Recently, I was asked to present in a sales seminar for one of our clients. The topic was something near and dear to me: "Changing from a product-based sales approach to a solutions-based approach."

The client requested that we share how we made this transition at our shop. I was excited to share this story, as it's something I'm passionate about, and I knew it would be beneficial for our clients' sales team.

Before we began to share our story, several people asked, "Why are you presenting to us; aren't you in insurance?" I responded, dripping with sarcasm, "Yup, I'm the insurance guy ready to sell you my host of products and my lists of services."

In all seriousness though, why was I asked this question? Is it really that unusual for me to be presenting at a sales seminar? After all, the last time I checked, we are in sales ... right?

Was this just a couple of misinformed consumers who will never fully understand what benefit advisers do? Or, maybe we haven't done a good enough job of clearly defining our role with our clients?

Although I'm certain there are a fair number of misinformed consumers, I place the blame squarely on our shoulders. Acknowledgement is the first step to changing behavior.

Put simply, we have been the product-driven, "here's a cool new service"-driven, and "let me show you how I can save you money"-driven insurance guy or gal. The products and services we deliver are important, but they've become what I call a commodity trap - a thing that everyone has and everyone says they can do better than everyone else.

Sound familiar?

Now I realize that most of the good benefits firms have their own customized approach, unique client engagement strategy and valuable set of client services - and these are needed to survive in this highly competitive marketplace.

Yet, if we don't redefine our role to our customers, we end up "trapped" by the commodity side of our business. It's really hard to help our clients - and that's what it's all about anyway- by arguing which widget is better, priced more competitively and so forth and so on.

It's easy to point out problems, even if it is a perception problem, without offering any thoughts on how to move forward.

Broadly speaking, we need to take every opportunity to change the conversations we have with our clients. Rather than simply discussing our products and services, we should be facilitating conversations about issues that impact their businesses.

This means change, and as I've learned in my relatively short career - and this sounds so clichéd - change is hard. The change I'm suggesting has ramifications on how we train our advisers, account management team and support teams. It means that benefits firms might need to reconsider how they measure success with their clients.

I believe the industry is ripe for these kinds of changes, and more importantly, I believe businesses are ready as well.

We must insist on redefining our role and expect to help our clients' businesses get better. Training their sales team on how to sell is a great place to start.

At the end of the sales seminar, one of the senior executives said sarcastically to make a point for his sales team, "You guys just sell products right, I mean you're just insurance brokers."

Everyone now knew the answer to that question. What will you do to change the conversation and redefine your role with your clients?

Lacher, CIC, leads the Employee Benefits and Consulting divisions of Lacher & Associates (lacherinsurance.com), a second-generation firm located outside of Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @MarkLacher and @Lacherinsurance.

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