Independent benefit advisers always ask me, “How do we beat the national houses?” And every adviser wants to know the best way to beat out an incumbent firm.

What they really are asking is how to compete successfully against either a larger firm with more capabilities or an entrenched incumbent. The answer is both remarkably simple and, for most benefits firms today, extremely challenging.

Nelson Griswold

A different conversation

Here’s the simple answer: If you want to beat out a larger firm or an incumbent, you must have a different conversation with the prospect than your competitor has.

Put another way, if you have the same conversation with the prospect as the bigger shop or the incumbent, you lose. If you are a mid-sized firm saying the same thing, offering the same products & services, why would the client choose you over the bigger national or regional shop? All things being equal, bigger almost always beats smaller; for most buyers, bigger usually means better.

If you’re trying to oust an incumbent by offering the same value proposition as the incumbent, why would the client choose disruption and change? The power of incumbency and inertia almost always beats a challenger offering more of the same.

If you’re talking benefits cost management or compliance with prospects, you’re just parroting most every other firm in your market. To win consistently against larger firms and to displace incumbents, you must have a different conversation with the prospect. Tell a different story. Simple, no?

A better story

Here’s where it gets really challenging for most benefit firms: You have to have the right different conversation, tell a better story.

When I discuss this with most agency leaders, their first question usually is “Different how? What do we talk about that’s different?” Excellent question, especially if your value proposition is still quoting, managing the renewal, and providing a few compliance services.

Because it is based on a strategic approach you take with your clients, that “different conversation” varies from agency to agency. For our agency clients, it could be a conversation about:

  • taking control of the benefits spend and healthcare costs using self-funding;
  • a comprehensive approach to compliance as part of a strategic consulting arrangement;
  • creating a multi-year benefits strategic plan to integrate the benefits planning and budget into the larger enterprise strategic plan;
  • managing the firm’s risks — strategic, operational and hazard — around their benefits and employees’ health by seeking first to prevent, mitigate and transfer risk and, only then, to insure any remaining risk; or
  • an in-depth assessment of the client’s HR and business needs & pain points, including turnover, questionable workers comp claims, benefits education, and HR technology.

Can you have any of these conversations with prospects?

"To have a different conversation that will win accounts against bigger firms and incumbents, you have to move beyond spread sheeting and ad hoc compliance solutions, now table stakes."

There are many “different conversations” you can have, far more than I’ve listed. But to have a different conversation that will win accounts against bigger firms and incumbents, you have to move beyond spread sheeting and ad hoc compliance solutions, now table stakes.

Understand that most employers today, especially owners and C-Suite executives but also many HR directors, no longer want a presentation. They want a conversation, one that produces a strategy to solve their problem. But to win the business against bigger competitors and incumbents, have a different conversation that brings strategy to bear on the client’s needs and pain points.

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