The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has permanently changed the health insurance landscape, and brokers must adapt with new solutions, new business models and new strategies for attracting employees, partners and clients. Companies of all sizes are increasingly relying on the expertise of their brokers, and executives are discussing ways to leverage benefits to control costs, boost competitive advantages and retain and attract employees. At the same time, those employees are still adjusting to their increased costs, responsibilities and risks of the retail healthcare market.
One of the best ways for brokers to adapt to these changes is to hire and network with women. A recent study by National Underwriter Life & Health found that 45 percent of males in the insurance industry are over 60 years of age, while only 28 percent of females are over 60. Women middle-aged and younger comprise increasingly large proportions of both brokers and buyers, and it has become critical for firms to leverage their skills and talents. What insurance professionals need to better understand, then, is how to attract more women to their organizations; how to network more effectively with women; and how to close sales with female buyers.
Attracting Female Brokers
Most brokerages need to hire more women, but attracting the best candidates requires different strategies from hiring men. Typical interviewing and hiring practices are focused on numbers – sales, commissions, close rates and the income employer and employee stand to gain from one another. While those figures are certainly still important to the interviewer, female interviewees tend to hold more socially oriented motivations. They want to leave lasting impacts on the individuals with whom and for whom they work, and they usually care more about overall strategies than sales, leads and other discrete events. Because they stand to spend a third or more of their lives building their firms, employers need to accommodate these differing motivations and show the value they can add to their female employees’ lives.
How can firms demonstrate that kind of value? First, they can help their brokers make a difference in the industry by developing their niches. Candidates’ volunteer work, organizational memberships and past leadership roles will give insight into the ways they can apply their passions to a brokerage. Second, employers can offer security. Women—and employees in general—want to feel like they’re part of a stable company within a stable industry, and that their employers have their futures in mind. Hiring third-party financial planners, mapping out long-term goals and offering robust benefits packages are some of the best ways to enhance this sense of security.
Third and finally, brokerages can attract more women by offering a variety of options for career development. Conferences, retreats and mentorship programs are excellent ways for employees to learn skills and gain contacts that will serve them throughout their careers. Likewise, additional certifications and designations will make them more valuable to clients and employers. Ultimately, investments in employees’ careers can lead to better quality job candidates, higher sales and greater client acquisition and retention.
Given women’s growing presence on both sides of the insurance industry, creating lasting relationships with female brokers and clients is key. Effective networking offers myriad benefits. Brokers can receive free advisement from peers and industry veterans. Professional courtesy leads to referrals. Niche professionals can team up for joint projects and provide greater value to mutual clients. And younger, less experienced brokers can receive mentorship from industry veterans. Due to the ACA’s complex, multi-faceted requirements, all of these advantages have become must-haves for satisfying clients and gaining new business.
Of course, effective networking is a two-sided coin, and brokers need to deposit social capital before they can withdraw any of those benefits from female colleagues or clients. These “deposits” must be high-value and relevant to women’s needs and interests, and they must be centered on the accounts, clients and peers that offer the greatest potential returns on investment. Just as importantly, creating social capital with women requires that you engage them on a personal level and give with no expectation of return. Strings-attached gifts and gestures are of little benefit, while outcome detachment offers the greatest possible reward from each interaction.
How can brokers create this kind of social capital with female colleagues? Personal gestures are the best bet, and thank-you notes, check-ins and small gifts based on mutual interests can generate significant ROI. These simple courtesies take little time or effort, but given their rarity and personal relevance, they can easily set a broker apart from the crowd. Another winning strategy is to offer referrals and introductions before they’re given. Quality referrals are a win-win even without reciprocation, since the referrer becomes a reliable source of expertise for the referred. Overall, staying top-of-mind is just as important in networking with women as with men; there are simply different strategies involved in doing so.
Closing Sales with Female Buyers
Likewise, typical sales techniques apply mainly to men, and brokers need a different game plan for closing with women. Female buyers won’t buy insurance from someone they don’t like, but they will become loyal clients to those who gain their trust and good favor. Brokers should begin building that rapport on a personal level by finding common interests, inquiring about families, and learning about the relationships between a potential client and her employees. These are the particulars most salespeople address after the close to maintain a relationship, but with women, they are instrumental in making the first sale.
As for the close itself, high-pressure doesn’t work well with executives in general, least of all with women. When they know what benefits they need, making the sale is a matter of building the relationship. When they don’t, they’re going to do their due diligence and follow up with the salesperson who offers the right solutions and builds the best rapport. Instead of relying on salesy messaging, brokers would do well to build relationships first, and to close by relating their offerings to the details they’ve learned about the client and her company. As the post-ACA insurance environment continues to change and diversify, these sales techniques will be key to closing a wide variety of clients, both male and female.
 National Underwriters’ 2013 Independent Producer Study