Many beneficiaries are likely to see their Part D premiums increase significantly, with enrollment-weighted premiums projected to increase by an average of 8 percent among the top 10 PDPs that account for more than 80 percent of PDP enrollment. Indeed, within the top 10 plans, five will have double digit premium increases in 2016, as shown in Figure 1. Overall, assuming Part D enrollees elect to remain in their current plan, the average monthly premium for all PDPs will increase by as much as 6 percent, from $38.83 projected in 2015 to $41.34 projected in 2016.
Since 2010, the final average Part D premium has remained remarkably consistent, with limited fluctuations from year to year. The projected premium increase would return premium growth to levels not seen since before the “patent cliff” began in 2011, when several high-cost drugs lost their patents. The 2016 Part D premiums also mark the first time average premiums exceed $40.
Premium Increases by PDPThe number of PDPs available in 2016 will shrink for the second straight year. In 2016, 886 PDPs will be offered in the U.S., an 11.5 percent drop from 2015. Despite these decreases, beneficiaries in most states will still have 25 or more PDPs to choose from in 2016. Of particular concern to policymakers, the number of $0 premium plans available to poor beneficiaries that receive the low-income subsidy (LIS) will decline. Specifically, the number of LIS $0 premium plans has declined by 32 percent since 2013.
“Medicare beneficiaries should carefully review their prescription drug plan options in 2016 to make sure they choose a plan that is right for them,” said Colin Shannon, senior manager at Avalere Health. “With many plans taking large premium increases in 2016, those beneficiaries that choose not to change plans will likely pay more in premiums than if they look for lower cost options.”
Availability of $0 premium MA plans is increasing, though drug benefits may decrease among MA-Prescription Drug plans
A larger percentage of Medicare beneficiaries will have access to $0 premium MA prescription drug (MA-PD) plans in 2016. Eighty-one percent of beneficiaries will have access to a $0 premium plan in 2016 compared to 78 percent in 2015, further demonstrating the competitiveness of the MA program compared to Medicare Fee-for-Service. As shown in Figure 2, the availably of $0 premium plans varies by geography.
Figure 2. Availability of $0 Premium MA-PD Plans
CMS estimates that the average MA premium will decrease by 1 percent ($0.31) to $32.60. The total number of MA plan options, excluding special needs plans (SNPs), will increase by 3 percent to 1,894 in 2016.
Local health maintenance organization (HMO) plans continue to make up the majority of MA plans – 70 percent – in 2016, increasing 6 percent in 2016. Other plan types, including preferred provider organizations (PPOs), are largely stable from 2015 to 2016. Similarly, SNP offerings, which serve beneficiaries who have Medicaid, certain chronic conditions, or are institutionalized, are stable.
The drug benefits available to MA enrollees may be less generous in 2016 as plans increase deductibles and roll back coverage for drugs in the “donut hole.” Next year, the percent of plans that offer a $0 deductible will decline to 55 percent from 63 percent, and the percent of plans offering additional coverage in the “donut hole” will decrease to 51 percent. Plans could be reducing the amount of these supplemental Part D benefits in order to maintain an overall zero premium.
“These numbers suggest the Medicare Advantage market is strong, despite payment pressures,” said Tom Kornfield, vice president at Avalere Health. “Looking ahead, it will be important to watch if Medicare Advantage enrollment increases more rapidly going into 2016 given the continued availability of zero premium products and the increased number of plans in the marketplace.”
On September 21, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the 2016 Medicare Advantage (MA) and Medicare Part D landscape files. Avalere analyzed the data to assess trends in plan participation, beneficiary premiums, and benefit designs for the 2016 MA and Part D markets. Avalere analyzes information for unique plan options offered within each market. Avalere excludes information on Cost plans, Medicare-Medicaid plans, and plans offered in the U.S. territories from its analysis. CMS does not include information on employer-group waiver plans, Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) plans, or Part B-only plans in the landscape files.
Medicare Blog | Medicare News | Medicare Information
We've all fallen victim to a burnout of prospecting ideas at one point or another.
Agents- You know what I'm talking about...When you've gotten a big, fat 0% return on your direct mail drop investment, knocked on ten doors to hear "I think I'll stay with my company" in all ten instances, cold-called all of the leads you've purchased this quarter until you were blue in the face to only frustratingly be hung up on. You get it.
With AEP around the corner, you're in need of some fresh, innovative ideas to attract prospects and generate leads- So, what are the tricks in expanding your senior market insurance business to reach an all-time rock star status in your community?
How to optimize your local reach to attract new clients
1. Adopt an omni-channel approach
Embracing the growth of new digital and omni-channel capabilities provides clients and prospects with what they desire: convenient access to advice and assistance. The first step toward better-serving this need is to establish your digital presence.
With 55% of online users age 65 and over using Facebook in 2014, it is essential for you to create a Facebook Page to service and retain your existing clients. The smallest of interactions, like dropping by a client’s Facebook to post a comment celebrating another rotation around the sun, helps emphasize your appreciation for their business. Not only will your Facebook Page improve the overall client experience, but also serve as a solid foundation for prospects to gain insight toward your role as a senior market insurance specialist.
While nearly 33% of participants in GenRe’s recent study: The Role of the Agent in Medicare Supplement Sales reported seeking assistance and not receiving any type of help, it is critical for you, as a senior market insurance specialist, to affiliate your name and business with the zip code you serve on search engines. Suggestions upon how you may go about getting in touch with those senior prospects looking for advice-oriented services include creating a Google My Business account, registering for a free membership with AgentReview, becoming a Sub Moderator on Reddit for r/insurance, and, if applicable, financially and educationally investing in SEO practices for your personal website.
2. Facilitate interactions with advice-oriented sales and services
Outside the realm of selling senior market insurance products, it is in both your and the client's best interest to offer advice on risk management and value-added servicing (such as claims). In doing so, you will continuously build rapport within your community as a senior market insurance specialist so that prospects know where to turn when the time comes.
