Over the years of working with benefits professionals, I have seen three common mistakes that are costing them business and raving fan referrals. More importantly, these three mistakes also are costing them money through staff and infrastructure expenses.

Taken together, the three mistakes can be summed up as using hope as a sales strategy rather than the delivering real solutions. Avoid these mistakes, and you will significantly differentiate yourself from the competition, resulting in more business and more referrals.


Mistake # 1: Trying to sell yourself and your unique expertise

The great majority of benefit professionals feel compelled to open their sales presentations by telling the prospect a little about themselves and their background. These individuals mistakenly believe that the prospect cares about their industry experience or certifications. The easiest way to see the fallacy in this belief is to recognize that when you were a new agent, you managed to close business with no proof of any expertise.

But there is a more important reason why this is a waste of time, and that is the fact that the prospect knows that anything that you say will be self-serving. I am a Registered Health Underwriter, but that plus $2.50 will get me a grande coffee at Starbucks. The RHU is only valuable if the prospect asks me about the designation that is on my business card.

When you begin your presentation by focusing on yourself, you negatively impact the interview in two ways. First, you communicate to the prospect that talking about yourself is more important than talking about him. Second, you now look and sound just like every one of your competitors, who also begin by talking about themselves.

To see how unimportant your expertise really is, try avoiding any discussion of yourself and your expertise on your next sales call. At the end of your solutions presentation, simply ask the prospect if he has any questions about you or your background. The reply will surprise you.


Mistake # 2: Selling your company/agency

If your company is a well-known national brand, such as New York Life, Blue Cross Blue Shield or UnitedHealthcare, selling the client on the company is irrelevant. If your company/agency isn't a national brand, then you cannot sell it regardless of how much you may want to. As with selling yourself, the prospect is going to discount everything you say. It is important to realize that the only thing that the prospect cares about is the solution to his issues or the strategy that is going to help him achieve his goals.

It is important to make a distinction between branding and selling your company/agency in general and doing so during a sales presentation. Branding is about creating an awareness of your agency in the mind of the public. This is accomplished by utilizing advertising, newsletters and ongoing contact with the people that you touch. When you have engaged in a successful branding campaign, it becomes unnecessary to sell your agency at the point of sale. Trying to sell your agency at point of sale is a pointless exercise, since this prospect likely has no idea who you are and doesn't believe you anyway.

Learning Point #1: When you focus on selling yourself, your expertise and/or your company, you ultimately lose the prospect's attention. Since he doesn't believe you anyway, he stops listening to you. Once the prospect stops listening, your challenge is to regain his attention, which is far more difficult than most people think.

Focus on the client from the first minute of your sales presentation — you will increase the odds of closing the sale.


Mistake # 3: Throwing everything plus the kitchen sink at the prospect

In more than 10 years as a sales coach, I have yet to see a group benefits insurance agent who identified which of his services had real value to the prospect. No other aspect of the sales process illustrates the strategy of hope more than this.

The typical presentation goes like this. The agent tells the prospect that if he becomes a client, he will receive all of these wonderful services, which generally include:

*A dedicated account service person

*COBRA administration

*Online benefit management

*HR support

*Additions and deletions handled by the agency

*Shopping the entire market

*Payroll administration

*HRIS systems

What the agent does not do is ask really great questions to identify which of these services actually matter to the prospect. The agent is hoping that he has either "wowed" the prospect or that one or two of them really made an impression.


Mistake #4: Giving the prospect a meaningless proposal

I know that I promised to talk about the three most common mistakes, but there is a fourth that cannot be ignored.

Any regular reader of my column has heard my rant about the typical group health proposal. Most agencies utilize a template-driven proposal that fails the test of a solution presentation. Every agent's proposal is simply a variation on every other agent's proposal. The first page is about the agency, the second is about the agent, the third is a list of carriers, and the fourth is a list of every service that can be provided, even when the prospect has told the agent that a particular service is irrelevant. Of course, all of this followed by a spreadsheet of options.

Nowhere in the proposal is there actually a proposed solution or strategy. More importantly the prospect's objectives or issues are nowhere to be found in the proposal.

If agents want to know why they are being marginalized in the health reform discussions, they need look no further than their proposals. Your real value is in providing solutions, not suggestions - and most proposals are suggestions.

Learning Point #2: Identify what a prospect really wants to accomplish beyond lower premiums and deliver a strategy to achieve it. Write a proposal that explicitly links the prospect's issues and objectives with your solutions and strategies, and I guarantee that your value will be obvious to all.

When you are willing to deliver a solution instead of a suggestion, you will not have to sell your expertise or your company or your agency. Prospects are hungry for someone who is willing to say: "I am an expert, not the human equivalent of an online quote engine. I provide solutions, not spreadsheets."


A note about logos

Recently, I have had to deal with the issue of logos and their importance. If you do not currently have a logo, do not invest in hiring a graphic designer to create one for you. A logo will serve no useful purpose for the average agent of agency.

Unless you are willing to invest heavily in local advertising so that your logo becomes as recognizable of the Nike Swoosh or the Starbucks mermaid, your logo will never attain recognition. More importantly, a poorly designed logo can hurt you without the potential of an equivalent benefit for a great logo. In more than 30 years as a self-employed, commission-only salesperson, I have never had a logo, and it certainly did not diminish my ability to create a great living. Today, I have a logo for my Be Extraordinary coaching business. The main reason for the logo is that when I am traveling and people see the logo on my shirt, it generates conversation and that can lead to a sale.

Schlesinger is a registered health underwriter, a registered employee benefits consultant and the author of Get More Group Clients and A Lifetime of Leads. He can be reached at 336/777-3938, or visit his website, getmoregroupclients.com.

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