Archive for March, 2013


Everyone wants to know about the trip to Abu Dhabi. “How’d it go?”

So here you go, of course illustrated!

Like many of us in sales & marketing, if you’re around long enough, and work for (or partner with) companies big enough, eventually you travel to most of the common spots around the world. So I’ve been to places like Hawaii, Switzerland, Cancun, the DR, the Philippine jungle, Paris, London, of course New York City, LA, Chicago, Miami, Scottsdale, the Grand Canyon, the Redwood Forest, the Adirondacks, the Rockies, Banff, Seattle, and almost all points in between.

The Liwa Desert on the peninsula that closes in the Persian Gulf, an uninterrupted sand desert THE SIZE OF FRANCE, and in particular, the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, is a bucket list item, a sight to behold, stunning, terrifying, majestic, gripping, and exhausting.

Just getting there for me was an ordeal, an emotional roller-coaster. As travel schedules are want to do, my relatively painless trip was immediately interrupted by a delayed plane from O’Hare into Cleveland that was to take me to Dulles. So the trip began with a heart-pounding sprint to the international gate at Dulles only to waive goodbye to the plane slowing rolling away from the jetway.

So I was rebooked from a 14-hour, non-stop, flat-bed seat to Dubai arriving at 3:30pm, to one of the last seats on a plane to Frankfurt (middle seat, 7 hours), then a Business Class seat to Dubai, finally arriving at 12:30 am. After passing through a 90-minute process of luggage and customs, connecting with my driver outside the terminal, and driving to the resort through the Arabian Night, I arrived at Qasr Al Sarab at 5am local time – 38 hours including the time-zone difference. Exhausted.

Fortunately my client has the wisdom to shift the Agenda and move my part on Social Tech in insurance sales and marketing to Day 2. So after meeting the group at their meeting kick-off at 9am (slept from 6-8am), and saying something in the fog of exhaustion I will regret for a long time, I went back and slept for 6 hours. I don’t think I moved.

Fortunately, I woke just in time for the evening activity. Refreshed and camera in hand, we took off on a “Dune Bashing” adventure. Wow, this is really hard to describe. But suffice to say that whenever I think of it, I smile. In a nut shell, we signed the ‘death-waivers’, accompanied by funny little quips by us insurance geeks of course, climbed into Toyota Land Cruisers equipped with interior roll-bars, let the air out of the tires, and proceeded to race up and down, in and around, monster dunes – not for the tender stomach, lemme-tell-ya.

(Here’s a LINK to the video clip next time you’re on Facebook. I’ll be making a longer video with a series of clips as soon as I get some other things done.)

Fast forward to the presentation the next day. It went really well. The group was very expressive, had some great comments and observations, liked the Social Tech observations I made, and definitely got their money’s worth. So – Mission Accomplished. One of the attendees gave me a great Recommendation on Linkedin. I see tremendous potential for the enterprise and the individual business units. I was actually very impressed the way they went about things and their focus points. I do hope that we can do more together. But enough on that…

And suddenly I found myself back in the car, back in Dubai, and back to D.C. Seriously. The trip home was stunningly fast. I worked on the images in the car, no issues with the plane this time, and I indeed slept for 12 of the 14 hours. Really. SLEPT for 12 hours straight, sure a bit of tossing and turning in the flat-bed seat, but none-the-less – slept. Somewhere along the line I picked up the obligatory cold. (But it was actually miraculous that I hadn’t gotten sick leading up to that trip with all the travel I was doing in the weeks before, plus my wife being sick for essentially two weeks before.)

So it was a great trip. Thanks to the company for giving me the chance. Thanks to all the folks that have encouraged and supported me along the way – and there are way to many to count. But most of all, as always thanks be to God, who leads and directs my life. I especially remember my best buddy, Jim Love, who gave me the key verse that started and ended the whole adventure, Ephesians 3:20. Oh, and by the way, Jim Love, a brilliant chemical engineer by trade, and mighty man of God, was ON MY PLANE on the last leg to Cleveland.


