Are you just one more agent with the same products and the same approach who is trying to win business by having a longer list of promised services? Or are you viewed by prospects and clients as an expert in benefits? And if you are seen as an expert, are you also seen as a thought leader? The truth is that while most of you are probably seen as an expert by clients and prospects, very few of you are seen as thought leaders.

So what is a thought leader? In the March 16, 2012 issue of Forbes, authors Russ Alan Prince and Bruce Rogers define thought leadership as “an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.”

Jillian Kingsford Smith, branding expert and author of the blog FutureBuzz, defines it in even simpler terms:  “A trusted source who moves people with innovative ideas.”

Here is an example of thought leadership in the world of benefit professionals. While almost every benefit professional that I have spoken with renewed 70% of groups in December to avoid the potential rate increase related to increased mandates, one agent (and a good friend) only renewed 20% of her book of business early. While approximately 50% of her clients were requesting early renewal, she shared her reasons for not renewing and most of her clients took her advice. In her Affordable Care Act workshops in September and October she took a contrarian view of the longer-term impact of the ACA on groups.

Another great example of thought leadership is Jon Rauser, an agent in Milwaukee. EBA wrote about his store-front approach to voluntary benefits in the February issue, “’Exactly where I want to be,’”). Rauser has created an innovative new way to provide extraordinary service to the employees of his group clients, and in doing so he is providing extraordinary service to his clients.

Another way to demonstrate thought leadership is to provide meaningful content that helps clients and prospects solve problems or achieve objectives. In today’s new media world of the Internet there are numerous ways to establish thought leadership status. You can post short videos to YouTube, post articles to online channels such as You can write whitepapers that are available on your website or that can be emailed to prospects and clients.

Becoming a thought leader has never been more important for agents in the group marketplace. In today’s marketplace, every agent sells for the same three or four carriers. Every agent offers the same basket of value-added services. Where it was once a differentiator to claim to have account managers on your staff, today there are fewer agents working as one-man (or woman) shop. And finally, as I have pointed many times over the years, every agent uses the same proposal model. Establishing yourself as a thought leader will result in more sales and more referrals. And it transcends product and service promises.

Schlesinger has more than 25 years of group benefits experience. He helps agents close sales through his Social Prof Machine marketing program. Reach him at (336) 525-6357.

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