A Week in My Life: Carl Sharples, Head of Sales & Marketing, Co-op Insurance

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

Carl joined Co-op Insurance in 2019, and works on meeting the ambitious growth plans of the insurance provider.

An experienced marketing specialist, Carl spent time at at Police Mutual as Director of Marketing, and as Planning Director of Planning Express. He's also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

At a time when car use has changed dramatically and perhaps irreversibly, it's an interesting time for insurance - and Carl is turning his wealth of experience and skills to ensure the future success of the provider.

We found out what a week in his life right now looks like...

 

Monday

Monday arrives with the sun shining bright in the sky - it’s almost as though it knew it’s the last week of home schooling!

I’m ready for the week ahead after a weekend of decluttering, and with a large pile of ‘man junk’ (as my wife calls it) ready to go back into the loft. How can a collection of vintage Star Wars toys from 1977 ever be called junk?

It starts with our weekly ‘performance pulse’ meeting looking at how we as Co-op Insurance are doing against plan.

In recent times, our business model has changed, and Co-op Insurance has removed the capital-heavy aspects. We now work with a range of insurance partners delivering a range of products that meet the needs of our customers and 4.6 million members.

All looks positive with the numbers, and my team has been doing a brilliant job with a host of great marketing activities and campaigns raising awareness, consideration and driving sales. From the pulse meeting, it’s into another Teams meeting.

This meeting is with our fantastic media agency looking at the big push we're planning for March for our car and home products. As we debate and work through the plan, I reflect on how lucky I am to work with people who produce brilliant work, care about what they do and make my job easier.  

In the afternoon I have some time to myself to look at our objectives and key results. Last year, they ended up being quite flexible given how we all adapted to the changes that COVID brought. This year, I’m confident that we have a stable set to work towards and deliver. 

Lastly, I check in on the to-do list and tomorrow’s meetings and I’m done. 

Tuesday

I really need to look up the person who created Microsoft Teams… what would we have done without it? It’s amazing, it really is. Thank you!

First up is our marketing catch-up. Each meeting has its own objective: focus for the week, issues and concerns and a check in on successes.

We have a random question and our 'how are you feeling on a scale of one to ten' barometer. It seems all is good but with so much on, we need to look at improvements in our ways of working. I need to help the team in this area, and make some notes as bandwidth is always something I’m mindful of.

Next up is a virtual proposition workshop - this is an important one for the insurance business. Since the new operating model came into play, we've been exploring how we build a new customer proposition and one that aligns to the wider Co-op Group. It should enable us to position ourselves clearly in a relevant, credible and motivating manner in the consumers’ mind.

This workshop has participants from across Co-op and is one of those wonderful moments when you can throw off the day-to-day shackles and work together with brilliant people to create new ideas. “What if?” and “imagine if” are key questions, and again I’m amazed at how well the team utilise different technologies and techniques to build some brilliant outputs. I can’t wait for the next session!

The afternoon is a mixture of my regular 1-to-1s with my campaign managers and senior stakeholders. One of the core aspects of my role is how to work within my vertical business unit whilst at the same time ensuring I’m leveraging amazing capabilities from with the wider group. With food, funerals, legal services within our unique offering we have a huge amount of expertise to draw upon. 

Wednesday

I have a rubbish night’s sleep, even with my new JML bamboo pillow purchase (a late-night shopping channel purchase when I couldn’t sleep). Sleep deprivation aside, it’s back-to-back Teams calls all day. I've struggled since last March with getting the work/life balance right, but I don’t think I have the right to complain as I’m very lucky I can work from home, unlike the thousands of frontline colleagues in our Co-op stores, funerals and depots who do such a fabulous job. 

I do reflect on my 20-plus years in business and how much time I've spent away from my wife and boys. Homeworking has meant that, for the first time ever, we have regular breakfasts and evening meals together. I'm absolutely loving it and don’t want this to change! 

This morning, I’m representing insurance in a Co-op Group-wide session on the evolution of our membership scheme, an initiative which enables members to make a difference in their communities when they buy our products and services. With almost 5 million active members, this is a hugely significant piece of work for Co-op and it sits at the heart of what we do. 

Watching the wider team work in such a collaborative way to push through plans to drive membership growth never fails to inspire me, and it’s one of the things I love most about working at the Co-op. 

After such an inspiring session, I’m peppered with short tactical sessions focusing on the here and now. Co-op has big aspirations for insurance over the coming years and over the last 18 months, I've been working hard on evolving the marketing approach.

I’ve reworked the structure focusing on customer engagement zones which are based on where the customer sits within the lifecycle. The team utilise a full range of paid, earned and owned media to ensure that they deliver appropriate communications and interactions at the right time. 

This afternoon we have three separate sessions to focus on tactical activity in the month ahead and across the rest of the year. 

Thursday

I’m up early and out on the bike, ending up at my local Co-op to buy the morning papers. I get a buzz when I see our new adverts in place and new point-of-sale material in the store. It all looks great and I send a quick photo to the team WhatsApp. 

Today, it’s time for our regular partner meetings, this time with Markerstudy who purchased our underwriting business in 2020 as part of a 13-year partnership which will enable us to expand our insurance footprint and create new products and services.

These meetings are a critical part of our model and they enable us to ensure that we are delivering for the customer and the business. Today, I presented the motor and home insurance marketing strategies which elicited many positive questions and comments from both senior teams at Co-op and Markerstudy.  

Just before lunch, I was confronted by the sight of Fantastic Mr Fox appearing behind me - it's World Book Day and my youngest, George, has been crafting an amazing mask which he's very proud of. He disappears back downstairs ready for his Zoom call, his brother is already on his call and I head for my next Teams call… it all seems so normal!!

For the final part of the day, I’m catching up with the team from 'Own Your Tomorrow'. This is a virtual structured learning programme that includes courses, inspirational talks and interactive sessions, that was set up for the wider Co-op marketing community to develop their core technical and behaviour skills.  

Friday

It’s Friday - and I had a better night’s sleep so the pillow must be working. Today, I’m back with the team looking at successes of the week with an appearance from the one-to-ten barometer check-in. Happily, there are lots of eights, so it’s been a good week with GIFs flying in as everyone discusses their activity. 

Next, it’s into the senior leadership team’s weekly catch-up. One of the things that I love about working with my colleagues in the SLT is their passion and desire, combined with forward-thinking with ability to adapt. This resilience has been invaluable over the past year as we've navigated changing priorities in the insurance market brought about by the pandemic.

I’ve finished early, and I’m getting excited, not by a Star Wars eBay purchase, but that my five-track song demo has come back with final mixes from the studio. I've described it as “30 years in the making,” and others have said it's “30 years too late!”, but this has been a personal positive from the year. During the first lockdown an old friend and I decided to write some songs, which we crafted through GarageBand and Zoom. 

I discovered a brilliant singer online who is based in New York who loved the material and, via the web, laid down the vocals. I painstakingly searched for the keyboardist from my favourite rock band from the 80s and, amazingly, he agreed to do all the keys. The drums and mixing were finished off by two old friends. All of it was enabled by technology, which has been the story of the last year for many of us. 

In one of our recent team meetings, the question was posed: “What has been a positive for you out of lockdown?" Mine was simply, “the importance of family, of spending time together and of not letting go of the things that make you happy… even if they are 30 years too late!”

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