With 2016 in the rearview mirror, it's time we look toward 2017.While the last year brought plenty of changes to the insuranceindustry, a new president, an expanding workforce, continuingtechnological advances and much more will continue to make wavesfor brokers and benefits professionals. To help you prepare, we'vegathered 100 tips to grow your business, make enrollment smoother,reach clients more effectively and ensure that 2017 is your bestyear yet.


  1. “It doesn't matter how flashy a demo is — any benefitstechnology that lacks integration capabilities with a business'payroll, HRIS, and timekeeping system of record potentially leavesroom for error and frustration.” Courtney Simpkiss, vice president of brokerchannel strategy, ADP

  2. “Clients are yearning to spend less time on the phone and moretime online. Having this online presence to communicate withclients makes for a more interactive experience, engaging them eachstep of the way and providing easier accessibility.” Sally Poblete, founder, Wellthie

  3. Benefits providers and brokers should provide user-friendlytools to increase transparency when it comes to benefitoptions. Employees and employers can be overwhelmed by choices, butstudies show tools like this are important, especially to youngerworkers.

  4. “Consider hosting after-hours webinars, and make informationavailable on a broker-hosted website or on the employer's intranet.One side benefit to online access is information can be updated inreal time, without the need for print updates that may be few andfar between.” Rob Carnaroli, broker & vice president ofsales, SutterHealth Plus

  5. “Technology is so prevalent in the enrollment space today, butwatch out for relying on technology as the one thing that will makeor break enrollment. Technology is great for capturing data, but itwon't solve every problem and doesn't change the importance of theother work you need to do.” Kathy O'Brien, vice president of voluntarybenefits and national client group services, Unum

  6. “To be a truly consultative partner, a broker today mustunderstand the benefits (as well as the limits) of technology.”Dayne Williams, CEO, PlanSource

  7. “The broker industry is catching on, but in order to stay aheadof the curve, it will take more than just understandingtechnological advances being made in the insurance industry, itwill mean adopting them.” Sally Poblete, founder, Wellthie

  8. “Firms who embrace the power of Big Data and analytics willcertainly gain a competitive edge in growing their reputations astrusted HCM advisors.” Courtney Simpkiss, vice president of brokerchannel strategy, ADP

  9. “Compliance tools have to be an integral part of benefits andpayroll technology. While it may be impossible for a technologyprovider to solve every problem facing HR, employers are going todemand that compliance, at a minimum, is an integrated, cohesivepart of their tech experience.” Scott Carver, president, PlanSource

  10. “Buyers are somewhere between 60 percent and 90 percent of theway to a buying decision before they meet with a sales person. Whatthey learn about that sales person during their online researchwill largely influence whether or not a face-to-face meeting ever takes place. Sure, it takes time andconsistent effort to truly build an online brand, but now is yournext best opportunity to get started and/or take that next step.Quick action: On your social medium of choice, find anarticle to share, comment on an article, or share an original ideaof your own.” Kevin Trokey, partner and coach, Q4intelligence


  1. Employees are eager to better themselves, especially if doing socan be cost effective through innovative benefits. Consideroffering financial planning and educational services like careerdevelopment courses or college prep classes, as these are becomingmore and more popular.

  2. Disruption will continue in the insurance industry, but will yoube able to keep up? Stay up-to-date by attending industry events,such as the BenefitsPRO Broker Expo in April.

  3. To retain knowledge and keep a competitive edge, it's importantto practice and refresh skills year-round (think social mediatraining, for instance).

  4. Treat rejection as a learning opportunity. Find ways to turn ano into a yes and remember that persistence prevails.

  5. “Experiments are usually about learning. When you get a negativeoutcome, you're still really learning something that you need toknow.” Linda Hill, professor of business administration,Harvard Business School

  6. Look to your colleagues for exclusive insight you might nothave. Ask a younger co-worker what they'd most like out of abenefits package, or what type of insurance is best for yourofficemate nearing retirement.

  7. “I'm a three-time college dropout, so learning over education isvery near and dear to my heart, but to me, education is what peopledo to you, learning is what you do to yourself.” Joi Ito, director, MIT Media Lab

  8. “You can distinguish yourself with top-notch technical orindustry knowledge. It pays to be viewed as an expert, whether inrisk management or the regulatory landscape. You'll open up manyopportunities by becoming an authority.” Renee Preslar,communications manager, Transamerica Employee Benefits

  9. “The No. 1 employee wellness trend in 2017 will be an increasingfocus on helping employees better themselves financially byproviding the tools, resources, education and environment toimprove their finances.” Matt Cosgriff, retirement planconsultant, BerganKDV Wealth Management.