Digitally, there are multiple platforms for senior market insurance agents to engage with not only prospects who need advice, but also other agents, such as Insurance-Forums and the Inbound Insurance Marketing community on Google+.
You may also go about prospecting by physically placing promotional advertisements or branded products within local facilities with respect to senior market purchasing habits. For example, heading to an independently-owned golf course and asking the owner if he or she would be willing to accept a donation of 1,000 (or more) score cards if, in exchange, you were granted the opportunity to place a small ad upon them in the printing process. Same goes for bookmarks to book stores, calculators to tax centers, piggy banks to banks, coffee mugs to coffee shops or restaurants, coasters to furniture stores- etc.
I have also seen posts within Insurance-Forums regarding agents' technique in placing ads upon prescription bags at local pharmacies. I, however, am an out-of-the-box thinker and decided to get creative, ditch a logo and throw in a catchy slogan upon senior-related products to place at the pharmacy pick-up window for our independent agents with multiple carriers. Take a peek at these ideas:
Check out AnyPromo and see what awesome ideas YOU can come up with to promote your business. (If you happen to be reading this before 10/17, be sure to use coupon code: PINK25 for $25 off your order of $250 or more or PINK75 for $75 off your order of $500 or more!)
3. Leverage data to achieve insight-driven actions and outcomes
Be sure to keep up-to-date with the political, social and economic trends and changes within the senior market insurance industry. You may do so by bookmarking and frequently revisiting resources, such as LifeHealthPro's Boomer Market and Senior Market sections, SeniorJournal, AARP's Medicare section, The New York Times' Medicare section, and most certainly the Medicare and CMS blogs.
So, how do YOU prospect in your community?
Please, share your thoughts with me in the comments section below.
16.5 million Medicare enrollees are facing premium increases of more than 50%.
Should 30% of Medicare beneficiaries shoulder a 52% premium hike next year while the other 70% pay no more at all? Advocates for seniors do not think so, and they are making a push to convince Congress to stop it from happening.
The Medicare population vulnerable to shouldering the larger premium includes some federal and state government employees, people who sign up for Medicare for the first time next year, low-income seniors whose premiums are paid by state Medicaid plans and high-income seniors who already pay premium surcharges.
For these 16.5 million enrollees facing the stiff increase, monthly premiums would rise to $159.30 from $104.90, according to the recent annual report of the Medicare trustees.
Meanwhile, 36 million Medicare Part B enrollees would have their premiums hold steady at $104.90 because increases are tied to Social Security cost-of-living adjustments as part of a “hold harmless provision” in the Social Security Act. Because no COLA is expected next year due to extraordinarily low inflation this year, the Part B premium will stay flat.
Some costs will go up for almost everyone, however, as trustees forecast a big increase in the Medicare Part B deductible, to $223 from $147, with the exception of those who have first-dollar Medigap supplemental policies and Medicare Advantage plan enrollees.
What Can Be Done
Advocates for the 30% are swinging into action, trying to convince Congress to pass a one-time fix that would hold off on cost of living increases for everyone. Legislation that extended the hold harmless provision to those not covered by it passed the House of Representatives when a similar situation occurred in 2009, but never received a vote in the Senate.
This time, the fix is being pushed by a broad coalition of advocates and organizations representing federal and state government workers. No official figures are available, but a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests a fix would cost the federal government $10 billion.
“It’s not an ideal situation from anyone’s perspective,” says Juliette Cubanski, associate director of the Program on Medicare Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “People on Social Security would much rather have a COLA, and the Medicare actuaries would much rather spread around the cost increases evenly.”
The 2016 premiums are not locked in until October, so there is still time to change course. The Part B premium is based on the program’s estimate of how much they need to run the program, plus a cushion for unexpected costs, Cubanski explains. “Medicare could opt for a smaller reserve, which could bring the premium down a bit.”
Politicians are not likely to ride to the rescue of well-off seniors, who will bear some of this expected price increase. But half of Medicare beneficiaries have an income of $24,000 or less, according to Kaiser. Price increases will hit them hardest.
Among the middle-income seniors likely to be affected are federal retirees covered by the Civil Service Retirement System – the government’s legacy defined benefit pension system.
These retirees did not participate in Social Security during their time in the federal workforce (federal workers hired since 1987 have participated in the newer defined benefit Federal Employees Retirement System, and they receive Social Security.)
This also applies to state government employees, most of whom participate in defined-benefit pension plans and are not covered by Social Security during their tenure as state employees.
Another big area of worry: low-income “dual-eligible” seniors who receive Social Security and also participate in both Medicare and state-run Medicaid programs.
Although this group is not covered by the “hold harmless” provision, states pick up the tab for the higher cost, putting additional pressure on already-stressed state Medicaid budgets.
“We’re very concerned about state Medicaid budgets, and how they would handle the increase,” says Andrew Scholnick, senior legislative representative at AARP.
Although Congress has a busy fall schedule, lawmakers are showing interest in taking action to mitigate the impact. “I think it’s is going to come to the forefront a bit more now,” says Scholnick.
But he doubts Congress will act before October, leaving the door open to a last minute fix before year-end.
A new Medicare plan aimed at achieving equity for minority and other underserved populations and eliminating health disparities among Medicare beneficiaries was introduced yesterday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of Minority Health (CMS OMH).
It is the first CMS plan to address health equity in Medicare. The CMS Equity Plan for Improving Quality in Medicare (CMS Equity Plan for Medicare) is an action-oriented plan that focuses on six priority areas and aims to reduce health disparities in four years.
The plan was released at a conference entitled: Medicare & Medicaid at 50: Their Past, Present, and Future Impact on Health Equity, which was held in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid and the 30th anniversary of the 1985 Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health, also known as the Heckler Report.
