You aren't alone. Or, at least you don't have to be.

I have traveled more over the last couple of weeks than I ever have at one time in my life. I have traveled to four cities to attend and present at four different conferences. While the travel itself can be tiring, I have finished more energized than ever before. And that energy is coming from the adrenaline flowing from being around such amazing people.

For all of the doom and gloom that surrounds our industry right now, I attended four similar, yet very different, conferences where I witnessed very positive outlooks. As different as the purposes of conferences may have been, the similarities among the attendees were the quality, professionalism, and commitment to success I found in the people I met.

The first conference was a bit of "coming home" party for me. It was the benefits discussion group of Intersure Partners (an association of independent agencies) meeting in Chicago. This is a group of agencies right in the bull's-eye of the industry turmoil: independent (multi-line) agencies who are struggling with their future role in the industry. Most are trying to figure out how to compete more effectively with the "big boys".

The second was a group of Canadian brokerages (that doesn't mean financial services, that's just their term for agencies). This is another discussion group of a consulting practice called iC3/Broker Performance Group, which also met in Chicago. This group of brokerages get together for financial analysis and to share and identify overall best practices.

The third conference took place in Scottsdale and was the "specialist" meeting for yet another network of agencies. However, the members of this particular network are more closely aligned, sharing a formal affiliation. The overriding concern I heard while talking to the attendees was to figure out what the future of their affiliation will look like moving forward.

The final conference brought me to San Diego and the Benefits Selling Expo, by far the largest and most diverse conference of the four. With some one thousand attendees representing everyone from mom and pop agencies to the national brokers; voluntary providers to core benefits; lead generators to technology providers, well, you get the idea. Here, the primary concern was the obvious, Healthcare Reform.

Tailoring a message

With the diversity of the audiences, you might think that I had to be prepared to deliver four entirely different messages in order to deliver value, right? Well I actually didn't. While I did tailor my message to each audience, 99% of the message was the same for each. And you know what? I received the same overwhelmingly positive response from each.

I don't say that as a pat on the back for myself at all. Rather, I point this out because, as an industry, we share similar, foundational challenges. And, with similar challenges, there are similar answers, answers that can become bigger and achieved faster when we are open to ideas from others.

So what was the core of my message?

  • We have to take greater control of our businesses. Being dependent on a carrier's product and commission schedule is unacceptable.
  • Whatever drove your success of today is not guaranteed to drive the success of tomorrow.
  • Clients are going to need brokers/agencies who can have both wider and deeper impacts on their businesses.
  • The primary sales approach/personality (Relationship Builders) found in our industry is by far the least effective way to sell. We have to be able to Challenge our prospects/clients.
  • You have to know the difference between what your clients have to buy versus what it is they really want.
  • We have to change the way we sell and engage our clients.
  • It will take hard work to be successful tomorrow, but for those willing to work hard, the rewards will be greater than ever.
  • The opportunities of tomorrow are greater than ever, but they look different than the opportunities of the past. The work required to seize those opportunities is different, as well.
  • We are an industry facing forced change, some would say a crisis. And when a crisis finds an industry, there will be winners and there will be losers. It is up to each of us to make sure we are one of the winners.
  • Why should we do this much hard work? Because most of your competition won't.

The message is a kind of an in-your-face, wake-up-to-reality message. Rather than telling me I'm wrong or full of crap, every one of the groups embraced the message and seemed empowered to go take control of their future.

So, while I have always been optimistic for the future of our industry (at least for those of us willing to make the necessary changes), I have finished my mini-tour with a more positive outlook than ever before.

However, I wouldn't be so optimistic for those of you sitting there alone trying to figure out the answers for yourself. I just experienced four different conferences, each that clearly demonstrated the power of networking.

It is a challenging time for our industry. You can either retreat and try to figure it for yourself, or you can embrace your role as a part of the larger industry. If you aren't putting yourself in situations to learn from your peers, you can expect to be crushed by those who do.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt.