If your business had a human personality, what characteristics would it have? Would it be a daredevil, risk-taker, with no care for tomorrow? Or cautious and reserved, frightened by change? The concept of giving your business a human personality is not as strange as it may sound.

Over the past two years, we have been analysing the best way to work in partnership with retailers - realising that each business has a unique set of goals, financial objectives, staff and so on.

In searching for the perfect solution, we have discovered that the most effective way of meeting their needs is to discern the corporate personality behind our retailers' individual businesses.

It entails a whole new way of looking at retailers and their businesses, which we've called Business PsyKeyTM. This segmentation style is already being used by several blue chip companies in other industries and is based on the simple premise that every broker's business is different - in the same way that every person has a unique personality, aims and attitudes.

This innovative approach will mean that we can focus on helping each broker to get the best out of his or her business - to our mutual benefit.

This is, of course, a radically different strategy to that adopted by most insurers which tend to put their efforts into supporting a club, of retailers that have already proved most profitable.

Just because a group of brokers is currently as profitable as one another, does not mean they need exactly the same type and level of support from insurance companies. Each business in the club, may actually need an entirely different approach in order to maintain its profitability or to develop its full potential.

Compatible personalities
The advantage of Business PsyKeyTM is that, once we have a clear picture of a business's personality, we can match our own activity to the strengths of that retailer's business.

And, in the longer term, this could lead to Norwich Union developing propositions tailored specifically to the needs of individual retailers.

The complete Business PsyKeyTM process is complex and multi-layered. To begin with, each broker is invited to complete a questionnaire designed to reveal four aspects of their business's operation - strategy, people, performance and decision-making.

Already 5,500 full-time insurance intermediaries have completed this questionnaire to determine which one of eight personality clusters, his or her business fits into.

Stage two of the process involves mapping that personality cluster against the current value of the business and its potential. This is done for each type of business conducted by the broker (private motor, household, commercial etc).

The third, and crucial, stage is a detailed discussion with each broker, with the aim of agreeing the optimum strategy for us both, as a partnership.

The plan of activity and support that comes from these discussions will be unique to each business, because of the extensive analysis and the individual detail that goes into the segmentation process.

But, ultimately, each strategy will fall into one of four broad categories, which we have termed - maintain, improve, grow, or exit.

We shall work with those brokers in the first three categories to devise an individual programme of training, incentives, marketing activity and consultancy - backed in some cases by financial support -- to help them get the best from their business.

However, for those businesses that fall into the exit category, we shall have to think long and hard about whether there is any future in the relationship.

The Business PsyKeyTM analysis and previous discussions with these brokers will already have uncovered disparity and it is unlikely to come as a shock to them that we are unable to provide the type of support and opportunities they are looking for.

Support programme
But, for 95% of our retailers, the outcome from Business PsyKeyTM will be a new style of business relationship - a flexible, productive partnership.

Our aim is to work with them to meet mutually beneficial objectives - Business PsyKeyTM is simply the first stage of the process!

Behind Business PsyKeyTM there is a whole new programme of support, which can be tailored to the needs of each business - we are calling this new package Business 2 Business.

But how can a sophisticated segmentation programme, such as Business PsyKeyTM, actually benefit retailers?

Let's take two hypothetical brokers, A and B, whose businesses fall into the same Business PsyKeyTM cluster. The typical personality elements for businesses in this cluster are:
- the business regards supplier relationships as important and looks to its suppliers for assistance
- it would appreciate assistance with effective business planning
- price is not the key driver
- quality is important.

As we saw earlier, this cluster is mapped against the current and potential value of the business, and extensive discussions are held with the broker to determine the best strategy for the business.

The discussions with Broker A have highlighted that it would be mutually beneficial to adopt a growth strategy.

However, discussions with Broker B have determined that he has already achieved high market penetration in his chosen sectors. Therefore, the right strategy for this business would be maintain the existing level and mix of business.

Hence, our two hypothetical brokers would benefit from completely different approaches - even though they share the same personality cluster.

For Broker A, we would put together a Business 2 Business package designed to incentivise his business to reach agreed growth targets. For example, if this broker is interested in consolidating his business within a smaller number of insurers, we would consider a system of incentives to enable a transfer of business to Norwich Union.

If he is considering acquiring other companies, we might be able to provide management consultancy, and advise on strategic fit and financial aspects of the acquisition. We could also provide marketing support appropriate to a growth strategy, such as professional advice or financial help with direct mail and local advertising campaigns.

For Broker B, however, the emphasis would be on helping the broker to keep the business that he already has and to maintain its profitability. The training, strategic management and consultancy we could offer would be geared towards a maintain strategy too - for example, retention skills development for staff and "Costing for Profit" workshops for the business owners would probably be appropriate.

JSJ Insurance of Stockport is a good example of how Business PsyKeyTM can be used to tailor a programme of support to meet a broker's specific needs.

David Jones, one of JSJ's three directors, completed his company's Business PsyKeyTM questionnaire last September.

The results showed that the company fitted into the Gamma cluster, which typically demonstrates traits such as "likely to be looking to form strong bonds with suppliers", and 'least bureaucratic of small organisations.'

Having discussed with our business development manager the appropriate support available for their type of business, the directors of JSJ opted to use the business planning disk, to help them formulate a new strategy for their business, aimed at achieving growth.

The disk enables a broker, working with Norwich Union's business development team, to create a business plan. Jones believes this was a valuable exercise because, he says: "it made me stand back and take a look at my own business - the problems, the way we work, the strengths and the opportunities open to us."

Modifying behaviour
In analysing the threats to their company, the three directors of JSJ Insurance could see that the business was growing well, but they were increasingly caught up in running the business on a day-to-day basis, which meant spending less time using their selling skills.

The outcome was a complete rework of the way that JSJ Insurance approaches its business, including bringing in specialists for certain roles, such as marketing, and giving their staff increased responsibility.

"We know that we achieved very good growth last year without any business development strategy, so we believe that, if we apply some planning to it, we have a fair chance of doubling turnover in five years," says Jones.

We won't know for some time, of course, whether the effort that JSJ has invested in its business is justified. Jones is right when he says: "I'll tell you in a year's time if it was a waste of effort - this isn't an overnight revolution. But if it pays off, it will have been worthwhile."

Most of us appreciate that it takes time and effort to understand properly what makes a person tick, but we overlook the fact that organisations have personalities too.

We believe that it is only by taking the trouble to understand what makes a business tick, that we can ever hope to nurture it.