For many business owners and CFOs, employee benefits can be a challenge that they don’t have the time or in-depth knowledge to handle. This is where teams like ours comes in. While even for experienced advisors, employee benefits can be a tricky topic, I’ve found that to effectively advise business owners in this space, extensive preparation is key.
What does that look like? First, educate your team sufficiently in current markets and all things relative to benefits. Our work as an advisor goes well beyond the premiums they pay and the deductibles they must meet.
Next, work on educating clients on the general knowledge of employee benefits, help them understand the right solution for their family and how to use our products to meet their needs. This early education helps you go beyond a spreadsheet comparison to improve experience and outcomes. This preparation is what will set you and your practice apart from the competition.
Educating your team
Before they meet with a client, it’s important to keep your team up to date with the latest developments across employee benefits. This means helping them understand the current market and available vendors, which will allow them to anticipate any upcoming changes in benefits that may impact the client’s needs. This will also help them guide the client, so they can identify the plan that is the best fit for their needs.
Another way to provide the best client service and stay ahead of other advising firms is by thoroughly reading vendor contracts. This is achieved in part from practice, as well as just taking extra time to comb through legal documents. This seemingly simple step can make a substantial difference when identifying which plans fit best for clients.
One example of this: your team needs to be well equipped to handle short term disability, as most short-term disability plans have a pre-existing condition waiting period. By closely inspecting contracts, your team can work to mitigate the length of this waiting period.
Seemingly minor changes in a contract can impact your clients the most. Without having knowledge of the overarching market, your team may not be well prepared to build out a comprehensive plan for the client.
How to educate the client
Before we start talking about plans and numbers with a client, my team spends a fair amount of time updating them on what employee benefits entails. To start, we take a 10,000-foot view of the market and create our clients’ goals. This means presenting a general overview of what benefits are, what we do with vendors and how a plan is created.
It’s important for clients to trust us in developing plans, deciding partners, negotiating costs, teaching their employees about benefits and more. Sharing information about the market and employee benefits allows us to gain their full confidence.
Time on client calls is spent in part divulging details about our experiences with each vendor – again to build client trust. After hearing this information, clients often ask, “How did I not know this before?” Once your clients have reached this point, you are ready to build out their comprehensive plan.
Crafting a benefit plan
While building rapport with clients, you can gain valuable information about their benefit goals, what they wish to offer and their overall company vision. However, it is still necessary to clarify exactly what benefits a business owner wishes to offer their employees.
The information is helpful when deciphering what vendors and plans fit best. This is one of the most important aspects of our job I believe, bringing employers relevant insight on their industry, competitors, and the labor market overall so we can help them succeed.
As you dive into vendors and potential plans, look beyond the premiums. While one rate may be higher, the overall value may be worth the extra money. For example, when looking at health insurance, employers often want to provide the “best coverage” but that means something different to everyone.
It is our responsibility to help employers build their benefit offerings to best meet the needs of their employees, which isn’t always taking the cheapest option either.
Preparing multiple options for a benefit within a plan allows clients access to all the information. This helps them feel they are getting the best plan possible and gives insight into how your team came to this decision. Multiple plan options must meet several criteria such as pricing, benefit, efficiency, simplicity.
We have seen our competitors put together packages that made no sense and left the employees scratching their heads just in the name of having options.
How to present a benefit plan
When presenting this to the client, remind them how a benefit plan works and share what is available in the market, based on the client’s company and employees. This can help to refresh memories of earlier discussions about employee benefits and what they learned.
Once they seem comfortable with the concepts again, lead them through the presentation. Taking time to go through how each type of plan works and what each number means may seem tedious, but it will help them understand the thought process behind the options laid in front of them.
Explain how, while a plan may cost more than others, it could be the best option for their specific needs. It may be helpful to also touch on where your firm can negotiate with the vendors for a better deal. The goal is for clients to leave the presentation feeling heard and excited that they have a great team behind them.
Like many aspects of financial advising, preparation is your team’s greatest tool in building a successful plan. By taking the time to get your team up to speed on current market trends, you also set them up for impactful meetings. And educating your clients will help them to not only feel confident in your teams’ decisions, but also help them make the best decision once they reach the planning stage.
The most important thing to remember is we are there to serve a need, solve a problem, improve an outcome, not merely to sell a product. Remember to train your staff to treat clients they way they want to be treated and you will see the referrals line up at your door.
About the Author Danny O’Connell is the CEO of Next Level Insurance Agency, where he leads his team in designing total benefit programs for employers and aids individuals in navigating their own benefits. Danny has been an MDRT member since 2008.