Consumer confusion about insurance is quite real. Employers and their employees have difficulty understanding insurance products.

Often, marketing materials are filled with insurance language most people simply don’t understand. In the end, the intended message gets lost, and open enrollment pushes and voluntary benefits sales fail because employers don’t realize how much their employees really need additional financial security.

Employers that address the gap in their employees’ understanding can reap the gains of a more satisfied and productive staff. Producers can work with employers to bridge this knowledge gap and create more demand for insurance coverage. Employees that know the value of their benefits and dependable coverage that will meet their needs are actually more loyal and productive, benefiting the company’s bottom line.

Since voluntary benefits can meet the individual needs of so many different people, they are the perfect complement to a core plan, filling gaps in coverage person by person. Help employers recognize that a core health plan can’t possibly meet all the needs of their staff but can be easily and effectively supplemented by a voluntary plan. Such plans narrow that gap, giving their employees vitally needed protection.

It’s up to you to create enthusiasm for voluntary benefits with your employer clients and prospects. The best way to build that enthusiasm is to make your clients believers, to open their eyes to the real needs standing before them among their employees.

I’m big on education and consultation. Thus, I recommend following a needs-based approach in your voluntary benefits sales presentations. In today’s economy, employers often want to protect their employees from being tempted into spending rather than saving the little discretionary income they have. However, that very lack of discretionary income and savings can create a financial tsunami when an employee dies or gets sick unexpectedly. There are no savings to fall back on to pay the mortgage or the college tuition bill. There is no income for everyday expenses, let alone increased expenses.

With education, you can help your clients understand the risks that their employees face. Once they understand these risks, selling voluntary benefits becomes easy.

According to a Harvard study, more than 50% of all personal bankruptcies in America are due to a critical illness. Ask your client, if he or she had a heart attack or were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow, would recovery be easier if they didn’t also have to worry about money?

Now ask the client: What if that happened to one of their employees? Would the employee be able to keep his or her home? Afford the best care? Need to choose between health and home? A needs-based conversation can show your client that their employees have a lot to lose-and how access to critical illness insurance can help.

What’s the difference between marketing voluntary benefits features and selling via a needs-based model? As a producer, you know that accident insurance provides a certain schedule of benefits for injuries, follow-up care and transportation. But don’t talk about that right up front. Save this information for later. Most people don’t like to be sold.

As a health and life producer, you know your client or prospect and can do your homework about them before going into a presentation. But if leading with a needs-based versus a features-based approach is new territory for you, try this: If your goal is to fill a gap created by implementation of a high-deductible health plan, for instance, ask questions that bring up the real needs of your client’s employees. For instance:

? “Do you know that more than 7.8 million children visit emergency rooms annually due to accidents?”

? “How much would a child’s sports injury and visit to an emergency room visit set your employees back?”

? “Would your employee have the financial resources to cover those unexpected out-of-pocket costs?”

Many employers mistakenly believe that life, long term care and disability insurance are for older people. So ask these questions:

? “If your employee were disabled today and had to go without a paycheck, or died prematurely, would his or her family be able to keep their home?”

? “Would their children have to give up their dreams of going to college?”

With these provocative questions, you are not selling insurance. You are asking about risk. And when your client does the math, the answer is obvious: Most of the client’s employees would not have the resources to remain financially sound in the event of an accident, critical illness, disability or premature death. At that point, your clients will convince themselves that their employees need a solution, and will begin listening when you offer help.

When you look through carriers’ marketing materials, you see a lot of happy people and smiling faces. While it’s important not to be negative, how about a more realistic approach? The resulting impact presents realistic help to identify what individual employees personally need.

Taking this needs-based approach and posing provocative questions helps your clients to think realistically about and respond to their employees’ needs. The more employers recognize that their employees have substantial unmet needs, the more likely they are to follow up with you for solutions. A needs-based approach leads to success-an improved client relationship, strong employer support, good enrollment conditions, employees who are more engaged and families who are protected. Everybody wins.

Terri Orem is senior regional sales director for Trustmark Voluntary Benefit Solutions, part of Trustmark Mutual Holding Company, Lake Forest, Ill. She can be reached by e-mail at terri.orem@trustmarksolutions.com.