training within your industry specialty. The secret here is to share the tapes with your staff, and sometimes your “special” clients.
 
2. Audiobooks. Nothing beats a good book, but who has the time? From Covey to Peters to Robbins to Cecil, and everyone in between, most of today’s business mavens have audio versions of their work. The nice thing here is that the audio forces them to condense the material into the most salient points. Even if you’ve read the book, the audio is a great reinforcement. Again, have you learned to share yet?
 
3. In-House Training Tapes. Every department within your organization has someone who literally knows everything about that facet of your operation. In many small to medium-sized companies, and sometimes even the biggies, this person is the unofficial trainer for new staff within that department. Unfortunately that training usually is detrimental to their personal productivity--and what happens if they get sick, or worse yet, leave? Why not invest in having them record one or more “training tapes” for the newcomers? It’ll save money in the long run and, if transcribed, can become the basis for that operations manual that’s been on the “to-do” list for years.
 
4. Sales Training. Do you wince at the cost of bringing all those outside sales people in for those meetings? Do you delay holding product training meetings because you don’t want to pull them away from making sales? Why not make a tape and send it out to them instead? You could have product specialists, suppliers, engineering staff---anyone you want or need--to make their presentation on tape and send it out to the field. The cost is minimal, especially in comparison to the costs of a meeting--and unlike a meeting where most is forgotten within a couple of days, the tape is always there as a refresher. And, the tape just might be the key element for a presentation to a detail-oriented prospect.
 
5. Sales Motivation. Maybe you have a sales specialist who’s doing a highly competent job in a certain area. Have that person interviewed, or simply record what they’re doing, and send the tape out to the others as an “idea piece”. The subliminal benefit is that every sales person strives to improve their performance so they too can be featured as an expert amongst their peers.
 
6. Audio Marketing Cards. Most companies today have had to seek out niche markets, diversify, and add value to their product or service. It’s becoming highly unusual to find a company that can state what it does in a sentence or two. Rather than a costly brochure that is seldom read, produce a 10 to 12 minute program that tells your story. It’s a perfect introduction and enables you to take the time to really tell a prospect what you do and how well you do it--you can even have clients providing testimonials in their own words. Best of all, unlike a letter or a brochure, a tape cassette is perceived to have an intrinsic value. That means they are not likely to throw the tape away.
 If they don’t listen immediately, it begins collecting dust on their desk and, believe me, the tape eventually gets played. I’ve personally received calls off such tapes a year after they were sent.
 
7. Product Introductions/Special Programs. As an owner/manager, did you ever want to be a fly on the wall when your sales people are making their presentations? Have you ever wondered whether they’re really telling the whole story---the way you would? Audio is the perfect way to ensure that every client hears exactly what you want them to hear when it comes to that special promotion or new product addition to your line. Send the tapes out by mail and then let your sales force follow up for the orders. By the time the sales people arrive, the client is pre-sold.
 
8. Audio Nurturing. As nurture marketing expert Jim Cecil asks, “When’s the last time you sent a love letter to your clients?” One of the best promotions I’ve ever produced was for automotive dealers who were trying to get their customers in a positive frame of mind for filling out the factory’s satisfaction surveys. The cassettes were sent in plain brown envelopes with no return address and the labels merely said, “Thinking of you today. Thank you.” The only way to find out who sent it was to play it, thereby hearing a two minute message from the owner of the dealership thanking them for their business and telling them the proper person to contact if they had any questions or concerns. It worked! Other ways would be to pass on (remember that sharing?) good audiotapes that you’ve found enjoyable to your clients. (You can usually get some pretty good prices if you buy a bulk quantity.) Or, instead of being one of hundreds of business cards at the holidays, I like to send an Audio Greeting Card that has a short message followed by an hour cassette of holiday music. “Little things” like that enable you to be “heard” above the roar of the competition.
 
9. Phone-On-Hold Audio. If your clients and prospects get placed on hold, use that time to provide them with information about your company--or just motivational messages. It’s not very expensive and it sure beats them hearing a competitor’s commercial if you’re using the radio.
 