“As we strive to create a health care system that provides better care, spends dollars more wisely and creates healthier people, CMS is committed to achieving equity for minority and other underserved populations and eliminating health disparities among Medicare beneficiaries,” said CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt.
The Equity Plan focuses on Medicare populations that experience disproportionately high burdens of disease, lower quality of care, and barriers accessing care. These include racial and ethnic minorities, sexual and gender minorities, people with disabilities, and those living in rural areas.
“Making sure care is equitable is often the forgotten core area of focus for ensuring that the health system is meeting patient needs and delivering high quality care. The CMS Equity Plan for Medicare will help to ensure that as we work towards better care, smarter spending, and healthier people we also continue to work to achieve health equity in Medicare,” said Cara James, director of the CMS Office of Minority Health. “We know that in order to achieve the goals of the plan, we need to work with many stakeholders, and we hope that as we start to implement the activities in the plan, we will see a number of them join us on the path to equity.”
The foundation for addressing each of the plan’s priorities includes the following interconnected principles that guide CMS’ efforts to achieve health equity:
To learn more about the six priorities and achieving health equity in Medicare visit: https://www.cms.gov/About-CMS/Agency-Information/omh/index.html
Note: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) established Offices of Minority Health within six agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The CMS Office of Minority Health (CMS OMH) collaborates with local and other federal partners to improve minority health and eliminate health disparities by ensuring that the voices and the needs of the populations it represents (racial and ethnic minorities, sexual and gender minorities, and people with disabilities) are present as the Agency is developing, implementing, and evaluating its programs and policies.
The CMS Innovation Center unveiled a new demonstration program Tuesday that will allow Medicare Advantage insurers to encourage the use of clinically valuable services by lowering out-of-pocket costs for enrollees.
Medicare enrollment is on the rise, and it shows no signs of slowing. Consider this: It is projected that the 65+ population will double in size by 2030 when it will reach 71.5 million, and by 2050 it will be over 86 million.1 With this growth in Medicare buyers, no one should be surprised that an increasing number of consumers are looking for supplemental coverage to bridge the gaps left by Medicare.
The need to effectively educate and engage consumers has never been greater. At the end of last year, we conducted consumer research to learn more about how the senior population navigates the health insurance decision-making process, and what level of engagement exists between them and insurance agents.
This research was a follow-up to a qualitative consumer study we conducted in 2013 that evaluated Medicare Supplement insurance buyers and non-buyers (see more details at end of article). For the recent study, our researchers tested some initial findings from the 2013 research in which we categorized buyers as “Info-Takers” or “Info-Seekers.”
Topics we explored through this latest study included consumer engagement with agents and the role the agent plays in the decision-making process, the health insurance education process, and when and how consumers evaluate their coverage options. In this article, we discuss what we found to be some of the most useful takeaways.
Conducted in December 2014, our research targeted two distinct groups of consumers:
Participants were obtained through a national survey panel. Responses were collected via telephone and online and were weighted based on Internet usage levels and leveraging Pew Research statistics. All participants were U.S. residents and had health insurance coverage beyond Medicare Part A and/or Part B, with additional coverage of either Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement insurance.
Key Survey Findings
Agents’ Influence on the Plan Selection Process
Nearly 60% of consumers surveyed shared that they received assistance from a professional. Surprisingly, 56% had already made their decision on whether or not to enroll in Medicare prior to receiving assistance from a professional. However, many may have selected a different option after meeting with the agent.
For those that received assistance with the decision-making process, fewer than 20% of them were contacted without having any prior conversation with that agent. The majority - nearly 40% - selected an agent based on a recommendation from a family member or friend. Referrals also came from former employers, physicians or financial planners.
Only about 20% of consumers said they connected with their agent by responding to an advertisement or mailer. This was an interesting finding considering the deluge of marketing materials sent to consumers upon turning age 65.
In our 2013 consumer study, we found that individuals received so many marketing mailers about Medicare Supplement insurance options that they only paid attention to the first few received and then tossed the majority of them in the trash without reading them.
When deciding which health insurance option to select, 31% of participants reported wanting a high degree of assistance from a professional. Those that sought support were looking for help in a variety of areas including:
About 30% of consumers said they looked for considerable or high-level assistance across all of these areas. [See Exhibit A]
Exhibit A. Percentage Reporting They Desire Considerable or High Level of Assistance in Selecting a Medicare Supplement Plan
Unfortunately, nearly a third of consumers that indicated they were seeking a high degree of assistance did not end up working with a professional at all. These individuals either didn’t know where to turn for help, or chose to seek advice from family or friends rather than a professional. Individuals with this profile would therefore be excellent candidates for outreach by agents as they aren’t receiving the level of assistance they seem to desire.
Agents’ Influence on Buying Decisions
Our data shows that the majority of the time agents clearly influence consumers’ buying decisions regarding a Medicare Supplement plan.
For example, among the cohort of consumers who felt they needed a lot of direction/advice on which plan to select (and for whom an agent made a recommendation 72% of the time), they reported going with that plan nearly 95% of the time. Those consumers went with that plan 94% of the time. Even with those individuals who felt they already knew or had a strong idea about which plan they wanted, agents made recommendations 60% of the time, and once again, the recommended plan was selected the majority (88%) of the time.
The same holds true when selecting which company to choose for purchasing Medicare Supplement insurance coverage. Consumers who felt they needed a lot of direction/advice were offered a recommendation 62% of the time, and they selected the company recommended 92% of the time. For those who felt they already knew or had a strong idea of which company they would select, agents gave a recommendation just under 50% of the time, and the consumers opted for that choice 93% of the time. [See Exhibit B]
Exhibit B. Influence of Agent Recommendation When Selecting a Company for Medicare Supplement Insurance
We dug deeper into the agent influence data and found a difference between when the consumer initiated contact after receiving an advertisement and when the agent initiated contact. When consumers initiated the contact with the agent, they opted for the carrier with the lowest cost option more often than when they had received a referral or if the agent had contacted them directly. We also learned that when the consumer was referred to the agent, which occurred most often, the majority of the time (nearly 60%) these individuals selected the company with a reasonably priced option, but not the lowest. [See Exhibit C]
This could indicate that consumers who initiated contact with the agent had already done research on which plan they wanted, and had determined their best options from the various companies available.
