The authority for brokers and agents selling core, voluntary and
Broker of the Year Finalists
By Denis Storey | Published April 1, 2009 From the April 2009 Issue
Harry S. Truman once said, "Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods
where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous,
skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
We think we’ve found a few of them on the following pages. At least these are the ones
are readers picked. And a lot of you spoke up this year. In fact, we received nearly triple
the amount of nominations over last year’s debut Brokers of the Year in August.
After much discussion and debate, our editorial advisory board managed to emerge with a
list of five finalists this year. That’s right, finalists. See, we’re changing things slightly
this year. From these five finalists, one will emerge as Benefits Selling’s first ever Broker
of the Year.
We’ll name the winner at April 2 at our fifth annual Benefits Selling Expo in Austin. You
won’t want to miss it. Until then, I’d like to introduce you to this group or courageous,
skillful leaders who are already changing things for the better at a time when we’ve never
needed it more.
Ted Bosse — What I’ve learned
• Find and hire the best people you can, whether in the office or in the field, and
give them the terms that make them want to always work with you. Sometimes
money is the key ingredient but often it’s not. It may be flexible hours to attend a
child’s school event. It might be making sure every enrollment is well organized
so when an enroller shows up he or she can go straight to work without chasing
down employees or being bored waiting for them to show up.
• Human resource managers mean well but often do not have the authority to
require the conditions that make a voluntary enrollment successful. Meet the big
boss and get their blessing on the agreement of working conditions.
• Not everyone operates at the same ethical level. Many times we’re offered a
marginal-to-poor enrollment from a broker with the promise of lots of business to
follow. Too often after doing a great job on the loser case you do not get the
follow-up calls for the cases that made it worth doing to begin with.
• As much as you might want to, you can’t do business with every carrier. Pick the
ones that make the most sense and be honest and straightforward with the others
that it’s not going to happen.
• Never forget what made you successful to start with. Generally we reach a level
of success by doing the fundamentals. Too often when we get to a certain level we
plateau and question why. Usually it is because we got busy or satisfied with our
success and stopped doing the things that worked at the beginning. Hire people to
do the things that keep you from the prospecting that created your success.
• There will always be more work to do. Take time to enjoy life, family and
hobbies. Find a balance.
• When in the presence of highly successful people, ask questions and otherwise try
to be quiet. You’ll learn more by listening and no one ever thought a quiet man a
• Always be willing to help a competitor when asked. It rarely hurts you and
someday it will come back around.
• Try to only do business with people you like, whether carriers, broker
partnerships, clients or coworkers. Work is stressful enough and liking the people
around you makes bad days better and good days great.
• Be careful how you measure success.
Jim Davidson — What I’ve learned
Looking back, at this point in my 35-year, straight- line career, there are a few things that
leave a mark. (Most of what I learned has been the hard way, from my own mistakes.)
“Early on, I learned I was not well-suited to work for someone else. By age 25, I started
my current business. Young people should assess early on if they want the organization
environment, or to work for themselves. If they want to go on their own, start as early as
possible, before they have other commitments or expenses, as it will be simpler. (Note I
did not say easier.)
“First is to have a bias toward action. Don’t get stalled in planning and making things
‘perfect.’ Achieve a result.
“Do the important, difficult things first. Many times the successful person is the one who
does things others don’t or won’t.
“Listening is the most important part of benefit selling: Learn what the customer wants,
and provide it.
“As a business owner, the lessons came more slowly.
“The toughest for me was not to hire the skills or resume but to hire the person: the
behaviors and personality. A friend, who runs a huge plumbing organization, taught me:
‘Hire people who are customer service-oriented. I can make anybody a plumber, but I
can’t teach attitude towards customers.’
“The only organizational differentiators in our business are people. We invest in people,
in skills and training. But it’s more important to invest in them personally, to give them
opportunity to grow, and room to make mistakes. When they do err, support them,
encourage them to find solutions immediately, and to tell the client. We teach team
members not to be afraid to tell the client; many times we have a stronger relationship
after we make and fix mistakes, because the client can now trust how much we care to
make things right.