Thanks again to all who shared thoughts. It’s been interesting. Before I share some interesting statistics for those of you that like numbers, let me pull some of what I see as the most salient concepts and see if there’s a pattern.

Restating the question:

“Best in class organizational setup. Where should social media be located in the organization (Marketing, Online Service, Corporate Communication, own department). What are the typical function to be in place to run it and what are the key skills and competencies the staff need to bring in to fill such roles?”

“None of this means that we [insurance industry] can’t change, just that we’re very S L O W to change. And that’s something we will need to improve upon if we’re to survive the fast paced world of the 21st Century.”

VP Marketing, U/W – Large Health Re-insurance Company, NYC

Speed. Reminds me of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park: “Must go faster.” The insurance industry – as it exists today – should start acting like there is a T-Rex ready to eat it. Because there is.

“Organisations should realign to structure teams around the consumer/customer experience with your brand…One of the most effective ways I’ve ever structured a team was when I had individuals who were skilled up across both traditional and online media, focused on running a campaign from start to finish across those channels. They were also trained in PR and social, and this focus on end goals and know-how across media helped us achieve a lot in a constrained budget environment…requires a willingness to challenge the orthodoxy of silos and a commitment to training and education…”

Director – Brand and PR, Creator of Erin Esurance, London

Experience. Training. Change. Customer experience rules. The 25 year-old, female, college grad stereotype Social Media Manager? Probably not a good idea.

“The Hub and spoke approach … is my vote as it stands. Build up a center or excellence, that is the phase we are in today and then migrate that group to be that center. There will still be a triage center, the social equivalent of the switchboard. … it should have a direct line to senior management because part of the requirement is speed and the ability to take action…”

Consultant, Web & Social Properties, insurance industry analyst, Boston

Speed again. Central Hub with distributed SME’s.

“…it is best driven by the CEO who takes an active role in the process.  Ideally the company would have a single individual who is adept at organizational change, and that individual would lead the charge while reporting directly to the CEO on this effort.”

P&C, Life Insurance CIO, Dallas

CEO influence. Btw, Follow CEO of Aetna and CEO of AmFam on Twitter. Case in Point.

“For the first, what sprang to mind was the telephone, which — like social tech — is used for two-way communication. So who inside your company gets to have a phone on their desk? And who is responsible for deciding what the people with phones on their desks should be saying to the people to whom they talk? And, even more important, who decides what to do with the information they get back?”

CMO, Life & Accident Insurance Distribution, Columbus

Good analogy that seems to suggest that Social Tech activity should be ubiquitous. Agreed

“Chief Customer Officer.  Today’s insurance enterprise must be built around customer engagement. Across product-lines, markets and sales channels, companies need be able to drive organizational customer-centricity… Consumers talking to consumers…they need to be at the center of everything an insurance enterprise does.”

CMO, Insurance Marketing Services, Chicago

More on customer centricity. Change.

“Couldn’t agree more. The ideal org setup would be a Chief Customer Experience Officer heading up a consolidated Internet (business) team, with at least dotted line reporting relationships from Corporate Communications, Agency/Brokerage communications and Service communications.”

SVP Digital Marketing, Old-line, Captive Agent-driven Life Insurance Company, NYC

More on Customer Experience, definite pattern starting to appear.

“What will be truly interesting is the increased sharing in rich media formats.”

CEO, P&C Insurance Marketing and Branding Services, D.C.

That speaks to required to skills to create the rich media – video’s, meme’s, infographics, etc.

“An organization must first decide what it wants social media to do for it. Brand? Customer acquisition? Customer retention? Customer service? All of the above? As for organization structure, where to house social media depends upon the org itself.”

VP Distribution, B2C Health Insurance Company, Jacksonville

Strategy. Actions must be smart, thoughtful, purposeful. Form follows function.

“Your communicator will have the skillset: a strong knowledge of the business, coupled with great writing skills…”

Consultant, Web & Social Properties, NY Metro

Insurance-savvy with Writing skills. Again, the 25 year-old, female, college grad stereotypical Social Media Manager is probably not the right choice.

