Creating a benefits strategic plan for your clients (50 lives and larger) is a great way to engage clients in a discussion about what are they trying to accomplish with their benefits program and expenditures over the next three to five years. Your clients are going to be coping with all the market dynamics and the rippling effects of regulatory compliance, so what they need is a process for managing change. And you can be their "change agent."

You need to become their "trusted adviser," and not just in a superficial, name-change sort of way. No, you have to become their consultant and confidant on a broad range of human resource issues, including their provisioning of benefits.

Some advisers are undergoing a process of deep, self-examination about what their value proposition is for their clients and what their sustainable, competitive advantage is. Have you addressed these issues for your business? Well, what are you waiting for? You need to be able to succinctly articulate why a client or prospect needs to do business with you or they won't. It's that simple. So for those that have already undergone a period of self-reflection, they are beginning to reshape the way they do business.

In what ways? Well, some are realizing that their intimate knowledge of one or more industry verticals is a critical differentiator. Using market segmentation as a growth and client retention strategy is definitely a winning approach. If you understand your client's needs and talk their language and attend their industry events, you are bound to ultimately be viewed as an "insider" that brings value to the relationship.

Others, as part of their self-examination, are assessing their capabilities and are realizing that in order to move up-market (larger size accounts), they need more staff, different skill sets, access to other product solutions and services, and different market perception about their "small" practice.

So if you don't have access to unlimited funds or financing, how can you expand your capabilities in a cost effective manner? The answer is forming strategic alliances with "friendly competitors" or synergistic businesses that complement your firm's capabilities. And we are seeing more firms band together to: gain size and scale; share resources and capabilities; and alter how they market themselves to prospects that heretofore were not necessarily approachable.

In just the last few months, we have facilitated several strategic planning meetings with like-minded advisers and/or synergistic businesses in related fields, to begin to create a new way of doing business with "break-through" new service offerings. We have facilitated dozens of sessions over the years, but the frequency appears to be increasing as a reaction to the market conditions. And the emphasis is on creating new business models. There's a logical process or methodology that you can use to facilitate a strategic planning session with potential network or alliance partners.

Having facilitated a number of strategy sessions, we understand the value of a structured approach that: starts with the ideal target clients' characteristics; identifies critical client issues; articulates a value proposition that resonates with clients and prospects; creates a plan for enhancing capabilities, products and services; and culminates in the marketing and sales of a dynamic new client offering. See the box (below) for a sample agenda for such a meeting. It will provide you with a framework to guide your strategic discussion with potential alliance partners. For more specifics, contact me.

So what kinds of things need to be considered? Well, we always advocate starting with the client or customer. Otherwise you will create an offering or build a business model that addresses your needs, but misses the mark from a client's or prospect's perspective. In other words, you'll create a solution in search of a problem or need in the market.

Consequently, what does the ideal client look like? What are the characteristics of the ideal client? Consider: size of employee population; location(s); demographics; income levels; industry sectors; percentage of business failures or buy-outs; employee turnover rates; probable growth rate of industry sector; susceptibility to market corrections/downturns; technology utilization in business operations and employee communications, values expertise and service.

These would seem to be essential; you may have other characteristics which you would consider ideal. I recognize that the "ideal" may be different than a majority of your existing client base. And that's understandable. But it's also understandable that in light of PPACA you would likely want your customer base to look different over the next five years.

The next logical question is: How many existing clients do you have that fit these criteria? Hopefully that's at least 30% of your client base (ideally more).

Perhaps this will require some business analysis to better understand your book of business which may have been opportunistically developed over the years with no particular strategy in mind.

Next, what are the critical needs of the ideal target client? How close does your current value proposition come to addressing the critical needs? And be honest. Challenge yourself and your team. Undoubtedly there are gaps in your current capabilities. Can you develop those? Hire resources with those capabilities? Acquire them? Can you partner to deliver a valued service offering? If you are not thinking about these issues and grappling with answering these questions, how are you going to adapt and survive?

Why go through this process? How else can you make an intelligent business decision about which firms are the best fit with respect to forming a strategic alliance if you can't answer those questions? And you need to pose these same questions to potential alliance partners to make certain you all see the marketplace from the same perspective. Otherwise, that's a recipe for a disaster.

Since strategic alliances come in all stripes and flavors, it's important to make certain that the partners or networks you might consider aligning with match the needs of your target clients and your own business requirements.

We will be addressing a number of the other issues we mentioned in subsequent months. As you can see, there is much to think about and consider. In the meantime, please let us hear from you. Tell us what your thoughts are on this topic. What are your concerns? What approaches have you tried, whether they have succeeded or failed? We all can benefit from our collective, shared experience. Next month we will address several relevant topics referenced earlier in more detail. Until then, think strategically about growing your business while you still have options.

Reach Kwicien of Daymark Advisors at




Meeting Agenda

Day One

* Opening remarks

* Review of agenda

* Comprehensive client solution premise

* Ideal target client characteristics

* Critical client issues - known or reasonably assumed

* Marketing research required (TBD if any)on low hanging fruit - potential clients and possible solutions

* Relevant adviser solutions - current and future

* Potential solutions provided by third parties

* Collaboration structure

* Roles and responsibilities

* Strategic fit

* Chemistry of the principals

* Expectations - "define" success

* Check point - continue or curtail discussions?


Day Two

* Recap of prior day's progress and open items

* Contractual relationship - major provisions

* Revenue sharing - options

* Marketing positioning - key differentiators and value proposition

* Brand identity

* Anticipated client perception

* Marketing plan and sales support materials

* Communication campaign - clients and prospects

* Joint sales goals - number of clients and revenue(s)

* Go-To-Market timetable and strategy

* Public speaking opportunities, educational seminars, web seminars, articles, centers of influence, etc.

* Prioritization of action plan tasks

* Assignment of responsibilities

* Staffing needs (if any)

* Budget/capitalization for anticipated shared expenses

* Next steps and follow up

* Concluding remarks

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