As employers continue to struggle with rising health costs, they’re looking for opportunities to enhance employee benefit plans to satisfy a restless work force and keep talent in-house.

Retaining and attracting employees is one of the most serious challenges facing employers today, second only to controlling medical costs, according to a recent survey of American business owners and benefits decision makers that was commissioned by Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

Small businesses with 25 to 100 employees are particularly concerned about matters of succession planning and the staffing challenges that are expected to arise as the worker population ages, the survey found.

Advisors in today’s market have a chance to give employers solutions to these challenges and not just “products.” A broker’s recommendation carries a lot of clout. It is the top factor in an employer’s decision to select a benefit carrier, according to the Guardian survey. On the advice of producers who sell to the group market, many employers are enhancing their benefit plans with products related to dental care, vision care and wellness.

Multi-life disability income insurance is also good fit as a voluntary benefit. A portable complement to traditional long-term disability products, it offers a perfect example of how a producer can take a product in the group insurance marketplace and turn it into a solution that meets the needs of both employers and workers.

In selling multi-life disability income insurance-or any voluntary benefit product-as part of a broader solution, producers should offer to do as much as possible with regard to enrollment, education and administration. If you are in this market, the following tips may help.

1. Do your due diligence.

Employee benefits advisors should stay on top of what’s going on for their clients in the marketplace. What business challenges do they face? Is the culture of the company changing? Where do they expect to be in 10 years? Knowing the answers to these questions facilitates the sales process with existing clients and helps you win new ones too. Start a clip file on each of your clients and prospects.

2. Fill a niche in the benefit plan.

To make your case to an employer for adding a new product to the plan, you’ll have to explain what makes it unique and valuable. Multi-life disability insurance, for example, bridges the best of both individual and group insurance products.

It is guaranteed standard issue, so it comes at a group discount (on average about 25% lower than what employees could get on their own). The application process is streamlined and doesn’t require a medical exam or financial underwriting, as individual disability insurance does. And, unlike most group insurance products, the coverage is also portable.

3. Emphasize employee needs.

Show the advantages of the voluntary benefit from as many different employee perspectives as possible. In most cases, it’s not a one-size-fits-all opportunity. In discussing multi-life disability income insurance, you might explain how the product gives employees the flexibility to purchase a plan that is right for them.

An executive earning $300,000 a year may wish to choose different coverage options than someone earning $50,000 a year. But employees dependent on their paycheck, regardless of their level in a company, need income protection and would be well served by the plan.

4. Take the lead on education.

When benefits are offered on a voluntary basis, education is critical. Most workers assume their long-term disability plan would be sufficient to see them through financially, should they need it. The best worksite specialists deliver a message that, “Yes, your LTD plan is great. It’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.”

But they go on to inform employees about the opportunity to purchase multi-life disability insurance to protect income not covered by the LTD policy, such as bonuses and incentive pay. In many sectors variable pay makes up a substantial portion of executive compensation. Employees appreciate it when they learn that they can protect this income.

5. Make it personal.

The more specific you can be with each employee about the financial consequences of disability, the better. Don’t leave the conversation at, “Your LTD covers 50% of your salary. It’s taxable.” Many people will say, “Okay, if I have to, I’ll cancel my magazine subscriptions. I’ll stop going to the gym.”

Walk them through a rough outline of their monthly expenses and compare it to what their LTD plan would pay. In most cases, they’ll decide to keep receiving Sports Illustrated and consider purchasing supplemental disability income insurance.

6. Manage enrollment expectations.

Set enrollment expectations for the carrier and the employer. The goal is usually to get 30% of the eligible population to enroll. It won’t happen magically. Work out an enrollment strategy during the sales process that aligns with the culture of the company and includes a plan to communicate with employees in ways they expect, whether through branded materials or messages from key influencers.

7. Ask for a “yes” or “no.”

Early in the sales process, get the employer to agree to ask each employee to make an active decision with regard to purchasing the voluntary benefit. By asking workers to say “yes” or “no” to a benefit offer, you can be sure of engaging the population. Overall enrollment rates tend to rise with this kind of arrangement, because more employees seek education to make the appropriate decision.

8. Have a formal follow-up plan.

It’s human nature for employees to procrastinate, especially about benefit decisions they may not fully understand. Work out a plan in advance with the employer to reach out to employees whose responses are taking a little longer than anticipated. The entire communications strategy–including the employer’s piece of it–should be approved from start to finish before enrollment even starts. The last thing you want to do is ask a benefits department to do more work during the middle of open enrollment.

9. Anticipate the billing process.

At the point of sale, discuss the different billing capabilities you may be able to offer. Get the billing technical professionals from both the carrier and employer talking with each other as soon as possible to work out what the billing process will look like once enrollment has ended.

10. Look to the future.

Each enrollment is more than a one-time opportunity. Talk with the employer about next year. In coming months, new employees will join the company, and the needs of current employees will change. Anticipate serving the ongoing needs of the employee population. Taking a long-term perspective will help seal your client relationships.

Shelly Mushinski is manager of multi-life segment marketing for Berkshire Life Insurance Company of America, Pittsfield, Mass., a wholly owned stock subsidiary of Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York. She can be reached at michelle_mushinski@berkshirelife.com.