Brokers are all adept at helping clients with their benefits planning and decisions, but selling technology solutions takes many brokers out of their comfort zone. And when sales professionals find themselves in uncharted waters, it is all too easy to follow the path of least resistance. The tools of our trade can be used to aid in the buying process, but more often than not they are not used properly and to the best advantage. Selling technology is difficult; however, buying technology is even harder.
Short of going through a sophisticated RFP exercise, many HR professionals like to see competing vendors' capabilities laid out in a spreadsheet or desire an ROI approach. Getting "spreadsheeted," as vendors often call it, takes focus away from where the client's "pain" is - zooming in on features and functions. Moreover, spreadsheets and RFPs do little to differentiate solution providers, and sometimes end up in apples-to-oranges comparisons. Even worse, the optimal solution gets deselected for reasons not directly related to the best solution.
ROI analyses are sometimes used for technology purchases like online enrollment, wellness or cost transparency solutions, to name a few. The ROI models I've seen offer a mix of both soft and hard-dollar savings; art and science respectively. Over the years, I've heard many requests for ROI tools from my sales teams, but using an ROI approach requires a time investment from both the sales person and their buyer.
Then there's pricing. This is always a tough one to deal with in sales because, no matter what else, pricing has to be provided at some point. Shortcuts here are not a good idea though. We all know we need to show value before we get to pricing. Not always easy to do.
RFPs, spreadsheets, ROI models and pricing are all used by buyers to ostensibly help them select the best solution. I see sales professionals making two common mistakes when prospects want to use one of these tools. First, they blindly and obediently respond to an RFP, complete the buyer's spreadsheet or provide pricing too soon. Second, they send the ROI model or other discovery documents to the buyer to be completed.
The former is the "hope as a strategy" approach. As in, "I hope we get short-listed on that RFP" or "I hope our pricing is in the ballpark." As I've said before, hope is not a strategy. The latter is sales tool abuse, plain and simple, and should be reported to the local authorities for behavior unbecoming a sales professional.
Properly used, these tools are your ticket for the face-to-face time needed to truly understand what your clients and prospects want and need from a technology solution. Listening is key. You want to build trust, gain respect and influence the decision process? Learning to listen is essential; developing the skill to listen without thinking ahead to what you're going to say next.
When it's your turn to talk, make what you say meaningful; make it relevant to the context of the conversation. Apply your knowledge and expertise to the uniqueness of each and every client or prospect. The bottom line is: use the tools of the trade in the right way to get you that opportunity to listen.
For reference, the November 2012 Scientific American has a good article on listening titled "How to Use Your Ears to Influence People."
Lamb is VP and group head of the EbixBenergy business unit at insurance software company Ebix Health. Reach him at email@example.com.
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