Susan Bianco is a woman on a mission. Since starting her own business in Cleveland almost 25 years ago, she has achieved considerable sales success and is a member of the Million Dollar Round Table. Having achieved six Top of the Table qualifications from MDRT, Bianco spoke with EBA about how others can duplicate her success at Benefit Enrollment Services, Inc. Her accomplishments are not all business-related; Bianco also serves on the board of directors for Opera Cleveland and served as president of the Women's City Club of Cleveland for four years.
How did you enter the industry?
I actually have an industrial engineering background, so I am really into processes and procedures [centered] in efficiency. When I moved to Cleveland 30 years ago, I went to work for an agency and specialized in, as [my boss] called it at the time, 'payroll reduction,' his salary savings business. That's how I entered the worksite marketing field. I managed that area for a few years and ended up starting my own company as a result, in 1988.
How do you adjust to industry changes?
Taking a look at our business model - I call it the 'hedgehog principle': Determine what we do best and to whom we do it the best. We have identified our ideal client and I have learned to walk away from cases where we didn't get the full commitment or cooperation of the company.
I think with health care reform voluntary benefits are going to be even more crucial in overall benefit planning. We are positioning ourselves to be even more cohesive with company provided benefits to be a more integral part of their overall design. ... I think that any time you can confine yourself into a narrow space of thinking you are growing to confine your growth as well. You also have to have an element of risk involved. I've tried things that just didn't work, and I was sure they would. But in retrospect, I probably missed some contingences. That's one good thing about my engineering background, I'm really good at thinking about and analyzing all the contingencies.
How did you qualify to join MDRT?
When you look back at the last 24 years, it doesn't seem so fast. I think that having the right connections [helped]. I decided early on that we would work with carriers and provide services for their agency force who didn't have the services available. I called on a lot of brokers and other insurance agents, those who had the potential but not the manpower, and then my own direct clients whose community relationships I've established over the years.
That's a fine line, keeping all of those segregated. But the agency that I started out in stressed strong ethical behavior, so I really cut my teeth in a good situation. I learned the right way, so it makes it a lot easier when you look at overall doing the right things for the right reasons. That's what's kept us going, that's been the core of our business.
How can others find success?
I think there are so many cycles. Our sales cycle is quite a long process, rather than an individual sale. We also [are] in the voluntary benefits arena; we have so many layers of sales that we have to make. We have to first sell the corporation, and then employees and sometimes the employee's families. And in my case sometimes when I do joint work I have to sell the agent or partnering organization on my services that there's no doubt in my mind we can do it better. We are very focused on it and we are also very good at it.
... I'm a bit of an idealist; I think people should just do what they are supposed to do when they're supposed to do it. You just don't go wrong when you try to do things right. There is no question that hard work is involved; I call it my sweat equity in my business. It's also a constant learning process, that's how we've been able to hone down the processes we use. We've got it down to a science, or an art depending on how you look at it. You've also got to blend in the adoptability and flexibility within the culture of any specific organization.
[As to how to] duplicate it, I've been giving away information for free for so long. Somebody calls and says, 'What do you differently?' I say, 'How I can help?' I've been compared to a field of wild flowers, you just kind of spread your seeds everywhere and let people take root, spread the beauty. I've always been available to help people.
How would you advise new brokers?
I think the best advice I can give them is to work hard. ... Sometimes you have to take risks, because the risk is commiserate with the reward. But I challenge every agent new and old - but particular the new ones - to conduct themselves in a professional and ethical way, so that first of all they don't have to exercise any clause in their errors and omissions insurance. And secondly, because in order to command the respect that agents want, they have to deserve it and they have to earn it.
Do what you say you are going to do and do it the right away ... and try to still keep a balance in [your] lives. I've looked at my life as a three-legged stool. You have family and personal relationships, you have business, and you have the community. Personally, I couldn't survive without either of those elements. I'm a huge volunteer, I love giving back, that's my feel good part. Love seeing businesses, particularly my business, grow and the growth of my employees. They are just amazing. And in my personal relationship, to strike a balance is not always easy, but just stay focused and stay grounded.
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