Exhibit C. How the Selected Insurance Company Compared to Other Companies Offering Medicare Supplement Plans
Another significant result we found was that when consumers had received no previous assistance at all from an agent, they were far more likely to select a company they’ve used before. About half of participants indicated this, and another 45% reported they selected a company that they were aware of but had never used. Interestingly, when an agent provided assistance, consumers were more likely to select a previously unknown company.
Customer Communication Preferences
Among those that met with a professional, over 65% had a one-on-one meeting. While consumers appear to prefer in-person contact, agents seem to be missing opportunities during those meetings to advise their clients on other insurance products that may be of interest. In fact nearly 80% of respondents shared that they do not work with the agent to purchase any other product.
In addition, nearly half (46%) of consumers reported that their health insurance agent had not kept in contact with them once they sold the policy. However, when asked how often consumers wanted to be in touch with their agents, the majority (46%) said at their policy anniversary date. About a third reported wanting to be contacted with important updates.
Very few, only 12%, said they never wanted to be contacted. Even for those who had kept in contact, over 50% of consumers, not their agents, initiated the contact with the agent at their first anniversary date. [See Exhibit D]
Exhibit D. Preferred Level of Contact With Original Agent
Of those that prefer to have an ongoing relationship with their agent, nearly 70% said they prefer contact by telephone or email. Apparently, this is an area where agents are not meeting their customers’ needs.
We also asked participants ages 66–75 if they had changed their Medicare Supplement plan selections or switched companies since they originally purchased their coverage. We were surprised by their responses - less than 30% had made a change to their coverage since turning 65 and selecting Medicare. The older segment of this group (those ages 71–75) were more likely than the younger group (65–70) to have done so.
Even more surprising was that the consumers, not agents, had initiated this switch - nearly 60% of the time. According to our findings, agents initiated the switch less than 10% of the time. While consumers appear to be driving these decisions to switch companies, agents definitely can help them understand how they compare.
Consumers clearly value recommendations provided by agents concerning Medicare Supplement plans, regardless of whether they initiated the contact with the agent or not. They prefer to have an ongoing relationship with the agent and are looking for the agent to stay connected with a phone call or email at the anniversary date, or with important updates to share.
Referrals from family members, friends, physicians and financial advisors are the more common ways that consumers get connected to agents. Therefore, we believe that maintaining strong relationships with consumers after the initial sale is the best way for agents to secure new business opportunities.
While agents do not appear to drive consumers’ decisions to switch plans or companies, when consumers are considering if they want to make a change, agents are helpful in comparing the options. When making a decision to switch, consumers were more likely to choose a lower cost option.
Another way agents help consumers to make decisions is to introduce them to companies that are not familiar to them. The likelihood of consumers selecting an unfamiliar company for coverage increases if an agent makes the recommendation. We will share other findings from this survey in the coming weeks in blog posts and webinars.
Findings Compared to 2013 Study
Our latest quantitative study supports a variety of findings from our initial consumer research on seniors. For example, some consumers, also known as “Info-Seekers,” are far more likely to follow a do-it-yourself approach when researching health insurance options after age 65. These individuals will drive the decision-making process but still value agents’ recommendations.
We saw a strong tendency for these individuals to be healthy, and healthier consumers are less likely to desire a high level of agent assistance.
Overall, agent involvement in the decision-making process is valued when consumers are selecting which plan and which company for purchasing their coverage, and they are less likely than unhealthy consumers to review their health insurance options every year. The data also indicates that this group of consumers received a higher level of formal education and has higher household incomes.
Blah, blah, blah.
Let’s face it — that’s what many sales presentations sound like. If you’ve been on the customer side of one, all you can think of is when it will end. And if you are on the selling side of the table, you might be thinking the same thing.
The way to convert a painful sales process into a powerful, productive conversation is to ask questions. Not just getting-to-know-you questions, although they are important. But getting at the probing questions that provoke deep thought and produce real answers for clients’ problems.
Questions are the cornerstone to building trust that leads to business, according to Andrew Sobel. He has made strategies to build trusted business relationships his life’s work. He has written eight best-selling books on the subject, such as Building C-Suite Relationships, Clients for Life, Power Relationships and Power Questions. He has also published more than 150 articles and contributed chapters to four books on leadership, strategy and marketing.
Andrew has worked for more than 30 years as a strategy advisor to senior management and an executive educator and coach. He has had many of the world’s leading companies as clients, such as Citigroup, Experian, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Towers Watson, UBS, Lloyds Banking Group, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte.
What he has learned and taught is that the best way to become trusted is to draw out clients’ or prospects’ deepest concerns or dreams. Who wouldn’t want to be that kind of agent and advisor? And the best route there is through the right questions.
In this interview with Publisher Paul Feldman, although Andrew is not only doing the answering, he is also presenting some provocative questions that can improve just about anybody’s sales game.
FELDMAN: Why are power questions important?
SOBEL: It’s because the sales environment has changed. I say this not just as someone who studies this and trains lots of professionals, but as someone who is a target for lots of people who want to connect with me and sell me things. Sophisticated buyers want to feel like buyers and not like they’re being sold to. People want to feel like they’re buyers because they’re educated now. Anything we want to buy, we go on the Internet and we research it. So, when I walk into Best Buy, as good as some of their salespeople are, frankly I often know more about what they’re selling than they do. People really want to feel like a buyer, and questions are a great way to do that. It’s a fundamental part of the way you do business with clients.
