Jim Tomforde, Senior Vice President – MMA-Houston
Every business has assets that are critical to its operations and profitability. In manufacturing, it may be the equipment or supply chain. For a logistics company, fleet management software is key. But one asset is critical across every industry and business sector, and that is social capital.
More important than machinery, facilities or computer systems, the relationship a company has with its customers, vendors, and employees is imperative to its success. Good relationships build trust, and trust provides a stable foundation for the agreements that make business work. As legendary sales trainer Zig Ziglar famously said, “If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.”
Trust is imperative in the insurance industry, given the nature of the products and services we sell. Our clients trust that we will deliver the promised coverage and support when they need it, which often is in a crisis situation. To properly safeguard their business, it is vital that we understand their needs and goals, and partner with professionals who deliver value and operate with integrity. This can only happen through developing strong relationships with clients, underwriters, claims administrators, employees, and others who support our work—all of which takes a commitment of time and face-to-face interactions.
To this end, Marsh & McLennan Agency has developed the Accelerate process, which establishes the framework for every client relationship. Before we get to the nuts and bolts of creating an insurance and risk management program for a client, we strive to fully understand their business and future goals. The process begins with gathering information around four key areas of the client’s business: position, objectives, strategies, and challenges. We ask open-ended questions in these four areas not only of key decision makers, but also those above and below them, to get their perspective and insights about the company.
The resulting discussions with decision-makers about how their associates view the company’s position and the pathway to future growth helps to build relationship and rapport. From the outset, they consider us a trusted advisor, because we care enough to ask questions—and more importantly, we listen. Only after establishing this foundation do we address the company’s insurance needs and recommend cost-containment strategies to safeguard their enterprise.
Of course, building a relationship is not a one-time event, but rather an ongoing process that continually engenders trust. We look for opportunities to go deeper in our relationship with our clients, while also fostering stronger connections with carriers and vendors, and helping clients develop more meaningful relationships with their employees.
For example, Marsh & McLennan offers free educational seminars on subjects related to risk management, as well as general business topics. We invite individuals we work with on a daily basis—controllers, benefits administrators, and HR directors—to come into our office for a presentation and to see our operations first hand. Although some topics are very specialized, such as leveraging micro-captives for private equity acquisitions, others generate great demand. After Hurricane Harvey hit south Texas late last summer, for example, we hosted a seminar on repairing flood damage. The event included presentations by both a home builder and a commercial builder, who explained the process for restoring a flooded property and estimates for the cost and timeline. The event attracted nearly 100 attendees, including several of our own employees whose homes had been damaged.
We also look for opportunities to strengthen our relationship with companies on an individual basis and bring value beyond the usual scope of servicing their account. Recently, I took our service team to lunch with a client’s CFO and controller, along with one of their business consultants. In the course of conversation, we discussed the company’s excellent history of loss control related to employee injuries. Employees feel valued and appreciated when they are praised by management, and the client’s achievements provided a great opportunity to build goodwill by sharing the accolades.
We arranged a barbeque lunch for the company and invited all the workers responsible for living out the culture of a safe environment. Our team presented statistics that showed how much better the company was performing, compared to their industry peers, and the client’s CEO and CFO both shared a few words about how important it is for employees to send their coworkers home safe to their families each night. The overriding message was that creating a culture of safety is everyone’s responsibility, and the workers should be proud of their achievements because they not only help save the company money, but also help save lives. The event fostered trust with our client, and built an emotional connection between the company’s leadership and employees—an obvious win-win for everyone.
Showing You Care
Although relationships are the lifeblood of every business, the convenience of email and text messages can tempt us to take shortcuts. As we navigate the increasingly pressing demand to immediately hit “reply,” we forget how important it is to be intentional in nurturing more meaningful interactions. Relationships are not built by email, but rather by spending time together. Anecdotally, the producers who perform the best at our company are the ones who are not in their office, but rather out meeting with clients and prospects in the business community.
By helping people overcome challenges, connecting them with useful resources, and celebrating their achievements, you can demonstrate the kind of care and thoughtfulness that leads to long-term connections. At Marsh & McLennan, we strive to add value first. We invest the time to meet personally with the people who procure our products and services, as well as those who support our work.
Building relationships is not intuitive—it has to be studied, learned, and practiced. Few people are pure extroverts, and many would just as soon go about their work comfortably ensconced behind a computer screen. But, interpersonal connections are vital to the success of any venture. The greatest way to connect with others is to spend time face-to-face, and to be a good listener. The investment of time and energy is guaranteed to yield positive results.