Succeeding in business means gaining the edge that helps you connect with clients and boost revenues. Insurance Times looks at the benefits of alternative training methods

So you have the CII qualification and management course under your belt, but what else can help in keeping ahead of the competition?

Recently, there has been a growing interest in alternative types of business training, with some industry chiefs waxing lyrical about the results. In a recent interview, Willis UK chief executive Brendan McManus told Insurance Times: “I have benefited a lot from business coaching: learning how to become incredibly self-disciplined, giving myself a goal and being relentless about achieving it.”

Read the signs

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) – a form of psychology that looks at the way people subconsciously programme their minds – is often used in coaching to help people challenge their underlying thinking and the way they use language. Former insurance broker and director of training at NLP School Europe Robbie Steinhouse believes this approach helps people become better decision-makers and helps improve their communication skills.

“People have non-verbal signals. NLP will teach you how to look at those signals so you can notice if someone is being sincere and genuine, and whether they want your product – or if they are still not convinced,” he explains.

Steinhouse adds that NLP helps people become more elegant and specific with their language so that they can become more influential. “NLP would teach them how to refine their language and improve their use of language to give a customer the feeling they are being listened to,” he explains. “Brokers are keen on improving their sales skills in order to get more business, but it is mainly a matter of refining their pitching and customer relationship skills so they can do better.”

Fiona Harrold, who specialises in life, executive and workplace coaching, argues that coaching can help people spot the things they are doing wrong and develop better strategies for coping. “There are always smarter ways of doing things. It doesn’t matter what we are doing or what level we are at. We all have blind spots. Nobody can see their own blind spots.” She points out that, in addition to individual coaching, group sessions in the workplace can help iron out residual cultural problems and help people align their goals with that of the organisation.

Get down to business

But there are other types of coaching that can achieve results. director Laura Ashley-Timms has worked with top 10 insurance companies such as Aviva. She argues that, while life and executive coaching focuses mainly on individual needs and self-improvement, business coaching concentrates on tailoring performance to the requirements of the company. “Business coaching focuses on aligning organisational goals with individual performances and getting everyone motivated and powered up to drive business growth and organisation improvement.”

She adds that this, in turn, helps address one of the major concerns of major players: client acquisition and retention. “We look at performance over a long period of time: not just looking at immediate drivers, but at how you can communicate with your customers to ensure long-term growth.”

Ashley-Timms adds that business coaching helps managers understand the different factors that motivate people. “When you are running a team, no matter how large or how small, you need to learn how to maximise the potential within the team.” The results speak for themselves, she says, pointing out that after a period of business coaching in one workplace, one in six people garnered a senior promotion, while 70% of staff boosted their productivity.

Best behaviour

Others argue that simply developing better presentation skills can make the difference.

Director of consultancy Curved Vision, Dr Simon Raybould, specialises in training people in public speaking and effective presentation. He argues that this skill set is invaluable in every aspect of business. “Presentations are not just about the times that you get up in a room full of people. It is also about the time you are sitting across the table from somebody. If you can make a better fist of that presentation, then it’s more likely you’ll get the work you want – it is as simple as that.”

He argues that insurance professionals can get bogged down in detail and fail to accurately assess the needs of their audience or target customers. He says it is important to avoid talking jargon, to cut out unnecessary information and to get people excited about the information, so they are prepared to read the extra paperwork afterwards.

Further, Raybould adds that, in many cases, sales professionals such as brokers are extroverts and need to temper their natural enthusiasm to connect with potential customers. “Sales staff need to calm down a little bit, because in psychological terms half the population in the UK are introverted. They can feel alienated and intimidated by people who talk too much and too fast, and who wave their arms around; it is not good to alienate half of your potential customers.”

Body language

The Alexander Technique is another approach that is used to improve performance. An education discipline that helps overcome habitual limitations in thinking and movements, it was developed by Shakespearian actor F Matthias Alexander in the I890s.

After developing breathing and vocal problems on stage, Alexander observed his body from different angles and devised strategies to overcome these problems. Nowadays, his methods are used to help people improve their posture and verbal skills. Practitioners say this can help overcome daily problems such as stress, back pain and poor communication.

“It helps you to stay in touch with your reasons, goals and objectives during a presentation,” Alexander Technique expert Alan Mars explains. “With posture, it helps you take up more space with your body language and create more of a visual impact. Vocally, it helps you get the best volume and modulation from your voice.”

Practitioners use a form of gentle manual coaching such as realigning the head to the top of the spine and coaxing the shoulders into better alignment with the spine to ensure a better distribution of weight and improved muscle movements and breathing.

Teaching people these physical movements and positions, Mars argues, has a calming effect and helps people to think positively, re-energise, and approach things in a more constructive way. As he notes, “business is all about having the bounce-back factor” – and experts of alternative forms of training believe they can help business leaders do just that. IT

Training resources

There are different packages in individual business coaching available, ranging from £600 to £2,500 per month. Workplace seminars cost between £1,800 and £4,000 a day. For more information, go to, and

Audio coaching sessions are available from £40 a month from

Group public speaking and presentation skills training for 12-15 people costs £875 per day. Visit uk.

Training in the Alexander Technique is available from £185 to £800; see