The future role of the Medicare Advantage agent is being questioned by many. The media and some government regulators continue to highlight the actions of a few non-compliant agents. Meanwhile, they are ignoring the thousands of agents who provide expert and compassionate assistance to help their clients navigate the confusing variety of options available to Medicare beneficiaries.
There are many in the industry who would describe the scenario as a crisis situation. Perhaps they are right. But in any crisis, there exists the opportunity to redefine your basic business strategies. Medicare Advantage agents must migrate from that of a product-focused sales agent to one of a solutions-oriented consultant.
The mission statement of any Medicare Advantage agent must include the goal of positioning themselves as a “subject matter expert” and acting in the role of a “learned intermediary” who brings clarity and understanding to their clients while creating a relationship in which the client is always the ultimate decision-maker.
Following is a simple five-step process that will enable agents selling Medicare Advantage to position themselves as a valued consultant that understands their clients’ needs and who always represents their clients’ best interests.
1. Product knowledge
This step seems fairly straightforward, but is also the great undoing of many Medicare Advantage agents. The acquisition of product knowledge is less about learning the features of a Medicare Advantage plan itself, and more about learning how the client will benefit from those plans.
Product knowledge doesn’t end with the products a producer represents. The agent acting in a consultative role must be equally knowledgeable about all products and alternatives available to their clients. These alternatives include traditional Medicare options, Medigap plans, employer plans, and government programs.
2. Creating a client relationship
This is where the rubber meets the road in developing a consultative role in the eyes of a prospective client. During this step, a Medicare Advantage agent needs to project the image of a concerned advisor as opposed to a bothersome salesperson. During the agent’s initial interaction with their prospect, the agent’s actions either cause the prospect’s guard to go up and create roadblocks, or will identify the agent as a valuable resource who cares about the prospect’s needs and concerns.
The most critical aspect of this step is the ability of the agent to create a comfortable but professional environment. This doesn’t mean making believe that you’re the prospect’s best friend. The prospect will quickly detect insincerity. Rather, the successful Medicare Advantage agent will use this step to set themselves apart from their competition.
The agent should engage the prospect in a conversation in which each party tells the other a little about themselves. During this conversation, the prospect will divulge very important information about themselves, their comfort zones, and their value systems. This is the information that enables the agent to formulate solutions that meet the needs and wishes of their client.
3. The needs assessment
This is arguably the most important step of the consultative approach. To be a highly effective consultant – that is to develop solutions that address your client’s needs – you must first understand what those needs are.