February 27, 2007

Speed vs Gas

We want what we can't have. In this case, gasoline.
I’ve got some downers, some speed
All the drugs that you need
But I can’t get a gallon of gas.
There’s no more left to buy or sell.
There’s no more oil left in the well.
A gallon of gas can’t be purchased anywhere
For any amount of cash.
--- The Kinks
In Toronto, gas prices have increased to nearly a dollar a litre because of a supply shortage. Yesterday morning, I saw that the pumps at my regular gas station were closed. I had about 1/3 a tank left, but started feeling uneasy. I checked my Distance To Empty, which was 240 km. I still felt uneasy. That's the power of scarcity.

I passed several other gas stations and they had fuel. So my uneasiness decreased. By the end of the day, all stations I passed were open --- even mine. I didn't bother refueling because of the lineups. I figured the shortage was over and that prices would drop.

Until this morning.

According to the radio, the shortage is ongoing, government action is needed, truckers may be out of business within days. The usual scare-mongering. I resolved to get gas that morning. The first station I visited was closed. I changed to a slower route with many stop lights and more gas stations.

Look ahead. There's a lineup. And it's not a Tim Hortons! Explain this to me. There's a pump with 6 vehicles lined up while another pump has only one car. Guess which pump I pick? Guess what? There's no premium fuel left. Luckily, my car can use regular. So I fill up at $0.978 per litre.

I'm feeling good until I pass four other gas stations and find only one is closed. Maybe gas isn't that scarce after all. But do they have premium unleaded?

Coming home, the story is different. My car feels less spirited. Is it the regular gas? Maybe it's just psychological. Four of the six gas stations I pass are closed. The two that are open have long lineups. Gas is in short supply again. I feel good.

That's the power of scarcity. And insensitivity to the plight of others ;)

Our clients also want what they can't have. How can we (not) give it to them?

February 26, 2007

Diluting The Soup

It's 1:36pm and I've yet to have lunch. One of those days. There's a sandwich chain up ahead, they've got empty parking spots and I don't have to make a left turn. Since I'm not with a client, that place will suit me fine.

I ask for a toasted sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, swiss cheese and mustard. The server gives me cheddar instead, which I don't notice until I'm eating. She did cut a fresh tomato, which balances out.

It's -16C and I want a hot drink. I decide on hot chocolate. I ask if they have any because it's past regular lunch times. They do. I ask for a large cup. I figure a healthy sandwich balances out the extra calories. I'm used to getting hot chocolate from a machine that fills your cup with premixed hot chocolate. Here it's different. They add a packet of Carnation hot chocolate to boiling water. I see what the server does, but it doesn't register. The pangs of hunger must have dulled my perceptions. Do you see the problem?

The hot chocolate packet is designed for small cups, probably 250 mL (or 8 ounces if you're still clinging to Imperial units). The server adds the packet and fills the large cup with hot water. So the extra 35 cents for supersizing my drink only got me
  • more water
  • a larger cup
No topping of whipped cream. No marshmallow.

Again, this didn't register until I took my first sip of the diluted concoction. It tasted horrible. What would you do? Take it back or just take it? I'm wimpy when it comes to complaining. So I drank it. My goal was something hot, after all. As I neared the bottom of the cup, the flavour got stronger. You know why? The powder had not been stirred properly. So for a few sips I got proper hot chocolate and then an over-sweet mixture. There was some chocolate paste left at one side of the cup.

A tea bag can make one cup or two. Not so with hot chocolate. Surely the server knew this. Yet did nothing. Except earn extra profit. You see, the beverage server was also the owner. There's no novice employee at fault.

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle. the kingdom was lost.
All for the want of a nail.
--- Benjamin Franklin remixed
We can easily under-deliver and then get surprised when the customer doesn't return. On the positive side, I didn't get extra calories. And I got a blog post.

Have you experienced bad service? What did you do?

February 19, 2007

Sneaking A Peek At Best Practices

You're curious, right? Not quite Curious George, but interested nonetheless. You want to know what makes others successful. What works for them may work for you.

But what are others doing? You can ask colleagues, but not competitors. Naturally, we want what eludes us. How do we find out what our competitors are doing?

Three of the four choices are ethical:

  1. technology
  2. conferences
  3. client seminars
  4. maven/connectors
Using Technology
Technology offers solutions. We can use search engines to find people, presentations, newsletters, newspaper articles, press releases, and websites. It's surprising and sometimes shocking what you can find out instantly for free. The beauty of these sources is the anonymity. No one sees you peeking.

Try a search on your own name at google.ca, for example. Unless you know you're world famous, select pages from Canada.
Attending Conferences
Conferences are another way. You can ask questions during and after a session. Now you are asking a presenter, not a competitor. It's surprising how much you can pick up, how willing others are to share when in the right environment. Friendships can develop, which makes future contact easier.

Crashing Client Events
As Yogi Berra says, "You can observe a lot just by watching." A competitor's client event lets you see

  • how the event is arranged
  • the location
  • the attendees
  • the presentation
  • the handouts
  • the followup process
But you can't go --- even with an invitation. Only clients and prospects are welcome. Some venues are intimate and expensive, which would make your presence more intrusive and more costly. Unless you're a master of disguise like Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers, not Steve Martin), you're liable to be found out. To attend, you need permission. Good luck getting that.

So what can you do?

Use Maven/Connectors
There are three types of people. "Those who can count and those who can't?," you ask. "No," I reply. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell calls them:

  1. mavens (actively accumulate knowledge)
  2. connectors (have links between different groups)
  3. salesmen (persuaders who help clients act)
Do you see the dilemma? Mavens burst with knowledge but have few to tell. Connectors spread messages, but have no message to pass on. You as salespeople combine the knowledge with your persuasion skills but don't have ready access to the mavens.

You need a maven/connector. Do you know one? If not, you soon will.

February 15, 2007

Writer's Vista

What if it happened to you? Here's a new blog and I've already run out of things to say. It had to happen sometime, but why now? The launch hasn't even take place (a minimum of 5 articles are recommended). The wiki is under development. The email subscription option has now been added. The template has been tweaked.

All that's needed is content. Insurance is very serious. For humour, visit the Spark Insight blog.

The good news is that this blog is not known. It's not hyped like Microsoft Vista, which sold 59% less units than Windows XP in its first week. Here's why that might be
  • no compelling reason to upgrade since Windows XP works well
  • the cost ... the Ultimate version costs $300 for upgraders and $500 for new systems ... computer prices keep dropping, but Microsoft doesn't reduce it's prices
  • most users would need to upgrade their computer hardware first
  • it's only an operating system ... most people have lives
In insurance, there's concern about product prices. Explain this then. Vista Ultimate --- the priciest version --- accounts for 30% of the sales. Buyers need sophisticated hardware, which increases costs further. So the low price doesn't always rule. Some people want they consider is the best, which happens to be the most expensive. When clients perceive value, they are willing to pay more.

February 13, 2007


At least that's what you say in front of a microphone :)

This blog aims to help you sell more life insurance by
  • providing information
  • sharing best practices
  • answering questions
You can post comments anonymously, if you're worried about identifying yourself.

The focus is on sales in Canada, though much of the content will likely be universal.