Archive for May, 2014

Grip It and Rip It

Thursday, May 29th, 2014


Data is largely worthless unless it is transformed ultimately into wisdom. Several large brokers have sought to harness the power of their data to provide their clients, business partners and their own firm with a competitive advantage. Yet these platforms, GRIP, Willis Connect and so forth are largely irrelevant if first, the underwriting teams in insurance distributors are not fully energised and empowered to apply their own knowledge to the broker’s data and information in order to make wise strategic decisions. James gets to the heart of an insurer’s ability to dramatically improve their success converting their marketing into closed business. Understand what and where to prioritise investment, why and how to build a real competitive advantage.

Studying Success or Adapting & Exploiting Success Practices

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Why do conferences demanding a change in the relationship between business and society reveal so little about business improvement  and so much about the fears of the speakers? If the objective is to make capitalism work more effectively and efficiently in generating and distributing wealth, shouldn’t we start by identifying someone, who can help businesses adapt and exploit success practices rather than simply studying success. The former helps hugely, the latter is insufficient to improve our own success. I am reminded of this today when a global elite drawn from business, academia, politics and so on are assembled by Lynn Forester de Rothschild to a London conference, titled, Inclusive Capitalism. The energetic host has been all over the airwaves galvanising interest in the event, indeed her’s was the first voice I heard at 5:40am on a BBC business breakfast radio show today. Yet I haven’t heard or read a single word describing where business can get impartial advice and practical help.

Time is the scarcest resource for business executives, social commentators, reporters, politicians and meeting hosts. The next time a conference or meeting invitation lands on your desk, read it quickly and remind yourself that not all events are equally valuable, irrespective of the “star” names. Here is three qualifying questions:

1. Am I going to listen to others’ success, which is largely unique to their own circumstances? (non-transferable or irrelevant)

2. Will I find and listen to someone, who can help me  adapt and exploit success practices in my own organisation? (credible expert, track record of success, third party testimonials)

3. Could my time be spent more productively elsewhere?

Asking yourself those three questions might save you an immeasurable amount of time and money, and increase your productivity more than you ever imagined.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.


Insuring Career Continuation

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014


The challenge in many brokerages and insurance carriers today is to retool products and distribution networks to more closely align with the needs of increasingly restless and savvy customers. Historically, many firms have pensioned off their “grey matter” at a given date. Yet it is precisely, the expertise and knowledge found in those senior managers close to retirement, who if their strengths are productively deployed to specific work and projects could dramatically assist the firm with this important challenge. Learn tips, approaches and best practices to enhance the firm’s competency to address this need.

Life and Health Insurers Must Avoid Self Destructing to Grow Profitably

Thursday, May 15th, 2014


International life and health insurers need to adopt more sophisticated relationship management with agents/brokers and the end users. The industry is at crunch time, it needs to dramatically improves its’ customer experience, focusing on improved delivery if profitable growth goals are to achieved (reduced bureaucracy, faster claims settlement, increased authority and accountability give to frontline staff, smarter use of people and technology). James provides not just powerful ideas and insights but more importantly, approaches for practical implementation, irrespective of culture or geography.

Are You Thinking What I Was Thinking No.1

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

From time to time, I get requests to share my expertise with members of my professional communities. I am delighted to respond briefly and encourage you to email me requests to

Q: I would like your perspective, it is no longer good enough to be an order-taker or a passive account manager in market-leading businesses. In today’s economy, companies with high growth opportunities need to recruit people who can close business and fast. Robert McGarvey, Chicago

A: Robert, outstanding account managers and their brands have learned to adjust their approaches, behaviour and attitude in the following three ways:

1. Account managers do not wait for the right time, they make now the right time. That means identifying or creating a client need, which the client is willing to write a check for now, not in six months time.

2. Account managers adopt a process of constant reinvention and communication with their best clients. Their mindset is that the world never stands still and neither does the competition. Their weekly routine would consist at a minimum, most if not all of the following:

  • Rapid completion of existing client assignments
  • Progressing the discussion with prospects towards clients
  • Contacting past clients, seen or spoken to them and presented 1 new, relevant product, service or relationship offering
  • Creating 1 new alternative way for their target buyers to utilise and purchase their products, services or relationships (for example, a workshop, a video, live-streaming meetings, a tool or template, a breakfast seminar and so on)
  • Eliciting three referrals per week from their highest potential clients and positioning the introduction to each referral candidate
  • Investigating and formulating a plan to attend 1 networking event
  • Contacting and proposing a speaking opportunity to a meeting host or sponsor
  • Identifying and developing a relationship with an internal or external alliance partner
  • Routine calls outside of current assignment to target buyers without a particular agenda
  • Sending targeted mailing or newsletter with relevant information to a target group of buyers or prospects
  • Identifying opportunities for an article in media regularly read by their target buyers
  • Disseminating ideas and gaining internal support (financial and non-financial) amongst peers and subordinates for additional client development activities

You would be right to say that requires a lot of focus and discipline but that is precisely the pace that the very best people in your sector are running at. They have learned to adapt their behaviour, skills, experience and resources to get to this level. They have become much more time concious (meetings attended, time usage in meetings, travel to/from meetings, email management, other technology disruption and so on) Why can’t you?

