Want to elevate your game? Stop talking benefits

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The benefits industry is changing, and the one change most perplexing to brokers and advisers is the elevation of the sales conversation from talking benefits in the HR Department to talking business in the C-suite, the domain of the company’s C-level executives, specifically the chief executive officer and chief financial officer. Changing whom you sell to is one of the most wrenching shifts in any business, in this case raising a series of challenging questions.

The first question usually is, “Why do I even need to move to the C-suite?”

Today’s top advisers are delivering remarkable results to their clients: lowering year-over-year spending by 10 to 20% or more in the first year alone, while improving benefits. To achieve similar results, you need the support and commitment of an executive with P&L responsibility, which excludes anyone at the director or manager level. The strategies that advisers are using to take control of the client’s benefits spending and manage the healthcare supply chain to lower costs usually require a serious disruption of the status quo that few HR directors or benefits managers are willing to accept, never mind embrace.

So moving to the C-suite is imperative if you want to become one of the advisers who are winning bigger groups from bigger competitors by delivering real bottom-line results that status-quo brokers can’t match. But other questions follow.

“Who are the CEO and CFO and what do I need to know about them?” To master the C-suite, you must understand the psychographics and behavioral personas of the executives working in the C-suite. I lack the space here to go into details but C-suite authority Trey Taylor, author of the soon-to-be-released A CEO Does Only Three Things, explains that the CEO and CFO are dramatically different. According to Taylor, the CEO and CFO have different concerns, priorities, perspectives and buying patterns that you can leverage to make the sale.

“Why would the CEO or CFO meet with me?” While the C-suite has delegated to HR operational responsibility for benefits, the CEO and CFO remain intensely interested in the impact of healthcare costs on their bottom line and are open to credible strategies to lower those costs. But you have to get — and keep — their attention.

“What do I say that will get me the meeting and keep me in the C-suite?” First, you have to be capable of speaking some C-suite, the language of business — for example, EBITDA, OpEx and CapEx, ROI, and capital allocation. (Google them.) You also should be able to relate your strategies to top executives” standard business practices. You must know how to engage their emotions in order to move them to action.

“What is my value proposition to the C-suite?” This is critical. You offer to help the C-suite take control of their benefit spending and manage their healthcare supply chain to lower costs, while putting your comp at risk to guarantee results. And you must have proven cost-containment strategies that will support your value prop. Now you can break through the status quo, define yourself as something other than a mere broker (or you will be sent back to HR), and capture the C-suite’s imagination.

Yes, moving to the C-suite is a lot of work and is almost certainly outside your comfort zone. But brokers who keep talking benefits in HR will lose their book to those who talk business in the C-suite. It’s a simple choice: Stick with the status quo or master the C-suite.

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