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More Than Pushing Product: Delivering Benefit Solutions

In the world of voluntary benefits, we get paid for the products we sell. But the true value we provide often comes through the solutions we offer to clients. 

Some choose to see voluntary products as merely a quick fix to fill gaps and supplement high-deductible medical coverage. What I have found is that focusing solely on voluntary benefit products misses the bigger picture of offering a solution for the client, which in turn helps establish you as a consultant, not a salesperson.

There are no easy answers to the challenges faced by brokers and their clients. Success in voluntary benefits relies on a well-rounded solution that has the ability to address product needs as well as enrollment, benefit administration, and challenges with employee communication and engagement. The products may be the primary place where money exchanges hands, but the solutions are really where business is won or lost.

At the end of the day, you can’t just push product. To deliver solutions, you must act as a consultant to your clients. Not only is this a more effective way to sell; it breeds deeper relationships with employer clients when they know you have their best interest at heart and are trying to solve their problems, not just sell products. That may be a lot more to bite off in the sales process, but it’s ultimately more rewarding. 

Here are some easy changes you can make in your approach to start building a more consultative relationship with clients.

Ask A Lot Of Questions, Then Ask Some More

A consultative relationship always begins with asking clients a lot of questions and seeking clarity on their wants and needs. You basically have to be a curious 2-year-old again: “Tell me more; tell me more!” 

As an example, I recently was involved with a case where the employer’s big issue was that 70 percent of employees didn’t have a beneficiary listed on their group life insurance coverage. The employer had experienced situations where an employee died without a beneficiary listed. The employer then had to deal with the headaches associated with the lack of a clear beneficiary. 

Obviously, this was an issue that didn’t have to do with selling new voluntary benefits. Nonetheless, it was through the enrollment of voluntary benefits that we were able to create a communication strategy to address the issue at hand. We conducted an active call center enrollment to update 100 percent of the beneficiary information while at the same time offering our new voluntary benefits. 

The need for updated information was an issue which the broker learned about by politely (but relentlessly) asking questions. If we had come in focused only on selling products, we likely wouldn’t have solved the employer’s problem and in turn, wouldn’t have won the business. The communication strategy is what carried the day, not the voluntary benefits alone. Again, the strategy began with asking questions and, just as important, really listening closely to the answers.

The Power Of Communication

That last case serves as a nice segue into what I feel is one of the most important parts of taking a consultative approach with your clients: communication. 

A fun question I like to pose to employers is, “What would you say or ask if you had 15 minutes to talk to every one of your employees one-on-one?” It’s interesting to see the reaction when employers pause to consider the possibilities. The answers range from your typical value of benefits discussion to the need to engage employees on the corporate strategy or even corporate restructuring. So many of the challenges employers face today are issues of communication as well as employee understanding and engagement. 

So, when meeting with employers, try to ask questions about their strategy and challenges. Think of ways that communication during a one-on-one meeting or a call center voluntary benefits enrollment session can be tailored in a way that addresses those challenges. Use this insight to your advantage and improve the solution you provide by making communication one of the key tools in your voluntary benefits toolbox. 

Further, doubling down on the communication aspect of enrollment has added benefits for brokers. It serves as a way to reinforce the value of the benefits you and the employer are offering, promotes enrollment, and improves employee satisfaction and retention metrics. 

Know The Employer’s Market

Remember that your clients’ industries are just like our own; each has their own specific language and phrasing, seasonality and nuances to consider. And while you can’t expect to become an expert in your clients’ industries, doing your homework will help you become a more effective, prepared consultant. 

In my own career, I’ve had a series of clients from the world of education. Given the way a school year typically works, these clients often will have challenges with voluntary benefit payroll deduction billing given the non-year-round work schedule. 

Take the grocery industry, as another example. I’ve found my clients in this sector tend to have highly-dispersed workforces. This makes enrollment particularly challenging.

These examples highlight how you can make yourself a stronger resource to your clients if you can understand the needs of a specific industry and you have solutions that address these needs. It takes a little extra time, effort and research, but if you want a consultative relationship you must have some understanding of your clients and the way their industries work. 

It’s All About Flexibility

I wish there were some magic formula or checklist that could set you up for a successful, long-lasting, consultative relationship with your clients but there isn’t. Much of what you can do to maintain a consultative approach with clients boils down to being flexible and adaptable. 

If you strive for flexibility, my advice is to never let yourself become a rubber stamp that recommends one-size-fits-all solutions for your employers. Continue to learn and educate yourself. Voluntary benefits is a complex and nuanced industry and, even after more than 30 years in the industry, I’m still learning things every day. 

It’s also critical to be fully invested in your clients’ success. Caring matters. Your clients can tell when you genuinely care about them. Being invested in your clients’ success will inspire you to more thoughtful, innovative counsel that will benefit everyone involved. It will also steer you away from relying on tried-and-true techniques and help generate the kind of creativity and flexibility you need to find the right voluntary benefit solutions.

Today’s employers are looking for more simplicity in a complex world. Pushing products may be a simple way to approach the voluntary market, but it’s not an effective way. That’s why it’s up to us to maintain a consultative approach by asking questions, communicating, understanding our clients and having the flexibility to develop solutions to our clients’ needs. This is the way you build long-lasting, trusted relationships and deliver the simple, effective solutions that your clients need.

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Dan Johnson is vice president of sales and marketing for Trustmark Voluntary Benefits. Dan was elected into the Workplace Benefits Hall of Fame in 2013. He can be reached at [email protected] [email protected].

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