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Management Strategies

04:00 PM
Tim Attia
Tim Attia

Wayne Gretzky's Lessons for Elite Insurance Sales

The skills and successful tactics of the hockey great very much align with best-practices for insurance distribution strategies, including going direct.

If you grew up in Canada in the 80s and 90s, or were a US hockey fan, Wayne Gretzky was nearly every child's hero. Kids, and most adults, admired his skills and quick decision-making, discipline, endurance, teamwork, and resilience.

As adults in the insurance industry, most of us have little time to idolize hockey superstars. Instead, we obsess about the changing dynamic in insurance and consumers who are establishing new insurance buying rules-- new rules due in large measure to ease of Internet research and information gathering, new transparency in insurance transactions, and more tech-savvy buyers. Many of us now invest most of our waking hours focused on responding to this new insurance paradigm, including going direct for insurance sales.

Going direct isn't a nascent trend, but rather a wakeup call for insurers still relying on traditional ways of doing business.

The skills and successful tactics of The Great One -- Gretzky's nickname -- very much align with how I think about insurance distribution strategies, including going direct. I didn't realize just how much Wayne and I thought alike until I stumbled across Wayne's insightful words of wisdom. Here's what I mean:

"A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be."

Key to any going direct strategy is connecting with the consumer online at critical points during their insurance research and buying process. Having the foresight to determine where that consumer is likely to be throughout the process is dependent on knowing the customer." This is the perfect application for big data and analytics: studying consumer behavior, shopping/buying practices, product and channel process preferences, and what keeps them engaged.

If you're able to predict where the consumer is going to be and successfully engage them in an online dialogue when they get there, you have the opportunity to keep them engaged for the long term. You can better control the next interaction and influence the consumer's online path -- hopefully to a successful buying conclusion for your company's product.

"Hockey is a unique sport in the sense that you need each other and every guy helping each other and pulling in the same direction to be successful."

Most would describe the relationship between insurers as competitors rather than teammates. Yet going direct is creating untraditional allies, with insurers partnering with competitors to offer products they may not have within their own portfolio.

[Previously from Attia: Trust is necessary in insurance customer experience]

What is prompting this change is the realization that in the going-direct world, the consumer is dictating the rules. They are telling insurers what products they want to buy and how they want to buy them. With that shift in power, insurers realize it's more important to own the customer relationship for the long term than to underwrite every piece of business.

"When I was five and playing against 11-year-olds, who were bigger, stronger, faster, I just had to figure out a way to play with them."

Regardless of an insurer's size, changing consumer behavior and the rapidly evolving preference for online distribution channels including omni-channel, are forcing insurers to explore new ways to engage the customer. While going direct will eventually be adopted by most every insurer, it's especially advantageous to the startup or small insurer. They may be younger and smaller, but going direct has a way of leveling the playing field (or "hockey rink" to stay true to my metaphor.)

When going direct, small and young organizations have an advantage because they tend to be more nimble, open to non-traditional tactics, and unencumbered by old and inflexible lines of business ill-suited for online distribution. Smaller organizations have less bureaucracy, enabling quicker decisions to react to new product needs or windows of opportunity. I've recently seen start-up insurance organizations selling commercial lines products online to a consumer armed with a credit card -- a feat no one would have thought possible before. What seems revolutionary today will be commonplace tomorrow.

...these guys have played 20, 25 years... And all of a sudden they're being told something completely different. It's going to take a little bit of time."

Direct is new territory for most insurers. Delivering a successful direct insurance shopping experience requires rethinking products, distribution models, systems, and sales approaches. Going direct comes with a learning curve. It takes time to adapt, but much like NHL veterans who have to continually learn new methods and tactics, the rewards are great for those insurers who develop the skills and expertise for going direct.

"Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy."

This insight goes hand-in-hand with his most valuable lesson: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

Every insurer will go direct at some point. Those doing it today will enjoy early competitive adantagve. Those waiting will eventually go direct out of necessity to save market share -- or what's left of it.

For those looking to going direct, good options are available even if they don't have Gretzky-like skills in selling through direct channels. I advise selecting an approach that allows flexibility to adjust as lessons are learned and skills developed.

The only way an insurer can lose at going direct is if they fail to try.

Tim Attia is the Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Bolt and brings over 20 years of experience in the IT and insurance industry. Prior to joining Bolt, Attia was the Worldwide Vice President of Sales for Exigen Insurance Solutions, a San Francisco-based ... View Full Bio

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