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I suspect that anyone over the age of 35 has heard Elwood Edwards’ voice. If you can’t place the name, here’s a hint: his voice was preceded by a dial tone followed by a noise that sounded like a screech owl in a windstorm. Still not ringing your modem? OK, one last clue. Edwards’ wife Karen worked for Quantum Computer Services, which is why you heard his voice in particular.

Quantum Computer Services eventually changed their name to America Online and Edwards’ was the voice actor who, after your noisy dial-up modem connected, alerted you that “You’ve Got Mail!” 

Why are we talking about the distant past? Because, according to AOL founder Steve Case, the “Internet of Everything” is coming, and in order to make that happen, we need to go back to the past.

I just finished reading Case’s new book “The Third Wave (An Entrepreneur’s Vision Of The Future)”. Case makes the argument that during the first wave of the Internet, companies that wanted to innovate needed to form strategic partnerships to craft their products and attract the financing necessary to bring those innovations to market.

The second wave, where entrepreneurs built “apps” and such on top of the infrastructure created by the first wave, was quite different and much more of a lone-wolf environment. Case believes that the coming third wave will require many of the skills and techniques that brought about the first wave.

It was completely coincidental that I began the book right after a ShiftShapers Podcast interview featuring a guest talking about getting lots of sales mileage out of using an old-fashioned, down and dirty tool — the factfinder. Most of us learned to use a factfinder when we came into the business. Most of us stopped using it as soon as we became even moderately successful.

For those of us on the life insurance side, it might have been “7 Basic Needs,” elegant in its simplicity. All you needed was a pad, a pen and some rudimentary math skills. For others it might have been the Tom Wolfe’s “Financial Needs Analysis”. There were fewer factfinders on the employee benefits side, but they were equally effective. In each case, the information about the prospect/client revealed their needs; needs that we, over time, could fill with the many solutions our industry provides.

In much the same way that Steve Case suggests that the third wave of inventiveness around Internet-provided solutions will be fueled by the methodology of the first wave, so too will the business of providing insured solutions for employers, employees and individuals. We are out of the every-advisor-for-themselves business as surely as we are out of the spreadsheet-and-sell products business. And none too soon, I might add.

Today, we are in the value business. So are the transformations Case envisions in everything from health care to food. There is so much information available online that we have to seek other methods of providing value. Yet, there is one thing that the fastest Internet connection, the biggest database or the best search engine cannot replicate — at least, for now — and that is the relationship between the advisor and the client. Steve Case, talking about the early, formative days of AOL noted that their team always knew that, “The killer app of the Internet was going to be people.”

As sophisticated as they are, the new tools we use don’t create any kind of human interaction. You can’t get friendly with a spreadsheet. Today, products are such that they are nearly indistinguishable from one another.

So how do you differentiate and deliver value? Go back to those basics that you learned when you got into the business.

Using a factfinder is a great way to spend time with a prospect or client and to learn about their needs, hopes and dreams. And remember, only the work we do for clients has the ability to answer those needs, fulfill those hopes and complete those dreams. People: the killer app — then and now.

See also:

5 ways personal relationships can grow your business in 2016

The coming IoT revolution: a 6-point plan for life insurers

What is the ‘Internet of Things” and what it means for the insurance industry

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