March 26, 2007

Kaizen: Better, You Bet

It's getting better all the time
Better, better, better
It's getting better all the time
Better, better, better
--- The Beatles (Getter Better)
If you're familiar with Lexus, you'll have heard the taglines "The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection" or "The Passionate Pursuit of Perfection". Put them into a word and you get kaizen, which means continuous improvement.

The Toyota/Lexus factory tour in Cambridge, Ontario starts with a short film and kaizen is mentioned throughout. It's not just a word. It's a commitment. Last year, the plant received 10,000 suggestions and implemented 95%. That's remarkable.
I can tell where my own shoe pinches me.
--- Cervantes (Don Quixote)
Kaizen is based on the belief that the person doing the work best knows how to do make improvements. They just need to be empowered.

The corollary is that you can't improve what you don't do with your own hands. So when we delegate, we can easily give advice but the shoe may not fit because it's for someone else to wear.

I've used kaizen techniques for years. It's liberating. You don't have to be perfect at the outset. You can start with good and make continual improvements. This process is more enjoyable because you can launch more quickly --- during a window of opportunity.

What Goes Wrong
Improvement is difficult to delegate. You need to be hands on. Unfortunately, many of us like delegating to inexperienced staff. We're too important to do such menial work. Delegation becomes abdication if done too early. Do others have your insights? Do they care as much? So how can you get optimal results? Ideas die.

I do much more myself since I no longer have the burden of 10 staff. Yes, there's more to learn but results arrive much faster. Small improvements were not possible when relying on others. That tweaking helps you improve your skills. That's the big payoff: you then do many other things better.

For example, something as simple as blogging has many iterations. I started with one blog that covered many topics. I soon saw the need to specialize. So now I have three:
  1. Insurance Marketing for advisors
  2. Riscario for consumers
  3. Spark Insight for general interest
There have been name changes and formatting changes. Push emails were also added to save you the inconvenience of visiting the site for the latest. No matter how much time you spend in pre-launch planning, changes will be needed. That's okay. That's kaizen.

March 18, 2007


While organizing my office following March Break, I found a small page with notes on building trust and rapport. I don't recall the source. So I stopped cleaning and started writing ...

The Five Building Blocks

1. Continuity
  • Maintain contact
  • Be visible
  • Be there
2. Commonality
  • Find common ground
  • Seek shared values, beliefs, experiences
3. Caring
  • Meet the other person's needs
  • Be a giver
  • Listen
4. Communication
  • Share information, thoughts and feelings
  • Be genuine
  • Listen
5. Competence
  • Show skill in doing your craft
  • Seek continuous improvement

Take 10

When you visit a client, take 10 minutes to ask the following questions:
  • How are you doing?
  • How are things going?
  • How can I help?
Get more details by saying "Tell me more".

March 13, 2007


"How can I double my revenue?"

This question arises even from advisors with revenue in the millions. The great news is that the market is so large that everyone agrees more sales are possible. Since you're probably working more hours than you'd like, the solution is not to work longer. Let's assume you are using time effectively, focusing on the important rather than the urgent.

There are three strategies

  1. Catch more fish
  2. Catch bigger fish
  3. Keep more of the fish
1. Catch More FishThis approach is about volume and efficiency. You can get volume by selling commodity-like products such as term insurance. You need to
  • streamline the process
  • automate the process
You're not creating much loyalty with volume. You may be increasing fixed costs for staff or equipment. If you have an assistant for the routine cases, you can concentrate on the bigger ones.
Give your clients an opportunity to increase the size of the sale. You see this in stores with extended warranties and accessory bundles. Can you create a deluxe or packaged option?
2. Catch Bigger FishYou can use a fishfinder to identify where the bigger fish hide. You can
  • go deeper: find opportunities among your own clients by mining your current database
  • go wider: search for fish in other places by using techniques such as client seminars or joining clubs or associations
3. Keep More Of The FishYou probably can't negotiate a larger slice of the compensation. You're much better off focusing on the other two.
FollowupStaying in touch with your customers helps create repeat business and referrals. You'll save time by using emails, newletters or blogging.