“Corp Comm is in most companies the WORST place to house Social (and the wider world of the Internet). It almost always has a defensive and protective mind-frame — not the innovative and truly communicative mind-frame necessary for success in Social.”

SVP Digital Marketing, Old-line, Captive Agent-driven Life Insurance Company, NYC

Innovation and creativity, combined with risk-taking, extrovert, must love people

“I think it can vary depending on the organization, its structure, etc… In the end, EVERYONE in an organization has to get social, just like they had to get internet savvy… With social impacting every part of the organization–sales, marketing, service, business intelligence, product development, agency distribution, etc.–the question isn’t what ONE place should be most responsible but how can all corners of the organization best work together to avoid conflicts, redundancy, compliance issues, reputation issues, etc. Here’s the important part: No matter where it [the "hub" i.e organization, education, best practices, common tools] is run, their job is to empower everyone in the organization.  If they fail to do so, then the models breaks down, collaboration and consistence is lost and problems develop….governance becomes the essential issue and not where social is run. It [USAA] has a strong sense of governance, a great culture of collaboration and a willingness to give and take across silos in order to do the right thing for the brand and its members.”

Director, Social Media, Old-line, Captive Agent-driven Life Insurance Company, NY Metro

Company-wide, Education, Governance, Collaboration, Teamwork (Can you say Jive?)

“Organization, to my mind, is THE issue when it comes to realizing the Social vision in a company, not to mention eventually becoming capable of proving the elusive ROI of Social…it was centralization that enabled virtually all our successes — and it is the dispersal of that organization into other Departments — and most of it under traditionalist Corporate Communications, no less! — that will hobble all the company’s “Internet” activities now and in the future.”

SVP Digital Marketing, Old-line, Captive Agent-driven Life Insurance Company, NYC

Governance, Hub, CoE, and another vote against CorpComm.

“What I have seen work most successfully is that one department be the leader, usually marketing or sales. That department coordinates who does what and how everyone is involved. They are in charge of being coordinating the voice, brand and message that is going out to the world. Another success is when there is a Community Manager that has full authority to manage social, involving everyone in the company in a manner similar to what is described when led by a department.”

Consultant, Web & Social Properties, P&C, Ft. Worth :-)

A vote for Marketing and/or Sales. Full authority. Managing Social by Committee? Nope.

“Digital communication does not work in a silo… it works best when there is one “owner” in each business segment who reports up to a manager of some sort. It really starts with culture though.  There is no “best practice” if the culture of the organization, which includes above all else leadership, doesn’t embrace digital and social communication.”

Director of Agency Sales and Marketing, Regional P&C Agency, Albany

Culture trumps Strategy, right? Culture starts at the top. Follow Tony Hseih, Zappos and watch.

“Ideally, all of those areas of the organization and more should leverage social technology and practices to move the business forward. If you are first bringing social business concepts into an organization, place it with the leader best positioned to champion it, and assign a person who can help each area adopt social in a way that is relevant to the organization’s goals.”

Director, Social Media, Independent Agent-driven P&C Insurance Company, Columbus

A Champion that loves Social Tech – and can also facilitate and bring along others.


  1. Around 50 discreet ideas
  2. 20 Comments (not including mine)
  3. 6 Channels used (Blog, Linkedin, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, email)
  4. Several Shares and Retweets
  5. Global conversation – page seen in 9 different countries
  6. Visitors: 108 Total to the site since the post
  7. Time on Page: 7:52
  8. Page Views: 82
  9. Source %: Direct-37; Google-46; Facebook-13; Linkedin-12; Twitter-7

Time spent:

  • .5 hour on the post
  • .5 hour on the graphic
  • 1 hour asking people to Comment
  • 1 hour thanking Commenters on the fly via email

Some may say these aren’t significant numbers. I agree. The sheer volume is small on a relative scale. But the important part is not the total, it’s the individuals.

