People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  

This may feel like a platitude, but it’s actually a critical component of selling complex advice-based services. We hear firsthand stories of benefits advisors promoting new health insurance programs to prospects that can save thousands of dollars and yet the prospects say “No thank you.”  

“Why??” is always the question that follows. Advisors discuss it, baffled by the ignorance of the employers and the poor decision making.  

And I’m sure there is some serious fear-factor, poor decision-making happening on the part of the employers. It’s understandable. Thinking about big changes to something you’ve known so well for so long isn’t easy. Even if it is the right decision. 

But there is always some deeper motivation in those situations, and it’s the advisor’s job to suss that out. Although sales people admit way too often they will jump on the first idea they hear and create a diagnosis and offer up a prescription before even leaving the office.  

Employers have been trained to watch the sales person listen for about 18 seconds and then begin offering up their latest and greatest products as the golden solution. Oh, wait, it’s actually physicians that stat is tied to. But you’d believe it about sales people too, wouldn’t you? : )  

Looking at the doctor/patient relationship is actually a great place to draw a parallel to this conundrum we find ourselves in when trying to convince someone they should listen to us about something they’re not really ready to hear about. Doctors are a trusted advisor in our personal lives and know best for us, right? And shouldn’t a benefits advisor play that role for their employers?  

Yes, but. 

Advisor / Advisee relationships are complicated 

I’ve become very cynical about any medical advice over the years because the system has taught me I should be.  

Hm. Sounding familiar already? 

An environment has been created where too many doctors are not given the time, or pay, to make caring the center of their practice. Sadly, through efforts to create financial and operational efficiencies, well intended doctors are paid to churn through as many patients as possible and bill for as much reimbursement revenue from the insurance carriers as possible.

When I hear medical advice, I question the underlying motivation. In fact, in my most recent visit, I questioned the motivation so much that I clearly offended the doctor, and the appointment ended on a rather curt and abrupt note. She did not understand why I didn’t want to just take her advice without questions, and she left the room obviously irritated with me.  

But I was irritated too. I wanted to have a dialogue, a discussion, some exploratory conversation, some back and forth. I wanted her to ask me questions; I wanted to ask her questions. I didn’t want it to feel like an interrogation followed by a diagnosis handed down as though I was a child who didn’t need any details and to just be quiet and follow instructions. That’s just not how I work. Never have.  

Imagine how HR managers feel when given a “diagnosis” of their program. Or how a CEO/CFO feels about the recognition that they’ve been wasting thousands of dollars that could have been put to better use.  

It’s not easy to take in new, unexpected information.  

Taking time to know your audience is critical 

Think for a minute about sitting down with a new employer group. You learn a few facts about their current plan design, and your mind starts racing ahead with ideas about what they need to change. You kick into overdrive and start talking about all the changes you can bring to them. You’re throwing out numbers that quite likely are unbelievable to the uneducated ear. You sense their hesitation so you start talking faster, and maybe louder, to get them to understand.  

Somewhere in all your talking and hand waving, you pique their interest enough that they agree to let you bring back some information to review. Who doesn’t want to know what that kind of savings could look like? Doesn’t hurt to look, right?  

So, you go back and do a ton of work gathering quotes from various vendors, and the savings are mind-blowing! You’re so excited – how could they possibly say no to this?? 

And then they do. And you are incredulous.  

You take the story to discussion groups and social media, bashing the employer for their stupid and reckless decision-making.  

But why did they say no?   

  • Did you take the time to talk to them about their business goals?  
  • Did you learn the personal motivations of the business owner and the members of the leadership team?  
  • Did you learn what each of their concerns are?  
  • Did you facilitate an open discussion for the decision-making group about the ideas you’re presenting? And give them proper time to learn about and thoroughly understand your motivations behind the recommendations?  
  • Did they have confidence that you know their business and their goals well enough to make the recommendations? 
  • Did you allow the process proper time for all of these new ideas to sit and simmer appropriately with them? To allow them time to find their own questions and develop the confidence in you and your proposed recommendations? 

Or did you get excited and present them with ideas from a rather ignorant place, thinking that they would say yes simply because of the cost savings? 

It’s very hard to take significant, potentially life-changing-type advice from anyone who has not taken the time to get to know you and has allowed you the opportunity for you to get to know them. If your advice-giving motivations are not openly felt by the advisee, your advice may likely be perceived as suspect.  

Who knows? You could be selling snake oil. You could be trying to get an extra bonus payment. You could be trying to reach a sales quota. You could be doing a friend a favor and helping get their new business off the ground.  

Or you could be genuinely interested in helping them find a solution that is in their best financial interest.  

But until you allow proper time and circumstances for the relationship to develop from a stranger selling something to an advisor working in their best interests, you’re going to struggle getting people to take new, potentially radical recommendations from you. Regardless of how much money you may be able to save them. 

Photo Credit: imtmphoto

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