In Benefits, It Pays to Court Small Business

A small business prospect comes to you in search of health benefits for his five employees. How do you react?

Renee Guariglia, executive vice president at Falcone Associates, Inc. in Syracuse, New York, recently connected with just such a prospect through the property-casualty side of her agency.

The small business owner came to her fresh on the heels of a meeting with a local competitor agent who told him, “I work on small business, but I don’t meet in person—I do everything via email and phone.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” Guariglia says. “That’s just lazy. That broker feels that small businesses are not worth her time to meet one on one. Obviously, she lost the account.”

And what a missed opportunity, Guariglia says: Sure, the account was small, but the owner had huge growth plans that would put him “over 100 lives in a year,” Guariglia points out. “Now, what started out as just medical has morphed into life insurance and dental as well.”

Jay Duke, owner of Waring-Ahearn Insurance, Inc. in Leonardtown, Maryland, doesn’t shy away from small business benefits, either. In fact, he goes after it specifically.

“Because I’m a small agency, I have to choose my battles carefully,” explains Duke, who employs only two other staff members. “There are a lot of hungry agents soliciting the larger group health accounts. My sweet spot is 15 employees or less, because there’s less solicitation and fewer problems.”

The strategy has been successful for Duke. “I find I do better in that marketplace,” he says. “I’ve come across lots of single individuals wanting to start their own business—electricians, plumbers, designers. I’ve had the pleasure of watching a number of single-person startups grow into four- or five-employee small businesses today.”

“You never know when that small, two-person business is going to grow to 15,” Guariglia agrees—and perhaps more important, “you never know who else that person knows.”

Maybe that small business owner knows a distributor or an attorney or an accountant who could be your next big lead.

“Never underestimate the power of word of mouth—that you meet with groups of any size and you help make the portfolio and you do the enrollment meetings,” Guariglia says. “Word gets around, just like word’s going to get around that this other agency doesn’t do anything in person for small businesses.”

Overlooking a small account is a “classic mistake” in the benefits world, Guariglia says. “People never forget the fact that you took the time to meet with them when they were small. This is a service industry. Post-Affordable Care Act, the plan is the plan, the rates are the rates. It’s all about service.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.