Benefits platform provider Maxwell Health has experienced stellar growth since it was founded in 2014. At a National Association of Health Underwriters seminar last month, Meg Murphy, Maxwell’s former communications manager and head of business development, explained the reasons for that success.
“I got in early at Maxwell, and I’ve really seen the company take off,” Murphy told her audience of around 75 high-producing brokers. “[It went] from just 30 people and big ideas, but not so many customers three years ago, to 180 employees today. With nearly $70 million in venture capital raised, [it now counts] some of the most reputable brands in the industry as customers.”
Why was Maxwell so successful? Murphy, who is now director of communications for HealthJoy, another three-year-old benefits technology platform provider, points to three key lessons that can benefit other brokerages in their drive for growth.
Lesson no. 1: Understand the modern market
Start by breaking down the myths, Murphy says.
“We hear a lot in this industry about the multi-generational workforce, and how to engage generations of employees on their terms. [But] generational divides are too broad to be helpful, and in more cases than not, cause the proliferation of misguided stereotypes and harmful information,” she warns.
Although the younger generations are generally the first to adopt new technologies, their expectations, wants and needs have much in common with older members of the workforce.
“My grandparents use an iPad, share photos on Facebook and buy things online,” Murphy notes. “That is the [new] standard that has been set for engagement.” So, expecting older people to still fax and manually process paper forms no longer makes sense.
But it isn’t only employees who have become tech-centric. HR pros have also become dependent on the latest technologies.
“HR has become an incredibly multifaceted role,” Murphy points out, covering everything from corporate culture and employee engagement to workforce wellness and government compliance. This, she says, presents benefits consultants with a massive opportunity to expand their role.
“Word of advice,” she adds, “Don’t wait for your client to ask. Get out ahead of it and be proactive.”
Lesson no. 2: Define and differentiate your brand
Brokerages, Murphy says, need to carefully define their mission.
“How you define yourself internally is how you’re perceived externally,” she emphasizes. “You need to be purposeful about defining who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
Clients “don’t buy what you do,” Murphy continues, “they buy why you do it. You want your employees working toward something and motivated by more than just a paycheck at the end of the day.”
For brokerages, this is critically important not only to boost sales, but also to support their recruiting efforts. “Are you a place where people want to work?” the former Maxwell Health executive asks.
“Employees who are invested in their company go above and beyond for [their employer] and for their clients.”
Lesson no. 3: Act on your data—not your intuition
Brokerages, Murphy says, cannot afford to operate by the seat of their pants. They must rely on more metrics-driven methods, such as the Lean Startup methodology—an operational framework that originated with the tech industry in 2008 and has since taken other industries by storm.
Lean Startup can work for the benefits industry as well, she says, provided that a brokerage adheres to all three of its components:
- Create a culture of introspection
- Never get attached to a sunk cost
- Act on data rather than intuition
“You have to get purposeful about your business, and think really critically about how you can improve every aspect of it,” Murphy says. “This isn’t something that can just come from the top, either; you need buy-in from across your organization.”
Retrospective meetings following big projects can assist with developing a culture of introspection by determining what worked and what didn’t. “Take time to celebrate success and individual contributions, and get really critical about your process,” she says. Such reflection, she adds, can also help determine which business processes can be automated.
To avoid throwing good money after bad, a brokerage needs to consider all of its investments including those it makes in its talent pool.
“According to Forbes, the cost of onboarding a new employee is about $240,000,” Murphy notes, “and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the price of a bad hire is at least 30% of an employee’s first-year earnings.”
Finally, to make more data-driven decisions, Murphy suggests working with the concept of a minimally viable product. Such an offering is aimed at resolving a specific issue that customers face and is initially produced with as little investment as possible. Similar to a beta launch, early adopters understand that the initial version will contain flaws and shortcomings, but will be refined based on their feedback.
To apply data metrics to their marketing, Murphy suggests that brokerages make use of software that gauges the effectiveness of their email promotions by tracking open rates, clicks and A/B test results. “One of the quickest ways to get better at email marketing,” she says, “is by leveraging these programs and taking a very targeted trial-and-error approach.”