Recently, I found out that I am just like Tom Brady. Tom Brady is a quarterback. I was a quarterback in high school. We are/were both quarterbacks. Therefore we must be equal. Well, that was the logic used on me a few months back when I spoke to the owner of a benefit brokerage firm about using an HR/Benefits technology consultant.

He said he just hired a person, so he was all set. I know the person he hired. I am not going to say I am the Tom Brady of technology consultants, but relative to the experience of this person it is a fairly close comparison.

I know what it feels like to have your service or even yourself become commoditized.

As a technology consultant, I get calls all the time from brokers asking what I think about this or that vendor. I follow it up by asking what they are looking for and the answer almost always comes back as “a competitive advantage.”

Also see: "Market disruption is coming to the benefit business — and it will come from the outside."

Brokers too are complaining that their business has become commoditized. It is hard to differentiate yourself when you provide advice or some service. Just recently I was at my dentist getting a crown and before the dentist started she asked if I had any questions. I only had one and that was, “Are you any good at this?” I hoped she was.

While websites like Yelp or Angie’s List are resources for people to share their opinion on some product or service, there aren’t many people out there sharing their opinions on such sites about their benefit broker. And we aren’t Tom Brady, who has a many more opportunities in front of a few more people than you and I to demonstrate our differences or skills. Creating a differentiator to open new doors when you are an adviser without a big venue to display your talents can be a challenge.

I think this explains why many brokers are looking for some technology as the differentiator. It is much more tangible. You can put videos and pictures on your website. You can go to meetings and do demos. And after you get the client you can set up some system and hope that client is tied to you. But, from my perspective, this provides a false sense of security. As we all know, technology gets old. Today’s market leader will be outdated in six months. So then you are stuck with yesterday’s technology. And most brokers don’t know how their technology really compares to that of competitors. They move from being a good or great benefit consultant to a bad technology salesperson. Their shortcut to differentiation becomes a liability, not an asset. I have seen this way too many times.  

Shiny new toys

Getting new business is tough. Having something new and shiny to open doors can be tempting. But the apple was shiny, too. From my perspective as a technology consultant there are opportunities everywhere to be different and solve real problems. As employers adopt new technologies they will need help implementing, integrating, optimizing, extending, communicating and training.

Also see: "9 benefit trends for advisers to watch in 2016."

There are companies around the world whose businesses are all based around servicing some other product or technology. BASF didn’t make the product, “they made the product better.” That opportunity exists in the benefits business. However, developing the service model and then marketing it takes a real lot of hard work and is not as easy a selling the shiny new toy. But as the old saying goes, if it were easy then everyone would do it.  And everyone has the shiny new toy.

Tom Brady and I are/were both quarterbacks, but that is where the comparison ends. I guess if I put on a Patriots uniform and ran out on the field with the team some may think I was a professional football player, until of course, I had to perform. So, I, like many of you, need to find better ways to differentiate or even ways to simply display my skills. The opportunities are out there. Don’t let the shiny new toys distract you from finding the real solution.   

Markland is a principal of HR Technology Advisors and past president of Benefits Technology Group (BTG). HRT is an insurance and technology consulting firm focused primarily on helping insurance brokers, companies, third-party vendors, and their customers, with evaluating and implementing technology solutions and e-commerce strategies. Reach him at jmarkland@hrtadvisors.com.

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