Lessons in selling healthcare to the C-Suite

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WASHINGTON D.C. – Benefit advisers have developed a number of new strategies to reduce healthcare costs for their employer clients, but their usual contacts at the human resource department don’t always have the pull to put them in motion. For that they need to reach out to the C-suite.

For many advisers, however, the executive suite is unfamiliar territory. So they gathered here this week, at a session of the World Health Care Congress, to learn from more experienced brokers how best to pitch C-level executives.

Craig Lack, president of Energi Insurance Services based in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., told the group that the C-suite speaks a different language than human resources, and that to establish a rapport brokers need to know their lingo.

“If I’m talking to a CEO, then I know that he or she is generally interested in stealing talent away from other organizations, ways to create budgets for mergers and acquisitions, new products and new markets,” Lack explained. “If brokers use the ‘H’ word—and ‘H’ is for healthcare—that CEO will be turned off immediately.”

Unless the meeting has been scheduled as a discussion about health benefits, Lack said advisers should avoid using the term entirely.

CFO versus CEO

Discussions with the CFO, however, are a different matter entirely. But as opposed to taking a direct approach and telling the CFO how much his company could save on healthcare, Lack suggested that brokers begin the conversation by asking him to name his two or three most expensive line items.

“CFOs typically do not care about healthcare,” he continued. “However, if the broker can frame a $50 million investment as a capital expenditure that should deliver an ROI, then they should be able to have a conversation centered on what is important to the CFO--which is creating certainty out of a variable budget item.”

Tim Olson, president and managing partner of The Olson Group, a benefits brokerage based in Omaha, Neb., drew from his history of speaking with C-suite executives about health plan costs. He begins his conversations, he told his adviser audience, by asking them about their business model and what differentiates them from their competition.

“Once we have this information, we can discuss [benefits in the context] of their strengths and opportunities—as well as their vulnerabilities,” Olson elaborated.

Healthcare strategist Andy Neary, also with The Olson Group, added that rather than selling a service or product, the broker should present stories about his or her clients.

“We want to sell this thing we call health insurance,” Neary said, “and once we use the ‘H’ word we’re gone. So, we have to come up with a story in terms the C-suite will understand.”

Speaking from the C-suite’s perspective, Gary Bender, chief financial officer for SISD, a surveying company out of Philadelphia, Penn., told the assembled brokers that should never try to sell the CFO.

“Educate us, bring in the process, bring in analytics—brokers have more data than God—and understand what I do as well as my competitors,” Bender went on. “The game changer is if the adviser can be transparent about the alignment of his goals with mine and how we get paid and succeed together.”

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