I mulled a potential topic for this article on a flight from Jo’burg to Cape Town. No inspiration. In Cape Town I addressed a group of pharmacists – both ‘chain’ and private – who are all affected by mad Manto’s legislation. That got me thinking about the insurance brokerage business. Which is also under siege from a number of quarters and which will also require what I call a ‘re-evolution’. Both the revolution part and the re-evolving part.
Here are some thoughts: The more highly ‘specialised’ you are, the greater the hazards for you when macro, micro or market ‘environmental’ conditions change. You can easily join the ‘endangered species’ list if you’re not proactive. When there’s a ‘seismic shift’ in conditions, we need to move into creative solutions focussed mode. If we bury our heads in the sand and hope the situation will ‘go away’, diminished options will be available when we do finally decide to act.
Proactivity, optimism, entrepreneurism and a ‘never-say-die’ spirit of resilience is needed to cope with rapid change – particularly as we grow older. On my business stationery I use the Cantonese symbol for ‘Change’ or ‘Crisis’. Like many Chinese pictograms, it encompasses two meanings. Look at the symbol. The top part on its own, means danger. The lower part on its own, means hidden opportunity. So change or crisis embodies two elements: either we can focus on the danger and what may go wrong or we can direct our energies into the hidden opportunity.
Marketing as we know it effectively started with Harvard Business School Professor Theodore (Ted) Levitt’s iconoclastic thesis, ‘Marketing Myopia’. You’ll recall that he wrote of the folk who used to manufacture leather whips to motivate the horses that pulled buggies – the favoured means of transport at that point, in the absence of cars. They made a good living. But what they didn’t do was pay attention to steam engines, the locomotive and cars and the threat they posed to a low-tech industry like leather whip manufacture. Levitt cautioned against ‘myopia’ or short-sightedness. We can’t wait for an industry to turn. We have to think proactively, ‘What would I do if….xyz changed or happened.’
There’s a new term in marketing usage at the moment. It refers to the individual who turns an industry sector on its head as a ‘Disruptive Innovator’. In the medical field in South Africa, Dr. Jackie Shevel of Netcare fame (or notoriety, depending on your viewpoint!) and Adrian Gore of Discovery Health – ditto comment. These are people, who, love ’em or hate ’em, turned existing but moribund industries into brand new incarnations and money-making machines.
The endangered business model
Years ago I was a GM at the renowned John Orr’s department store on Eloff Street, in Jo’burg. The family owners refused to acknowledge the emerging demand for ‘boutique’ speciality stores and hung on to the bitter end with an outdated business model. They wouldn’t hear or respond to market forces. Those magnificent stores are no more. Beware! Y
You need to know what the market wants to find in your brokerage – whether you’re a really big player in the sector – or the one-person operation. There are good opportunities for both large and small in the brokerage business in South Africa. But only if your business model, market segmentation and service mix is fluid, responsive, innovative and ‘alive’ to market needs, expectations and demands. The service differentiator Clients (of the discerning kind) will be prepared to pay a price premium for quality advice, care and service. Personalisation is the professional differentiator in our sometimes cold, de-personalised and hi-tech business world. Capitalise on it.
So what practical things can you do?
1) Maintain the personal, warm touch. Don’t allow impersonal service to creep in.
2) Organise and become part of, a ‘Master-Mind’ brain-storming, networking and market intelligence group in a spirit of ‘co-opetition’.
3) Other brokers and broker groups are not necessarily your enemies. They’re your opportunity for differentiation and maybe even collaboration!
4) Think of the food pyramid. You need lots of the ‘essentials’ and less of the ‘nice but unnecessary’. Now do something similar when planning your service-offering mix!
5) If your core competency doesn’t include marketing, PR or other essential business survival skills, then get help! Stick to your knitting if you choose, but ensure that your business delivers what the market wants.
6) Are you targeting both existing and emerging market segments with your offering? Revisit who you think your target audience is and work at understanding them.
7) Understand generational theory. Go read ‘Getting them to give a Damn’ by Eric Chester. If you’re not factoring young people into your business equation, you’re inviting trouble.
8) All business models that aren’t renewing adapting and evolving are headed for extinction. Remember Dinosaurs and the Dodo!
9) You can’t shrink or ‘save’ your way out of a cash crunch. ‘Sell’ your way out of it. Whether small or large – think service offering and value-adding diversification!
10) Being ‘Knowledge-Partners’ with other industry players can provide useful ‘clout’ and synergies.
11) Ask for feedback - from all stakeholders.
12) Read voraciously – outside of your discipline – to keep in touch with where the world’s going. Otherwise you’ll be left behind. Finally – remember this quotation: ‘My interest lies in the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.’ John F. Kettering – American inventor and engineer.
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