The realities of small business life usually include a handful of employees who have multiple responsibilities — and that goes double or even triple for the business owner. With the right approach, advisers can help these professionals to ease the burden.

Right now, the No. 1 problem brokers face when dealing with small business owners is time constraints, according to a recent MetLife white paper, “Three things small business owners don’t always tell their benefits brokers.” As an entrepreneur, an SMB client’s main focus is the growth and profit of their business, and finding the time to handle what benefits package will best suit their employees’ needs can cut into that goal.

Bloomberg/file photo

Zack Pace, benefits consultant at CBIZ, says brokers must treat their interactions with their clients as a partnership and not as a sale. “Most of the time, I’m dealing directly with the business owner and there is a level of trust between us, so everyone speaks freely,” Pace says. “As far as why an employer wouldn’t speak to a broker freely, it’s because they are viewing him or her as a sales person and not as an adviser or consultant. But I don’t think you need to be a business owner to see when someone is trying to help you and when someone is trying to sell you.”

Pace also says being referred to the employer is a great way to quickly earn the employer’s trust and may provide a more comfortable setting for the employer to share sensitive information, like growth projection.

One tip from MetLife’s white paper is as a broker gets to know new clients, he or she should recognize why they’re being cautious with sharing information and proactively address their concerns. “Help [clients] understand that by providing accurate and complete information, you’ll be able to provide them with better plan recommendations and prevent surprises and dissatisfaction down the road,” the paper recommends.

James Reid, executive vice president of group, voluntary and worksite products at MetLife, says brokers who invest the time into a small business client will yield a stronger relationship in the long run. Allowing the employer to take the time necessary to build his or her business to a stable level and then reviewing data, such as growth projection, puts the broker in a helpful position, he says.

“What [MetLife] has seen from the brokers we have done business with, that focus on small business owners, those brokers are really able to free up time with the owners and build that trust,” Reid says. “I think this is where the small business owner divulges more information like how they are going to grow, where they are looking to grow and how they will plan the future of their benefit program.”

Reid says the top benefits every small business needs to invest in to keep a strong staff include medical insurance, dental insurance, vision and a retirement plan.

MetLife’s paper also suggests brokers ask small business clients about their recruitment and retention efforts and whether they struggle with high turnover. Then, show them how offering ancillary benefits such as vision or dental can attract and keep long-term staff members.

Know your audience
Finally, not doing due diligence on the background of clients is one of easiest ways brokers lose client trust or even the client’s entire business, MetLife finds. Not knowing what the client’s business is about or what their mission is one of the major factors when it comes to small business and broker disconnect.
“It’s pretty easy to get a feel of what a company is, what they do and who their peer group is, so [brokers] can ask secondary questions pretty quickly,” Pace says.

According to MetLife, just doing a brief web search of a small business and understanding what the business does goes a long way. What the employer is really looking for is how the broker can benefit the business.

“I would love if someone came to me and said, ‘Here’s the issues we’ve seen with other agencies like yours, and here’s how we helped them save money,’” Elicia Putnam says, owner of Portland-based Brand Genie.

Once the broker starts working with the client on a more personal level, the trust and the value the employer has in the broker will begin to appear more natural, and look less like a sales pitch.

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