My April article "Getting Started with a Consultative Sale" dealt with how to get the necessary information to lay the foundation for a successful consultative relationship. So, now you have a completed Discovery Form (short one or two page fact finder). You have in your possession enough basic information to assess potential compliance risks and identify opportunities (selling opportunities). What the heck do you do with it? Thus enters the first roadblock to the consultative sale, acquiring the necessary knowledge base.
In this article we will take a look at how to develop and maintain a good knowledge base and develop associations necessary to provide quality consultative services to our clients.
In the March HIU article "The Need for Change and What It Really Means" I mentioned some of the ways of acquiring the needed knowledge. Application of this knowledge is essential to assist your clients in solving the long range problems associated with health and welfare benefits. Many in the industry have taken the time to become educated in the multiple and varied aspects of the tax code and laws pertaining to our industry. But, we need to keep in mind that it is not just acquiring the knowledge that enables us to help solve our clients problems, it the application of that knowledge.
In that light, as we are learning and acquiring expertise, we must constantly be asking ourselves knowledge application questions such as:
1. How can I use this information to creatively solve a client problem?
2. How can this information be a tool to attain new business?
3. How can I make this obstacle an opportunity?
4. Add your own question here for fun and profit.
Remember, application of knowledge (your intellectual capital) is the true differentiator that will separate you from the competition.
In determining what we must learn, to stay at the head of the class, let's not be deluded into thinking that "healthcare delivery" is just about selling health insurance. It is about dealing with all the problems related to health and welfare of our clients. For the employer, controlling costs, saving money, compliance risks, recruiting and retaining quality employees and human resources time and manpower requirements are primary concerns. The employees' risks and concerns include affordable access to quality medical care, the financial impact of long and short-term disability or an untimely death, the health problems of lifestyle abuses, long term care needs and much, much more.
WOW, what have we gotten ourselves into? My answer is an exciting, challenging, innovative and lucrative career that truly offers us a unique opportunity to help others. We have in this country, the best private system of social welfare ever devised, a vital life and health insurance industry which has helped us to maintain a quality of life never before achieved in any other country. If we do it right (creatively and consultatively), we can continue to make a good living and have a business opportunity that will attract the brightest new talent available into our industry.
As a starting point, basic health benefits require knowledge of at least 12 Internal Revenue Code (IRC) sections and numerous other legal and many other legislative issues such as COBRA, ADA, ERISA, etc. A good understanding of all these Code sections and the related laws is essential to guiding our clients through the maze safely. But this is only one aspect of health and welfare benefits, we must also be knowledgeable about the financial hazards of disability or an untimely death.
Are you completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of this challenge or do you need more? I don't know about you but that is quite enough for me so let's break it down into bite-sized pieces.
First we need to acquire and maintain a good knowledge base. We have available within our industry a large number of institutions and organizations that provide excellent educational opportunities.
Professional Certification Programs:
- The American College – http://www.theamericancollege.edu/
- Registered Health Underwriter (RHU)
- Registered Employee Benefits Consultant (REBC)
- Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
- Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
- Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)
- Chartered Advisor for Senior Living (CASL)
- Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP)
- Masters of Science in Management (MSM)
- Masters of Science in Financial Services (MSFS)
- Chartered Leadership Fellow (CLF)
- NAHU – http://www.nahu.org/education/designations.cfm
- Disability Insurance Associate (DIA)
- Long Term Care Professional (LTCP)
- Corporation for Long Term Care Certification (CLTC)
- Employee Health Benefit (EHB)
- International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP)
- Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS), http://www.ifebp.org/CEBSDesignation/Overview/
Though it obviously would not be appropriate or even possible to attain all these designations, getting at least one designation can certainly be helpful in establishing credibility and providing a foundation on which to build specialized knowledge. It can also be very beneficial to gain an understanding of the basics of accounting and financial planning to work more effectively with other professional advisors with whom you will develop strategic alliances (more on this later).
Reference and Research Services:
Every good agency should own the research and reference material of at least one of these institutions. As an example of their importance to professional consultants take a lesson from attorneys and accountants. Usually the first thing you see when you enter an accountancy firm or law firm is a prominently displayed tax or law library. Why should we be any different, we need these resources to work effectively with our clients and their other professional advisors. Remember, strategic benefit planning is a team effort.
Here is another opportunity to learn and help grow our industry. For a moment let me step on my "soapbox". If you are an active professional in this industry, you really need to be a member of the National Association of Health Underwriters. Why you ask? Because NAHU not only defends our profession from bad legislation and promotes good legislation, it also is a wonderful organization in which we can interface with peers and share ideas that help us all.
In addition to all the institutions just mentioned, continuing education vendors, group general agencies and insurance carriers are an ongoing source of general and specialized product and other specialized knowledge. The one problem I have seen here is that there is a tendency for many of us to take the easy way out. Many of the CE vendors have a broad variety of inexpensive courses and we tend to get lazy. It becomes very easy to get our continuing education requirements by taking courses that don't provide anything to expand our knowledge base. An example of this would be for a veteran broker who takes a course in the basics of group insurance. You get the CE but don't learn anything new.
Another key to application of knowledge is the development of "Strategic Alliances" that can provide tremendous synergy. Napoleon Hill (the Charles Darwin of self-help authors) in his book "Think and Grow Rich", calls strategic alliances "The Master Mind".
Strategic alliances can be developed with professionals in related industries. This is a long term endeavor requiring careful attention to personalities and standards akin to yours. We also need to be able to provide quality technical and informational support to our strategic alliances. When developed over time and with care, these alliances can provide technical support and knowledge far beyond our expectations.
Strategic Alliances – Synergizing the power of knowledge
As group brokers we need to look to developing alliances with attorneys, accountants, financial planners, Third Party Administrators (TPAs) and a variety of other professionals involved in our industry. For us three of the best alliances are financial planners, accountants and attorneys.
Let me just take a moment to share how I developed one such relationship. One Saturday several years back my wife Sandie (a newbie in the business at the time) and I were invited by a friend from our church to join him on a charter bus to attend the USC v Oregon football game (not a very safe place of a U of O grad.). Now this became particularly tenuous because that year Oregon was actually favored to win. So when someone yelled out "What time is it", I expected to hear "Duck hunting time". You can imagine how relieved I was when the person in the seat behind us responded in a loud voice, "BEER:30" and then handed me a beer. It was smooth sailing the rest of the trip, even though Oregon won the game.
As it turned out, Mr. "Beer:30" was, Al Arias, CPA and founding partner of A.V. Arias and Company a boutique CPA firm dealing in high-end strategic tax planning located in San Diego. As luck would have it, Al and Sandie (not an Oregon grad.) hit it off and before the week was out Sandie and I were meeting with him at his office to talk about their benefits. That was 9 years ago and since that time Al has become a true friend to Sandie and me, a client and mentor. He has been a terrific sounding board for some of my screwball ideas. Not only has he provided us with great tax advice and planning for our firm he has also introduced us to some of the top financial planners in Southern California who have also developed into good strategic alliances.
It takes time and effort but if you are persistent in developing a strong knowledge base and applying it through strong strategic alliances it will pay worthwhile dividends.