With the new year in mind, I have a question for you: Are you working from a blueprint for success in 2011, or are you simply doing exactly what you did in 2010 and hoping for a different result?

After working as a sales coach for the last nine years I can say with relative certainty that most of you have absolutely no plan for 2011. The goal of this article is to provide a framework for planning that you can use to generate more business in 2011.

 

Identify your current situation

Last week, I received a call from an agency interested in engaging me as a sales coach and trainer for their agency. At the beginning of our conversation, the sales manager told me that from 2007 through 2009 their business grew primarily through referrals, but for 2010 (as of November) they were flat.

When I asked about their growth, the sales manager shared the revenue numbers for 2007 through 2009 and YTD 2010.

There was indeed growth in revenue through 2009, but when I asked for group count we discovered that in fact there was no increase. So as it turned out, their growth was not due to referrals (although they did sell a few), but rather to premium increases.

I share this story because it is not an isolated case.

Over the years, I have worked with more than a few agents and agencies who mistakenly believed that their businesses were growing, primarily through referrals, only to learn that there was only a minimal increase in the number of clients being serviced. It is not that they did not sell accounts that were referred by clients, but that they mistakenly attributed the growth in revenue to growth in the size of their books of business.

The level commissions found in health insurance, which tend to increase over time due to rate increases, make it easy to find excuses for not engaging in active marketing.

So, why should you engage in active marketing? There has never been a better time to be selling group benefits than today!

Aggressive and organized benefit professionals will find that they are able to write more business than ever before, precisely because their competitors are not aggressively marketing.

 

Identify time challenges

One fact of life for the group health insurance agent is that at renewal you have to work as hard to keep your business as you did to get the group in the first place. Your clients will inevitably get a rate increase, and they automatically expect you to go out to the market and seek alternatives that help them manage costs. Even with support staff this will take a good amount of your time.

In addition, you are faced with the daily problems associated with health insurance, such as claims issues, eligibility problems, billing issues and other administrative issues.

Given all of these service issues, it is easy to find excuses for not engaging in marketing. Assuming that you want to grow your business, it's imperative that you identify your time drains and develop a strategy for dealing effectively with them.

 

Deal with time challenges

If you really want to grow your book of business you will have to let go of some of the excuses that you use to put off marketing. Here is one of the most common excuses: "A client called and I needed to solve a problem."

This is nonsense. If you were out on an appointment instead of working on a marketing issue, the client's call would have gone into voice mail, enabling you to call back after the appointment. The point is that your marketing time must be treated in exactly the same way as a sales appointment. There is no issue that cannot wait for 60 minutes - it is simply a matter of your priorities.

So begin the process of growing your book of business by scheduling time into your calendar for marketing, and make that time sacrosanct. There is only one excuse for missing marketing time, and that is an actual enrollment. Even a proposal for a potential client cannot be allowed to take priority over your marketing time.

You must recognize that allowing a client problem or creation of a proposal to take priority is simply an excuse to avoid engaging in a practice that you really don't want to do.

 

Choose your marketing tools

Marketing time does not have to be dedicated to making cold calls. You may choose to call local associations in search of speaking opportunities; you may write articles for publication in local media; you may call existing clients seeking cross-selling opportunities.

Your marketing may include attending networking events such a BNI group or your local Chamber of Commerce. As you plan your strategy for 2011 you should begin by identifying those marketing tools that appeal to you. Look at your strengths and create your strategy accordingly.

 

Conclusion

Growing your benefits business is not likely to become any easier in 2011 and beyond. The competition for groups is likely to become more intense, and the number of carriers is likely to shrink. Simply focusing on maintaining your existing book of business is a failing strategy.

It is inevitable that you will lose some business over time. Some of that business will go to a competitor no matter how good you are. Some of that business will be purchased by another organization and the benefits moved at no fault of yours. And other clients will simply go out of business.

Marketing is the best defense when it comes to the rapidly changing world of benefits. In the words of John F. Kennedy, "The best time to fix your roof is when the sun is shining."

Implement your plan to grow your business today and you will never have to worry about the leaky roof of tomorrow.

Good luck in 2011!

 

Schlesinger is the author of "Get More Group Clients" and the soon to be released "A Lifetime of Leads," a marketing system designed to fill your calendar with high quality prospects. He can be reached at (336) 774-3075 or visit his Web site, melschlesinger.com.

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