Thursday, 26 November 2015

Working with introducers to my business

I have written on this blog before about the technical process and why's and wherefore's of working with IFA, General Brokers, Accountants etc within my medical insurance practice.

I've never covered off (in any real detail) why I like to do so. At its most basic it is a realistic way of attracting new clients to my business in a time efficient and effective manner. Although I give up commission to all of my introducers, in each case, a client they send over to me is added to my portfolio with no other real acquisition costs. This means that as opposed to say telephone marketing I find working with introducer a solid and efficient way of earning a living.

However, why do I actually enjoy working this way ? The simple answer is that since 1990 I have been ingrained with the idea that independent intermediaries (of which I am of course now one) are the best way for clients to receive advice. I began working in financial services as an IFA in 1989 but then moved over to the insurer side working for first life companies (in 1990) then medical insurers (in 1994). At each turn I have worked to support IFA's, general brokers and medical insurance specialist intermediaries in their advice to clients.

I firmly believe that all things being equal it is always better for the client to receive an independent market assessment and write business via an independent broker. That is the basic underpinning of what I do for clients now and more than that, having worked with IFA's both as my clients and now as business partners I like them. They are generally hard working and insightful individuals whose job is far harder than most people can ever understand.

If by my efforts I can make their life a bit easier, help them financial and support their clients on medical insurance matters then I think it is a rewarding and pretty cool way to make a living.

If you're an IFA or other professional advisers who'd like a hand with medical insurance just get in touch - always happy to help !

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The 6 P's of presentation - my guide to the best presentations

We've all heard that P**s Poor Preparation Promotes Poor Presentation and I suspect that many of the people reading this blog will have been on various courses to enable them to present effectively to colleagues and clients.

As a side note and before I begin can I say - as a presenter do not walk between the screen and the light source on your projector - this drives me bonkers, no one looks good in glaring white light and remember you never see Huw Edwards when he's doing a standing piece to camera walk in front of the camera going back to his desk - if it's good enough for professional media it should be good enough for the (gifted) amateur.

Over the years I too have been on innumerable sales training courses going over these kinds of areas and done my share of awful (can still remember the exact audience and location and still wish that the ground could have swallowed me whole) and also some better presentations. There really is no substitute for practice but one of the important things that many presenters forget is that a little like standup you need to know your audience and pitch the talk towards not only what they need to hear but also remember what they do not want to hear.

Firstly don't cover off ground that the audience already knows. I saw a presentation to a group of nurses once where the drug company representative started the session (on some new drug) by telling his audience what cancer was. Now forgive me but I'm assuming that a nursing degree probably covers this off in more detail. Either way the first three or four slides of the session lost the presenter his audience and he struggled to drag it back.

A similar mistake is to 'insult' the audience by pointing to a slide, saying I'm not going to cover this topic because either they already know it or can read it on the slide themselves then spending twenty minutes going over that exact issue - bit of a time waste, bores your delegates and again sucks the life from the room.

Lastly in the vein of knowing your audience I recently saw someone present a product that his company had integrated into their cover that we used to be able to sell ourselves as a standalone plan - it was ultimately pulled because it didn't prove too popular for us. Perfectly sound product but this presenter hadn't been able to research the fact that the product point he spent most time showing us was one that really was not relevant to us - not his fault but in not knowing his audience I felt he kind of lost us.

I think that given a presentation (in the context of the sales process) is often stage two of obtaining a sale, following up that initial contact/meeting of minds it is really worthwhile doing some research beyond simply writing a set of powerpoint slides or worse, recycling an old presentation.

As a general rule I use three guiding principles when prepping for a presentation, regardless of the audience. Firstly I do a mini 'fact find' usually over the phone or e-mail with the client/contact as follows :

1) Who is the presentation aimed at, what do they want to achieve - is it a pure sales meeting or educational, can I include sales content
2) How many and who will be there - include if possible job titles or a list of delegates (e-mail lists are good for post presentation follow up but don't push your luck or indeed hold your breath)
3) What would they like you to cover off (seems obvious but now but I've turned up to more than one session where the speaker clearly had a different brief to the attendees)
4) Basic logistics - where, when, how long do I have, is there equipment and what does it look like

Second phase, following the basic fact find do some research on the audience. I never telephone a company without having their website open in front of me.  Same with presenting, understand what products they sell and into which market. It might not affect your content but then again it could be crucial. Always do a little research - that could have prevented my last example above from choosing the wrong area of his product to concentrate on. As a footnote to this 'research' section, I always create a new presentation for each client. I understand in these days of strict compliance this isn't always possible but even if it's just a front piece with the clients name on it can make a difference. We all like to feel that people make an effort and just finding the full company name and sticking it on a blank slide can really personalise things. I like to take a jpeg of their logo and add it as well - be careful though, some larger companies are funny about use of their proprietary images - read the situation again !

Having some basic research of your target audience can also help during the question phase at the end of the meeting. How embarrassing is it going to be if the office joker sticks up his hand and asks if your product competes with their platinum widget, if you don't know what their widget does. Often a simple question which is actually off topic can shanghai the whole session - been there done that. Obviously you can't be an expert but have a little knowledge and take contentious issues off-line and you won't go far wrong.