FELDMAN: Many people believe that they win sales by being quick on their feet and saying the right thing the right way. But you say that knowing the right questions is far more important to connect and persuade. Would you explain that?
SOBEL: Of course you have to be extremely knowledgeable about your subject matter and your products. But what makes people stop and listen is not when you are lecturing them or pushing something on them, citing all the benefits of a particular product. It’s when clients or prospects think a little differently because of the thought-provoking questions you are asking.
Consider the greatest thinkers in history. Think of Socrates, who of course developed the Socratic method of teaching by asking questions. Or people like Einstein, who had a very childlike sense of curiosity. Or people like Peter Drucker, who is considered the greatest management thinker of the 20th century.
Peter Drucker had five questions he asked his CEO clients. Whenever a leadership team would come out to California to meet with Drucker for a workshop, he would walk them through five questions that he had developed.
Our greatest thinkers were all more focused on the questions that surface the important issues so that we’re talking about the right things. If you step back, you realize you can really come across as wise and experienced when you are asking good questions.
FELDMAN: You said that you could overcome anything if you ask why. What did you mean by that?
SOBEL: By way of background, the idea around “why” was developed by Toyota. The company’s founder, [Sakichi] Toyoda, told his engineers they can diagnose any quality problem by asking “why” five times. Those were Toyota’s five whys. The point is when someone tells you something, usually there’s a higher-level issue that you really want to connect to.
So, if a client says, “I want to set aside some money for my children’s college,” it may seem ridiculous to ask them why they want to do that. But you may want to ask him to tell you a little more about that: “Why did you decide to do that now? How does this fit into your overall thinking about the responsibilities that you want to have when you finally retire?” There are always bigger issues above the specific request or the specific desire.
So, “why” can be a very important question, but you have to be careful with it. Why can come across as critical, carping or disapproving. You need to ask it with the right demeanor.
Anyone reading this who has teenagers knows that as soon as you ask them “Why they did something, usually you’re saying, why did you do such a dumb thing? What were you thinking?”
But used the right way, “why” can be a powerful question. It broadens it from a technical discussion about alternatives for saving for college to perhaps a larger discussion about that person’s goals and where they see themselves going.
FELDMAN: What are some “Power Questions” you recommend to break the ice and create new relationships?
SOBEL: First of all, let’s recognize that there’s a process. At one end, you meet someone for the first time. And at the other end, that has developed into a relationship where they’re a client. Obviously, a lot of things happen between those points, so we have to break it down.
Your best friend, especially at the early stage, is curiosity. It’s a genuine abiding curiosity about other people. I like to start out with some icebreaker questions that are not going to be too deep and won’t upset anyone. An icebreaker question could be as simple as “Who are you?” or “Why did you come?” or “What’s your connection with this event?” that tells me what sort of business you’re in.
You’re just breaking the ice, but you’re making it about the other person. Always remember that the process goes something like this: We build some initial rapport that may lead to an additional meeting or additional points of contact, which creates familiarity, which may create likeability, which leads to trust, and then that can be the basis for a business transaction.
FELDMAN: What’s the next step after you break the ice?
SOBEL: At some point, this conversation is going to shift to what you do, and here’s where it’s important to be able to describe that in a compelling way.
Someone can say, “I’m an insurance agent,” or they could frame that as a more appealing value proposition. Because if someone says to me, “I’m an insurance agent,” my first thought is probably going to be that I have all the insurance I need. So, I am thinking “It’s nice to meet you, but I don’t see a business relationship here.”
You can frame that differently around security or risk reduction and say: “I help people retire faster so that they can enjoy the things they want to do in life outside of work.”
That’s something just to think about because what you’re trying to do is get the other person engaged and excited. To get relationships and then drive those relationships toward possible business, you have to learn a little bit about the other person’s agenda. What are their top three to five important professional priorities and their three to five personal priorities?
FELDMAN: Should you be addressing and uncovering their professional and personal priorities every time you speak?
SOBEL: Absolutely. But you don’t do this all in one conversation over cocktails.
I want to know their priorities because what I do may or may not be very relevant to their concerns. So, I’m trying to surface their concerns and learning something about what’s important in their lives. On the other hand, I want them to understand what I do and how I help people.
It’s going to be the marriage of those two that ultimately leads to a business relationship as opposed to just a nice-to-know-you relationship where you send a Christmas card every year. I do this by gently asking questions.
FELDMAN: How do you move from the initial conversation to a meeting?
SOBEL: In order to pique their curiosity about meeting with you, you have to establish your credibility that you do some really interesting things for people just like them. One way to do that is to ask what I call a credibility-building question.
I don’t know the exact credibility-building question for insurance, but I would be asking something like, “A number of my clients who have large families like yours have looked at the following strategy as a very powerful way to dramatically reduce state taxes. I’m curious, is that something you’ve looked at?”
I state an observation, often referring to what other clients of mine are doing, and then I turn to a question. The credibility part is the observation that several of my clients have undertaken this type of strategy in order to achieve a goal. Then the question is “Is that something you’ve considered?”
You build curiosity and, of course, curiosity is your most powerful tool in the sales process.
FELDMAN: How do you turn a pitch into a highly engaged collaborative working session?
SOBEL: Most busy people don’t like to sit down and be presented to. They want to have a conversation. If you’re going to pitch a proposal to a client, think about it as having a conversation together. We’re going to have a conversation about this issue as opposed to my needing to pitch them on this proposal and walk them through every single aspect of it.
So, for example, I often will start a meeting by saying, “Our agenda today was to talk about this proposal, but from your perspective, what are the most important issues on your mind that you want to make sure we cover?”
I think most people don’t do a good enough job of letting the client define where they’d like to focus the conversation. With one simple question, they’ll quickly say they read the proposal and what their concern is. It’s better to address that than waste half an hour of their time lavishly going through the slides of the spreadsheets that you’ve prepared.