  10. “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” OscarWilde


  1. “Treat open enrollment communications like a full-scalemarketing campaign: plan, inform, energize, and follow up.”Nancy Sansom, CMO, PlanSource

  2. “Use available data as you work with employers to build upcomingprograms, leveraging employee behavior and filling gaps that mayexist. Just as important, use the information to tailor messagesbefore open enrollment to ensure you reach the broadest possibleaudience with relevant information.” Rob Carnaroli, broker & vice president ofsales, SutterHealth Plus

  3. The close of open enrollment is a critical time to observe what went welland what can go better next time. Solicit feedback from clients tofind out what was effective, what wasn't, and how the process canbe improved.

  4. “When employees receive communications at least four weeks priorto open enrollment, participation can be as much as four timeshigher than it is for those who allowed less time to communicate.”Dennis Healy, chief sales officer, ARAG

  5. “Too often, employers communicate their benefits program toworkers all at once, overwhelming their workforce with an abundanceof information. According to an Aflac survey, 83 percent ofmillennials said they need more time to feel confident before theirnext enrollment. A more effective strategy for employers could beto try communicating different segments of their benefits programthroughout the months leading up to open enrollment.” KenMeier, vice president, Aflac Northeast Territory

  6. “Active enrollment — where an employee must proactively choose aplan or go without coverage — can be an important step in gettingemployees more engaged in their benefits. And it benefits theemployer as well — it provides an opportunity to collect key data(such as current dependent information) and to direct employees tothe most cost-effective plans for them.” Kim Buckey, vicepresident of client services, DirectPath

  7. “You need to be able to communicate effectively about benefitswith multiple generations over a variety of high-tech andhigh-touch platforms. Make sure your benefits provider can speakold-school and new-school.” Gavin B. Dean, assistant vicepresident of the Enrollment Center, Colonial Life and Unum

  8. “As shocking as it may sound, open enrollment is not top of mindfor the vast majority of employees. So your first objective is tobreak through all the noise and get your message heard. A few waysyou can do this: Choose a memorable theme for your communications;use multiple communication methods; and keep your messaging clear,concise and consistent.” Nancy Sansom, CMO, PlanSource

  9. “Insurance open enrollment presents huge opportunities for[cybercriminals] to gain lucrative and exceptionally fresh records.We've heard the PCI Security Standards Council suggest that,“If you don't need it, don't store it.” We would suggestgoing even further. First, don't just hold this maxim to paymentcard data; apply it to all the sensitive data, including anypersonally identifiable information (PII), that you encounter.”Tim Critchley, CEO, Semafone

  10. Offer a holistic view of enrollment, by helping employers andemployees understand how all of the benefits mesh for eachindividual.

Standing Out

  1. “Most people relate best when they see real-life situations thatmay be similar to their own. My experience tells me that unless youcan put something into a real-world scenario, it's nothing morethan words on a page that might be missed.” Rob Carnaroli, broker & vice president ofsales, SutterHealth Plus

  2. Read up on prospects and gain an understanding of theirproblems, then position yourself to add the most value to everyinteraction.

  3. “The top question you need to answer is, 'Why should I use youas a broker?' How is it that you set yourself apart from otherbrokers? Be sure to document and explain the advantages you canbring to the employer.” Monica Majors, vice president, strategic sales& marketing, Sutter Health Plus

  4. “In today's health insurance landscape, there are many newboutique plans that offer unique benefits like discounted or freehealth club memberships, acupuncture, and massage therapy. Listento your clients, observe their culture and recommend uniquebenefits that are right for them. They'll appreciate your attentionto detail.” Sally Poblete, founder, Wellthie

  5. “No one likes spreadsheets. They're hard to decipher, and it'snearly impossible to compare plans side-by-side with so much datacrammed in. Employers today want to see plan options visually, sothey can clearly understand their options.” Andy Nunemaker, CEO, Dynamis SoftwareCorporation

  6. “Brokers who choose not to offer a full range of voluntarybenefits — both traditional and non-traditional — are missingtremendous sales opportunities.” Gil Lowerre and Bonnie Brazzell, president andvice president, Eastbridge Consulting Group

  7. “The traditional way of offering group benefits is outdated andbloated with waste. Instead of these antiquated traditionalbeliefs, smart people are creating systems and methods wherebyemployees can build personalized benefits packages that meetindividual needs and circumstances.” Nate Randall, founder & president, Ursa MajorConsulting

  8. Benefits that were once considered add-ones are now consideredmandatory. Round out the benefits package with an appealing mix of standard features and voluntary options.