10. When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It. Once you’ve invested in an audio production, send it out to your local radio stations--it may get some airtime, or get you an invite onto a talk show. But don’t stop there, send the tape out to all the print and television media too. It gets more attention that a standard news release and increases the odds of getting some free exposure for you.
 
These are just ten of the ways that audio can enhance your business and help nurture the internal and external relationships that are critical to your success. There are many, many more--if you let your imagination roam through the “theater of your mind”.
 
Jack Burke is the founder and president of Sound Marketing, Inc. www.soundmarketing.com, author of Creating Customer Connections and Relationship Aspect Marketing, host/producer of Audio Insurance Outlook and editor of ProgramBusinessNews.  He can be reached at by phone 1-800-451-8273 or by e-mail at jack@soundmarketing.com.


What you do Now...Creates your Future

Author JackBurke , 6/7/2012

“I'm just sitting here letting the companies make me richer!”
 
“Thank God the hard market is here, I've waited so long for this!”
 
“I can't say this to my customers' faces, but I sure am making a lot of money in this market!”
 
I've been hearing those types of comments much more frequently than lamentations about the difficulties in placing business due to the shrinking markets. And I don't begrudge any agent the additional commissions being earned on increased premiums.
 
However, what goes around always comes around. In other words, this market will eventually turn soft and therein lies the rub. Too many agents are being lulled into a false sense of security with the continually increasing revenues. Too many agents are devoting 100% of their time to existing clients without prospecting for new ones. The increased earnings generated by these existing clients are creating a level of complacency. Their conscious (or subconscious) mantra is, “I'm making more than I expected or need, so why should I work harder.” As a result, prospect pipelines are not as fat as they have been or could be.
 
As an agency manager when is the last time you've really reviewed the “state of your prospects” with each of your producers? Are you as fervent in prospect development through direct mail, telemarketing, e-mail and advertising as you were 18 months ago when you “needed” new business? Are you basing agency growth on revenue growth, without monitoring the growth of new clients? Do you feel the “urgency” to generate new business that you've felt in the past?
 
Ironically, I might ask these same questions of the companies out there too! With shrinking markets and increasing premiums, many companies have become pretty complacent about their distribution force as well. They aren't advertising nor engaging in as much cooperative advertising as in the past. They don't seem to be nurturing their agents as much and many are actually cutting back on the valued-added services they provided on behalf of the agency force.
 
So what does all this say about the state of relationships within our industry. A true friend not only enjoys the successes of a friend, but is there to nurture and support a friend during times of struggle. Many of your clients are struggling in today's economy. Are you proving yourself to be a true friend, or a profit taker? Are your actions and attitudes solidly positioning you as a friend or partner to your clients? Mark Twain once said, “When you need a friend, it is too late to make one.” And mark my words, the time will come again when every agency will “need” new friends, as will every company.
 
In marketing the most common mistake I see companies from all industries make is the failure to maintain continuity in their lead development program. When things are bad, they market like a Tasmanian devil for new business. Then as the new business starts to hit, they get complacent and fail to continue to do the things that initiated that new business. As a result the pipeline gets thin and business again gets bad. Then suddenly they wake up and begin feverishly marketing anew. It's a vicious cycle. And, in honest reflection, we are all guilty of it.
 
Maybe it's time to make a mid-year resolution to review the state of your marketing attitude! If you like the money you're making in this hard market, consider how much more you could be making if you were marketing as if it were a soft market.
 
Look to the basics that made you what you are today. What things have you stopped doing that are responsible for your current success? What more could you be doing in areas of prospecting and client development? How much money are you really leaving on the table every day for someone else to take home? If you look at your increased revenues, have you made proportional increases in your marketing and advertising budgets? If not, why not?
 
It's nice to enjoy the good times, but it is even better to use these good times to insure your future – rather than simply relish the immediate gratification of the present. Look to the basics. They have held you in good stead in the past and will continue to help you prosper into the future. Unless you forget them!
 
