A Competitive Edge Gets Your Foot

In The Worksite Door

BY

How can voluntary benefits advisors give themselves an edge that sets them apart from the competition and gets their foot in the worksite door?

Its not as easy as it used to be, professionals in the field acknowledge, but they say the basic principles are the same as for any sales rep: being a good listener and learning your products well.

“When I started in the 1970s, there were only one or two worksite carriers,” says Warren Benoit, president, Benoit & Associates, New Orleans. “Now with long term care, critical illness, Medigap coverage and so on, a good agent who is not on top of the game will be passed by.”

Top producers in worksites have taken a niche based on a few solid products they know thoroughly and then expanded on, according to Benoit.

Also, they have learned the worksite business thoroughly. They know “every company, every competitor and every product,” he says.

Debra Waldman, president of Waldman Insurance Services, San Clemente, Calif., says competing for worksite business can be a challenge. “Basically, there are a few major carriers, and we all have the same ones,” she notes.

She believes the key to standing out is for producers to be deeply involved with their accounts by offering outstanding service.

“When someone pays a premium for a year and all of a sudden has a claim, you dont ignore them,” Waldman says. “Take care of that claim.”

When a check to pay an insurance claim arrives, the producer should deliver it personallyand promptly, she says.

Staying competitive also means being sure employees stick with the products you sell them, Waldman adds. With that in mind, she always makes sure she doesnt oversell an employee. As a rule of thumb, an employees weekly premiums shouldnt exceed an hours pay, she advises.

“If you sell them too much insurance, theyll cancel. And they wont cancel just one policy; theyll cancel the whole batch,” she warns.

To keep a competitive edge, “do something that will set you apart,” advises Heather Minkler, chief executive and chief operating officer of Clark-Mortenson Agency, Keene, N.H.

She thinks the best way to do that is through the advice you give to clients and your willingness to spend time with them.

“Become a business advisor and partner who is helping them to help themselves,” Minkler advises.

For instance, as an extra service to employers, Minklers company offers compliance advice to small employers human resources departments. The advisors help the companies develop policies for their employment manuals to help them meet regulations governing equal employment, occupational safety, disabilities or family leave.

When selling to larger employers, technology can give an agent an edge.

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, Mass., provides its worksite disability insurance agents with a completely paperless enrollment system. That dramatically has increased its agents closing rates, says John Brady, general sales manager of the companys disability sales office.

“Human resources managers and their companies dont have a lot of time for enrollments,” Brady says.

The system has raised MassMutual agents closing rate from about 1 in 10 employers called on 3 years ago to around 2 in 10 today, according to Brady.

At the same time, enrollments have risen from about 20% to 25% of employees eligible to around 30%, he estimates.

Employees who go online can use calculators and other convenient tools to help them figure out how much disability insurance they need and what it will cost before they sign up, he explains.

For those who prefer to deal with live advisors, MassMutual also provides enrollment meetings and 800 call-center phone numbers, Brady adds.

About 30% of enrollments are done online, he estimates, while perhaps 20% are done over the phone and the remaining 50% or so are turned in as paper applications.

“I think most of the cases we win are because of the ease of enrollment,” Brady concludes.

Karen Larsons favorite competitive tactic is to partner with business groups. She has established agreements with a professional employer organization, a chamber of commerce and 3 trade associations to endorse her agency for all their members worksite product needs.

Those groups represent a huge captive audience, notes Larson, a producer for Safeco Corp., Seattle, who recently sold her Livonia, Mich., agency to Brooke Insurance Agency.

The professional employer organization alone has about 1,000 employers, she says, while the chamber of commerce has around 2,000. The 3 trade associations have a total of 25,000 business members.

Even one sale can be enormously profitable. Larson says she recently closed a life insurance sale to a car wash with 45 eligible employees, primarily selling life insurance to them and their families. The total commission: $22,000.

Larsons producers focus on disability and life insurance for worksites, emphasizing the low weekly cost compared to what the products would cost individually and pointing out that the products are portable.

Mel Schlesinger, president of the Rainmakers Group, Wilmington, N.C., says voluntary dental plans and long term care insurance are great door openers for the worksite producer. Dental plans have a great appeal for employees, he notes, while business owners are themselves often hot prospects for LTC insurance.

Unfortunately, not many LTC carriers see the worksite as a profitable way to do business, Schlesinger observes.

“Some say, well do worksites, but well reduce the agents commission,” he says.

Schlesinger advocates a number of principles that have helped him get his foot in the door and beat the competition in worksites. One is to work only with high-quality prospects.

“In a worksite situation, thats the decision-maker, not the HR or finance person,” Schlesinger insists. “Its a person who knows the product Im talking about and indicates hes interested in that product. Just walking into the business and asking for the person who handles insurance works well enough for group health. But its the kiss of death for voluntary benefits. You always want to ask for the principal or owner.”

Schlesingers second principle: “Forget about needs. Find out what they want. Build your whole presentation on that. Thats why I work with voluntary dental and long term care. People want those products.”

But you cant assume you know what employers want, Schlesinger emphasizes.

“Ask tons of questions before you begin to show what youve got,” he says. “Thats the only way to find out what they want.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 9, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.