Serving small businesses as a benefit adviser can be a tough proposition. Small businesses consist of a handful of people wearing multiple hats, so the role of HR is often wrapped up in a job description with other priorities. For advisers, working with small companies often represents the same or more work as a larger company for less commission, simply because fewer policies are being sold.

Bloomberg/file photo

However, ignoring small businesses because of their size is a shortsighted strategy. Small businesses employ more than 50% of working Americans and make up the vast majority of U.S. companies. As an adviser, it’s important to choose your clients carefully — just don’t overlook high-quality prospects. The small business market is full of opportunity because, by definition, small businesses have fewer resources to dedicate to their business problems. While they might recognize the importance of benefits and HR, those aren’t the highest ROI areas, consequently garnering less attention.

The key to making small businesses a valuable part of your business strategy is scale. This is a nut that tech-enabled brokers like Zenefits and others that have partnered with technology companies have cracked. Young companies represent an especially interesting brand of small business for these types of organizations and make ideal targets because of their growth potential. Your competition understands that small businesses want solutions that require minimal time investments, so they lead with technology, automating manual processes — both internally and for their clients.

Pairing the experience, strategy and expertise on which benefit advisers have built their businesses with technology experiences that differentiate them from the competition is a powerful combination.

How to do it

1) Develop personas to segment your book of business.

One size certainly does not fit all when it comes to employee benefits, but it’s not scalable to implement custom benefits plans and service strategies for each new client. The first step to achieving scalability is segmenting your book of business into cohorts with similar characteristics.

2) Standardize processes and tier your service model.

After you have your personas, standardize the way you service each cohort, keeping in mind that the way you currently serve these groups might not be the most efficient way. Figure out how you’ll approach each one, and create processes that are repeatable, iterative and measurable for each persona. After you have your basic service packages, create service and pricing tiers for larger companies (or those that want a more hands-on approach).

3) Standardize your benefit offerings.

Beyond your service model, standardizing what you offer to clients by persona is a way to gain efficiency. Your clients look to you for expertise and consultation. At small businesses especially, there’s no need to present a spreadsheet full of potential plans and make them choose. Offer a few options that you know would work for their workforce, and round out the selection with curated voluntary options that close any gaps in coverage and enhance their offering.

4) Be selective in new client prospecting.

Make sure your prospecting takes your client personas into consideration, and be selective in the clients you choose to work with. As a benefit adviser, your value lies in a consultative partnership, so don’t think of your clients as customers — think of them as partners. You need to set expectations at the outset and ensure you’re allocating resources internally to optimize your ROI.

Let clients know that you want to support them throughout all their growth stages and that you'll provide whatever level of service they require, but don’t give a contract to just anyone. Be mindful of your time: Terminate low-ROI relationships with customers draining your resources.

5) Specialize your technology strategy.

In 2016, technology is no longer a differentiator or a competitive edge. You must consider technology to be the status quo. There are hundreds of potential technology solutions you can take to market, but it’s not scalable to implement custom tools for each small group. Instead, partner with a technology company that can grow and scale with you and with your clients. Standardize your pitch, and lead with the efficiencies that technology drives first, mentioning the products you provide within that technology second.

Also see:Finding ROI with a holistic benefit strategy.

Millions of people work for small businesses, and they deserve representation as much as corporate employees. A tight partnership between brokers and small businesses, executed correctly, is a win-win: Small businesses get the expert tools and resources they need to grow, and benefit advisers have a powerful business development opportunity.

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