The past few years have taught brokers valuable (although sometimes painful) lessons about how to pace themselves and prepare for the onslaught of meetings, sales pitches and paper work. They also have revealed crucial mistakes that could leave clients dissatisfied or potential income on the table.
Here are a few missteps to avoid that can help prevent brokers from waking up and saying “oops!” next February 1.
Being mired in the past
Brokers who have been in the industry for even a few years realize that the services they provide today may be far different from what they expected when they started. Think of it this way: Employee benefits used to be like a banquet where customers could choose between beef and chicken. Today, it a smorgasbord, where they mix and match the benefits they need.
“We are seeing that employers are interested in providing employees with more choice in their benefits,” says Kathy O’Brien, vice president, voluntary benefits, for Unum National Client Group in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Guess what? The most important thing a broker provides is no longer insurance and other products — it’s timely information that can minimize costs and maximize confidence in regulatory compliance. Brokers who are not doing their homework will have to play catch-up quickly.
“Before 2012, consulting was the base of our business,” says Ed Oravetz, president of employee benefits at Marsh & McLennan Agency, Southwest in Houston. “Over the past few years, compliance has become the foundation. We spend more effort on protecting our clients than on employee benefits. The total amount of time we spend on internal counsel over compliance coordination is a night-and-day difference from five years ago.”
TMI (too much information)
Just because brokers may have done an excellent job of educating themselves on the regulatory climate, it doesn’t mean clients are interested in a clause-by-clause explanation of each requirement.
A knowledgeable broker with good communications skills should be able to drill down to the essential client questions:
- What do I need to be doing?
- How can I be sure I sure I am in compliance?
- And what’s the most cost-effective way to make the other two things happen?
Prejudging client needs
Any client worth his or her salt has a record of what products their clients purchased in the past and what they paid for them. It can be tempting to offer the same program with a few adjustments for 2016.
But what if their workforce has grown? Perhaps they have expanded into new markets. Or maybe older employees have retired and opened the door to younger workers with different needs.
Never assume you know what clients want. Place all of your cards on the table and let them decide.
Talking (and talking… and talking…)
Face it: Many brokers enjoy the sound of their own voices. After all, they have spent their careers honing their skills, reading books and attending seminars about successful sales techniques.
But the best sales tool of all may be simply listening. Inside every client question or concern is an opportunity to meet a need and make a sale. As the legendary Stephen Covey wrote, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Low- or no-tech
Countless deals are made on the back of a napkin over lunch. But if a napkin and pencil are all brokers have, they may be in trouble.
Even clients who may not know a spreadsheet from a bedsheet want to know that their broker is tech-savvy, with an up-to-date website, computer-based presentation materials and a social media presence. Employee benefits is a high-touch business conducted in a high-tech manner. Never assume the two approaches are incompatible.
Diverting from diversity
The composition of the 2016 workplace is far different from what it was even five or 10 years ago. Most companies are hiring workers who are more diverse in terms of age, gender and ethnicity. It’s dangerous to assume that a one-size-fits-all benefits package still works