How brokers can lift their game and reach the C-suite

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MIAMI — For benefits brokers looking to move beyond HR clients to reach the top echelon of decision-makers, do this one thing to reach the board room: Read more.

“Read business books. And if you’re not a big reader, listen to them” on Audible or via podcasts, advised Seth Denson, partner and chief strategy officer at GDP Advisors, at the annual BenefitsPro Broker Expo on Tuesday. “Knowledge breeds confidence. Confidence breeds enthusiasm, and enthusiasm sells.”

Denson said he has successfully advised CEOs and CFOs by setting a goal to read two business books a month to keep up on various industry trends that matter the most to the clients he serves.

During a panel on how advisers can build their advising business beyond HR departments to reach strategic discussions with corporate executives, Kareem Cade, founder and president of the Great Lakes Benefit Group, said it’s crucial to have an established knowledge base before taking a meeting with top executives.

“The CEO is totally different. If I’m going to play in this space, you need to know the trends” in the healthcare business, engineering, education, union culture or whatever industry one serves, he said.

“Learn the language of the industry you cover or are pitching,” he said.

On the topic of healthcare, Andy Leary, a healthcare strategist for the Olson Group, advised that brokers hold out for meetings with CEOs or CFOs when discussing benefits plans and managing rising healthcare costs — and to bring the most knowledgeable and confident team members to the table.

“Don’t be intimidated,” Leary said. “When it comes to healthcare, they lack as much information as every employee who works for them… It’s important to be at the peer-to-peer level and not be sent to the HR department.”

“Then you become their peer, not their broker,” Leary said.

Kim Eckelbarger, founder of Tropical Risk Management in Trinity, Florida, told brokers to have executives come seek them out, rather than the other way around.

“Work on your messaging, and speak every time you can” at industry conferences to establish your message and credibility, she said. Writing in industry publications also builds your authority, she noted.

Why should brokers pitch to the C-suite?

“The healthcare system is really broke and it’s draining the U.S. economy,” Eckelbarger said. HR is fine for workplace culture issues, she said, but “strategy happens in the C-suite.”

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