Sometimes when I see a client, I’ll say, “I know we’ve got our little agenda here, but from your perspective what’s the most important issue we should be discussing this morning?”
The other thing I do early on is test for urgency, because people have lots of issues. They have lots of concerns, but I always want to focus in on the ones that have the highest level of urgency. It could be as simple as, “Where would you position doing this among your priorities right now?” or “What is your timing on this?”
FELDMAN: What are some questions to get a deeper understanding of a client?
SOBEL: You might ask questions that increase personal understanding. Those kinds of questions often aren’t covered in sales training methodologies because increasing personal understanding doesn’t specifically have to do with the sales opportunity. It comes under the category of building trust and rapport with the person.
One question I like to ask is, “Wow! You’ve accomplished a great deal in your career. I’m just curious, is there still something you’d like to accomplish? Is there some dream you still have right now?”
I’ve asked some very senior executives that question and gotten incredible answers that help me understand them and help create additional opportunities to work with them.
FELDMAN: What are some other tips for connecting with the C suite?
SOBEL: One of the relationship laws in my book Power of Relationships is to walk in the other person’s shoes. If I’m meeting with a C-suite executive I’m thinking about what pressures they are under. The fact is, C-suite executives, people in senior leadership positions, are under a different set of pressures.
Turnover in those positions has accelerated. They’re time-starved. They’re under enormous pressure to perform. They’re struggling to balance their family life and their work life. And so you have to understand what that’s like.
In a C-suite meeting, focus on adding value for time. For top executives, their very first question to themselves is, “Am I going to get value out of taking half an hour out of my day to meet with you?” You’ve got to have a very clear value proposition about what piques their curiosity to spend that time with you.
The next thing is to walk in as an equal. If you walk in with your head stooped and you’re shaking their hands and saying, “Oh my goodness, thank you for your time. I know how busy you are. Thank you so much. I don’t know how you managed to make time in your busy day.”
I’m exaggerating, of course, but you have to walk in as an equal, which means you’re neither looking up to them nor looking down at them. You’re treating them as a peer or a friend. You’re not overly familiar, but you’re there as a peer because you’ve got very valuable knowledge that is going to help them. I think the third thing is it’s important to understand that C-suite executives tend to process information in very short chunks.
Most C-suite executives don’t have the patience for a long drawn-out introductions as in someone spending five, 10, 15 minutes talking about something. They process things in three- or four-minute bits.
You want to have an opening hook just the way a great rock song does. Think about the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction, which of course dates me, but it’s still a popular song. You know you have that great Keith Richards guitar hook that starts it out. Or the Beatles Help! You know the song starts out with this enormous cry for help.
You also want to be memorable in a meeting with a top executive because they meet with people all day. You might be the 50th person they’ve talked to that day, and you want to be memorable. You want them to say, “He asked me some interesting questions that no one else is asking me.”
You’ve got to take some risks. When you meet with a C-suite executive, if you play not to lose, you lose. You have to play to win. You’ve got to be a little bolder because if you go in and you’re like, “Oh my God, we’ve got this meeting with the CEO of this company,” your tendency is often to play it safe, be anodyne, not rock the boat and not ask him too many challenging questions. That’s often a losing proposition.
So, for example, in my context a challenge question might go something like this: A CEO might say, “Well, Andrew, we’re growing our client relationships 5 percent year in and year out.” I might come back and say, “That sounds good but some of my clients are achieving 10 percent. Do you think 5 percent is the best you can do?” I’ll ask challenging questions like that.
FELDMAN: Do you have any insight into what might be a challenge question in insurance or finance for an executive?
SOBEL: Top executives are always interested to know what other people are doing and what’s going on in the marketplace. So it’s being able to summarize very powerfully the critical things that have happened in the past 18 months that they need to know.
I’ll give you an example. I talked to some lawyers because my wife and I were redoing some of our estate-planning. One of the lawyers said, “Well, Andrew, let me summarize for you some of the trends in estate-planning among people like you who have your kinds of needs and family.” He rattled off about five things. I read a lot and I’m pretty educated, but he told me a few new things. That drew my interest It was a great credibility-builder.
FELDMAN: What are some good closing questions?
SOBEL: I’ll give you one that I don’t think you should ask — one that starts on a negative. This guy wrote years ago that his killer question to ask at the end of a meeting was, “What question haven’t I asked you that I should have?”
I think the clients are too sophisticated for that today. Because what that question is doing is trying to say, “We’re really on the same side here and let me move my chair over to the same side of the desk as you and could you give me some advice on being a better salesperson?”
I don’t mean to be flip, but that’s a question I occasionally hear and I think it’s outlived its usefulness. I would be careful about cutesy things like that.
I would also be careful of presumptive close questions. I think you earn the business by adding value and showing how you can solve important challenges for the client.
I don’t like presumptive close questions like, “Is there anything getting in the way of your signing this today?” There are all kinds of questions like that. Or “For the next meeting, would you like to meet at 9 a.m. on Wednesday or would 4 p.m. on Friday be better for you?” Maybe I’m different from a lot of people, but to me I like being in control and that’s trying to take the control away from me.
FELDMAN: Those tactics can seem forced and controlling. But what do you recommend to make sure you get the next meeting?
SOBEL: The goal of every meeting is to get another meeting until you close. You create the follow-on by evoking their curiosity that you might be able to help do something unique for them or help them with something.
At the end of a conversation, I have a couple of techniques. One is more traditional, which is to say something like, “Based on this conversation, I get the sense that there are a couple of areas where you may have a need. I’d like to suggest as a follow-on that I prepare an analysis for you around issue X or issue Y that I think would help you make a better decision about it.” You suggest a follow-up step.
