Brokerage Ops the December 2016 issue

Digital Body Language

Reading body language to make a sale isn’t what it used to be.
By Steven Handmaker Posted on November 28, 2016

Reading one’s body language has also effectively become an integral part of the sales process. Especially in the kind of person-to-person selling that is the hallmark of the commercial insurance brokerage world. 

Traditional body language can be used to identify a prospect’s interest, areas of pain or even skepticism. Skilled insurance producers can read this body language and use its signals to advance and often shorten the sales cycle. But they can do this only when they can actually see the prospect’s body.

Today, as the digital age speeds ahead, much of the commercial insurance “buying process” is conducted online. Among large and middle-market B2B companies, the statistics are jarring:

  • Seventy-two percent of business buyers use the Web to start or further their research for new solutions and partners.
  • Due to the amount of information available on the Web, business buyers are generally 65% through their personal decision-making process before they connect with a vendor; a short list of potential partners has already been identified.
  • Only 1% to 2% of B2B Web visitors fill out a form announcing their interest.

This means insurance producers no longer have the benefit of being able to watch and observe their prospects in person for the first two thirds of their buying process. Increasingly, B2B sales practitioners are being forced to rely on data to read a buyer’s “digital body language.”

Digital body language is everything prospects are doing online—from page views to clicks to form submissions. Their actions reveal key information about their interests and feelings, which can be used to assess where they are in their buying journey. Producers can then adjust their messaging and approach accordingly.

The concept of digital body language was first introduced by Steve Woods and Paul Teshima, two of the co-founders of the marketing automation system Eloqua (which is now part of the Oracle Marketing Cloud). The beauty of digital body language is that, unlike trying to interpret a prospect’s physical expressions (a process that is highly subjective), digital body language can be objectively measured. With buyers spending so much of their time online, there is now a wealth of data available to marketers. It is far easier to understand what prospects are interested in and when they should (or should not) be approached.

The art and science of translating intent data from the B2B Web is very complex. It starts with profiling your ideal buyer in terms of title, company size, industry and other static attributes. Then the challenge becomes connecting the digital dots you collect from their website visits, downloads, email clicks, social media activity and other behaviors to identify their needs, as well as the timing of their needs.

There are numerous marketing platforms out there today to aid in the process. Some of the better known are Oracle Marketing Cloud, Marketo, Hubspot and SAS. However, despite the more than 1,800 technology-rich marketing tools available today, in industries such as insurance B2B marketers face a challenge marrying old-school sales methods with new-school actionable intelligence.

And the reality is? Many old-school sales methods are still necessary and highly valued. That includes everything from sending letters and emails to leaning on referral sources to just picking up the phone and working your magic.

The promise of digital body language is that, if these activities are focused on hot or warm prospects, as opposed to have-no-idea-who-you-are-and-have-never-shown-an-interest-in-you prospects, your chances of success should increase substantially.

If sales is really just a numbers game, why wouldn’t you stack the odds in your favor and spend time on those who know what your company does and have digitally disclosed to you their specific interests?

If sales is really just a numbers game, why wouldn’t you stack the odds in your favor and spend time on those who know what your company does and have digitally disclosed to you their specific interests?

How would this work? Let’s say a prospect in your marketing automation system regularly receives your company emails. This is the CFO of a $50 million company in an industry in which you specialize and have a great reputation. The company and the CFO would be a target for any number of your producers, though in truth no one has actively prospected them in more than two years.

All of a sudden, your system alerts you the CFO has downloaded a white paper on cyber liability. You discover the CFO has also read three blogs on your site related to cyber liability and is signed up for a webinar in the next two weeks. In addition, she participated in a short pop quiz on cyber, which was featured as a post on your LinkedIn page.

All this time, the CFO has never once asked to be contacted by a producer. So what can you conclude from her digital body language?

If I’m laying odds, the CFO with cyber on her mind appears to be a pretty good bet as a new client. Now I’m not promising a magic bullet. It’s highly unlikely producers are ever going to simply sit back, read the digital signs, call their prospects and have each of them exclaim, “Thank goodness! I’ve been waiting for you to call me and sell me insurance!” But, I do believe producers who can read the signs and act on them will be far more successful than those who are still working their way through the phone book or country club directory.

I’m not much of scientist, but I’m pretty sure the world is not likely to start spinning backwards. I fully expect the decision makers we long to reach will become increasingly difficult to connect with as their digital consumption increases. In the future, brokerages that effectively read buyers’ digital body language and deliver the solutions buyers need when they need them will dominate the marketplace.

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