The world record for the largest game of Chinese Whispers, also known as the telephone game or Pass It Down, was set by entertainer Mac King, Jan. 6, 2004, and involved 614 people.While it's safe to say King didn't pass on a message about ways to sell long-term care insurance, carriers and agents may be able to relate to the game of Chinese Whispers. Clear and efficient communication among the two groups can become difficult. And adding communication among agents and consumers can muddy the water even more.

Ash Brokerage, a Fort Wayne, Ind.-based independent distributor of more than 75 insurance companies' products, discovered a product to help communication with its brokers and their customers.

The broker deployed Brainshark Presentations, an application that combines audio and visuals to enable on-demand communication and e-learning via the Web. Users creating a presentation use PowerPoint for the visuals and the telephone to record the audio.

MAKING THE DECISION

Michael Ball, vice president, sales and marketing at Ash Brokerage, investigated the product a year before deciding to use Brainshark software in fall of 2004. His concern, in 2003, was that Ash Brokerage's agents weren't on high-speed Internet. "In the back of my mind I'm thinking, 'Yeah, this type of media delivery is great on my end, but if I tried to get it in [the agents' hands], would I be caught up in the technology or actually the content that I want to deliver?'"

Then 2004 rolled around and Ball was sitting in front his computer at home, where he did not have a high-speed connection. He pulled up a Brainshark presentation, and its speed convinced him. "It showed up quick; I heard a voice, I saw a video and I thought, 'Wow, this is a deliverable that we can use now.' Technology has caught up with what I saw a year ago," he says.

Ball estimates more than 90% of Ash Brokerage agents now use high-speed connections, and those remaining 10% are probably not Ash Brokerage's most successful agents, because they are not keeping up with the technology of the time.

The process of creating a Brainshark presentation mirrors creating a presentation one would give in person. "I script the whole thing. I will talk it out as I'm doing it; then I upload [the PowerPoint presentation] to the Brainshark server," says Ball.

Then Ball calls a Brainshark-assigned phone number provided for that particular presentation and records the audio portion, much like recording the outgoing message on a voicemail system. "I usually record it and say [to myself] 'that didn't sound that good' and I play it back and it sounded a lot better than I thought it did," he jokes. And if it didn't sound good, he can record it again. After a few years of practice, a three-minute presentation takes Ball about an hour to create, he estimates, and he can reach more than 9,000 of his agents at once without having to call each one or gather them together for an event.

CONFIRMATION IS KEY

Ball's favorite feature of the Brainshark experience is the confirmation he receives. The system shoots him an e-mail when the recipient opens the presentation and also when the recipient either closes the presentation or the presentation ends. Ball can see how much of a message has been viewed, how long it was viewed and by whom.

Ball turns this situation into marketing and selling opportunities by calling the agents and brokers immediately after they view the presentation. "It's one of the best sales calls you could ever make because in this case they just heard my voice and just watched (the presentation). Then I call them and say, 'Hey I saw you just watched that presentation-I just wanted to ask you if you have any questions about the content,'" says Ball.

Some of the time, the agents ask Ball how to get the Brainshark program for their business. "I'm marketing to sales people, so the best person to sell is obviously a salesperson; they understand the effectiveness of it quickly; it's fresh in their mind and I follow up with whatever the idea was."

Ball is able to say "yes" to the agents asking that very question. After the presentation is created, it can be customized for a specific group. Ball uses his recent life insurance audit presentation as an example. There have been numerous changes over the last few years. Agents were able to include their contact information and send the presentation to their customers; the agents can use their e-mail addresses to receive receipts.

"It's probably the most efficient marketing tool I've had," says Ball. "If I've got a list of 25 Brainshark receipts sitting in my e-mail, those are the warmest leads I could have. With direct mail, I don't know if they looked at it or not if I followed up on it; I know they looked at these."

Ash Brokerage receives Brainshark presentations from various insurance companies and forwards them to brokers-but not before customizing the presentation. "I record an introductory with an Ash Brokerage front end and an Ash Brokerage back end with the contact information or concept that the carrier provided."

Measuring the results is an important part of the company's marketing strategy, according to Ball. "This tool measures exactly how long people have been logged on. I'll send out a presentation and get about 100 receipts right away, where 100 of them watched for three minutes-300 minutes equals five hours," he says. "Boy, if I had a line of 100 people standing in line [in person] and had to talk to each one of them for three minutes each I'd be standing there for 5 hours."

Those 100 people standing in line could try a game of Chinese Whispers, but that won't get the job done either. In fact, communication with agents and brokers is no game to Ball; he's proven his success is serious business.

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