Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, the pilot on an international flight keyed his microphone so he could speak to his passengers. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I have two pieces of information to let you know about. One piece is good news, and the other is bad news. First, the good news: we are making great time. Now, the bad news: we’re lost.”
For many employee benefits professionals — especially those who have been using major medical as the mainstay of their practices — this is a time of great uncertainty, doubt and, for some, fear. Some are just like passengers on that airplane. They are busy, but they are busy being busy. They are making great time, but they are lost.
Others are like the little boy who received a single box on Christmas morning. When he opened it, he was delighted to learn the box was full of manure. Now, most children would have been aghast or, at a minimum, disgusted — but not our little guy. He deduced that with all of that horse poop, there must be a pony running around somewhere, and he was going to find it.
Those two little stories illustrate a growing gap between those who see opportunity in the chaos and those who focus on the chaos. These days, as I travel to meetings or speak to groups of agents and brokers, I see both types. Sometimes you can tell who’s who just by watching the body language. It is the strangest thing I have ever seen, but there don’t seem to be a whole lot of folks in the middle on this one.
A product is not value
Here’s the ugly secret about what is likely to happen, regardless of what Congress, the Supreme Court or the president might do: if you deliver value to your client, the rest of it matters little. It is not rocket science. We’ve gotten lost in the haze of product sales, but those who are really making a difference with their clients are delivering value. I am going to say it in print (and risk excoriation): a product is not value.
To be sure, there are valuable products. But with the move toward standardizing plans and with exchanges looming in the background, like 50 vending machines lined up in a row, the product — any product — will not be the key to success. When you purchase a product, you intend it to “do a job.” The value is in the job, not the product. When you learn what job the client wants to accomplish, and you speak to that job, you are at the beginning of the value equation.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve worked with benefits professionals across the country, and I have asked each of them the same question: can you show me the fact finder or the fact-finding process you use with clients, please? In nearly every instance, I am met with a blank stare. Some have never heard the term. Others remember it from their basic training, but hey, that was years ago. Since they have achieved success, they no longer “do that kind of thing.”
Wrong answer! If you don’t take the time to discuss the client’s goals and objectives, you will most likely lose today’s best opportunity. That is not the ability to make a sale today. The biggest loss is the ability you would have had to start a relationship that endures over time. For many, the notion of a long-term client relationship is something new. This seems to be especially true of practitioners who focus on the small- and mid-market group medical segment.
If you find yourself in Don Juan Selling Mode (always in search of a new prospect), you need to stop and reassess. Think about your value first. There are countless sales studies proving that it costs you 7 to 10 times more to acquire a new client than to work with an existing client. Additionally, the existing client already trusts you because he or she has (by definition) already done business with you. How much more profitable would your business be, and how much more sane would you be, if you followed the long-term client relationship strategy?
Trade a spreadsheet for a fact finder
Assuming you see yourself and your practice in this description, the question to ask is, “How do I start working smarter, not harder?” The first suggestion is to trade your spreadsheet for a fact-finding form. Ask about the business as if you were meeting the prospect at a cocktail party. Ask him to tell you about his business and then listen, listen, listen. While the prospect is speaking, you will be making notes and inventorying his benefits exposures.
If your prospect tells you he has partners or other shareholders, you should start thinking about buy-sell agreements. If the prospect tells you he has a buy-sell agreement, you should be ready to ask if it covers both the death or the disability of one of the partners or shareholders. With multiple executives, you should think about covering the risk of a disability while helping them take advantage of many carriers’ multi-life discounts. If your prospect is a small-business owner, you might listen for clues about key person DI or business overhead expense coverages. If the prospect has a retirement plan in place, the odds are good he has not done anything to continue funding that plan if he becomes disabled.
Note that in all of these cases, we focused on the exposure, or the need, before we mentioned a product. When speaking with your client, you don’t need to mention the product at all. Just talk about the exposures that could keep him from realizing his dream. I focused on the disability income arena for two reasons. As benefits professionals, especially those of you who have focused on health, disability income is right in your wheelhouse. Additionally, most practitioners don’t even think about it. This means DI can become a key differentiator in your marketing and will help you solidify those long-term relationships. When your prospect mentions that no one has ever had this conversation with him, you will feel the long-term relationship starting. In my 30-plus years of working with clients, the tipping point is palpable.
If you are busy being busy or busy looking for the “pony” amidst the current chaos and uncertainty, building long-term, value-based relationships is as simple as getting out of Don Juan mode and encouraging your clients to talk about their dreams and goals. Happy transitioning!