This is a question you may not have given any thought to. Insurance professionals tend to operate in a vacuum—sure, you see and talk with clients and prospects every day of the week, but unless you’re involved with an agent association, you may not interact with your colleagues or competitors very often, or encounter someone new to the industry. So why are we asking you how you would advise an agent who’s just getting their feet wet? That’ll become clear in a moment, but like many of us, you’re probably scratching your head trying to figure out what you would say to a new agent who asks for your advice. Maybe you’re thinking that you would tell them to RUN; after all, with all the turmoil in the industry, it may not be the ideal time to be entering the health insurance sales force. Or maybe your advice would be to take a path different from the one you chose.
If you’re having a little trouble coming up with advice, here are a few ideas you might consider:
A broker is a middleman, someone who brings buyers and sellers together. The assumption here is that clients know they want to buy something, and the broker finds a product or service that meets the client’s needs. A consultant, on the other hand, learns about the client’s situation, identifies needs the client may not even be aware of, and recommends solutions to satisfy those needs. Insurance is becoming increasingly complex, and in 2017 our clients need consultants more than they need brokers.
Here’s another way to think about it. A broker might tell an employer that he’d like to shop the market to see if he can find a better group health plan at a lower price for that group. In contrast, a consultant would ask why the employer is offering a health plan, and what is their end goal? If, for instance, the company’s goal is to attract and retain quality employees, the consultant will help design a benefits package and offer additional solutions to help the employer achieve their recruitment and retention goals and save money. It’s a subtle but important difference.
This is another way of saying Agents who focus on their commissions tend to earn less than advisers who seek to find the absolute best solution for their clients. If you focus on your client’s needs, the money will take care of itself.
Here’s an example. A few years ago, when Health Savings Accounts (HSA’s) were growing in popularity, some consultants saw the writing on the wall and began to embrace the consumer-directed solutions. They advised their clients that an HSA is an individually-owned account that can grow over time if they contribute regularly and save more than they spend. Today, many of these clients could have a substantial balance in their account, and the agent continues to earn commission on the health insurance premium every year. Happy clients tend to stay. Other brokers, however, decided that HSAs weren’t worth the trouble; explaining the tax-advantaged account was difficult, and the lower premium meant that they earned a lower commission. Today, those agents may be struggling to hang on to their clients. As premiums have risen, their clients have likely changed plans multiple times, and possibly agents. And, ironically, many of those clients are likely signing up for High Deductible Health Plans, but the skyrocketing premiums might prevent them from making significant contributions to an HSA.
Advisers who focus on serving their clients’ needs are probably following this advice. Those who chase commissions, on the other hand, may find themselves representing plans and carriers that they wouldn’t recommend to their own family members. It’s easier to sell products you believe in and happy clients stay.
As you’re building your product portfolio, do everything you can to develop great relationships with the solution providers you represent—it will pay huge dividends in the future. When you think of your carriers as partners rather than vendors, you’ll inevitably improve your ability to serve your clients with stronger relationships. Your carrier partners will help you because they know you’ll always give them a chance to win the client’s business.
In order to differentiate yourself, you need to offer solutions that your competitors don’t. As a consultant, you should learn about as many solutions as you can, do your homework, and then be an early adopter of the ones that show the most promise. By staying on the cutting edge, you always have something new to talk about with your clients, and offer something new to prospects that their current agent hasn’t mentioned.
This sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s actually a great strategy. Your insurance license allows you to sell a wide range of products to customers of every size, from individuals and families to large corporations. It’s impossible, though, to be an expert in everything. Successful advisers choose to focus their attention on a specific market segment For instance, decide to specialize in health insurance and employee benefits for municipalities with fewer than 100 employees. Or focus on health insurance and financial products for families with incomes of $100,000 or more.
When you specialize, you‘re more likely to become an expert in your field. Consulting with your clients will be easier and may allow for greater success. You’re also more likely to receive more compatible referrals. It’s important, though, not to be too specific in your products. For instance, once you decide who your target client is, you should try to meet all of their insurance needs. Instead of focusing exclusively on health insurance, you can also market dental and vision insurance, life and disability, and supplemental products like accident, critical illness, and cancer policies. You’ll serve your clients better, and your income, along with client loyalty, will grow.
We can’t stress this enough. Technology is playing a bigger role in the insurance industry. From quoting to enrolling, to tracking leads and managing your business, the available technology can make your job easier. Do some research, and invest in solutions that will make you a more efficient consultant and help you better serve your clients.
The way people shop is changing. Increasingly, they’re moving away from traditional advertising and embracing content marketing; they give their business to companies that give them something. What this means is, you need to be good at delivering relevant content, in a manner that reaches your audience, often means via social media. Additionally, clients can be skeptical of solutions they haven’t heard about, but consumers tend to trust recommendations from friends and family. Ask your clients to provide reviews of your services and share those review on social media. It’s a creative way to attract new business, and can be incredibly successful in growing your business.
You’ve heard all of the clichés: “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.” “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” And they are true. The Affordable Care Act changed the way you sell, and it’s about to change again. To keep up, you may need to change the way you do business again. We know it’s not easy, but when you’re adaptable to change, you will win new clients; those who don’t change, often will struggle.
This suggestion fits well with the advice to be an early adopter, embrace technology, and adapt to change. You should continually educate yourself on new laws, new solutions, and new ways to market. Being the one with the knowledge could help you grow your business year over year.
Teddy Roosevelt once said “Every man owes a part of his time and money to the business or industry in which he is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere.” There are some big organizations doing very significant work to make sure agents continue to have a role in helping consumers find the best available health coverage. It’s wise to participate in these organizations helping your cause, agents who do, often find they get more out of it than they put in.
This of course is not a comprehensive to-do list for insurance professionals; instead, it’s just a start. You can—and should—continually add new strategies to keep growing as a professional.
Now, ask yourself this question: are you following your own advice?
The truth is you don’t need to find an insurance newbie to mentor or share your wisdom with. Instead, you can start growing by following your own advice. For some reason, we are a lot better at pointing out what others need to do than we are at evaluating our own situation and deciding what we need to change. That’s the purpose of this exercise –brainstorm and think about all of the things you already know that could help a new agent succeed, and then apply those ideas to your own business. If it’s good advice, it’s good advice—so why not follow it?
Don’t do it yourself! Every successful individual surrounds themselves with a great team. Let AHCP be part of your success team. We can help you achieve your goals.