“Mostly, the value of a business is in the clientele, not just new sales. Good clients will
treat us well over time, and bring us more business.
“What I’ve learned about myself is that my primary driver is to be part of a community of
high-performing people, who want to do what is right, and do what brings value to their
clients. My reward is having been able to provide an opportunity for our team members
to create that community.”
Jay Dye — What I’ve learned
Execute the fundamentals
I’ve learned it’s more effective to conduct enrollments at the worksite and insert
technology at the proper time and place in the overall process. It’s important to remember
that technology can assist, not replace, human interaction in the enrollment process. As
part of the sale, human interaction can be the difference between an enrollment with 6
percent participation and 50 percent participation. A basic fundamental is to mandate that
all eligible employees provide an accept-or-decline decision. This requires educating the
client as to why proper communication of the plan and documenting employee elections
is important. Worksite enrollments might seem intrusive, but will result in higher
participation and reduce employee confusion. Remember, it’s about selling an employer-
sponsored plan — take the concept seriously and the client will, too.
Protect your underwriter
Experience has taught me to focus on quality groups that represent an acceptable risk to
the underwriter. Don’t try to put lipstick on a pig. Make sure the group will support the
benefit offering and enrollment process and resist the easy sale of the wrong group, those
that want to cut corners on proper communication. If the group is not committed to the
process, a large “name brand” client could sink your firm and damage your underwriter.
Know your administrators
Take time to meet with and understand the job of each home office employee that works
on your business. Understanding the internal administrative processes that affects my
clients is critical to my success.
I learned a long time ago that it takes the same amount of effort to sell a large group as a
small group. In fact the large group might have a better understanding of benefit plans in
general and more likely will have a better understanding of the payroll-deduction process.
There are more elephants out there than you might think.
Be a specialist
Find a market or niche that is underserved and learn everything about that business, then
stand tall as a specialist. Many large brokerage firms fail to provide niche services.
Respect your employees
It has been important to me to create a unique and comfortable office atmosphere where
my employees can work as a team (and learn from each other). Provide incentives for all
employees so everyone shares in the firm’s success. Work hard and play hard, and just
have fun with your team. They deserve it.
Importance of Mentoring
I have been lucky to have a father who was a pioneer in the employee benefits business.
Marshall Dye and his buddies, Turner P. Williams, Jim Hunt, Bill Gantt and others gave
me a priceless education in the employee benefits business. It is important to share
experiences (good and bad) with the up-and-coming members of our relatively small
industry fraternity. The introduction of technology into our industry has provided us with
exciting tools to help us work more efficiently; however, our industry has a rich history
of personal relationships and client service. These old school concepts should be shared
Steve Fallon — What I’ve learned
• Relationships are the cornerstone of success.
• Never burn a bridge.
• Have fun.
• Have balance in your personal and professional life.
• Walk away from prospective clients who do not share your values for a positive
• Take care of your clients and the money will take care of itself.
• Help young people grow.
• Lead by example.
• Do what you say you are going to do.
• Have a sense of urgency on behalf of your clients.
• Laugh at yourself.
Lisa Martin — What I’ve learned
• An advisor that seeks to serve clients (not sell them), is more profitable, more
successful, and more powerful in the marketplace. If you are not 100 percent
focused on providing a “WOW” client service experience, someone else will be.
• Find the passion in your business, and tie it to supporting your clients. When an
opportunity presents itself to exceed expectations, take it.
• Learn to anticipate what issues a client might be facing within their respective
industry and provide creative insight into solving these issues. Be extremely
proactive in your thinking and your timing.
• What got you here won’t get you there. It’s critical to constantly find ways to
reinvent and improve yourself. When you think you’ve got it all figured out, keep
• Strong, solid relationships are never cultivated through e-mail and voicemail. If
you expect $50,000 worth of business, learn how to develop $50,000 worth of
• Shut up and listen. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.
• Hire only the best, most passionate people you can find.
• Mistakes happen. The only thing the client cares about is how you’re going to fix
• Instead of learning the tricks of the trade, make sure you take the time to actually
learn the trade.
• Drive fast and take chances.