While posting on EBA's LinkedIn group recently, I came across an article that was brilliant in its simplicity. Writer Jeff Haden shared 16 terms we should stop using to describe ourselves. Among them were cliches like "innovative" and "authority." What really struck me, though, was this: "Never take credit for things you are supposed to do - or supposed to be," Haden wrote.

It's human nature, and (I'm told) a particular trait of my generation, those of us who grew up expecting participation trophies for sports, to want credit for a job, well, done.

But Haden is right. Think about the fireman interviewed on TV after pulling a victim from a burning building. "I was just doing my job," they'll often respond when called a hero. And we admire them all the more for it. Can you imagine if they said, "Right, and you forgot to mention how quickly I responded to the 911 call, the efficiency with which I ran with my equipment into the blaze ..."

So why do we do that in the business world? From a sales perspective, when you draw attention to what you're supposed to be doing in the first place, not only are you wasting an opportunity to share how what you do is meaningful to others - the "what's in it for me?" that clients and prospects always want, but you also risk coming off as boastful on your only opportunity to make a first impression.

A simple shift in focus from "me" to "you" can be the cure. Mel Schlesinger explains this concept in his column, "The benefit proposal: redesigned," on p. 22. Don't waste space describing your "innovative" firm and showing your "authority" with a spreadsheet of quotes they can find anywhere. Instead, he explains, use the proposal as an opportunity to show how well you understand a prospect's benefit issues - and that you have the solutions.

As we head into the health exchange era, this shift in thinking will be critical to the survival of your business. But don't just take it from me and Mel. Atlantic City, N.J., was abuzz with sessions on our consumer-oriented future at February's Workplace Benefits Renaissance.

Afinium's Jim Ouimet urged brokers, whom he said are naturally consumer-centric, to push carriers away from a transaction-oriented mind frame that is inwardly focused.

In their keynote on voluntary benefit trends, Bonnie Brazzell and Gil Lowerre of Eastbridge Consulting emphasized the need to change enrollment from being a process necessary to fulfill our purpose (data collection, commissions) to one oriented toward the consumer's needs (advice, reassurance). "What if we stopped treating all employers as if they were the exact same," Lowerre challenged, "and treated them like they were individuals?"

Perhaps offering a trophy would help.

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