So, in previous blogs, I’ve spent a good amount of time talking about how technology is the key to success in taking on the trends that are transforming insurance and financial advice. I’ve also spent time on how advisors must transform themselves into bionic advisors.
Today, I want to talk about the practicalities of adopting technology across your firm. If you read this blog, you are likely interested in tech news as it relates to the financial advice profession. This means that you are very likely what is referred to as an innovator or early adopter (these terms are based on “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore, a classic book on the adoption of technology). In other words, you are either one of the people in blue or early red:
Cool, so why bring this up?
Well, early adopters working in firms have an interesting problem they face. On the one hand, you are likely fascinated by technology and want to reap the benefits by adopting it across your office. When I talk about bionic advisors, you get it. On the other, you are ahead of the curve. When you talk about bionic advisors, your colleagues may dismiss it. And when you want to bring in an awesome new technological platform to transform yourself into a bionic advisor (like, say, Finaeo), you’re facing an uphill battle. This is true whether you are a junior advisor trying to convince your boss, or a decisionmaker who is trying to change employee processes.
So today, I want to talk about how to implement and adopt new technology into your firm. I’ve broken it down into six steps.
Step 1: Realize that Generating Buy-In Will Be the Toughest Part
The first step required for adopting and implementing new technology is people. That is, you must find a way to generate buy-in from your colleagues, decisionmakers, and even juniors. This is often a shockingly difficult proposition. Just because a piece of technology seems to be strategically valuable to your firm, prima facie, does not mean you will generate interest from your colleagues. As a Harvard Business Review article about implementing new technology in firms warned:
“Many implementation efforts fail because someone underestimated the scope or importance of such preparation. Indeed, the organizational hills are full of managers who believe that an innovation’s technical superiority and strategic importance will guarantee acceptance.”
The reality is that to get new technology implemented, you must really understand your coworkers. You must know their motivations, their preferences, and what their day-to-day looks like. Why? Because change is hard and change is often scary, and we are, by nature, resistant to it. Even positive change is often stymied by people who want to keep things moving along according to the status quo.
And, as irrational as this sounds, there are plenty of reasons why your colleagues may want to avoid change. First off, your colleagues may not believe in the value of technology the same way you do. This ties into what I was discussing above – if you are an early adopter or innovator, you’re more likely to dream big. You see the opportunity and the promise of a new piece of technology. Your colleagues see another annoying piece of software that will over-promise and under-deliver. This disconnect between the promise of technology and what it actually delivers today is a common motif I’ve come across with people who are reluctant to change.
Moreover, your colleagues may be concerned that this new technology will create added responsibilities or burdens to their jobs. Just another piece of administration or another task to add to their busy work lives. A perfect example of this came to me when I was talking to a P&C insurance agent a few months ago. His firm had implemented a CRM across the board. Theoretically, it was supposed to help create more visibility for management to understand what was going on. Practically, it meant that he was forced to spend an extra two hours every Friday updating his CRM with a few notes jotted down during meetings and whatever he remembered offhand. He did it because he would be censured for not, but he told me that he gained literally no value from the system (and I suspect, based on the notes he was inputting, neither did management).
Notice, too, that this was a top-down directive mandating usage of a platform, and it didn’t work. If you try to force people to change their behaviors without making them want to first, you’ll get pushback in the form of doing the absolute minimum required. This may be okay for some non-autonomous roles, but likely isn’t very valuable for your the performance of your junior insurance and financial advisors.
Step 2: Treat Buy-In as a Marketing Project
But, of course, technology does get adopted by firms all the time. Getting buy-in is clearly doable, even if it does take some effort. So what’s the magic sauce? How do you convince your colleagues that this new technology will make their lives better?
Well, treat it like an internal marketing project. Specifically, think about how a product-based company sells to you and try to replicate that. One of the things you may notice is that successful companies will not market towards features, they’ll market towards value. Consider your mobile phone, for example. You probably don’t care about how many gigabytes of storage it has (a feature), but you do care about not having to delete any photos / videos because you’re running low on space (the value). In fact, the move towards both iCloud and Google Drive for uploading your media will likely make the amount of storage space an obsolete consideration within a few years. Practical value always trumps features.
For business applications, there is a similar thought process. If you are trying to generate buy-in from your colleagues, decisionmakers, or juniors, you must focus on selling them the value proposition of the software. That is, you must figure out how a piece of technology can be incorporated into their day-to-day lives to add immense value. In general, you will want to focus on two key values:
- ROI – how much dollar value this new technology will generate for users
- Time savings – how much time this new technology will save for users
Your job, then, is to translate features into practicality. You do this by really understanding the day-to-day of your colleagues. You must help them discover where, in their processes, a new technology can either save them time, save them money, or help them sell more.
Now, thankfully, this is almost certainly something your vendor can help you with. After all, they have sold the same software to many similar clients. So don’t be afraid to reach out to your vendor with assistance – assuming they are a good partner, they should be very helpful here.
