These are challenging times but many of us have seen difficult market conditions before. If you want to dwell on negatives, inundate yourself in the media coverage about the political malaise and the healthcare reform debacle. But that won’t help you to make any money.

On the other hand, you can focus on what you can control and what you can positively influence, and apply yourself intelligently to achieve sales success.

Let’s focus on what you need to do to achieve success this year. Clearly you will need to increase your existing customer contact to maintain the relationships you already have established. Likewise, you will need to increase your business development efforts to grow your practice at an accelerated rate. Given the market turmoil, it’s an extraordinary marketing opportunity for those that are forward-thinking. But repeating the same old message and expecting a different client reaction will just not cut it.

Jack Kwicien

So, what about your marketing positioning? What is your value proposition? Does it resonate with clients and prospects alike? If you can’t articulate it clearly in two or three sentences, value-conscious prospects and clients certainly are not going to take the time to figure it out. They will simply move on to some other firm whose messaging resonates with them. Is your marketing message consistent across all your promotional materials? Brochures? Websites? Proposals? Other media? Or is it a confusing mix of dated platitudes that were relevant two decades ago?

You need to clearly differentiate your business in a marketplace that is in flux. What exactly is your competitive advantage? Please don’t tell me that your firm gives good service. Everyone says that. Few ever deliver. And quite frankly every client expects great service, so that’s definitely not a differentiator. That is simply meeting the client’s expectations.

Consultative approach
You need to focus on your clients’ needs and become much more consultative in your approach. You have to deliver greater value and position yourself to become your client’s human capital consultant. You need to go beyond being perceived as a product vendor. You cannot afford to define your value as the point of access to benefits product information and services. You need to transcend your client’s expectations.

But that’s no small task. How can you do that in these economic conditions when most are being forced to do more with less?

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Reconsider your business model and the solutions you can provide to your clients. Employee benefits. Voluntary benefits. Executive benefits. Retirement planning services. HR consulting services. Lifestyle benefits. And a myriad of other offerings. Those are all potential solutions. But it all starts with your client’s critical needs. If you can help to solve two or three of their most pressing human capital needs, you will have made yourself invaluable.

Ensuring the alignment of HR initiatives and corporate business strategy has never been more important. The traditional functional approach to benefits planning must adapt to one that is more strategic and longer term. Becoming a human capital consultant may just be the next phase of your evolving career.

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Jack Kwicien

Jack Kwicien

Kwicien co-founded Daymark Advisors LLC, a Baltimore-based consulting and advisory services firm in 2001.