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Benefits Selling expo speaker: Make sure to attend NelsonGriswold's session, “The Winning Hand: Move to ConsultativeSelling,” May 19 at 2:45 p.m. in Trailblazer B.

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The 2011 MetLife Broker/Consultant Study found that 58percent of brokers plan to become more consultative to survive theregulatory and industry changes from PPACA. Yet few brokers reallyunderstand what it means—and how—to be consultative.

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For decades, insurance sales have been based on aproduct-centric model. Driven by carriers, whose sole purpose is tosell products, insurance sales expertise has been defined largelyby product knowledge. Broker product training teaches “features andbenefits.” Sales training, when provided, generally ischaracterized by old-school techniques such as overcomingobjections, trial closes, and the acronym ABC: “Always BeClosing.”

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This antiquated sales model places the emphasis and focus on theproducts and, more to the point, on the need of the salesperson toclose a sale. Is it any wonder that clients and prospects find mostsalespeople and “selling” to be, at best, a necessary evil?

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But, frankly, very little selling goes on in our industry. Thismight be a surprise to the insurance sales professionals, many ofwhom earn a handsome living. These salespeople are closing sales.What I mean to say is, what most of them are doing isn'tselling. Let me explain.

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From the beginnings of the benefits industry, benefits agencieshave been asked to assist employers primarily with shopping andspreadsheeting quotes on the company's health plan and,occasionally, with benefit plan design. For decades, all that themarketplace asked of most benefits brokers was this transactionalrole, along with providing support with billing and claims issues.Brokers were paid a sizable commission by the medical carriers forselling and servicing their accounts. Any selling that did takeplace in our industry usually involved selling a business owner onoffering employer-sponsored group medical insurance.

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Human quote engine

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Eventually, though, at some point in time most employers werenow offering group health plans, so the client already had theproduct…group medical. The job of brokers became primarily helpingthe client get the best price on a product he already had. Thisisn't selling; this is a transactional activity and what I callbeing a “human quote engine,” which is, in fact, today a servicethat a computer could accomplish more quickly and efficiently.

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The reality for far too many producers in our industry is thatthey never have had to sell, the job simply didn't requireit. (As indicated by their name, consultants in our industry oftenhave provided a higher level of advice and guidance but when itcomes to the medical, they've not been selling, either.) Prospect,approach, build relationships, follow up…yes, of course, they didthat. But, for most brokers, until now the art of selling justhasn't been needed in our industry.

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Selling isn't persuading

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Furthermore, the most common understanding of “selling” isitself misguided, similar to the description found in Wikipedia:Selling is considered by many to be a sort ofpersuading “art.”

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This flows from the mistaken idea that the salesperson's job isto get the prospect to buy. As we'll see in a later chapter, that'sa terribly distorted view that makes selling unproductive…anddifficult.

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In reality, as we've just seen, for most producers what passesfor selling in the benefits industry has been transactional, atbest. But transactional selling is no longer sufficient when thebroker's focus is having to shift from just getting the BOR on themedical to cross-selling other products and services to helpreplace lost medical commissions.

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No cross-selling

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I know for a fact that most producers in our industry don'tsell…and I'll go so far as to say they really don't know how tosell.

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I know this because for the past six years or so I've beenconducting our Broker Boot Camp workshops on cross-sellingvoluntary for thousands of brokers across the country. Sponsoredboth by carriers and privately by progressive agencies for theirown producers, these workshops help brokers overcome theirobjections to voluntary benefits and shows them how to cross-sellvoluntary the right way using a consultative approach. My pointhere is that the reason carriers and agencies are paying large feesfor our Boot Camps is that producers won't—I'll say can't—sellvoluntary benefits, which requires actually selling the client onthe idea of offering voluntary. (NOTE:Cross-selling voluntary to HR is not a difficult sale…when you makeit a consultative sale.)

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Most producers are good at relationships and can spreadsheet tobeat the band. But that's not selling. And in candid conversationsI've had with many producers, they have revealed an appalling lackof sales skills or even knowledge. Again, no shame here. The skillrarely has been called for until now and how would they havelearned? The carriers have long ago abolished their sales trainingprograms after they moved away from the agent system to agencydistribution. And very few agencies provide meaningful salestraining and most offer none at all.

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However, with the continuing decline in broker and agencycompensation on the medical, this sad state of affairs cannotcontinue.

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The power of consultative selling

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So, how does consultative selling work? Years ago, while workingfor a national benefits communication and enrollment firm, Imanaged to get a coveted appointment with the SVP for voluntarybenefits at a major regional brokerage in Ohio. He started themeeting with an invitation to pitch: “We already work with severalenrollment firms. Why should we work with you?”

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He was giving me the opportunity to persuade him thathe should use our services.

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But instead of a lengthy presentation about our capabilities andtrack record enrolling voluntary benefits, I responded with just athree-sentence value proposition on our services and then boldlystated, “But that's not what I'm here to talk with you about.”

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That got his attention.

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“What, then?” he asked.

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I asked him about his firm's cross-selling efforts. After somehedging, he acknowledged difficulty getting their producers toactually cross-sell voluntary benefits. Several questions later, heconfirmed they were missing their voluntary sales targets.

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I then said, “What if I work with your producers to overcometheir objections and train them to cross-sell voluntary? I'll evengo on calls with them to help close the case. Once they're writingvoluntary business, I'll enroll the cases for you. Are youinterested?”

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He immediately responded, “When can you come in and do somelunch-and-learns?”

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BOOM!

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My point? My prospect didn't need my enrollment services. Whathe needed was increased top-line revenue and bottom-line profitfrom more sales of voluntary benefits. Once I stopped trying tosell my enrollment services and started using consultative sellingto show agencies how I could help them sell more voluntarybenefits—producing more profits—I became top producer at myfirm.

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This real-world example illustrates the secret to—and the powerof—consultative selling.

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Critical transformation

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Becoming more consultative is, in fact, the most critical areafor your agency transformation to both survive the coming shake-outand emerge to dominate your market. Consultative selling is ahallmark of the 21st century agency because so much else flows tothe agency from the added value that consultative selling bringsthe client:

  • Differentiation from competitors;

  • Justification for a service fee;

  • Cross-selling of other products and services;

  • Strengthened broker/client relationship;

  • Increased client retention; and

  • Multiple revenue streams to replace lost medicalcommissions.

At its core, a benefits agency is a sales organization. Theother agency transformation areas—portfolio, marketing, andmanagement—exist solely to support the agency's sales efforts. A21st century portfolio provides the tools a consultative brokerneeds to solve client problems, bring massive value, and generateadditional revenue streams. 21st century marketing supports thesales function by promoting to prospects the agency's valueproposition as a problem solver and by communicating to clients thetremendous added value that the agency brings to the client. 21stcentury management ensures that the promises made by the sales teamare fulfilled fully and promptly. Additionally, 21st centurymanagement demands high performance, productivity andreturn-on-investment from both the agency's producers and itsadministrative staff to maximize top-line revenue and bottom-lineprofit. But it all begins with selling…consultative selling.

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In my Benefits Selling Expo session, “The Winning Hand: Move toConsultative Selling,” I'll reveal four simple steps to becomingconsultative in your selling. Plus, you'll discover how to:

  • Refocus yourself to become almost totally client-oriented;

  • Ask the right questions to discover the client's pain points,wants and needs;

  • Create an emotional demand in the client for your solution;

  • Differentiate yourself in a way that most brokers can nevercompete with;

  • Take control of the broker/client relationship, lock inaccounts, and cross-sell with ease.

By moving from transactional to consultative selling, you'll beprepared for success in the post-reform benefits world.

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