3. Education is the “currency” of outstanding Account Managers. Repeat business success and an abundance of referrals creating an overflowing pipeline of new opportunities is largely about people with the skills and volition to educate their customers. That presumes that they have built first, a peer-level trusting relationship with the buyer. My observation in professional services, re(insurance) brokerage, private banking, financial services and so forth is that selling in a conventional sense is fading fast. The remnants lie in the commodity ends of those businesses but even there technology is acting as a dis-intermediating force for change (price comparison sites, business to consumer capabilities and so on). The future for traditional transactional sales is weak. Who wants to be sold to? Corporate buyers want to be better educated, make more informed decisions and enjoy a collaborative relationship with experts that creates impressive results. That means harnessing data and technology, transforming it into information, knowledge and ultimately, wisdom consistent with the buyer’s goals.

My advice for outstanding account managers who want fresh and exciting challenges and the commensurate rewards:

  • What new, relevant value are you capable of bringing to clients now that you weren’t able to do 3 years ago? (the benchmark at a minimum should be an additional third of your capabilities. Anything less and you are plateauing, whether consciously or not)
  • What are you doing to re-invest in your educational competencies? (at a minimum each year, you are reading 5 new publications, you are listening to 5 new influential opinion-makers, and you are regularly taking advice from 5 new powerful voices, largely operating outside your industry sector)
  • What new skills and behaviours can you readily acquire and apply profitably in the short-term for your best clients? (at a minimum, each year you should be able to pint to 3 new skills or capabilities)
  • Can others readily see a strong “fit” between your skills and the opportunities in today’s markets? (at a minimum, quarterly you should be able to point to 3 occasions where buyers have remarked on your strong alignment with their needs)
  • Are you  emphasising those skills and results in your conversations, presentations and credibility statements regularly or sporadically with target buyers? (at a minimum, monthly you should be able to point to 5 different marketing activities where visibly buyers can see your new, relevant skills) If not, why not?

Success goes to those who are the fastest to adapt in today’s global economy.

Engaging More Clients Requires Brokers Disengaging More Clients

Thursday, May 8th, 2014


Insurance and Reinsurance Brokerage firms have fought like tigers to retain clients. Retention rates are in the high 90s. Yet many of them are caught in a “success trap”. Their future growth is inhibited by the demands of servicing a significant number of longstanding clients, who don’t fit their ideal future client profile. Learn how to escape the “success trap” in record time. Avoid conflict while increasing profitability. Manage effectively the change, externally with clients and internally with key account executives. Prepare clients assiduously for the “disengagement” conversation.

Converting Short-Term to Long-Term Growth in High Growth Markets – Closing Thoughts

Monday, May 5th, 2014


James provides a compendium to this series with a checklist of short and mid-term improvements, and “calls to action” for the time-pressed executive looking to “jump start” their organization’s success and generate immediate results.

Life Immitating Art

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Bob Hoskins’s sad passing this week reminds me of an intimate Grand Classics screening, almost 10 years ago to the day, when he shared his inspiration for a career in the movie business, Jules Dassin’s crime movie, Rififi. For those not familiar with the French crime film, it is an adaption of Le Breton’s novel of the same name. The centrepiece of the film is a 30-minute heist shot with barely any sound or music. The viewer is drawn to the difficulty of pulling off the heist at the heavily alarmed rue de Rivoli jewellery shop, the ability of the gang leader to communicate successfully through his actions and in so doing, to inspire the other gang members to follow him without fear for their own well-being.  While the rest of the tale revolves around rival jealousies and settling of old scores between different gangs, there are some interesting lessons for business leaders entering into highly ambiguous growth markets.

  1. Effective leadership is largely about “doing” (action), not “saying” (empty mission statements).
  2. It is about discipline and a clear line of sight  on the long-term objective (goals or improvement), while navigating foreseen (customer preferences, market demand) and unforeseen short-term obstacles (entrance of a large competitor) that might trip the alarm bell along the journey
  3. It is about setting clear accountabilities for everyone in advance (sales and marketing, operations, finance, human resources etc.)
  4. It is about establishing trusting relationships and powerful alliances with key individuals, who you implicitly trust and are critical to attaining your goals
  5. It is about coming to terms with your fears and maintaining the right perspective. “Perceived” but not real fear (failure, embarrassment),  “actual” fear (growth projections disabled by incorrect market assumptions) and those that might have catastrophic consequences (loss of personal wealth or your position).
  6. It is about doing a small number of things that you are competent and passionate about exceedingly well and often.
  7. It is about making the complex (breaking into a new market), simple (practical actions others can routinely undertake with measurable results and a clear understanding of the value).

Whether, you are a private banker targeting new Chinese billionaires, a senior partner in a Professional Services firm expanding into Indonesia or an global insurance company seeking to exploiting demand from your corporate customers for increased protection from cyber crimes, it is not so difficult to accomplish, so long as your focus is on what really matters.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Identifying the High Growth Markets of Tomorrow

Thursday, May 1st, 2014


The world recession, technological advancement, geographical shifts in wealth, and energy independency amongst other developments, are creating new high growth markets. Seeing them is one thing, exploiting them is another. Listen to James’s feedback from conversations with a diverse group of executives from the reinsurance, hospitality, restaurants, gaming, professional services, wealth management, private equity, luxury retail and premium art sectors amongst others.