Lastly the third key area. Time. Note how long you've been given and divide the time into thirds. If you have 30 minutes time your presentation for two thirds or 20 minutes. If you have an hour then aim for 40 minutes and so on. This is a key point for a number of reasons :
  • If you (like me) enjoy the sound of your own voice then you a likely to over-embellish and will usually go long. So allowing for this means you'll still have time for questions 
  • If you are anything like competent at presenting you will ask delegates to hold questions til the end - leaving this last third chunk of time means you can actually answer them
  • People running meetings always stress timing is crucial when they ask you to present - it's common courtesy to stick to their timing if you can but delegates will thank you for keeping things brief especially if they are having more than one presentation or several in a row. My experience is that in a sales context the briefest session will likely be the most memorable - I don't care about going on after lunch or last thing in the day - keep your 30 minute slot down to four slides and 18 minutes and they'll remember you and not the rambler who made them 10 minutes late for lunch.
Still thinking about time, I mention timing the session into thirds. As a general rule I only (practice) run through a full presentation twice. Once on the day I create it and then again the day before I give the talk but I time both versions. Generally my second attempt will be a bit longer as I talk around the subject a bit more but the overall time I allow will be an average of the two 'rehearsals'. I say more in the second one so it's longer but remember that it is a simple fact that most people talk faster when presenting so the actual timing I find tends to be the middle ground between my two run throughs. Either way I suggest you don't over-rehearse. However important the session is, my preference is for a more natural, conversational style of presentation - ever heard a stand up comic read a joke ? Nope you haven't and there's a reason why, scripted jokes only work if Ricky Jervais is your writer and Robin Williams is delivering them. I'd therefore recommend keep it as natural as possible. There's nothing wrong with actually reading off slides or cards. I do a talk/demo on marital arts to school kids and use small cards as it is largely a demonstration piece but I make a joke out of the fact that I need glasses to read the type. I don't, I know the content by heart but it enables me to humanise the talk, have a pause every now and then and check out the audience reaction whilst I'm 'checking' my crib notes.

The rest of presenting is down to pure personal subjective style. Some people say open with a joke, I prefer not to. I am not a comedian but do have a line in dry humour. Again think about your audience and aim the humour towards what they would be likely to find amusing - I like to mock TV shows like the Apprentice in a business context as you'll often be on firm ground but if TOWIE is your favourite show it's unlikely to resonate with a group of 50 year old insurance underwriters !

Last thought, I teach four karate classes a week to students from pure beginners up to senior black belt and have learnt one thing when 'presenting' a tough physical and mental discipline to people of all ages and backgrounds. You have to be in control, 100% of the time. Take hold of the room by the scruff of the neck and make sure that they are always watching and listening. For karate I use humour, physical demonstration and some good old fashion beastings but my aim is always to have their attention. I think presenting is the same - stay in charge at all times.

Good luck and good presenting.


Friday, 20 November 2015

Jessica Jones - review of episode 1 of the new Netflix Marvel series

First of all I am definitely working today. Managed to sort out several renewals, prospect for new business and still organise this blog post !

Guilty secret admission time - during the more monotonous non telephone based work I tend to have something playing on Netflix or Sky On-Demand, BBC iPlayer etc. I don't always take it all in but it takes the edge off the monotony and I get to keep (sort of) up to date with my favourite series. sort of like Radio with pictures and an actual story.

At the moment I am half way through the Sky box set of The Soprano's and who knew that sociopaths could be so cuddly ? Today I'm catching up on Wednesday's The Apprentice (those girls, really are the bitchiest yet) and of course the new Marvel series : Jessica Jones which premieres on Netflix today - here are my initial thoughts on the first episode.

I should preface this piece (for those who do not know/haven't read this blog before) that I am a massive comic/SF fan, fully aware of the slightly controversial nature of some of the character's storylines (Jessica's sexual 'interactions' with Luke Cage etc). I loved season one of the previous Netflix Marvel show : Daredevil but am not massively impressed with Agents of Shield - I only managed to last half of season one on that show.

For a change of scenery I decided to work in my living room this morning instead of the office which means I can use the old Apple TV to watch Netflix on the big screen TV rather than using my slightly wobbly old (2009) iMac which needs constant re-boots.

Here are my initial thoughts having watched the first episode.

It's dark and gritty in the way that Hollywood thinks that kind of thing should be, actually not that gritty at all if you've really ever lived in a big city. 'Edgy' because we need to understand for the beginning that although Jessica is bright and clever with a witty line in banter for every situation she is in fact world weary and defeated as an ex-super-hero with nothing left but PTSD derived from being in  the clutches of some mysterious (gulp) purple menace :  David Tennant playing Zebidiah Killgrave, the Purple Man. A mysterious mind controlling villain who is inextricably linked to the Jessica Jones backstory in both comics and also here on TV.

