Improving customer relationships is a critical activity of most business owners. This is according to “The Pulse of American Business,” an annual survey commissioned by the City Business Journals Network. The network is an arm of American City Business Journals, the nation’s largest publisher of metropolitan business newspapers.

For the life insurance representative, this information confirms the obvious. After all, as entrepreneurial spirits themselves, they already know the importance of strong, long-lasting client relations.

And when it comes to this subject of relationships, all good business owners and entrepreneurs are alike: they want to know the hot buttons of their customers. Why? Because when a customer, client–or anyone for that matter–perceives your empathy for his or her concerns, you’re on the road to a stronger relationship.

But reps who are trying to build their own book of business with business owners have a particular challenge. After all, there are literally thousands of matters that keep the typical business owner up at night. Where to begin a relevant discussion?

Again, the research from “The Pulse of American Business” provides some insight. In a ranking of those issues about which America’s business owners are very concerned, there are 3 hot buttons among the Top 10 that, for me, help to crystallize the discussion topics for the rep. They are:

? Being able to find and keep good employees.

? The safety and security of the business.

? Having enough money to retire.

These 3 issues are inextricably linked to the business owner’s personal goals; the sooner a rep helps a client grasp this fact the better.

That is, by tending to these matters, the owner will be cultivating the success of his or her business. Business success then makes possible the realization of important personal goals–from purchasing a home and funding educations to having enough money to retire on.

It’s a simple equation. But it’s one that often gets lost because of the thousands of other matters on the business owner’s mind. The insurance rep provides the focus.

Let’s take a look at how you might organize a discussion of these 3 topics and the questions to ask:

Finding and keeping good employees

According to “The Pulse of American Business,” 2 in 3 business owners are very concerned about finding good employees-and keeping them. You can help your client’s company stand out among the rest with a discussion about how to create an ideal benefits package. Two important questions are:

o Are you taking good care of your employees?

o Are you rewarding your key employees?

Regarding the first question, those things that attract and retain employees include:

o Health, dental, vision, group term life insurance.

o Short- and long-term disability income insurance.

o Long-term care insurance.

oQualified retirement plans like 401(k) and SIMPLE IRA plans.

Regarding the second question, you’ll also want to discuss ways to reward key employees, for example by providing them with additional “executive” benefits and the development of a non-qualified employee benefit plan that can include:

o Deferred compensation.

o Executive carve-out plans to cover a variety of needs.

o Supplemental employee retirement plans.

Safety and security of the business

In today’s world, safety and security are broad topics. For the rep looking to connect to a business owner, safety and security revolve around a client discussion about the specific risks that can dramatically change a business overnight.

Clearly, survival of the business is the issue and important questions include:

o Can your business survive if your physical plant, equipment or other business assets perished?

o What happens if a personal injury liability is on your premises?

o Can your business survive the loss of a key employee?

o Can your business survive without you?

Your client’s responses to the first two questions will determine the need for periodic review of his or her liability coverage to ensure these matters are current and that the business is protected.

Whether the business can survive the loss of a key employee requires a discussion that goes beyond rewarding key employees to identifying those who are essential to the continued existence of the business; evaluating the impact of losing these employees; and developing a plan to deal with the financial implications of such a loss.

Whether a business can survive without your client looks at the financial impact the unexpected–like the owner’s sudden death or disability–would have on the company. Because things don’t always go according to plan, it’s important for the rep to help the client see the need for a conversation on the continued success of the business upon the death, disability or retirement of the owner.

Perhaps the owner would prefer to sell the business or transfer ownership to a family member. In either case, resources and funding allowing transfer of ownership will be required for any business success plan.

Having enough money to retire

Arguably, the most explicit question to a client on this matter is: When you’re ready to retire, will you be able to?

Most good reps realize that it’s difficult to separate the financial needs of a business owner from his or her personal financial needs and goals.

For example, estate planning might be on a client’s mind, but he or she may not see the connection to the business. It’s the rep’s role to help the client see that without a thriving and prosperous business, there may not be any estate planning considerations to discuss. Likewise, matters of having retirement income, funding educations, setting up trusts, etc.

Clearly, there are a lot of matters on the mind of the business owner. For the insurance representative looking to connect with business owner clients, it is worth knowing those few relevant hot buttons that can help start the discussion – and possibly build business.