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On Passion And Products

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Passion seems to be held in high esteem among many insurance and financial product professionals today.

The common belief seems to be, if you are passionate about a product, you will dive through walls to make sure you understand it deeply, design and position it properly, sell it only when appropriate, and move mountains to ensure customer satisfaction.

That’s certainly an admirable quality, but some of the passion talk is so buttery, it appears slippery. One wonders what lurks beneath the smooth speak.

The comment that “the lady doth protest too much, methinks,” in William Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet,” comes to mind. By insisting so strongly that something was untrue, the lady (the queen) actually had conveyed the opposite message–that the denied thing was in fact true.

Among some of today’s passionate product advocates, a somewhat similar process sometimes occurs. The declarations of pro-product zeal are so intense, they seem to lack depth or truth. The person seems to insist too much for the product.

This is not to say that people should not be passionately engaged in their work, products and services. In fact, that’s the ideal work experience. But they need to convey their advocacy convincingly–with good measure, not heavy-duty hype.

On several occasions, I’ve heard product advocates declare, “I am so passionate about this [product, service, upgrade, etc.]; I just know it’s going to be a hit.”

Based on what?

Too often, the rapturous statements are not backed by facts, case histories or research. Often, the support amounts to no more than hunches or gut feelings.

Now, hunches and gut feelings can be right on the money, as business leaders know very well. But when asking a customer to deposit large sums of money into a product, or when asking an insurer to commit substantial budget to a product’s development, the advocate needs more than hunches and passion. He or she needs to supply solid information that gives shape and substance to those hunches, feelings and all that passion.

When a product is breaking new turf–say, it’s an innovative feature on an annuity–this kind of information is all the more important.

Customers and insurers naturally are reluctant to buy into new and untested initiatives, without clear financial, business and environmental reasons to do so. In the 1990s, sales of the first index annuities and the newly modernized long term care policies suffered for lack of such information. But both products started making strides once the information flow improved.

Another problem with certain declarations of passion for a product occurs when the speaker exhorts the listener to accept the statements at face value, with no critical thinking whatsoever.

This is a “just trust me” kind of appeal. The implicit message is, “since I am so emotionally committed to this [product, service or strategy], you know in your heart that I won’t steer you wrong.”

That kind of persuasion is not all bad. Who doesn’t feel comfortable buying from a trusted person who knows about a product and endorses it wholeheartedly? That puts the confidence reading on “high.”

But the key word is “trusted.” If the advocate has the consumer’s or insurer’s trust, this can be a healthy business trigger. But, going back to the first point, if the passionate entreaties lack the underpinnings of fact and information, the listener may get the willies and run. Alternatively, if the person submits to the exhortations despite vague feelings of distrust, he or she may later have regrets–and no amount of passion will hold off the ensuing lawsuit.

A final concern is that some of the passion advocates have all the earmarks of tunnel vision. They get so involved in the product, strategy, business line or whatever that they neglect other aspects of the business–customers, employees, vendors, to name a few. “Silo” thinking, workaholism and high stress aren’t far behind. The variable product industry saw a lot of this in the overheated late 1990s, and when the recession hit in the early 2000s, the proverbial heads rolled.

The business literature is filled with admonitions to instill passion throughout the organization. The reason: When passion is authentic and informed, quality, price competitiveness and customer-centric innovation flourish. Productivity gallops. Products and services are well sold. Employees are happy and clients are satisfied.

With so much to gain, why ruin it with unsupported bravado and off-key trumpeting? Why douse it with overload? Ground passion in reality and let it take hold.


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