U.S. employers insure one hundred fifty million Americans, or more than half the country. As these businesses reach their cost-sharing limits, they are understandably searching for new ways to lower healthcare expenses.
Although certain large corporations (and some states) have launched innovative cost-curbing initiatives, many employers do not have the leverage to do the same. Instead, they enlist brokers and consultants to connect them with appropriate health plans.
These brokers and consultants face growing pressure to continue curbing healthcare expenses while improving whole-person health, especially as employer benefits evolve post-pandemic. ZS recently interviewed several producers and agency owners from across the country to learn how health plan sales teams can best partner with them.
Some employers simply want to purchase the most affordable plan, but most businesses require brokers to holistically consider their needs. Brokers respond by only working with proven, member-centric providers.
Show value with data: Brokers told us that health plan representatives tend to pitch the latest innovation—be it a funding mechanism, partnership or product—and then forget about it during the following cycle. Pitching new ideas is great, but agency partners are looking for the hard facts around the impact such programs can have on their clients’ multi-year medical trend. It’s fine if the data isn’t there, but the value prop must then pivot to improving topline results to justify the cost. Wellness programs are a prime example of this given the ongoing debate of their overall impact on costs (and time to realize cost savings). Brokers are looking for real data from health plans to tell the value story to their clients so that they can set the right expectations over a multi-year period.
Anticipate needs: Brokers and consultants shared that their real work begins after their clients choose plans. Health plan sales, product and technology teams can strengthen their partnerships with brokers by:
- Streamlining sign-up: Brokers are more likely to consistently work with plans that simplify onboarding, especially as online and open enrollment grow.
“Don't make me or the client spend six months building a file feed. Nobody is good at online enrollment; everyone is equally bad. I need people who know the industry as much as people who know how to manage data.” - Producer, National Agency, Southeast
- Bundling services: Producers interviewed want to consolidate business among select carriers. By showing willingness to look at an employer’s needs holistically instead of by individual lines of coverage, health plans can win more of a broker’s book of business.
“I tried to hand a carrier a 1,000-member, multi-line account and [the carrier] said no because [it] didn't want [to cover] the short-term disability. The profit centers at each carrier are limiting [our] ability [and don’t have the] willingness to bundle.” - Producer, Regional Consulting Firm, South
- Focus on quality of communication, not quantity: Brokers have Zoom fatigue, too. While some health plans may benefit from more touch points, frequent communication is not always better. Setting up meetings without clear objectives is a guaranteed way to disappoint brokers, but regularly showing how various plans perform builds trust.
“People are sick of being in webinars. Many reps have strained their relationships because they either push for meetings over and over or come around only when it’s time to renew the case. We need more meaningful touchpoints to review post-sale diagnostics.” - Owner, Independent Agency, Midwest
Health plans have opportunities to capture brokers’ and employers’ perspectives with comprehensive communications. Gone are the days when we only heard from brokers during an annual- or president’s club meeting. Health plan sales teams must listen to and gather insight from brokers to better match their needs.
As health plan sales teams gear up for the 2022 selling season, here are a few additional ideas to keep in mind.
- Develop agency level business plans: Strengthening partnerships is as critical as ever given the pace of consolidation in the industry, leaving many plans with a smaller and more dominant share of agency partners in the markets they serve. Key brokers must be treated as strategic relationships, which warrants creating an annual relationship plan to serve as the growth roadmap at an agency level. This exercise liberates insights about an agency’s operations, opportunities and pain points rather than have it bottled-up as “tribal knowledge” among the small set of people managing the relationship. It also helps surface leading practices that sales leaders can replicate with others.
- Look at leading quantitative indicators: Health plans can track wins, losses and sales with each partner. Which agencies drive the most consideration? Which account sizes are more likely to succeed? Defining rates for each step in the funnel (e.g., quotes, finalist presentations, wins) will create a more durable comparison when comparing effectiveness of sales executives across teams or geographies.
- Gather multiple forms of feedback: Almost all health plans have some form of an unblinded advisory panel consisting of top producers, strategic partners and independent brokers. This is absolutely a value add. We also see immense value in periodically pulsing agencies in the marketplace in a blinded manner to enable the partner to speak more openly. Collecting input from a broad and balanced set of partners, including those who may not be top producers for a plan, yields richer insights for health plan leaders on perceptions across a variety of attributes in a way that a hand-picked advisory board cannot.
Brokers made it clear that many of their clients are re-evaluating their benefits options heading into 2023—and that means a lot of businesses will be out to bid. Now is the time for sales leaders to take stock of how they can take a more strategic and data-driven approach to engaging this important channel partner to drive growth.