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A New Approach to Selling Voluntary Benefits

Boost production by integrating web components into traditional sales practices.

By Hal Sizer, RHU

Once a road less traveled in the insurance industry, the information superhighway has emerged as an important e-commerce vehicle. In the voluntary benefits marketplace, effectively weaving web resources into traditional business practices can accelerate sales growth without the need to abandon the classic sales approach. Whether you are servicing existing clients or selling to prospects, Internet-based tools can pave alternate routes for your prospects and drive decisions at the customer level.

As an advisor, you must raise your clients’ awareness of your products and services and establish a need for them. In your drive to accomplish this objective, you are always looking for new sales ideas to help enhance your clients’ buying experiences. To achieve success when integrating web components into traditional sales methods, you must first identify integration points whereby Internet-based advances can improve communications, needs assessment, application, sales tracking and administration.

You can become more effective in the sales and education process by leveraging well-known Internet features. These include “customizability” for needs assessment, “interactivity” for enabling online application, and 24/7 “availability” for delivering convenience to your prospects and empowering family decisions. What’s more, by integrating online services into the sales process, you can easily differentiate your product from that of your competitors while enriching the company’s voluntary benefits offerings and providing a cost-effective and time-efficient solution to the employer’s administrative problems. Thanks to online functionality, voluntary benefit cases are now being placed within as little as a month after meetings with employees, regardless of the type of insurance product sold.

If you’re thinking of interchanging traditional sales techniques with an Internet-based approach, here are effective strategies that will help accelerate your sales.

The web as resource
Depending on what you use when navigating the information superhighway, you will find educational websites with links to questions and answers for your prospects, automated shows for further illustration, interactive needs calculators to help them meet their personal needs, dynamic savings evaluators, hyperlinked glossaries and streaming video testimonials. To further your online communications efforts with your prospects, consider performing an “e-census.” You can do this by targeting the decision-makers or owners of companies that have a propensity toward the use of technology, such as firms in business service industries. At the same time, you should continue to focus on companies with which you have developed a strong relationship, where there are ties to other benefits, and where you have an opportunity to learn about ways to enhance existing plans.

Keep in mind that there are always cost-effective opportunities to enhance coverage for employees. For example, according to the April 2002 survey by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), 82 percent of workers either have no long-term disability coverage or have coverage they believe is inadequate. Using this example, you can begin the sales process by obtaining an “electronic” census of employees to develop recommendations that are in line with the demographics of the company.

Getting ready
To enhance your chance for success, establish a company contact for the application process. You can partner with this contact when you are trying to solidify a strategy or gain commitment for the specifics of a case. In addition, make sure that the application period is different from the time your clients are completing other applications. Also, install a variety of precommunication systems with the company by establishing, via email and the telephone, two or three contacts prior to group meetings. Then, schedule a group introduction meeting to last 15 minutes, followed by a second email communication with a link to your carrier’s website for needs assessment and policy application or to arrange for face-to-face meetings. Keep in mind, however, that electronic processes should not replace offline procedures for employees who may prefer paper-based methods. Finally, close the loop by following up by telephone.

Educating prospects
During the educational process, you can convince most of your prospects not to use traditional, paper-based methods by encouraging them to use online tools to review their current, personal financial situations. Make sure there are opt-out opportunities for those who prefer to continue using the traditional, paper-based process. Those who choose the online path can preview their products and services and select the benefits they need. Alternatively, traditionalists can receive paper proposals, with little room for self-assessment. They can later request paper materials, including printed application forms, if they are interested.

Applying for benefits
During the application process, your clients may choose to apply for coverage on the Internet, answering questions and viewing prepopulated, state-specific applications. They can complete their applications with new, button-click, e-signature capabilities, which require no paper or “wet” (pen) signatures. Information about applications is directly fed into the company’s systems. “Clean applications” are auto-issued, and policies are ready within 24 hours.

Electronic tracking systems are available to you and benefits administrators to monitor case application progress, maintain momentum and achieve participation levels.

Administration
Internet-based alternatives also exist to help you manage your administrative functions. Explore options for “one-touch-and-done” billing and collection services (electronic billing and payment), which are tied to a secure, web-based interface, and offer access to account information seven days a week. This method allows administrators to schedule and revise individual (list billed policy) information and review billing and payment history. What’s more, e-billing reduces the likelihood of administrative problems and enables you to spend more time selling and less time troubleshooting. It also allows you to gain access to updated information on all your client accounts.

And while considering e-bill and e-pay capabilities designed for the workplace, consider the fact that according to Eastbridge Consulting Group’s Worksite MarketVision 1998, the payroll-deduction benefit and the convenience of purchasing products at work remain the top two reasons an employee purchases a voluntary benefit product. Put this finding to a test by selling a supplemental insurance policy via the Internet.

With online tools for selling voluntary benefits, you can impact business literally with the touch of a button. Whether you are selling a policy to an individual or via employer-endorsed cases, interchanging traditional with online-selling methods can be a cost-effective and efficient way to enhance your practice without significantly changing your sales practices. Ask your carrier for further direction or search the Internet for alternative routes to test-drive available options. Then, it’s up to you and your clients to chart a suitable, win-win course to a destination—sales for you and coverage for them.

Hal Sizer, RHU, is a general sales manager for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. You can reach him at hsizer@massmutual.com or 860-987-2426.

 


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