Given this is effectively a pilot episode there's a lot of supporting characters and situations to get through in this episode and some ground work to be laid so as a result not a great deal actually happens until the final scenes with Killgraves kidnap victim - no doubt we'll find out more about Jessica's revised (TV series) history over the rest of the series but for now it is enough to know she is troubled and pretty pissed off with her former tormentor who she believed was dead, despite his continuing to haunt her subconscious. This is probably the best thing about the Netflix TV series format, it's ability to present a first/pilot episode as a purely setting up exercise knowing the other 12 episodes in the season can build the drama but still I wonder if enough is going on plot wise to keep non geeks on board for more than one or two hours.

Her co-stars seem a mixed bag, Mike Colter as Luke Cage (whose later Netflix series notwithstanding) seems a good if one dimensional character at the moment, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica's omni-sexual lawyer seems sinister but intriguing but some of the 'lighter' flatmate types are frankly a little irritating at present - hope this doesn't develop into a 'scooby gang' type situation but rather stays with the tortured powers riff.

Not quite sure where I stand on Krysten Ritter as Jessica, she certainly looks the part and so far has carried the concept being in almost every scene. She can do comedy and deliver plot overview pretty well but how long can the self doubt and drama carry her ? Let me let you into a secret, every super hero series has an annoying (usually) female foil - Lana in Smallville, Laurel in Arrow, Jimmy Olsen in Lois and Clark, Iris West in Flash and per any one from ten in Gotham. My concern is that Krysten might become the annoying female foil in her own series which would be bad.

Last point, need some action. This is not classic cape fare but we need more than a car being lifted up - there's no point playing in the Marvel sandbox and nor using the Sandman is there ? Sorry for the Spiderman reference but JJ is really routed in the Spiderman continuity.

So will I go on to watch the next few episodes ? Yep, I think it is a pretty solid start to the series with enough going on to intrigue and prompt a 'WTF' requirement to come back - the lift scene, case in point.

Best quote 'Laser eyes ? Moron !"

Best Surprise in episode - that scene with Luke Cage - wow, surprised Disney allowed them to do that.

Final Critique - tonally this very similar to DareDevil - clearly it covers adult sexuality (primarily abusive sexual relationships in episode one and adultery in episode two) so it is clearly a grown up program with lots of violence to follow. However the format of dropping hints about origin, obliquely introducing a big bad villain working behind the scenes, centring the story around a lawyer introducing cases to the protagonist. All very DD. now that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is a proven  and solid way to create this kind of piece without being too 'comic' inspired or descending into an Avengers parody (which Netflix has neither the budget not intent to carry off) however, I'd like to see some risks taken with format and I am excusing this initial similarity to its Netflix sibling down to the writing staff of both shows working closely together to create their shared universes and hopefully as the two shows go off in their different directions they can both find and develop their own identities.

Try it out and see for yourself.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

How useful is Twitter ?

I've used Twitter pretty consistently over the last four or five years for both business and personal use and have a number of accounts with around 4,500 followers.

Being totally honest I've never really had much feedback that for promoting my business Twitter is particularly useful. However on three occasions where I've got to a point with companies or service providers where they were either ignoring me or refusing to be of much use I have turned to Twitter.

One occasion my GP double charged me for a prescription (see previous blogs) and after 8 or 9 e-mails plus one visit and two phone calls they hadn't even acknowledged the contact. However within 24 hours of putting a synopsis on this blog and linking to it on Twitter I had a call from the most senior GP in the practice, problem resolved in one phone call.

Similarly today after two calls and an e-mail over a month (problem with a gas servicing company) I had a call back in less than three minutes after outlining the problem on Twitter.

So maybe in the right hands Twitter can be useful - who knew ?

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Fell at the umpteenth hurdle

Well back to blogging with vengeance - two posts in three days. Awesome sauce.

Fell into a old trap recently, one which I've blogged before about on more than one occasion.

Since the end of August I have been snowed under with both client renewals and new business cases. Obviously it's always great to be busy, especially with stuff that makes money for me (as well as helping out clients) but as we move towards December I'm a discovering I have a bit of a dearth of new business prospects to feed into the pipeline.

So over the last couple of months I've done the classic, got on with working the current cases and let the new business marketing slip so that business is looking a little scarce. That said I actually have three or four cases pending and a couple of new prospects have come through in the last few days so it's really not catastrophic thankfully.

Which brings me back to today - back hard at work sorting out some marketing, 9.10pm at night and marketing hard - just like when I first set up my business. Like I said, awesome sauce.

Monday, 16 November 2015

What happened to Linkedin

Being 100% honest I have been somewhat lax about updating social media recently. In particular this blog and Linkedin have been media that I have largely ignored in the last couple of months.

Imagine my surprise when I logged on to Linkedin this afternoon and found they had completely face-lifted the site - it was bad before but now it's awful.

As an example, historically I used to contact fellow members of groups for a variety of purposes. Now, you find one member you want to contact, click on their profile and then when you go back to look at the next entry you go to the top of the list. So on a group with more than 3 members it is now literally impossible to find anyone whose name and details you cannot remember.

Linkedin seem to want to be Facebook only FB is (IMHO) largely useless for business purposes - looks like Linkedin has now joined the club