Jack Burke is the founder and president of Sound Marketing, Inc. www.soundmarketing.com, author of Creating Customer Connections and Relationship Aspect Marketing, host/producer of Audio Insurance Outlook and editor of ProgramBusinessNews.  He can be reached at by phone 1-800-451-8273 or by e-mail at jack@soundmarketing.com. 


ISPs: YOUR SILENT CENSOR

Author JackBurke , 5/23/2012

 

by Jack Burke
  
Everyone, including myself, marvels at the phenomenal changes the Internet has brought about in the realm of communication. E-mail, despite all its inherent problems and frustrations, has become our mainstay. The telephone has become secondary to the Internet in communicating messages – although I hope everyone uses the telephone and occasional visits as a way of  nurturing relationships beyond the pure communication aspect of e-mail.

However, there’s a dark side. How would you feel if the U.S. Postal Service decided arbitrarily not to deliver any mail coming to you from a specific address? In fact, they actually destroyed mail on the basis that this address was a source of “bad mail”. Now further imagine that this address was a skyscraper office building and that one tenant really did send “bad mail” that no one should ever see. However, because the USPS can’t differentiate between offices within the building, it destroyed every piece of mail from that building (good and bad).

That’s exactly what of the “silent censors” of the Internet might be doing to your e-mail.
I’m not talking about spam filters on your mail browser system or even at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level. These filters identify likely spam e-mails and sort them into a separate folder. You, not the filter, become the final decision-maker about what you want to see (or not see). You open your spam file periodically and review the contents. Most of this turns out to be spam and you trash it. However, now and then, the filter traps a legitimate e-mail, giving you the option to open and read it.

The silent censor is more insidious than any filter you can imagine. As background, here’s my story and how I came to learn about this.

For nearly ten years, our company has used a regional ISP (ISWest) to host our Web site, enable our Internet access, and handle our mail server. Several weeks ago, their e-mail server functionality went down. Due to a virus, the e-mail queue line hit 100,000 e-mails and the infected server quit. It took ISWest several days to resolve the problem and we lost a substantial amount of our e-mail in the process. (That’s an understandable, though frustrating, reality of Internet risk and exposure.) IAWest finally announced that they had rectified all of the problems and everything was back to normal.

Normal for them, but not for me. The first thing I noticed was a dramatic decrease in total e-mail volume. Regular e-mail had dropped from about 100 messages per day to an average of 25. Additionally, my spam file (at the ISP site) went from 300 pieces per day to less than 15. Although I knew that something was awry,  several calls to the ISP technicians only resulted in their confirmation that everything was in order.

Yesterday, I had an irate call from a valued client wanting to know why I had missed the recording of a monthly conference call. When I explained that we never received notification, the client insisted that he had sent me several e-mail notices well in advance. In the meantime, I also found out that I hadn’t been receiving editing material from my editor on the new book being finished. However, a thorough review of our e-mail and spam files showed no signs of any such communications.

I called the ISP again and spent a long time with a technician trying to explain that something was wrong. He agreed to check into it. Calling back, he again said that everything was normal. I disagreed, and gave him the domain addresses for the missing mail, which he agreed to check against their master cache files.

This morning he called back to explain what he had found. The ISP had “blacklisted” the sending servers for these domains as high-volume spammers. As such, the ISP did not allow anything from these servers to enter our ISP’s e-mail servers. It had nothing to do with the specific people or organizations from which the mail originated, but the source of the transmission – the e-mail distributor on the sending end.

As the story unfolded, I learned that there are quite a few “blacklisted” sources. The arbitrary “silent censor” blacklist has eliminated all discretion on the part of the recipient. Ironically, many of my clients and resources send newsletters and use distribution companies for processing such legitimate mail. Unfortunately, these companies might also distribute spam. Once they’re blacklisted, nothing gets through – and I had absolutely nothing to say about it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want an electronic censor determining what I should or should not receive. I also can’t afford to have client messages circumvented. The extra few minutes per day spent in culling through my spam file is a small price to pay for freedom of communication.

My ISP is currently removing all blocks that had been in place from impacting our account. As a result, I will receive anything that anyone anywhere sends to me, and I will be the one and only censor of what I should or should not read. However, because the removal of these blocks will apply to my account only, the silent censor will be hard at work for every other client of this ISP – and none of them will  know about it,  unless they contact their provider.

