I have written several articles on “how to be different” and how benefits brokers are “stocking their shelves” with technology solutions (to be different). A more recent article was about how to build an enduring business which does require having a relevant value proposition that would be valuable even in 5 or 10 years into the future. In spite of all the new tools and resources that brokers are stocking their shelves with and their efforts to be different many are still losing business to other firms that often have inferior solutions, at least on paper. What has really astounded me is that many benefits brokers are simply being out-marketed and out-sold. I am surprised because most brokers believe themselves to be pretty good sales people. For the most part, I agree with them. However, I believe the problem is much deeper in most organizations, but this is a solvable problem.
The reason I am writing this article is because I have seen this too often. I have seen benefits firms with superior capabilities and even technology lose to companies like Zenefits because the sales person did not have the training to deliver the right message. Or in many cases the benefits firm did not deliver any message to their clients at all about some of their capabilities. How often does this happen? It is not the sales persons fault. Their firm loaded their company up with tools and resources but these became somewhat “trinkets” thrown on top of a fairly weak foundation. The success of many firms to date often has been the result of strong sales people but the world has changed. Old messages with little marketing and no clear vision will not win against focused organizations with a unique value proposition, a strong brand promise, and well trained sales people.
Whenever I meet a new broker I often ask the question about how they are unique. It is amazing how often I either don’t get an answer or the answer is “we provide great service”. I remind everyone that great service is rarely a measurable differentiator. And I guess if everyone says that great service is their differentiator then how can one be different when everyone says the same thing. It reminds me of the Yogi Berra quote where he said, “nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.” Everyone provides great service and that’s how their different? Sounds like Yogi to me.
The problem I am seeing is not with sales. It is in marketing which includes brand building. It even starts with a lack of vision. And all this is combined with a lack a planning. How can one plan when there is no clear vision and brand promise. Even when there is a brand or vision that vision is rarely “lived” throughout an organization.
My best evidence of this was seen when I was working with a producer from a national benefits firm who showed me a brochure she was using. I asked her who wrote the brochure and she said she did. She said she had no marketing in her office and nothing came from corporate so marketing was left up to her. Imagine a national firm where all the producers had to create their own materials? What I am finding is that this is common.
When I got into the benefits technology business in 1998 I was the CEO of a dotcom company that raised significant capital. One of the best exercises I went through was with my marketing firm. Our whole campaign started with one simple question which lead to one simple word. That question was “If you were to give a sales presentation or drop off some brochure to a prospect what one word would you want them to use to describe your company two weeks after the presentation? That word or it could be a few words needs to “live” within your organization. It needs to emanate through your organization and everything you do.
OK, so what is the answer? As I mentioned in my recent webinar most brokers are looking on the outside for answers when the answers are the inside. It starts with a re-evaluation of your vision. As Simon Sinek would say it starts with “Why”. It really requires that one understands their purpose for doing what they are doing. Does everyone in your organization agree with your Why? Then one must build from there. The building of the brand and then the marketing pieces, website, and whatever it is that you may bring to a prospect. It will then require educating your team and training the sales people on how to deliver your vision. Your Why!
I believe most firms have not done this. At least I have seen little evidence of this. Most have been looking to the outside for their differences; for their competitive advantage. They attend every sales presentation from some technology vendor or other vendor that promises to deliver the answer to success. But the competitive advantage people are looking for is often sitting under their own roof. Yet, most can’t find it, because they are looking in the wrong place. As a result clients and sales are lost. And they spend more money, on more trinkets, wondering whether or not they have found the answer.
This change requires hard work. It takes an honest look at one’s business to see if there is an understanding of one’s Why. It does no good to lie to one-self on this one. Or maybe over time firms have wandered far away from their Why. So the whole organization does not act as one unit but as a bunch of individuals trying to figure things out themselves. So I ask you a few questions. How is your firm unique? What is your vision? Your Why? And does everyone in your organization live this? Good answers to these questions deliver great results. Bad answers are the reason most companies are out-marketed and out-sold.