Photo by Paul via www.freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Paul via www.freedigitalphotos.net

Feel free to send confetti, party horns, and streamers. I’ll happily accept your wine and roses. It is a milestone I need to celebrate. This month marks my 20th year in the insurance industry. I’d say that I started when I was 12 to make myself feel younger. But you’ve seen my pictures and until Instagram adds a “Younger, Thinner” filter I’ll let you decide how 20 years in insurance ages someone.

Since I’m not anticipating any real celebration of this anniversary I thought instead I’d use the occasion as an opportunity to share the most important thing I’ve learned in these 20 years.  I am confident what I’ve learned can easily apply to almost any industry so I hope it might be of use to more than just my insurance colleagues.

Although I’ve learned a lot about policy coverages, that seems to change with the wind. Once upon a time there was a $250 deductible available on property and now it’s almost non-existent. Terrorism coverage was created AFTER 9/11. We didn’t used to offer cyber liability because well, to be honest we didn’t even know that was a thing. Currently hovercraft are excluded on a lot of policies but one day soon we’ll probably offer that as well.

I hope I’m not driving then.

I certainly have realized that I’m only as good as the companies I represent. Thankfully at the agency I work for we’ve managed to weed out the bad apples as they have surfaced. However that’s the beauty of being an independent agency where we strive to always have other options to fit our clients’ needs best.

Which might lead you to think I’ve learned how to be all things to all clients. Nope.

If anything I’ve figured out that I am most certainly not going to be able to help everyone nor should I really want to do so. Even with many companies to offer I also don’t have the best policies for every risk. Also  there are other agents out there who might be willing to under insure a client or create ways to discount policies that are unethical (as a old timer in insurance I remember the urban legend of the agent who took a fake fire hydrant with them to photograph in front of client’s buildings or homes to get better pricing).  I’d like to keep my insurance license for another 20 years, thankyouverymuch.

That means I can’t help everyone.

However this brings me to the point of all of this. What is the most important thing I’ve learned in 20 years of insurance? I have learned no matter what products I’m offering to my client that what I am really selling is ME.

Why is that the most important thing? Because companies can fail me and coverages can change.  But when I establish a relationship with a client they are getting more than a piece of paper and a 1-800#. They are getting the best product I can offer – myself. Every year I challenge myself to learn more about insurance. Yes I’m one of those oddballs who will take a continuing education class even after I’ve already earned my hours for the year – simply because the topic is one I feel I need to brush up on.  The result is I’m more confident in my ability to be a trusted adviser to my client.

I’ve also decided to try to learn all I can about social media so I can share those tips with my clients who are wanting to grow their business online.  That’s me adding value to the relationship I build. To support my clients success since ultimately it determines my success.

I am convinced that regardless of what business you are in – be it hardware or donuts, refrigeration or real estate, you are also going to find the importance of selling yourself even above your products. You make a delicious donut but you also make every customer feel welcome and appreciated when they come in your shop. That same donut will sit in the case and go stale if the customer feels the service negates the product.

In 20 years I have had my share of failing clients and failing to set reasonable expectations.  I have lost clients and never known what I did wrong, however my guess is I failed to show my worth. Perhaps I overemphasized the price being wonderful and then when they heard their neighbor brag they got their policy for less they were willing to go without even telling me why. That’s part of learning that I’m selling me is taking responsibility when I didn’t establish what I bring to the table. Taking responsibility for not delivering the me I sold them.

Which of course means I am still learning how to be the best me and how to market me in the best way. The most success I’ve found is not trying to be all things to all people and being the most authentic me I can offer.

It took me a long time to learn that selling a product based on features, advantages, and benefits is trumped by building client relationships. That’s part of being open to change. I encourage you not to stop learning and be open to change because you are the most important thing you are selling in your business as well.

You can skip sending me wine and roses. I’d be happy if you’d just pass my “younger, thinner” filter suggestion on to Instagram.