Like many of you, we attend quite a few employee benefits conferences every year, but Q4Live is one of our favorites (click here to see our Top 10 List). This conference is about personal development and networking for advisors committed to professional growth.
Over the last 5 years, we’ve found the Q4Intelligence audience to be some of the most strategic, forward-thinking and level-headed employee benefits consultants in the business. As a result, the topics and conversation follow that theme.
This year’s theme was “Get Your SHIfT Together” with an agenda centered on the newest trends in employer-provided benefits, as well as strategies to help the attendees’ clients take control of the health care costs that ultimately drive their health insurance costs. And because Q4Intelligence is about helping agencies become well-rounded advisors, there were also topics related to an agency’s internal operations.
I’m sharing 4 of my top takeaways from the event…
1. Caution: Shifts Ahead
Kevin Trokey, Founding Partner at Q4i, kicked off the conference with a reminder about how much our world is changing – and our industry is shifting. He noted, “Some shifts just happen to you. Some you have to make happen.” He spoke about how brokerages have had a heavy emphasis on the two major functions of their business: Service and Sales. Most are heavier on Service than Sales. More forward-thinking brokerages have an equal focus on Sales – and even further – understand the need to add a third component: Marketing. As he noted, “Marketing isn’t something to check off your list. It’s an integral part of your business.”
Shifts in Marketing and Sales are demanding a shift in an agency’s growth model. He showed how most agencies are very siloed from Service to Sales to Marketing (if they have it) – one hand often not knowing what the other hand is doing and not aligned throughout the client journey.
He shared a Symbiotic Growth Model where the individual functions are aligned and operate even more efficiently as a team. One plus one plus one doesn’t equal three – it’s much greater because the individual functions are working symbiotically together toward the goal of attracting, engaging and delighting current and potential clients.
How does one accomplish this utopian dream, you ask? That’s why it was the opening keynote. All the other sessions were steps on the path toward getting us there! Read on…
2. Shift your thinking – change your life
I’ve seen my share of “motivational speakers,” but Jennifer Powers, author of Oh SHIfT! How To Change Your Life With A Little F’in Shift was a breath of fresh air.
She reminded us we can’t control what people say and do, or the unfavorable events that life serves up. Our job is to choose our reactions to those situations to maximize happiness and reduce stress. The concepts she shared were super simple, easy to use, and relatable. I’ll call out two of them here…
- WORDS: She spoke about how words give us power and control – they can give or take away energy. Words are FREE. They are ours to use to create more of the experiences we want in our lives. But, are we using words to attract more of what we want? She specifically asked if we were missing opportunities to use words to encourage others. To illustrate, she came into the audience and told Billy Bridwell he was a handsome celebrity (and then referred to him as “Selleck” – hilarious) and told Kalli Ortega she was a happy light in the room. Both true! We then spent 30 seconds saying nice things to the person next to us (that was awesome, Jill Pedersen).
- BLAME: We place blame instead of holding ourselves accountable: if I had more time, if my mom hadn’t done X, if I could make my sales numbers, if I had a nicer XYZ then I could do ABC. Why do we do this? Because it’s easier. Jennifer challenged us to go from victim to victor by asking, “Wait! What role did I play in getting to this point?” Things don’t happen to or against us – it’s how we react that gives us the control. She concluded with, “Crappy reactions lead to crappy reality. Positive reactions lead to positive reality.”
3. Shifting Plan Design: Crawl-Walk-Run
We’ve all been hearing and seeing success stories of Value Based Design. Wendy Keniepp, Partner at Q4i, led a panel of attendees who see the need for a full-spectrum of benefits programs and are moving clients from fully insured to completely deconstructed self-insured. The panel included Bret Brummitt, Josh Butler and Rachel Miner.
They all agreed you have to take a crawl – walk – run approach when it comes to presenting the idea and also when actually implementing it. When an employer learns about the benefits of a complete self-insurance plan, how do they react? Josh answered, “Well, they’re not going to take your word for it, that’s for sure.”
When speaking to employers about the benefits, Rachel shared, “I explain that a carrier is like a casino – the house always wins.” She went on to explain that in a five-year span, the employer might win for 4 years, but in that 5th year, the carrier will catch up.
A move from fully-insured to a self-insured chassis can be very disruptive to the employer and the employees, so it’s a slow progression. Bret shared a real-life example of a client he’s had for seven years. He started floating the idea in year four, then each year he’d revisit with extended conversations. Finally, in year seven they were motivated to move because they wanted better care for their employees and profitability to expand their business.
The panel shared that employee experience is just as important. When implementing these new ideas, education must transcend the plan design – it has to be simple to use. If the employees don’t understand it, everything falls apart – and it’s very possible to lose the group.
All panelists agreed it’s imperative to fully understand the employer’s problems and then work backwards into the right solutions. In a recent LinkedIn post, Kevin had this to say, “Don’t be fooled by social media…Observers get the impression that the ENTIRE rest of the industry is putting EVERY NEW STRATEGY in place on EVERY SINGLE ACCOUNT. Nothing could be further from the truth!! Instead of being inspired, people leave with feelings of inadequacy, panic, and a sense of defeat.”
Most of the Q4Live attendees I spoke to were making incremental plan design changes, and slowly transitioning with new consumerism tools, level-funding, etc. This panel was a great reminder that shifting plan design is a transition that takes time.
4. Marketing: Shift from Megaphone to Magnet
In keeping with Kevin’s kick-off presentation, Katja Ritchie with HubSpot shared some shifts that are happening in the world of marketing. Buyers (including benefits buyers) have more control than ever before because there is very little they can’t find with a good ol’ Google search. We can search for anything – and not talk to the actual company who will sell us the service or product.
Katja shared the idea of changing an agency’s marketing approach from being a megaphone to a magnet. In the megaphone approach, you’re shouting to your prospects about who YOU are and what YOU do (i.e. we’ve been in business for 50 years, we excel at service, we have amazing employees, we won 15 awards, etc.).
In the magnet approach, you’re attracting prospects by providing content with answers to problems THEY are experiencing, and THEY need help with (i.e. how to engage your employees in their benefits plan, how to move from fully to self-insured, how to recruit employees in tight job market). This draws prospects into your “web” and allows you to have an audience with them – to speak to them as a solution-provider.
Of course, none of this can happen without a consistent marketing strategy. Coincidentally, I spoke after Katja to reinforce the importance of consistency in marketing and I shared three reasons it’s a must…
- Your prospects have a million things coming at them. Serving up a consistent message, across consistent channels on a consistent basis means they’ll see your message from time to time.
- It builds trust. How much do you trust a company whose last blog or social media post was 2 years ago? Seeing your consistent message says you’ll likely be consistent in the quality of your work, too.
- It takes time and repetition to get prospects through the marketing funnel. It can take 12 to 18 months for a prospect to go from becoming aware of you, to remembering you, to considering you, to talking to you, to buying from you.
The goal is to magnetically attract prospects into your “web” and then CONSISTENTLY serve up GREAT content they care about in CONSISTENT channels, with CONSISTENT messaging and branding.
No matter what the t-shirt says, SHIfT doesn’t just happen. If you want dramatically different results, you can’t achieve it with the same thoughts and habits that got you here. Everybody knows: what got you here, won’t get you there. Shifts require us to pause and seriously re-think our business. So, pour a cup of coffee, close the computer, take out a blank piece of paper, and think about how you can apply some new SHIfT in your business!
Now it’s your turn! What were your biggest learnings from Q4Live? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.