Recruiting – The Next Killer App for Employee Benefits Brokers

We will win championships here…. And I will prepare you for the NFL. We’ve had more NFL draft picks in the last five years than anyone. Anyone. The best come here.. .. We have a process here. It’s an everyday thing. We focus on what is directly in front of us, not end results. We want you, but know that we will win with or without you.  Nick Saban


That is a masterful pitch by Nick Saban in one of the greatest articles ever written on the subject of recruiting.  The author, Lars Anderson gave us the secret behind The University of Alabama’s success in winning multiple National Championships.  You can read the article here.

But, if you are an agency owner in the employee benefits Industry, I am going to break-down why Nick Saban’s process is your best strategy, in today’s environment, for winning new clients. And after you read the article, you will see why talent acquisition separates the winners from the losers 

Let me start out with Zenefits and  I’m not sure if I totally agree with their business model. But, from what I’m hearing, they are becoming the biggest  threat to the survival of the traditional employee benefits broker.  And what’s interesting, is that they are doing the same things these brokers are doing.  But, they are doing it differently. My take is that they are competing for business with a zero-sum game mentality. 

And there is nothing wrong with this “take no prisoner” approach, because competition is the game that determines winners and losers. Take a look at their growth– it appears that they are really crushing it.  And you have to take them seriously, because if your agency is not yet compliant with today’s expectations. they are the new type of competition that is aiming to take your clients, take your best people and take your existence out of this game.  

The Employee Benefits Game, winners & losers

Winning new clients, clearly is the goal of competing in this game.  And a winner, is the organization or team that flawlessly executes a process in the marketplace.  And as a result, they will bring in so many new projects, they won’t even know where to put them.  These new projects will come from winning-winning finalist presentations, broker of record letters. retaining renewal revenue, up-selling to existing clients, cross-selling of ancillary type products and the ingenuity of a talented team that are able to communicate and solve more HR related problems for their clients.  

A winner in this game has a huge advantage, and the best example is a poker player with the biggest stack of chips. He has the confidence to easily bully additional chips away from the players with a fewer chips. This advantage exist because the fear of losing more chips becomes the primary motivation when a player has  only a few chips to remain in the game.

In the employee benefits Industry, the losers get fired.  Losers get fired by their own clients.  Here’s a perfect example of a loser.

Make no mistake, you must get the other agency-fired, in order to win a new client. A fierce competitor like Zenefits is getting a lot of brokers-fired, while convincing the fat cats on wall street that they are simply disrupting an Industry that needs to be disrupted.  But the reality is, their business model is based primarily on putting the traditional brokers out of business, in mass scale.   

Talent Acquisition

Competition is necessary because all the brokers have to play by the same rules (compliance) and they all have access to the same clients, products, tools, and resources. But, if you ask any broker, what sets them apart from the other brokers?  The number one answer is, our people!  

So talented people are the true athletes who are competing in this game.  And where do you find these talented people?  In this situation, they are not the ones graduating from high school; they are all employed.  And unfortunately, by the other competing brokers, and the best ones are most likely locked-in with golden handcuffs and non-compete agreements.

To win new clients, starts with recruiting the talented people. If you cannot successfully recruit the best talent, there is no way you will be able to successfully compete in the marketplace for new clients. 

A winning recruitment strategy cannot be the “LinkedIn way” where every broker in town is posting  similar jobs on social media; then reaching out and engaging and nurturing whoever has applied.  A winning strategy is using direct headhunting-esce  tactics, where you are on the ground, with real people telling your story the Nick Saban’s way.  

These are the 3 things employee benefits agency owners must do to recruit the Nick Saban way to create a recruiting dynasty and secure their own existence in this Industry.

Recruit ahead of the need

Most agency owners only focus on recruiting when new business comes in the door or when someone leaves their organization. Saban said that recruitment is a process and an everyday thing. Anderson, explains that the process is hard work, but after a pitch by Saban, the athletes typically buy into it.  They simply believes that if they plays for Nick Saban, they will win championships and get drafted into the NFL. This comes as a result of executing only what needs to be done in the process, without focusing on the end result.

So, when you dive a little deeper into his process, he is essentially saying that as an agency owner, your staff has to devote time every working day of the year to recruiting.  Because a major part of the process stay in touch with each prospect. His staff does this through  writing letters, making phone calls, and sending videos. So the agency staff needs to stay in touch with potential hires through social media and other means, way before there is an actual need to make a hire. 

Develop a talent pool

Saban knows who the top prospects are in every State. His staff compiles a detailed report on each prospects’ physicality to match the prototype of positions that they are looking for. Anderson, also pointed out the degree of details the staff identifies in the athletes, including ankle movements, hip flexibility and knee dexterity in an effort to determine the right fit.

Like Saban’s staff, an agency owner must develop a talent pool consisting of  all the Team Leaders, Producers, Account Executives, Account Managers and Account Administrators, the ones that are playing an active role with the other agencies in their city.  In addition to that, more detailed research must be completed to be able to determine which individuals are the natural leaders, the hardest workers, the ones to avoid and the ones under the radar-with the most potential to fit critical roles on your team.  When a pipe-line of qualified applicants is in place, critical hires can be made immediately, on an on-going or on an as-needed basis without having to go through a lengthy hiring process of advertising job vacancies, screening resumes and conducting multiple rounds of interviews.

Develop a personal relationship with the top prospects

Before a recruitment visit, Saban knows each recruit on a personal level. He knows his study habits, how he conducts himself both on and off the football field, how he deals with stress  and how he is socially.  That is because a part of the process is to gain personal insight about each prospect.  So, numerous interviews are conducted with teachers, coaches, friends, family members and anyone who has shaped or played a role in the development of the prospect.

The agency owner’s staff must also seek out personal insights about each prospect they have identified as potential hires. In this case, they need to solicit information from current employees, competitors and vendors in the local marketplace. The idea behind this tactic is that individuals who has either competed against, coached, supervised or work with that prospect, will have better insights in terms of the prospect’s skill set and work ethic.

What kind of an agency owner are you?

Answer the questions below to find out!

What do you say to a client if they are approached by another broker?

  1. We are better than all the other brokers because we hire the best people, we have access to a wealth of tools & resources and hands-down, we can provide you with better products & services
  2. We can also do your payroll and your benefits administration and your IT and a bunch of other HR stuff, for free
  3. None of the above, we tell about agency transformation, and a few ideas we implemented from the book and the folks at Q4intelligence and zywave

When you say that our people are our greatest asset, what is your strategy for recruiting talented people?

  1. We use the lowest cost-best practice methods for advertising job vacancies and screening job applicants
  2. We use the same process that the University of Alabama has used to consistently recruit the top notch athletes, that has produced multiple National championships titles.  And, has more NFL draft picks in the last five years than anyone.

What else can Saban teach us about recruiting?