Targeting generation X, Pt. 6Article added by Jason Kestler on December 23, 2010
Jason Kestler

Jason Kestler

Leesburg, VA

Joined: August 15, 2009

Editor's note: This is the second article in a six-part series. Click here to read the first in the series.

We've covered a lot of ground in this article series. Please remember the content of these articles is necessarily a broad overview of the issues. But given that caveat, this material suggests several possible action steps for successfully approaching this younger market segment.

1. Define your marketplace. It's no longer enough to simply say, "we sell insurance." Sell to whom? Why? How?

Do you have large enough populations of all four groups in your area, or a predominance of one or two? Of those generational groups available to you as prospects, which do you feel offers your agency the best chance of getting you where you want to go? It's important to decide, because the chosen segment(s) will determine the approaches and expertise you'll need to be successful.

In many agencies today, everyone uses the same basic approach to sales and service for all prospects. As you can see, that strategy may have been fine in the past when the predominant group you were selling to was your own — the boomers. There were more than enough of them to do quite well, thank you. But as they age and you look to establish long-term survival and growth for your agency, you will need to start building clients among the Xers, and they are not going to respond to what has worked well for you in the past.

2. Define your niche within the Xer marketplace. Once you decide to target this group, where will you specifically focus your efforts? Some Xers are now approaching 40, while others are just graduating college. Some are building businesses, while others are successful "free agents." While many work in typical office environments, a large percentage telecommutes. These variables will determine your product mix, service methods, marketing efforts and sales approaches.

3. Commit to technology as a way of life, not just a value-added or interesting novelty. This is no more an option in reaching out to Xers than having a telephone number would be with boomers — it's a given. It doesn't mean they are going to buy all their insurance over the Internet, but it certainly means they'll look for it and research it there. An oft-quoted statistic is that in 1999, fully 25 precent of those who bought a car first went on the Internet to get information, and then went to the dealership to buy the car.

The lesson is clear — you need to be on the Internet to be the one offering that information, and you need to be prepared to deal with a far savvier consumer when they meet with you in person. Yet nearly three years later, the fact remains that the vast majority of agencies are still using their management systems predominantly for processing and accounting, not marketing and communications.

A key final suggestion
Understanding and learning to deal with the coming generations (first the Xers, but soon enough the nexters) is going to require a major commitment and re-education of your producers and support staff. Even the best-intended boomers struggle with the vastly different attitudes and perceptions of Xers. As we have discussed, this disconnect is natural and based in vastly different experiences during each generation's formative years.

One definite way to cut the learning curve is to actively recruit Xers as your producers and support staff. There are several benefits to this approach:
  • Many Xers will make natural producers. They are entrepreneurial, self-directed, empathetic, willing to make decisions, highly educated, research-oriented, opportunistic, conservative financially, actively seeking a chance to make their mark, and looking for recognition of their talents. What more could you ask for?

  • They intuitively understand where the Xer prospect is coming from. Just as boomers may vary widely in many ways, there are still points of common experience and beliefs upon which you built business relationships with other boomers. As with McLuhan's observation about fish and water, it's likely you were unaware of this common foundation upon which both you and your buyer were relying in making decisions about doing business together.

    Xers have that same "goes without saying" generational understanding to build their relationships. Sharing that foundation allows the conversation to focus upon the business decision. Without it, the producer will need to take valuable and possibly extensive time and effort simply to get past the natural inclination not to trust each other.

    Consider again our agent offended by the earrings. No matter how open-minded he commits himself to be, those earrings will still be there, and both he and the prospect will know they represent a barrier, both to the type of relationship the producer wants with a client, and the relationship the Xer wants with his financial adviser.

    In contrast, a male Xer producer, confronted by the same situation, may have one of three reactions: First, he may be oblivious to the earrings, since most of his friends have them; second, he may actually admire them and tell the prospect so; or third, he may mention he has a set just like them at home. The common bond is clear, and they can easily move directly to discussing business.
  • Xers know other Xers. If you want to quickly penetrate a new market, don't buy a prospect list; hire someone who already has the connections.

  • Xers already have the necessary generational knowledge. While the books in this paper's bibliography are excellent references, chances are if you assigned them to an Xer for research purposes, you'd get them back with a, "so, tell me something I don't know."

  • Xers speak the language. Where many boomers have reacted to the seemingly careless or low-intensity approach to the workplace of an Xer by describing them with the unflattering term "slackers," a fellow Xer understands the message being sent and can react accordingly.

  • Xer producers will build their business upon Xer clients. Whereas you may still see the Xers as a potential market you'd certainly like to reach if you have the time, your Xer staff will see this market as their future. Which approach do you think will be more likely to endure over the long-run, producers approaching a market they consider an attractive option, or producers approaching a market they know they must have to succeed?
So we come to the end of our tour. We hope you found it interesting and that it inspired you to seriously consider generation X (and soon the nexters) as attractive opportunities to expand your agency's present success, while laying a solid foundation for its future.

And if you have no Xers on your production payroll, now is the time start looking. This business has far more to offer them than they realize. If you have Xers on your payroll, now is the time to recognize they may need to do things much differently than the ways that have worked so well for you. Sit down and work out mutual understandings of what needs to be done. Then turn them loose on their natural marketplace: other Xers. One of the famous lines from the Star Trek series ends with "to boldly go where no man has gone before!" If we were to adapt this line to our purposes, it would read thusly:

"Your continuing mission: To explore new generations; to seek out younger life forms and new markets; to boldly send your young producers where no boomer has gone before!"

Or to put it another way: Send them out now in your present, and they will return with your future.

Live long and prosper.
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