Had enough of change and market disruption? Well there’s more on the way over the next two to three years. Are you going to let the waves of change pound you into submission and wash over your practice? Or are you going to embrace change, and turn it into a positive force that will propel your business interests? In some respects that’s akin to the somewhat seemingly simple question: Is your glass half empty or half full? For many of you, the answer is: Possibly. And that’s because you have not proactively developed a focused business strategy to differentiate your business practice and sustain your competitive advantage.

Many of you are thinking that your competitive advantage is, “We give great service.” For those who have read this column over the last nine years, you have heard repeatedly that great service gets you in the game. It is not a differentiator. It provides no marketing advantage. Did you ever hear a competitor boast: We provide awful service and we are proud of it?

You have to be more creative. What will make you invaluable to your clients? What will cause third-party centers of influence to recommend your services? Why will new clients seek you out to become their benefit adviser? Be assured, it is not because you are the access point to products and services and you claim that you deliver great service. You need to have unique processes that other brokers are not utilizing. You need to elevate your positioning to that of a trusted adviser.

Be different

A number of forward-thinking advisers are now offering benefit strategic planning as a service. They are helping their clients to create a written roadmap that guides all their major benefits decisions and expenditures. Those who are doing this are gaining market share, and charging for those services. New client relationships, improved client retention and new revenue streams. That’s hitting the trifecta. Do you have a formalized process for accomplishing this? Equally importantly, does any benefit broker in your market advocate such a process? It can be your differentiator and competitive advantage.

You can consider morphing your practice and developing new skills to become a human capital consultant who advises on a broad range of business issues and charges consulting fees. Think of things like: self-funded medical plans; HR consulting services; payroll; the intelligent integration of voluntary benefits; and the addition of executive benefits, just to name a few. But instead of handling this array of product and service offerings as a series of one-offs, try working with your clients to develop a master plan that addresses their critical business issues first, and recommend appropriate solutions that are responsive to their stated needs.

Along those lines, do you know what changes are on the horizon for all your clients? For example, do you routinely and systematically ask your clients whether they are contemplating acquiring or merging with another firm in the next six months? By asking a simple business question, you can gain extremely powerful marketing intelligence. So how can that help you to differentiate yourself and lead to a competitive advantage? Let your clients know that you can assist them as part of the due diligence team when they are contemplating such a transaction. You can provide an audit of the other firm’s benefits plan and provide them a very valuable assessment of the claims’ trends and the anticipated benefit costs over the next few years. That will enable them to make an informed decision about whether to proceed. Or it could save them millions of dollars in increased expenses from these hidden costs.

Performing this kind of service for a client will definitely make you invaluable and you will be their trusted adviser right alongside their accountant, attorney and important banking relationship — all of whom will be part of the transaction process. That, in turn, will impress these other trusted advisers and can lead to them becoming a source of referrals.

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