  9. “There is a huge opportunity to revolutionize the industry byturning challenges into opportunities and strengths. We cannotafford an evolution from the past, but must truly transform theindustry through revolutionary innovation and value.” ReedSmith, senior vice president, CoBiz Insurance

  10. “It requires a better type of mind to seek out and to support orto create the new than to follow the worn paths of acceptedsuccess.” John D. Rockefeller, Sr.


  1. “Providing education and engagement about both benefits andworkplace initiatives increases the effectiveness of programs andcontributes to keeping costs down for employers. The moreengagement generated, the healthier and better protected theemployees.” Steve Horvath, vice president, CoreSource and DanJohnson, vice president, Trustmark Voluntary BenefitSolutions

  2. “The benefits business is full of jargon. Studies have shownthat words we use all the time are confusing. Watch the jargon anduse terms that make sense to employees.” MartyTraynor, vice president of voluntary benefits, Mutualof Omaha

  3. “M. Scott Peck said that true listening requires a setting asideof oneself. And sometimes that means setting aside your personalopinion.” Celeste Headlee, radio host

  4. “Millennials get information on their own. However, when it'stime to purchase, they still want the personal service and anadvisor to help them. As a large demographic, they are similar tothe silent generation in that they think through their purchasesand do research on their own.” Aprilyn Chavez Geissler, owner, Geissler AgencyInc.

  5. “Don't stop communication once the sale is made. The success ofyour business requires keeping customers on the books.Communication between enrollment periods can help strengthenrelationships and boost persistency.” Rob Carnaroli, broker & vice president ofsales, SutterHealth Plus

  6. An Aflac study found that 80 percent of employees agree that awell-communicated benefits package would make them less likely toleave their jobs.

  7. “Many employees are not knowledgeable about benefits plans andinsurance terminology and, as a result, are at risk of gettinginadequate coverage or buying products they don't need to. You haveto look at the workforce and determine what channel would be bestto reach employees.” Dayne Williams, CEO, PlanSource

  8. “When carriers, brokers, and HR teams are putting togetherbenefits packages, they need to think like marketers. They mustadapt their messages to a mobile, impatient audience, while stillsupplying enough information so that people know what they aregetting into.” Scott Carver, president, PlanSource

  9. “Many otherwise great campaigns have failed because they aretone deaf to their audience. A program from union members betternot be littered with 'employee' references. Graphics should matchthe demographics of the employee audience, and designers often tendto show 'beautiful people,' but plans need to be shown benefittingreal people.” MartyTraynor, vice president of voluntary benefits, Mutualof Omaha

  10. “Don't equate your experience with theirs. If they're talkingabout having lost a family member, don't start talking about thetime you lost a family member. If they're talking about the troublethey're having at work, don't tell them about how much you hateyour job. It's not the same. It is never the same. All experiencesare individual, and more important, it is not about you.” Celeste Headlee, radio host

Customer Service

  1. “Businesses need and expect more from their brokers. They arelooking beyond traditional insurance and benefits administrationand need expertise in all areas of human capital. Brokers whoembrace this by providing insight through benchmarking data andanalytics, offering set up, connection and optimization support, aswell as a variety of ongoing service models will continues to gainmarket share of those who don't.” Courtney Simpkiss, vice president, Broker ChannelStrategy

  2. “I would love if someone came to me and said, 'Here are theissues we've seen with other agencies like yours and here's how wehelped them save money.'” Elicia Putnam, small business owner

  3. “Brokers can best serve customers by knowing the current marketlandscape well, speaking confidently about it and sharing thatknowledge with customers.” Monica Majors, vice president, strategic sales& marketing, Sutter Health Plus

  4. “I encourage brokers to start renewal conversations with abudget established, and then work within that budget. Why? Becausetraditionally, only total plan cost is mentioned upfront, andpremium share isn't discussed until after a plan is chosen. That isextremely frustrating for employers and makes choosing the rightplan difficult.” Andy Nunemaker, CEO, Dynamis SoftwareCorporation

  5. “Personalize, don't just customize. You can offer a long list ofoptions to your clients, or you can shape what you offer based onthe relationships you've built and what you know about yourclients.” Bruce Hentschel, strategy development, PrincipalFinancial Group

  6. Clients want your benefits IQ to be off the charts, but don'tskirt emotional intelligence. The ability to listen and empathizenot only shows clients that you care, but that you have a deepunderstanding of what their unique needs are.

