A trusted adviser case study, part 2

Last month we shared the first half of a case study involving Beverly Beattie of Selden Beattie Benefit Advisors. In that column we talked about how we jointly facilitated a benefits strategic planning session with a Selden Beattie client. We shared some background about the client and their relationship with Selden Beattie. We then discussed how Beattie's approach to client interaction has become much more strategic. In fact, that strategic approach is central to all of her firm's interaction with existing clients and has become a focal point of much of its marketing outreach and prospecting initiatives.

Instead of us talking theoretically about the process of benefits strategic planning, we shared this real-world client case study in an attempt to make the process more concrete. Toward that same end, this month we will talk about the outcomes developed through the process, the written plan document created as a roadmap for all the major benefits decisions, and the recommendations contained in the strategic plan.


Kwicien: Beverly, following the "discovery meeting," or strategy session with your client, how did you feel about the interaction and what we learned?

Beattie: It was just a very enlightening experience all around. Even though we worked with this client for a number of years and handled some of their ancillary group coverages, we learned so much about their business issues, their human capital management challenges, and what they wanted to accomplish strategically with their benefits program. It was really eye-opening not only for us, but for our client as well.

The information and insights that were developed are invaluable, and we could not have achieved that level of interaction with our client in the normal course of our day-to-day interaction with our client. That's all generally very tactical. We had their undivided attention and "mind share" for the entire time and we came away with a number of critical issues directly impacting what they were trying to achieve with their benefits program or that wrapped around their benefits offerings. We really delved into what they wanted to achieve with their benefits program over the next three to five years.

Kwicien: Exactly. Here are some issues that we uncovered:

  • the challenge of reconciling current economic conditions with the client's goal of achieving its mission and mandates
  • an organizational imperative to grow and expand its capabilities and product offerings
  • maintaining a competitive or superior benefits offering
  • conducting an annual employee benefits survey
  • maintain benefits cost increases within an acceptable level consistent with the firm's operational planning philosophy of zero-based budgeting
  • improve employee understanding and satisfaction with the benefits program with a year-round, communications campaign
  • meeting the challenge of providing long-range enterprise planning and decision making and multiple locations
  • dealing with the challenge of responding to changing labor and regulatory pressures that are creating increased costs and administrative complexity
  • enhancing the existing benefits program with additional voluntary benefits offerings.

What I thought was equally interesting was that we simultaneously built consensus among the officer group since they all participated in our strategizing.
Beattie: Also, the HR officer was so empowered as a result of our open and frank discussion. He knew that he had the backing of the other officers on the approach to all these major strategic initiatives. He doesn't have to worry about being second-guessed at some later date since everyone agreed with the outcomes, and our recommendations ultimately were contained in our written benefits strategic plan document that the client approved.

Kwicien: That will certainly make your life easier as well, since you walked away with your "marching orders" and a clear direction for each major initiative that we discussed. And you have documented where the benefits program is today and what they want to accomplish in the future. Not everything can be implemented in the first 30 days following client approval.

Beattie: Correct. Some of our recommendations will be implemented later this year, while others will be addressed in 2012 and 2013. And if circumstances change along the line, which inevitably they will, we will make appropriate course adjustments and document the changes or new initiatives to be responsive to the new business needs. It's all really quite methodical, which increases a client's confidence level in the process and the validity of the recommendations. We are now an insider and are considered part of the team.

Kwicien: While we can't get into all the detail included in your final recommendations, can you summarize some of the major goals that were articulated?

Beattie: Sure. Here are a few of the categories we addressed: plan redesign; wellness plan integration and optimization; expense management and cost containment; contingency planning; improved benefits communication strategies; strengthened benefit enrollment process; intelligently integrated voluntary benefits; improved management information; enhanced some existing benefits offerings; recommended state-of-the-art technology enhancements; and advocated HR consulting solutions.

As you can see, it was quite encompassing. And each major initiative had its own action plans and timelines associated with it. So it really provides a detailed roadmap for the client and our team.

Within three weeks we delivered a written strategic plan document to our client reflecting our discussions. Our client was delighted, and accepted all our major recommendations. It was a win-win for everyone.

Kwicien: Utilizing this approach enabled you to create a new revenue stream since the client paid a consulting fee for this service. And you will generate additional commission revenue from some of the additional voluntary benefits. And finally, you will earn consulting fee income for the HR consulting services to be provided, since it enables you to start migrating your business practice to incorporate aspects of consultancy model generating fee income.

Beattie: Since we are so thoroughly entrenched in our client's business operations in so many meaningful ways, our client retention will also improve. In fact it already has in the last two years.

Kwicien: What a great story - not only about how to be strategic in your approach to helping clients, but also in how to be strategic in conducting your business operations to increase revenues, improve client retention, enhance profitability and achieve a higher business valuation.

Kwicien is managing partner at Baltimore-based Daymark Advisors. He can be reached at jkwicien@daymarkadvisors.com. Beattie is the founder and CEO of Selden Beattie Benefit Advisors in South Miami. You can reach her at bbeattie@seldenbeattie.com.

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