But the other way is to give control to the client. It’s a little riskier, but it can create “reach.” That is when they’re reaching toward you as opposed to sitting back in their chair and saying, “OK, show me how brilliant you are.”
It might be as simple as, “We’ve talked about three things today, A, B and C. From your perspective what would be a good follow-up to this discussion?” Now some salespeople may be nervous about leaving it open-ended. In the worst case, the prospect might say, “I really don’t think I have a need.”
That’s possible. Or they might say they aren’t really sure. That’s a very different position than being aggressive and pushing something on them. They’re now reaching toward you, and that’s where I want the person to be. I want them leaning toward me, saying this was a helpful discussion and that they’d like to talk again.
I would just caution people against being overly scripted and sounding like they’ve got this list of memorized questions. Buyers your readers are calling on are much more sophisticated than they used to be. The salesman’s job used to be to inform people and give them product knowledge at the beginning.
Now it’s actually problem-solving. It’s “Tell me what you’re trying to accomplish. Tell me your goals.” Then it’s helping solve the problem and create alternatives.
The No. 1 relationship law in Power Relationships is based on great conversations. It’s not one person showing the other how much they know.
That’s a two-way conversation as opposed to showing them how much you know about the insurance business or how much you know about financial planning.
So, we could leave it with that. You want to have a great conversation with someone that informs them, educates them, gets them interested and advances their thinking.
And it all starts with questions.
The 2015 Medicare Trustees report was released last week with the news that the long-term outlook of Medicare has improved overall. It has already been reported by several sources that Part B premiums are projected to increase by 52%, but what hasn’t yet been reported is that the same section of the report also projects that the Part B deductible will also increase by 52%. This could mean a double-whammy for many seniors who will end up paying a higher premium for their Part B coverage, and also end up paying more out-of-pocket costs in order to meet their deductible.
The projected increase in the Part B deductible also impacts Medicare Supplement carriers, and CSG Actuarial is working with many of their clients to analyze what the impact will be to Medicare Supplement claim costs for 2016, as well as how it translates to rate adjustments being filed here in the next several months.
CSG Actuarial estimates that the increase in the Part B deductible would lead to 4% higher Plan F claim costs in 2016 (this is compared to no increase in the Part B deductible, excluding all other medical trends, and is based on age 70 claim costs). This increase, combined with normal medical trends could mean Plan F claim costs could be 8% higher in 2016. Will carriers file for 2016 rate adjustments to match the claim cost increase, or will they take a longer term approach?
Other Medicare Supplement plans, such as Plan G, will be affected differently than Plan F. Since Plan G does not pay the Part B deductible, but does pay the Part B coinsurance amount, the claim costs associated with Part B payments may actually be down slightly overall.
Table V.E2 of the Trustees report shows the 2016 Part B deductible is projected to increase to $223 per year, which is up from $147 per year in 2015. The large projected increase in the Part B deductible is due to the projected increase in the Part B premiums (from $104.90 to $159.30 per month) which is caused by the hold-harmless provision in the law and the expected 0% cost-of-living adjustment to Social Security.
It will be interesting to watch how Medicare Supplement carriers respond to this projected Part B deductible increase. Though the Part B deductible is not officially determined until closer to the start of 2016, many Medicare Supplement carriers are already beginning to file rate increases for 2016 effective dates.
The big unknown is whether the cost-of-living adjustment for social security will ultimately be set at 0% as expected, or if a positive cost-of-living adjustment will be implemented. Unfortunately for carriers filing 2016 rate adjustments in the next few months, there is no way to know, and they will have to make decisions based on what is projected today.
Succeeding as an insurance agent means making use of the best available tech toys.
From keeping business data accessible to having client contact information at your fingertips, technology augments success. Choosing a few exceptional apps and putting them to work for your business may result in a marked positive impact on revenues. Beyond that, apps are great for saving time (and maintaining your sanity during busy workdays).
Characterized by PCMag.com as “…multipurpose note-taking and organization program [that] couldn't get any more useful,” EverNote offers a lot to busy insurance professionals. Creating and maintaining a successful insurance business involves constantly developing new and constantly refreshing existing client relationships. It also requires gathering and organizing scads of information. EverNote functions as the ultimate professional organizer, enabling users to:
With Evernote, users can capture data through photos, including business cards, and then do text searches within the photos. However, here is the kicker: all the information gathered through the app is downloadable to computers and the Internet, in addition to sharing through mobile devices. Perhaps that’s why devoted users use words and phrases such as “brilliant” and “feature-packed.”
2. Dragon Dictation
Many people claim they do some of their best, most creative thinking when sitting…in their car, stuck in traffic. Imagine turning a smartphone into the perfect assistant, one that can not only interpret your musings, but also translate them into text, whether for social media posts, emails, or notes and reminders. Dragon Dictation allows you to work (safely) while driving, walking, or even working out.
Dragon Dictation is virtually hands-free (you must tap the screen to start and stop dictation). It transcribes speech up to five times quicker than it takes to type out on a keyboard. Users laud its amazing accuracy and ease of use. For insurance agents, that means creating follow-up emails while in the car returning from an important meeting, or creating notes immediately after an initial meeting with a potential client.
For an industry that still relies on a lot of paperwork, DocuSign may prove revolutionary. It makes it possible for anyone to sign documents online from almost any device. DocuSign entails a three-step process:
The signatures are legally valid, but the app offers additional signature verification options by linking to DocuSign ID cards (note that this service may incur additional charges).
Reviews on Google’s app store mention DocuSign’s ease of use, convenience, and helpful features. With many businesses trying to go “paperless,” digital signature capability is a must. DocuSign provides quick client interactions despite different locations, increases revenues by quickly obtaining signed policies, and increases form completeness and accuracy.
4. QQ Catalyst
There are many document and client management mobile apps available. Addressing another component of successful agencies, QQ Catalyst offers five ways their app helps successful insurance agencies:
Since QQ Catalyst can be accessed from almost any device, you have immediate access to client records and policies from just about anywhere.
