What is your competitive advantage as a benefit broker?

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How do your clients think of you? As an insurance broker or a product vendor? As an employee benefits adviser? Maybe it would be better if they thought of you as something else. Maybe they should think of you as a human-capital consultant.

To succeed, you need to clearly differentiate your business in a crowded marketplace that is in flux. You need to provide a compelling value proposition that resonates with clients — one that can be clearly articulated it in two or three sentences. Positioning yourself as a human capital consultant allows you to do this.

Consider: From your client’s point of view, what exactly is your competitive advantage? And please don’t tell me that your firm gives good service. What firm ever tells their clients otherwise, even if very few of them deliver? When you hear such claims, as a consumer yourself, do you ever believe them? Besides, every client expects great service, so that’s definitely not a differentiator. That is simply meeting the client’s expectations.

To differentiate yourself, you need to focus on your clients’ needs and become more consultative in your approach. You need to go beyond being perceived as a product vendor. Does defining your value as the client’s point of access to benefits products and services do that? That’s exactly what your client expects, and you need to transcend your client’s expectations. But that’s no small task is it? How can you do that?

Rethinking your business model

Start by reconsidering your business model and the solutions that you provide to your clients: Employee benefits, voluntary benefits, executive benefits, retirement planning services, HR consulting services — and a myriad of other offerings. All of these are good offerings that are potentially helpful to your clients. But none of them will make a difference, unless they help the client address a critical need. On the other hand, if you can help solve two or three of the client’s most pressing human capital needs, then you will have made yourself invaluable.

That’s where positioning yourself as a human-capital consultant comes in. It allows you to align the client’s human resource initiatives with the company’s business strategy and replace the traditional “functional” approach to benefits planning with one that is more strategic. A strategic benefits plan allows for a more proactive and analytical approach to managing the benefits program, which significantly improves the overall results.

With this in mind, here’s a simple outline for a winning action plan designed to stimulate your thinking:

• During the next 30 to 45 days, review and assess your client’s benefits offerings, enrollment process and overall results.

• Make note of any appropriate changes that should be made.

• Propose the development of a three-to-five year strategic plan to the client’s pertinent decision-makers.

• Encourage the client’s HR and benefits department to take the lead on this, and try to involve the CFO and CEO in the process.

Now is the perfect time of year to initiate these discussions with clients and prospects. A planning process like this will allow you to guide all of the major benefit decisions facing your clients. A strategic benefits plan spells out how the benefits program will support the client’s overall business plan as well as specific corporate objectives. It also explains how the benefits program fits into the client’s employee compensation plan, by providing employees with incentives to act in concert with the employer’s goals.

By instigating a strategic planning process, you establish greater credibility and elevate your interactions with your client’s various stakeholders. To achieve all this, think of becoming a human capital consultant as the next phase of your evolving career.

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