Use Insights and Knowledge to Accelerate Sales

Posted by Tom Smith on Tue, Sep, 09, 2014 @ 10:09 AM

 Farm Bureau sign resized 600


















A few years ago, after creating a tremendously successful campaign for Blue Cross and Blue Shield that reduced negative perceptions by 38%, increased positive perceptions by 19% and doubled inbound leads, they asked us to see if we could help Farm Bureau do a better job of selling Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance.


Farm Bureau sells their own life, auto and home insurance and they are very well respected by their customers. 


At the time I began working on this project, Farm Bureau had 850 agents in North Carolina and those agents weren't coming close to making the annual sales goals that had been agreed to with Blue Cross and Blue Shield.


I recommended, and the client agreed, to let me have one-on-one interviews with 15 of their agents so I could better understand:

  • How they generated leads

  • How they scheduled appointments

  • What took place during an appointment

  • What worked and didn't work with regards to making a sale

  • Their perception of Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance

  • Their customers' perception of Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance


The one-on-one discussions with the agents were invaluable.


Each interview lasted anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes and gave me a much better understanding of the agents' mentality, how they went about their job and their perception of Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance.


As I was presenting my findings to the vice president of sales, who had been managing the 850 agents for the past 20 years, he stopped me 10 minutes into my presentation.


He said, "How did you get this information? You've already told me two things I've never heard before and I've been managing these guys for 20 years."


I explained my methodology and hypothsized that his sales reps were telling me details they never shared with him, or amongst themselves, because they thought they were irrelevant.

Since they were all agents, they tought everyone was doing the same things and knew the same things.


While there were a lot of consistencies, they were also a lot of nuances that each agent had developed over time that helped them be more successful.


One, in particular, was an agent who only met with the husband and wife together at the kitchen table where he could see both of them simultaneously. He wanted to be able to see both decision-makers' reactions.


Based on what the V.P. of sales told me, this finding was subsequently added to the Farm Bureau agent training.


After presenting the findings from the one-on-one interviews, the V.P. of sales asked me to validate the findings, and see if we would learn any new insights, by conducting an online survey of the other 835 agents.


I created and implemented the survey. The results confirmed everything I had learned fromt he one-on-one interviews and provided no new insights since the online survey didn't allow for the all-important follow-up questions, "Can you tell me more about that?" or "Can you explain why you do that?"


The solution to the problem of Farm Bureau agents selling more Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance didn't come directly from any of the agents. 


The solution came from knowing:

  • There's a Farm Bureau agency on a major thoroughfare in all 100 counties in North Carolina.

  • Farm Bureau agents thought very highly of Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance, even though they didn't receive as much compensation as they did when they sold a Farm Bureau policy.

  • Farm Bureau clients trust their Farm Bureau agents.

  • Everyone in the state of North Carolina recognizes Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance as the "gold standard."

  • Farm Bureau and Blue Cross and Blue Shield have tremendous brand awareness and equity. 


This knowledge resulted in the recommendation that Farm Bureau buy yellow plastic A-frame signs for every agency with a sign that says "Blue Cross and Blue Shield (logo) health insurance available here Farm Bureau (logo)."


The agents put these signs out in front of their office every morning when they opened the office.


Results: Farm Bureau met their 12-month health insurance sales goals in less than three months and spent less than $65,000 on the signs.


Today, you continue to see the A-frame signs in front of the Farm Bureau offices as well as car magnets of fans of local colleges and universities.


Use insights from your customers and your sales people to help you solve business problems.



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Tags: dialogue, consumer insights accelerate sales, listen intensely, insights from channel partners accelerates sales

Insights From the Sales Channel Accelerate Sales

Posted by Tom Smith on Tue, Jul, 09, 2013 @ 06:07 AM

consumer insights from the fine paper channel accelerate sales

This is another “real life” example of consumer insights.

The following is an example of the necessity of ensuring you consider all segments of your target audience, in this case sales channels, to develop a fully informed marketing communications plan.

It also reinforces the importance of probing feedback that may not seem to matter initially and giving respondent the opportunity to open up to you.

The paper industry is very complex with a multi-level distribution that includes merchants, designers, corporate end users, printers and publishers. 

Our client was in a fight for its life as use of fine printed paper was declining with the increase of electronic publications as well as pressure from paper producers in the far-east improving their product quality while keeping prices low.

We conducted online surveys with more than 1,100 printers, designers and corporate end users and one-on-one surveys with more than 40 paper merchants.

During the interviews with paper merchants, we learned that the president of our client had to leave a merchant sales retreat before meeting personally with one of the groups.

It wasn't until well into the one-on-one interviews that one of the merchants brought this up -- they didn't want to seem petty and complain about not meeting the president; however, it was a "big deal" to them.

We subsequently asked all merchants if they had the opportunity to meet the president of the firm.

From the results, we created a nine-question classification model to determine into which segment (value, expert, brand involved) a particular target may fall.  

We provided the sales force the findings for each prospect so they could target their consultative sales approach. 

We developed a unified brand positioning and distinct value propositions, communication plans, strategies and tactics for each segment/channel.

We also suggested the president follow-up personally with each merchant she did not get to meet at the sales retreat.

Our efforts increased brand awareness and helped our client become the most trusted printing resource by providing targeted, meaningful communications and support to each segment/channel. 

Among printers, we grew share and identified segments with the greatest revenue and margin potential. 

Among designers and corporate end users, we integrated acquired brands into the existing product portfolio, provided global inspiration to designers and identified segments with the greatest revenue and margin opportunities. 

Among printers, we increased share and rebuilt relationships that had eroded over time.

And among merchants, we convinced them of our commitment to the industry and to their success.

The president's calls let all of the merchants she missed during the sales retreat know that they and their business was critical to our client's success.

What have you learned by having a one-on-one interview with your channel?

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Tags: dialogue, insights from channel partners accelerates sales