EXPERT AVE. | Street-level skills from the real pros who know.

Opening a True Dialogue with Your Clients

October 26, 2017   |   by Bill Mason

 

When shopping for health insurance for their employees, a lot of business owners tend to lean toward the cheapest option, thinking it is also their best option. Of course, as a health insurance professional, you know that’s not necessarily the right choice.

It’s important, when you’re beginning to work with a client that you open a dialogue with them – to learn about their biggest concerns, their business, their employees, and their thoughts on the importance of providing health insurance and other benefits to their employees. It’s only from talking with them that you’ll be able to determine what solutions might be best for them.

For employers that currently offer health insurance benefits, a big concern is always why rates are going up – and what they can do to minimize the impact of future premium increases. For business owners and managers not currently offering employee benefits, their concerns often also focus on costs and “doing the right thing” while still trying to control costs.

A useful guide for brokers, particularly those just starting out, is the book “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In” by Roger Fisher, William L. Ury, and Bruce Patton. First published in 1981 and updated (for a second time) in 2011, the book features principles for negotiation in the modern era. You’ll find the book here.

Your client discussions and negotiations don’t have to be a winner/loser situation. There are both “hard” and “soft” approaches to negotiating. In a hard approach, negotiation is often viewed as a haggle, with participants viewed as adversaries, and, often, both sides unwilling to concede. In contrast, a softer approach to negotiation treats both parties more respectfully, trusting of one another, and non-confrontational.

 

Adopting the approach of “Getting to Yes,” a negotiated agreement involves these key principles:

 

Separating people from the problem

Issues should be decided based on their merits, instead of being influenced by emotions or the perceptions of the individuals involved. Keep in mind that you are people first. You and the person you’re speaking and negotiating with have two kinds of interests – in the substance and the relationship. If you can untangle the relationship from the substance, you can deal directly with the problem. Open communication is the key. Listen actively and acknowledge what’s being said. Focus on developing a rapport and a relationship with your clients and you will build a successful working relationship.

 

Focusing on your client’s interests, not positions

When you focus on the interests of your clients, finding solutions to what they think they need may not be as difficult as you expect. Talk it out. Be specific. Ask a lot of questions. Concrete details make their needs come alive. People are more receptive if they feel you understood them.

 

Inventing options for mutual gain

Principled negotiators are problem solvers, working to create solutions that address the true goals of both parties. When I say both parties, you must remember that you have something to gain as well. When you sell a health insurance policy, you earn commission each month based on the total premium amount – don’t forget that technically what you’re discussion is an option for mutual gain. With that in mind, make sure to evaluate options that you come up with together. At the end of the day if your client can walk away with a solution that meets the needs of their business and team, you’ll be rewarded with a long-term client and financial success.

 

Insisting on objective criteria

Look at industry statistics, scientific studies, and other objective criteria in evaluating options. This is a great opportunity for you to discuss solutions you’ve developed for other clients, or research about specific hospitals or carriers. The basis here is that you come informed and this step alone will help your clients begin to trust who you are and what you bring to the table.

 

The bottom line: At its core, “Getting to Yes” is based on concepts you already know at some level. As you embrace the described techniques, you will be able to develop more powerful relationships with your clients – and you’ll get better and better over time.

Negotiation is like golf, or riding a bike, studying it won’t make you great; you have to work at it in real life. Get out there – and get started in building more successful relationships and developing a more open dialogue with everyone.

 

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