There was a time when providing good service at the local level and keeping in touch with employer groups was a marketing strategy in itself. In fact, it may even have been the only marketing strategy a benefits broker needed. But those days died with the changing economy, and the reality is that they aren't coming back.

 

Clearly, there is a shift taking place in the benefits market today. It's taking place with our customers, and it's requiring a rethinking of the marketing strategy of those of us selling in the benefits market if we wish to remain successful and continue to grow our practices, regardless of the products we sell or whether they are core or voluntary benefits.

What do these changes mean?

The marketplace has become increasingly complex, competitive and uncertain. Employers are looking for things today they hadn't even dreamed about a year ago. Today, you are more likely to encounter employers that are concerned with raising capital, meeting payroll, meeting sales objectives, reducing expenses to shore up the bottom line and, especially, maximizing the value of every dollar they spend. That makes it incumbent upon you as a benefits broker to find out what your clients' and prospects' most pressing concerns are.

 

Your value message

If you haven't already become a trusted adviser to your clients, now is the time. It's the key to your value proposition. As sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer has asked, "If you cannot gain your client's confidence, why are you bothering?" With the concerns of business owners today, gaining your client's confidence and trust is no longer optional, it's mandatory.

It's equally important to understand that there is a difference between the products you sell and your value message. It is your value message, and not your product portfolio, that must be tied directly to what your clients and prospects need and are expecting from you.

In today's uncertain economy and unique marketing environment, benefits decisionmakers have to adapt quickly in order to meet short-term financial objectives as well as long-term business goals. Becoming the trusted adviser to your clients requires you to identify their business priorities and deliver results for them for today as well as for tomorrow. Your willingness to embrace, understand and assist them with their concerns will be a greater determining factor in your success than the products you sell.

Selling a value message predicated on helping your clients and prospects with their benefits related needs (but not necessarily product-specific) is a consultative approach that will almost immediately elevate you to trusted adviser status. In the end, it is your help with these benefits-related needs that will solidify your position with your clients and lead to more product sales and commission.

This seems simplistic, but it evolves into a unique strategy enabling you to:

* define, build and defend the value you create for your customers

* correct, reduce or eliminate what currently exists that may have been intended to be of value but isn't

* reveal value that may be failing customers or of which they aren't aware

* improve the value created for customers by others

* exploit new growth opportunities by understanding customers' unmet needs.

In the end, this is a strategy and a process that will facilitate understanding and action, focus attention on the most critical strategic customer value concepts, and reveal growth opportunities. But this strategy cannot be realized without a tool kit of services built on strategic relationships with best-in-class service providers.

 

What belongs in your tool kit?

The key services today include benefits strategic planning, dependent eligibility audits, FDIC-insured payroll debit cards, total compensation statements and employee seminars.

These services help employers become more efficient, reduce or minimize their expenses, and/or maximize the value of the dollars they spend on benefits. Additionally, they are commissionable and, more importantly, represent a lead-in to additional core and voluntary product sales and the opportunity to meet with employees on a one-to-one basis.

You don't need expert knowledge in all of the services in your tool kit. You merely need to be able to recognize which tool or tools will help your clients achieve their objectives, and then introduce them to your clients. You will be able to introduce and implement some yourself. For others, the service providers you partner with will make the sale, handle the implementation and provide support and service.

Ouimet is the CEO of Workplace Affinity in New Hope, Pa. He can be reached at jimouimet@comcast.net.

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