From the March 2012 issue of American Agent & Broker •Subscribe!

New Spin on Relationship Selling

The financial world, blogosphere and just about everywhere else was thrilled last month when Facebook announced its long-awaited IPO, opening the door to more speculation as to whether we might be on the cusp of a new tech IPO boom.

Whether or not the offering will usher in a new dot com era, however, is a moot point. The real interest in Facebook’s success lies in an issue that’s dear to the heart of insurance: understanding young customers.

Nothing illustrates more clearly the power of Millennials than the Mark Zuckerberg story. Many news accounts of the Facebook IPO start with the awed comment: "What started in a Harvard dorm room 8 years ago is on its way to being the biggest tech IPO ever."

Granted, Zuckerberg is not your average 20-something—he’s a multilingual computer programming prodigy who created video games instead of playing them and was known for quoting from the Iliad at college. But he also is a true product of his generation, weaned on technology and the collaborative, team-focused methodology of the modern education system.

Zuckerberg’s true genius lies not in his technical or business skills, but his ability to tap into the basic human need to connect. And although he invented neither the need nor the Internet, Zuckerberg (and others, some might argue) was savvy enough to build a platform around networking and developing personal relationships—something any good insurance salesperson understands.

An interesting study recently came out from Bazaarvoice looking at Millennials and branding (see "Survey: User-Generated Content Boosts Gen Y’s Purchasing Power"). The upshot was that although they still respond to branding when making a purchase, Millennials are more likely to rely on their peers’ opinions in the form of user-generated content (UGC). More than half (51 percent) of the survey respondents said they trust UGC more than information on a company website (16 percent) or news articles (14 percent) when researching a brand, product or service.

When shopping for financial services products such as insurance and credit cards, 29 percent of Millennials say they won’t complete the purchase without first consulting user-generated content.

For businesses, the message is clear: put customer opinions front and center and take action on suggestions for improvements. Insurance agents have known all along that business is driven by relationships and word of mouth. The advent of social media hasn’t changed this, simply made it easier to forge the relationships and access the information.

It’s estimated that by 2017, Millennials will have more spending power than any other generation. Visionaries like Zuckerberg have helped make it easier to tap into these buyers, but it’s up to us to be as social, transparent and engaging as they need us to be.

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