For regular readers of my columns, you already know that I am not a fan of providing value-added services such as online resources for HR information, employee portals, single-source benefit management and the like. It is not that I do not see them as having value, but rather that they have become a crutch that insurance agents are relying on to close the sale. Instead of agents selling the value of their insurance knowledge and their ability to help employers achieve the goals of an employee benefit program, they are relying on offering a lengthy list of value-added services.

Recently, one of my coaching clients called because he had lost two long-term group clients to two different agencies as a result of their offering a lengthy list of value-added services. He called and wanted to know how to avoid that in the future. From my perspective, he had two choices:

1) Purchase the software necessary to compete and begin to offer it to all of his clients.

2) Schedule meetings with clients and ask questions about the perceived value of these software programs.

In my humble opinion, the best option would be to meet with all of his clients and have meaningful conversations about these software programs. If you think that following strategy No.2 would inevitably lead to buying the software, you would be wrong. After talking with hundreds of agents who have purchased these programs, I can say without any reservation that most of the groups that have these programs in place never use them.

It is not that these programs cannot provide value, but the approach that most agents use does not lend itself to a real appreciation for the benefits of the programs. When presenting to a new prospect, these agents typically use this approach: “If you become our client we will not only help you with your insurance products, but we will also provide all of these additional services.”

At this point, the agent simply tells the prospect about all of the services included at no extra charge. Nowhere in the conversation does the agent ever ask if any of the potential services would have value beyond the inane and irrelevant, “So what do you think?” To that question the prospect says, “Wow that is awesome.” This translates into, “It’s free, so it sounds great.”

The smart agent

The smart agent will meet with clients and ask about each of the potential services that one of these software programs can provide. The agent would start the conversation with a statement such as:

“Ms. Client, as you may know, a lot of agents are offering a ton of non-insurance services to try to win new business. Because I want to make sure that I am meeting your expectations and needs, I’d like to ask you a few questions. These questions are designed to identify those services that you might want me to provide.”

Sample questions may include:

  • “Would it be of value to you if I were able to provide an online portal where you can get your HR questions answered?”
  • “If I could provide a personalized online portal where employees can view their actual benefits, do you think that it would get used?”
  • “If you were able to use an electronic system that automatically populated all of the necessary insurance forms simultaneously, would that be helpful to you?”

If after asking these questions to each of your clients you discovered that only two or three of your clients found these services valuable, you could choose to risk losing them and not invest in the technology. But, having spoken with each of your clients, you have also made it impossible for any other agent to get a broker of record letter by promising a bunch of “stuff.” You would also have strengthened your relationship with your clients.
It is time to stop meeting with clients and being just like everyone else by relying on the promise of stuff to win the sale. It is time to become truly consultative and tailor your offering to explicitly stated client objectives.

Schlesinger is an independent consultant focused on helping benefit professionals double their income. Reach him at (336) 777-3938 or through

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