March 7, 2007

The Unremarkable Client Seminar

How do you get new clients? Seminars work very well. When done very well.

Here's a review of an invitation in today's mail. Identifying information has been removed. Click on it for a larger image.

"A" For Effort
The intent to market deserves congratulations. The event is being held at a nice location, The Old Mill. There's champagne and hors d'oeuvres. There's a "top senior financial consultant" (whatever that means) who'll give a "dynamic presentation" on
  • advanced tax planning
  • augmented tax deductions
  • investment strategies

What's being done is good enough, but unremarkable. Wouldn't you expect a keynote speaker to have meaningful professional credentials?

"B" for Confusing Title
The title is "The Wealthy Neighbour (tm)". Why? I know my neighours are wealthy. So what?

Last week, the Toronto Star reported that this is "one of Toronto's toniest and best-educated enclaves" and that "family income tops $170,000".
Maybe there will be stories as with The Wealthy Barber or Rich Dad, Poor Dad? Your neighbour is wealthy because they use our services. You don't. So you're not.

"C" for Timing
Will parents attend a seminar the evening before March Break? Maybe they aren't the target. Maybe it was difficult to book the speaker or venue.

"F" for the Invitations
The invitation looks like a junk mail flyer. Sure, it's printed on nice glossy paper, but many advertisers use that in this neighbourhood. There's no envelope. Wouldn't you expect an invitation to a champagne event to have an envelope or be printed on thick card stock that looks like an invitation? Especially in such a tony 'hood?

Here's the real shock. The event is in less than 24 hours. I'm serious. There is no advance notice. Maybe the mail delivery was slow. Maybe the printers were slow. Whatever the cause, would you feel like attending an event like this?

Why Detail Matters

Nothin' Matters and What if It Did?
--- John "Cougar" Mellencamp (1981)
I want our business to be held in high regard. We sell the invisible: services. Prospects are not able to judge the quality of our services. So they judge what they can see --- the invitation and the attention to detail.

Maybe the event will be a tremendous success. Maybe I'm being too picky.

Would you trust your money to the organizer?

March 5, 2007

Exchanging Best Practices

(Here's the followup to Sneaking A Peek At Best Practices)
There's so many different worlds.
So many different suns.
And we have just one world,
But we live in different ones.
--- Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms
When you're selling, you lose access to the best practices of your competitors. So what can you do that's effective and ethical?

Deal with someone who travels in different worlds from you. That's where I can help. I travel in the distinct realms of
  • National Accounts: working directly with insurance specialists
  • Managing General Agents: working directly with insurance brokers
  • Investment Advisors: working directly with select ones licensed to sell life insurance
  • Actuaries: maintaining contacts at other insurance companies, consulting firms and reinsurers
  • Other professions: accountants, lawyers --- someone's got to talk to them :)
  • Learning: from articles, books, seminars, conferences (including CALU)
  • Technology: ways to serve your clients using innovative tools like a blog, wiki or Office 2007
Each world has similarities and differences. Each has best practices or knowledge you can apply.
If two people think the same way, fire one: they're redundant.
You're probably in special worlds too and have ideas to share.

What do you want to know?

March 2, 2007

Conan the Teacharian

You explain a concept to a client. You meet two weeks later to follow-up only to find that you've got to explain the concept over again. What happened? Did you do a lousy job of explaining? Or is the fault with the client's learning abilities?

Maybe one, both or neither. We forget easily.

Image too small and grainy? See the high quality full size graphic. You can save to your computer and use it in PowerPoint.
The Cone of Learning, developed by Edgar Dale in 1946 helps us understand what happens. After two weeks, we remember only 10% of what we read (bad news for a blogger) but 90% of what we do.

To improve recall, we need to engage our clients in more ways. What do you suggest?

Don't ask me. I spent my time creating the graphic ;)
(And don't ask why the cone looks like a pyramid)