Step 3: Find an internal supporter / evangelist
Strength in numbers! It’s always worthwhile to find an evangelist / supporter early on in your firm. Not only will you have someone to help you spread buy-in, you’ll create social proof inside the firm.
Step 4: Do not overhype technology to generate buy-in
A brief caveat when trying to generate buy-in. Do. Not. Oversell. Referring back to the HBR article above:
“Many a technology developer will confess bewilderment that innovations do not win automatic acceptance. It may be overly optimistic to believe that an innovation will sell itself, but it is equally dangerous to oversell the new system. Novel and exotic technologies are especially vulnerable to hype.”
Nothing spells doom for a new technology like overpromising does. You can be excited by the vision of a product, but remember that most people are not. They care about the here and now. At Finaeo, we have had our own challenges separating our future vision (building a platform for bionic advisors) and the current product (helping advisors save time and stay organized through a digital assistant). We always have to be cognizant that we are selling the current product while still leaving hints of our future vision, but it’s certainly a tightrope to walk. Regardless – the point is the same for anyone trying to generate buy-in from their colleagues: do not oversell.
Step 5: After Buy-In, Build Proper Habits Which Incorporate the New Technology
Once buy-in is accomplished by your firm, the next step is implementation. As mentioned in step two, a big part of generating buy-in is uncovering where you can save time or help increase returns for your colleagues. But once you’ve uncovered those valuable moments, you have to implement them. This is harder than it should be.
Why? Because you have to go up against Newton’s First Law of Motion: the law of inertia. Remember your physics? An object in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by an external force. The same goes for people’s opinions and attitudes. As mentioned above, people are very resistant to change, even when that change is positive. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Changes to our routines, to our tasks, or to our days are often seen as more trouble than they’re worth. Even if you have managed to generate buy-in from people, that doesn’t mean they won’t try the new software once and immediately stop using it when they hit even the most minor of learning curves.
Therefore, to implement new technology, you must help create new habits which incorporate this technology. Habit formation is a topic all on its own, but at the core, creating habits requires:
- A trigger towards an action
- The action of using the technology
- A reward for taking the action
That is, something must trigger the user to use the piece of technology. They will then undertake the action of using the technology and receive some form of reward for doing so. Now, a good piece of technology will have built in hooks. You’ve seen them yourself – a nudge in your Facebook app that tells you someone has sent you a message. A point system in Waze that rewards you when you use the application. Likewise, give a proper business platform a little while and it may very well increase your ROI. But the problem is, it may take weeks or longer for people to really start seeing the value. Meanwhile, they are being asked to consistently take time out of their day on the promise that the value will show up sooner or later.
As such, if you are implementing new technology across your firm, you must think about how you can help form habits from your colleagues. So how would you go about doing that? Well, use the three steps above. First, create some sort of regular trigger towards getting your colleagues on the platform. This doesn’t have to be complicated – maybe you send a reminder email in the morning. Maybe you set up a few five minute sessions with them throughout the week for onboarding purposes / to get them started. Be a bit hands-on. After they use the system, you want to find a simple way to reward them. Maybe set up an office leader board based on usage and give out a gift card at the end of the week. Or send out a nice public email signalling out your colleagues who have used the system recently. Basically, find a way to reward your colleagues before the system can on its own.
Step 6: Work with good partner vendors
The final step in adopting a new technology in your insurance or financial services firm is finding good vendor partners to purchase from. The reality is that no matter how good a piece of technology, there will be issues with it when adopted to your practice. These may be small bugs or they may be big process questions. Having a good vendor partner in situations such as this is worth its weight in gold.
Generally, when deciding between different software platforms, I always search for responsive, transparent vendors. These are the vendors who give me a number to call directly if there are problems and promptly respond to support tickets, even if the answer is simply “we’re not sure but are working on it.”
I’ll give you two examples I’ve gone through in the last few months while searching for some marketing software. In the first situation, I reported a support issue and received a call within the hour. They walked me through the problem to a resolution. It wasn’t a perfect resolution, but it was good enough. In the second situation, I reported a bug and heard nothing for a while. When I finally did hear back, they told me I was wrong and it wasn’t a bug. I had to go back and forth with them multiple times before their head of customer success finally admitted it was a bug. At that point, I offered to help the company out by sending them my computer specs et al, so they could fix it quickly. I never heard back.
Which company do you think I’m working with now?
And if you’re in charge of bringing in new software to the firm, nothing will tank an experience like a vendor who leaves you hanging. So make sure you’re working with people who won’t vanish once the sale is done. If you can get a free trial, test the support systems before converting. If you can’t, buy a single license and test it on your own before bringing it into the office. You don’t want to waste political capital on a product that ends up disastrous due to a lack of communication over issues.
Overall, then, if you are looking to implement new technology into your insurance or financial services firm, follow these six steps. Beyond that, please subscribe to the blog and Tweet your comments @finaeoinc .