5. iQ Agents
Chances are that you spend a fair amount of money on online leads. Making the most of results provided by lead generators involves moving quickly and effectively when a new lead comes in.
Specialized apps that generate alerts regarding new leads make quick response possible, regardless of whether or not you are at your desk. One example is iQ Agents, the mobile component of Insurance Quotes lead generating services. It permits users quick access to information on incoming leads. Beyond that, it grants access to InsuranceQuotes.com account features.
The future of the insurance industry is mobile
Technology is an incredible tool for creating and keeping insurance business. At all stages of the process, there are apps that provide great support. Even if you are an aspiring insurance agent, there is an app for you. Life & Health Agent Prep helps prepare you for insurance licensing exams through multiple choice sample questions and flashcards that you can access at any time, for as long a time as you wish.
It’s no secret that as a business you need to stay top-of-mind with your clients so that they can give you that sweet repeat business and even sweeter referral business — truly the gift that keeps on giving. Being excellent at what you do helps you attract new clients, but there’s a lot that you can and should be doing to set yourself up for referrals. Getting the ask or the timing wrong can mean losing your chance, so having a plan is essential.
Most business owners realize that referrals are critical to their bottom line. Adweek.com shared a survey that found that for B2B brands, referrals converted two times better than websites or social media. A Nielsen study found that 92 percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising — an increase of 18 percent since 2007.
It’s no wonder experts say that referrals can be more beneficial to your success than advertising. Easier said than done, you say? We get it. We’ve all been there. You ask a client for referrals only to get an empty promise to follow up, or even a straight-up no. But know this: you are in control of the process and results of your referral ask.
Before you can ask for referrals, you must realize how important referrals are to your business, then commit to prioritizing them. Put the work in so that you can maximize your results; you’ll be glad you did.
Referrals don’t just happen.
Asking customers for referrals must become part of your routine. It must be a consistent business practice that becomes a natural part of your daily work. But before you make your first referral ask, you need to develop a strategy.
Author, trainer and former financial adviser Frank Maselli says many people use archaic techniques or just awkwardly ask clients for names. Instead, Maselli recommends changing the conversation and reframing your ask so you don’t sound like you’re requesting a favor. David Finkel, author of “Scale: 7 Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back,” says when most businesses talk about referrals, they are referring to word-of-mouth referrals, or what he calls “passive referrals.” Instead, Finkel recommends an active referral strategy.
Before you get started, take a look at a few of the popular resources we’ve created for what to do (and not do) when asking for referrals:
The first step in developing your strategy is to decide which type of referrals are best for your business by assessing what has and hasn’t worked for you and similar businesses in the past. There are three types of referrals:
Keep in mind that word-of-mouth referrals are great, but for many industries, the power of an online referral can be more visual and permanent. Remember that 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
You will, of course, need to customize your strategy to your business’ specific requirements, but it’s helpful to begin with some best business practices in mind. Joanne Black, author of “Pick Up the Damn Phone,” offers the following advice:
Timing is key.
There are no absolutes when it comes to timing except this one thing: your customer must be completely satisfied with your services or product. There are no referrals without happy customers. Asking an unhappy customer for a referral isn’t just a waste of time — it could further damage your reputation with them and their networks.
Getting the timing right can be tricky. Asking too early can make a bad impression, and asking too late can mean your request gets ignored. Experts say that the right time to ask for referrals varies by industry. The Small Business Administration advises business owners to: “Ask for referrals at a time when the customer is in a mood to give them.” While that’s true, it varies a bit from customer to customer. You want to be sure your customer is in a good mood, so catch them at a point when they’re satisfied with your service and are not in the throes of buyer’s remorse.
Ray Sliverstein calls referrals “the number-one tool in your tool kit. “Get in the habit of reaching for it often–say, as often as you might glance at your watch.” Silverstein advises businesses to follow up after the transaction with a thank you and a question: “Do you know anyone else who can benefit from my services?” Silverstein also recommends that when you begin working with a new customer, bring up referrals early. You could mention that you have a profile on Yelp, for example, or give the customer a few extra business cards to give to friends who might need your help.
In his Inc.com article, Finkel suggests creating referral systems, including a script that requests referrals at the point of purchase; as soon as the customer makes the purchase, thank them for their business and ask for the names of two people who would also benefit from their service. Another of his ideas is a “gift for your friend” campaign that uses gift certificates for the customer’s friends after the transaction is complete.
Referral strategies vary, but an analysis of the advice experts give shows that the best time to ask for referrals is immediately after your successful transaction with them is complete.
For a real estate agent, this could mean getting permission from your client for a Facebook post of a congratulatory photo of you at closing on your new dream home. This way, all of the client’s friends and their friends see your success, and those who need your service can easily find you.
For more transactional businesses, like HVAC repair, plumbers, salons, spas, etc., offering a small discount for a quick Yelp or Google review before a customer pays would be an easy way to get the word out to people who are searching for your service — and reputation — online.
Obtain a referral in 3 easy steps.
Here is how the experts say you get it done, step-by-step:
Step 1: Do your homework. Determine what has worked for your business and others like yours. You could ask your client for referrals before or after you complete your work. You could send an email immediately after your transaction including an easy way to post a review on a social media site or other website.
Step 2: Deliver exceptional service, ensuring that your customer is happy — so happy that they will share their love for you with their friends.
Step 3: The moment a customer compliments you, accept the compliment and thank them, then make your referral ask. Be polite and direct. Make it easy for them, and thank them for their business — and referrals.
Bringing it all together, it’s important to remember a few things about referrals. First, you are the driving force behind your own success. Do good work and be specific about what you want from your clients. Second, time your ask appropriately. Make sure that your job really is done. And lastly, make it a habit. The more you do it, the more natural this process will be in the future.