  7. Stephen Covey said, “Most people don't listen with the intent tounderstand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Don't just offersolutions, make it a point to understand why those solutions arethe best for your customers.

  8. “Good customer service is the backbone of your business. Itdistinguishes you from direct sales and aggregators. But yourcustomer service efforts must be efficient, too. Minimize the timeit takes to resolve customer issues by making small improvements toyour customer service workflow and policies. Head off long,drawn-out cases by anticipating potential problems in advance andcreating solutions for each. In the end, you'll have more time fornew business and to service your existing client base.” ReneePreslar, communications manager, Transamerica EmployeeBenefits

  9. “Customers are smarter than ever. And they're paying moreattention to the level of customer service you're providing. That'swhy marketers are so concerned with the concept of the 'userexperience' — a buzzword that's making everybody nervous aboutconnecting with customers. Truth is: It's a real game-changer whenit comes to increasing sales and keeping customers loyal. AnAccenture study found 90 percent of B2B execs expressed theirintention to maintain or increase their spending on customerexperience.” Lauren Mestig, CMO, Maestro Health

  10. “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we arethe hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect ofthe customer experience a little bit better.” Jeff Bezos, CEO,Amazon

Creating Better Health Care Consumers

  1. “What employers are seeking is simple — quality benefits and away to lower costs. Offering a self-funded plan with complementaryvoluntary benefit products and solutions allows employers to takeadvantage of multiple opportunities while providing more optionsfor their employees.” Steve Horvath, vice president, CoreSource, and DanJohnson, vice president, Trustmark Voluntary BenefitSolutions

  2. A well-designed consumer-drive health plan creates a win-winscenario. Employers hold the line on costs, and employees pay onlyfor the coverage they need and want.

  3. “If we want to encourage an army of shoppers, we need to use ahybrid of online and offline approaches, including: incentives thatgive people a financial reason to seek better value care, websitesthat help consumers understand the intersection of cost andquality, and value coaches who provide concierge service by phone.”Heyward Donigan, president & CEO, Vitals

  4. “Many larger employers invest in benefits for the long haul, butsome small business owners consider decisions about benefitsone-off occurrences. The successful broker helps small businessowners see benefits as one part of a strategic vision for futuregrowth and success, rather than one item to check off the to-dolist.” James Reid, executive vice president, group,voluntary & worksite products, MetLife

  5. “Recommend specific benefits — like disability insurance — thathelp clients protect their income, their ability to save, and theirfuture.” BruceHentschel, strategy development, specialty benefitsdivision of the Principal Financial Group

  6. Consider high-performing networks or direct primary care to maintain orimprove benefits while cutting costs.

  7. “For the vision of consumer-directed health care to be fullyrealized, it is imperative that employers and benefit providers donot overlook the critical importance of education and targetedengagement to empower better decision making.” Steven G. Auerbach, CEO, Alegeus

  8. “When employers, employees (aka, patients), insurance carriersand health care professionals create a greater degree of alignment,share data and focus on value and outcomes, the result will beimproved health, lower cost, and higher patient satisfaction.”Reed Smith, senior vice president, CoBiz Insurance

  9. “It's not that consumers won't shop online for health care likethey do for most other things — it's just not easy enough … yet.It's about creating a transparent marketplace where quality andcost are known entities. It's about getting providers torenegotiate rates and address quality concerns. And it's aboutmaking all consumers — not just those savvy enough to shop online —active participants in this system.” Heyward Donigan, president& CEO, Vitals

  10. “People want to do the right thing, but they encounter barriersalong the way. Online health tools have to recognize and overcomethose barriers. Consumers need help opening the box.” KeithRoberts, vice president of engagement, Change Healthcare

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