Are you the victim of a “silent censor”? Do you want to be? A phone call to your ISP might be an eye-opening event. I know it has been for me.

 Jack Burke, president of Sound Marketing, Inc. (Branson, MO), is the author of Relationship Aspect Marketing and Creating Customer Connections. For more information, please call (800) 451-8273, e-mail:  jack@soundmarketing.com, or visit www.soundmarketing.com


CONNECTING IN TODAY’S WORLD

Author mmcdaniel , 5/3/2012
by Jack Burke

 “Connections” are the relationships that drive our businesses: relationships that form the trump card in retaining clients and writing new business.

During the past year, I’ve reached the age where attendance at funerals has become an ongoing and ever more frequent event. (Can anybody relate to this?) I’ve also noticed that the largest funerals and the most eloquent eulogies were not necessarily for those who had accumulated the greatest riches or power in life. They were for people who put the welfare of others first. These people were more interested in how you were doing than how they were doing. They based the relationships they  forged in life on love and care, as opposed to self-interest – and the results were evident during the commemoration of their lives.

Years ago I wrote about Mac, the Bichon Frisé  puppy who graced our lives for 14 years. From the start, a single veterinarian took care of Mac. We’ve based our memories of this vet not on the great medical care he provided, but on his actions after Mac’s passing. When it was time for Mac to move on to puppy heaven, we took him to the vet for that final shot. Afterwards we received a two-page, handwritten letter consoling us. We later received a letter from UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine thanking us for the donation made in Mac’s name by our vet. The doc had donated his entire fee to the school. He put our feelings above his own self-interest – and that’s what we remember about him.

Many of your clients are feeling the pain of economic conditions. They’re struggling to survive and are making decisions on this basis. The question is, “are you putting their interests above your own?”

I realize that many of you are struggling as well, and might be motivated more out of fear than good will. However, history has proven that current economic conditions will eventually change; and, as with a forest fire, the agencies that remain will be stronger and more durable than ever. If you put relationships first, you’ll improve your odds of survival by maintaining the loyalty of your current clients and attracting new clients through referrals and word-of-mouth.

Putting client interests above your own isn’t easy! It often means valuing the relationship over the premium and the commission. In tough times, this is extremely difficult for most of us because we fear for our own survival. However, acting based on fear is destructive to your future success.


How’s Your “Relationship Quotient?”

Based on recent conversations with agents who have lost renewals and new clients to their competition, here are a ten questions that will help you test your “relationship quotient”:

1. Did you  “steward” actively for  your clients with a full report of their risk management program, including potential risks that they might assume so they can lower premiums to meet their budgets?
2. When quoting a prospect, most agents will find the program or coverage that offers the best value for the premium dollar in order to maintain competitiveness. Do you take this approach on your renewal business?
3. Have you sold out a client’s interests in order to position yourself better for a contingency from a specific carrier?
4. Have you discussed the problems facing your client in to determine whether there are ways (other than insurance) in which you can provide s assistance, guidance, or relief?
5. Do you take time to acknowledge, in writing and in person, the difficulties or calamities a client might be undergoing?
6. With real estate values plummeting, have you suggested current appraisals to align value to coverage?
7. Have you accumulated a list of value-added resources that you can bring to the table?
8. Do you position yourself as a problem-solving resource, rather than a peddler of insurance?
9. Do your clients view you as a fountain of information critical to the business of their business?
10. Have you told your clients, by action and deed, that you truly value the opportunity to serve them?

Some of the “yes: answers might not be in the immediate best interests of your current bottom line; however, these actions will position you better to build brand loyalty and attract new business for long-term growth and success. All you have to do is step into the sunlight of the spirit by nurturing your relationships.

Jack Burke, president of Sound Marketing, Inc. (Branson, MO), is the author of Relationship Aspect Marketing and Creating Customer Connections. For more information, please call (800) 451-8273, e-mail:  jack@soundmarketing.com, or visit www.soundmarketing.com.