John Sbrocco is a health care strategist and principle at Questige Consulting. The agency seeks to change how companies manage their health care supply chain and improve the health care experience, from accessibility of benefits  to quality of treatment. Benefits PRO editor Paul Wilson chatted with him in December to discuss his views on the industry.

Paul Wilson: How did you start in the industry?

I started out doing life insurance and investments, and there happened to be a benefits shop upstairs. In life and investment sales, it’s often sell, go find a new client; sell, go find a new client. I liked the idea of recurring revenue where I could build a client base, do a good job and have a nice business. So I left and searched for a role in benefits. I worked as an account manager for a couple years, while also doing some part-times sales, and decided it was time to go out and flap my wings. So I started my firm about four years ago and here we are.

PW: How has your career path so far shaped your mindset as a broker?

When I was 18, I owned a landscaping company. I would get a new account, treat them well and that’s how I grew my book. Looking at benefits, I thought, this looks similar. Do a great job, always get back to people—but in benefits, also have the best strategies out there.

Retaining business means providing great service so they wouldn’t even consider talking to anybody else. Bring them strategies and solutions that nobody else has.

The challenge in building the business was how to differentiate myself. So I started to learn self-funding. I decided, this is what I’m going to focus on; this is going to give me an edge. That’s how I really started to grind my teeth, win business and change the conversation.

PW: What makes you and your company unique?

I think it’s the amount of time we put into educating ourselves about the products in the market. I used to play poker when I was younger, kind of for a living. You could call it semi-pro. There was an old rule of thumb that if you play 20 hours on the table, you spend 20 hours off the table studying the game. I apply that same method to my business. I’m reading every night and on weekends. I don’t turn vendors away. I like to hear what they have to say. I like to hear creative solutions.

Also, becoming part of The Agency Growth Mastermind. We travel around the country, meeting with different agencies, and we hear what each is doing in their market. I think having that education and knowledge about products and programs gives us an edge. Because I’m young in the business, it requires me to be competitive to grow my block. I can’t just go in with the same old model, so I learn in order to win business. That gives me an edge, because when I’m competing against another consultant, I know they’re not going to outwork me.

PW: I’m hearing a lot more about transparency and broker pay lately. What’s driving that?

I just gave a talk to a bunch of CFOs and I said, “You’re probably going to pay me more than you’re paying your current broker. But I’m going to provide outcomes and save you a lot more money, so you’re not going to have a problem paying me more.”

When you can align it like that, they don’t balk about what you’re making. A lot of times, there are no question asked. It’s performance-based compensation. It’s all on the table and you’re working as partners. My relationship with self-funded clients who pay fees is so much tighter, because they view me as a trusted advisor. When you’re in a fully insured program where you’re just coming out once a year, your relationship isn’t as deep.

PW: What does the word “disruption” make you think of?

To me, disruption means forcing someone to take a different path than they’re used to. They want to go down the path of least resistance, but I like to say, “Listen, this is going to require you to take action. I’m not for everybody. If you’re not looking to take action, then maybe I’m not for you. I’m going to disrupt what you’re doing.”

How does the saying go? “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” You try to change their mindset a little bit and get them to think outside the box. Get them fed up enough to change.

PW: Anything else you’ve been doing to disrupt?

We’re taking clients out of national brand-name carriers and putting them in regional networks that they may not have heard of. We’re helping them understand that you don’t need a network. All the hospitals are in all the networks. If there’s a challenge with a provider, we make a phone call and negotiate the rate with them. Any time we’ve had a challenge where a requested surgeon or physician isn’t in network, we call and we have a conversation. “Our client wants a knee surgery; what are you getting paid here? What would you accept in cash payment in seven days?”

We’re requiring members to take the next step of consumerism. When they shop online, they read reviews. If they’re shopping for an item that costs $10, but they find it for $8, they buy it. Yet when they get knee surgery, they don’t do any of that.

Is it disruptive? Yes, because they have to take more steps. People get scared in the beginning and may need to hear from other people. When we do follow up meetings, I ask, “Does anyone have examples of what they did?” Someone always tells a story about how great it was and suddenly, everyone’s on board.

We’ve pushed the envelope with our clients. I push it as far as I can get them to go. Sometimes, they may pump the brakes, but I’ll push them all the way if I believe in the program.

PW: What are your favorite things about your job?

I love winning new business. I think every consultant in the industry loves to win. And winning could mean different things: Obviously winning new business, but it also means providing great outcomes for clients. When I’m able to deliver a check for unused premium dollars that won’t go to the insurance company, that gets me really pumped.

I really like to beat the insurance carriers at their own game, and that’s what I feel like I’m paid to do. I’m paid to navigate the system and figure out ways to beat them at their own game. When I’m able to beat them for my clients and show them that we’re beating them, it excites me.

PW: Beating the system? I think I see another link to your poker background.

Yeah, I just like winning; outsmarting the opponent. With poker, you had to use every edge you had, and one of those edges was skill. The more you knew, the better your edge and I feel it’s the same when it comes to health care. The more knowledge you have about the system, the more you can help your clients.

PW: How can the industry do a better job of attracting young consultants?

That’s a good question. The financial firms like the company where I started do a good job of getting young people in, selling the dream and showing them other successful agents in the business to help and mentor them. Not so much on the group benefits side. I think the big houses in our industry need to do a better job of selling the life you could have as a consultant once you build up a book of business.

PW: And what advice would you give to someone interested in joining the profession?

The number one thing I’d say to them is that the beauty is in the struggle. Enjoy the struggle; it’s the most fun time. You learn a lot, and if you keep grinding and outworking people, the results always come. A lot of times, when I hit things in the second or third year, it’s because of things I did in the first year that are suddenly paying dividends. So if you get up and go to work every day, and you work your butt off, the results will come.

PW: What are your sources of inspiration?

Definitely the mentors I’ve met in the industry; guys I talk to on a daily basis, like Craig Lack and Gary Becker.

I also like to listen to Grant Cardone, because he’s so full of energy and really gets me pumped up. He’s a little wacky, but he’s always fired up.

And I’ve been listening to the David Saltzman podcast for a couple of years now. That’s a cool way to learn from different industry people sharing their knowledge. Everyone should take advantage.

PW: Finish this sentence: The key to success in this industry going forward is…

Stay hungry.