Essentially, the answers to the original question were Crowdsourced. What’s the key to successful Crowdsourcing? Building relationships with a community via face-to-face interactions, Social Network dialogs and mentions, emails, and phone calls. Just like anything else in life, you get out of it what you put into it. Was it worth it? Yes, absolutely. Who knows how many of the readers took away something. I know the Commenters definitely did. And I know I did – on several levels. And over time, the SEO implications will only grow.

Or I could have watched the Miami Heat v OK City Thunder game for 2 hours.


Before I get to the question:

I came home from a trip last Sunday. My wife had lovingly bought me a DVD while I was gone. As I decompressed and watched it on Sunday, I began to realize why she was so excited for me to see it. I recorded what I considered to be the essential point as it relates to new technologies and ways of doing business in insurance sales and marketing. See what you think…

Click here to see the Video Clip

For those of you who’s company still blocks Facebook, here’s the text:

“I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall, he always gets bloody. Always. It’s a threat not just a way of doing business, but in their minds it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods. It’s threatening their jobs. It’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people who are holding the reins, that have their hands on the switch, they go bat-shit crazy. I mean, anybody who’s not tearing their team down right now, and rebuilding it using your model – they’re dinosaurs!”

-John Henry, Moneyball, speaking to Billy Beane (Brad Pitt)

Common Insurance Company Silo's wrt Social Tech

Common Insurance Company Silos
… with respect to Social Tech

Spot-on regarding Social Tech and its impact on insurance companies and agencies.


A question for the crowd: As we move into the “Experience Era” (as I heard one insurance executive aptly put it recently), here’s a question that was posed to me regarding Social. Note that this question came from an insurance company on the other side of the world. But it’s a question many people would like to discuss and hear actual data-points on.

“Best in class organizational setup. Where should social media be located in the organization (Marketing, Online Service, Corporate Communication, own department). What are the typical function to be in place to run it and what are the key skills and competencies the staff need to bring in to fill such roles?”

Please Comment, perhaps based on your own experience, perhaps based on conversations with industry peers. The more specific the better. What have you seen work well? Fail? Thanks in advance.


Nick & Mike at ACT

It was the best of times.

It was the worst of times.

I’m traveling to Little Rock to facilitate a Boot Camp on Social Technologies for Independent Agents on March 28th.

So that’s exciting and ‘the best of times’ because the folks that come will reap a bountiful harvest of actionable information regarding new sales and marketing strategies for their agencies. They will also learn about a host of other items about the Web, insurance, sales, marketing, crowdsourcing, reputation management, video, and much more.

But I suspect that the people that MOST need to be there, old-school agency principles, won’t be there. At best they will send one of their ‘young people’ as a delegate, perhaps thinking to themselves, or even saying it out loud, “I don’t need to know about Social, after all, I don’t have time for all that. I need to sell and service my clients…” At worst, they won’t even do that, instead they’ll just snort and say something like, “Social. Why do I care what Charlie Sheen had for breakfast? I’m a business man…”

Without going into the whole story of how this session came together, I’ve picked up on a mixed bag of reactions. At the invitation of Kurt Hetherington, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at James Greene & Associates, back in December, we had a conference call with a few people in Kurt’s sphere of influence, including Nick Gann, Principle at The Gann Agency, and a couple others. The things I spoke about in that hour about what agents are doing with Social Tech struck a cord. “That’s exactly what we need to know. What’s the best way for us to learn about this?” So we scheduled the Boot Camp, sponsored by the Arkansas PIA as a service to their members. Kudo’s to the PIAAR.

On the flip side, I understand that there’s a whole group of Agency Principles who have been exposed to the idea that have no interest in attending the Boot Camp.

So I thought it might be helpful to record a quick conversation with Kurt that tries to characterize what people can look forward to at the Boot Camp. Listen in HERE (10min). I hope it helps.

Based on conversations with Nick at an industry meeting in Dallas, Social Tech is surely a game-changer for insurance agencies. As Peter van Aartrijk so aptly puts it, “If you’re not at the table.. you’re on the menu.” Come. Bring someone, yes, but come and see. You owe it to your agency and customers to understand the Social Era.

If you have questions, feel free to use the form below. I’ll get an email from Disqus and will be happy to answer. Thanks so much.

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