Advisers must identify clients ready for new technology

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One mission for an adviser is to size up a new client. Are they eager to use the latest technology or do they want to make sure that a new innovation works before they risk their clients on an untested platform?

In 1962, sociologist and communications theorist Everett Rogers introduced his The Diffusion of Innovations Theory that explains how, over time, an idea, behavior or product gains momentum and spreads through a specific population. This theory applies to benefits advisers in terms of how you approach your clients and how your agency delivers innovation in service, processes and technology.

According to Rogers, adoption of any new innovation does not happen all at once. Rather, it is a process whereby certain profiles of people — your clients — are more likely to adopt an innovation earlier than others. These profiles fall into five categories.

  • Innovators: These are the first people to try any new innovation. They’re open to taking risks, excited for “the next new thing” and the first to develop new ideas. These are the people who wait in line for days for the new iPhone, and the brokers of record most vulnerable to competitive threats from the likes of Gusto, Namely, or Zenefits, even in their earliest days.
  • Early Adopters: These employers are aware of a need to change, and are very comfortable adopting new ideas. They’re often the influencers in a given population, and don’t need much information in order convince them to change.
  • Early Majority: These employers are rarely the leaders, but they adopt new ideas before the Late Majority and the Laggards, provided they can see evidence proving an innovation is more effective than their current approach. This population will want to see case studies and success stories in order to make a transition.
  • Late Majority: This group is more skeptical of change, and only adopt an innovation after the majority has adopted it. They will likely need convincing in the form of referrals from their personal network.
  • Laggards: This population is conservative, and they are very skeptical of change. As the name implies, they’re the hardest group to address with innovation. Appealing to this population is often driven by fear: that in avoiding innovation, they’re missing an opportunity, or become vulnerable to a risk.

Identity confirmed — now what?
As an industry, we see brokers looking to address exceptions to the rule in their book of business, rather than looking for a solution that will work for most of their client base. Often, objections — like “What about the brokerage with people over 60 who don't want to move away from paper? — while well-intentioned, tend to paralyze or delay decisions. This delay can even result in bad investments that solve limited challenges rather than provide forward-thinking solutions that automate or eliminate old-school practices across the majority of a broker’s book of business.

The reality is not every group is ready for technology and automation. This is the case in in rural areas and outdated industries. However, as a benefits adviser, building your technology strategy around the late majority or laggards in your book of business does your entire agency a disservice. Most of your clients want a forward-thinking adviser to guide them into the future, not a pushover catering mainly to the “squeaky wheels” in your client base.

A technology investment is an investment in the future. As you’re looking to partner with a technology company, you need to look for technologies that innovate for the early adopters and fast followers, not the laggards and late majority in any given group. For your innovative clients, they’ll appreciate your proactive approach, long-term investment in the future of their business, and the efficiencies a technology provides their team and their employees. For the groups in the latter categories, more hand-holding might be required at first, and the key is to find solutions and workarounds that work for all parties.

As you look for a technology partner going forward, start by looking within your current book of business, and identify your early adopter and early majority groups. Identify a common set of needs among that population, and focus on making decisions around innovation for those clients. These are the folks in your book that are most open to change, so implement technology with them first, learn from the process, and tease out success stories that will convince your late majority and laggard clients to adapt.

As an adviser, it is your job to think ahead. Advisers must also reach out to clients proactively to lead them into the future. They must approach their clients and partnerships through that lens. And most importantly, don’t let the laggards in their book of business drag them down.

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