The CFO is the key to winning in the mid-market

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The CFO of the Fortune 500 company was spellbound. Craig Lack of California-based advisory ENERGI was explaining how the company’s healthcare investment is a capital allocation strategy requiring the supervision of an executive with profit & loss responsibility. Called “the most effective consultant you’ve never heard of” by Inc. magazine, Lack went on to add, “Your health-plan management falls outside standard business supply-chain cost-control strategies.”

At that point, the CFO interrupted Lack to ask, “OK, what’s our next step to work with you?”

For more than 50 years, benefit brokers have worked with their clients in the HR department to manage the company’s plan renewal and broker their medical insurance. And for 50 years that work with that client paid handsomely.

Then the ACA changed the industry, rendering the traditional broker role increasingly obsolete. Meanwhile, those plentiful small-group accounts are paying less and requiring more work as employers demand more support and services from their broker.

In response, many brokers are transitioning from transactional broker to consultative adviser and want to move into the middle market, companies with 100+ or even 500+ employees.

To win in the mid-market, you need to have a better conversation with prospects than your competition. You need bold strategies that will disrupt the status quo and produce meaningful cost savings. But advisers are finding it harder to break into larger accounts and are discovering that HR in larger firms rarely are interested in their innovative ideas.

The wrong audience
If you want to bring disruptive strategies and innovative solutions that truly will bend a company’s benefits cost curve, the HR department is the wrong audience.

The typical HR director is a risk-averse “game manager” geared to say “No” to bold initiatives and to reject most outside-the-box strategies. While HR directors and benefit managers are dedicated professionals, they are neither incentivized nor expected to be boldly innovative. Rarely part of their company’s corporate leadership, HR is neither tasked with being strategic nor responsible for a P&L statement.

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HR has become the keeper of the benefits status quo, historically choosing benefits consultants who won’t rock the boat and will “play their part,” resulting in a progressively conformist healthcare strategy. And never forget that it’s HR who has to field complaints about benefit changes from unhappy employees.

So if HR isn’t going to play ball on bending the benefit cost curve, who is?

Your most receptive audience is in the C-suite: the CEO or, most likely, the CFO. The chief financial officer owns the P&L statement, approves the benefit budget, and is not constrained by HR’s parochial considerations.

But getting to the CFO requires far different value propositions than getting in front of HR. And the CFO uses a vastly different vocabulary than HR. (Reread Lack’s language above.) Lead with “medical renewal” or “benefit plan” and you’ll be sent straight to HR before you even can introduce yourself.

To learn their love language and better understand their concerns and pain points, we’re instructing our agency clients to read CFO magazine and CFO blogs and e-newsletters. And we’re introducing them to cutting-edge benefit strategies and cost-containment solutions that will drive more profit to the CFO’s bottom line.

Learn to speak “CFO” and equip yourself with strategies that CFOs find irresistible and you can begin to take 500-life and larger groups away from the big national and regional houses.

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