Selling Wellness Programs to Employers: Then a Miracle Happens Here!

Seems like every wellness business we talk to dreams of selling programs and services to employers. It’s a great opportunity…if you understand how employers think.

Understand what does — and doesn’t — motivate employers:

1. Top sources of employer pain: cash and worker productivity.

The cash pinch results from higher healthcare premiums and other company-paid healthcare costs.

Businesses lose worker productivity two ways:

Absenteeism, when employees miss work for health reasons.

Presenteeism, when employees are at work but are less efficient due to health concerns. For example, chronic lower back pain may distract a worker from total focus on the project at hand.

When you make a sales call to an employer, focus your sales pitch on bottom-line numbers that address these problems. You need to prove a financial benefit AND a productivity (improved overall health) benefit.

2. Altruism and concern over national health trends do not motivate most employers.

Your passion may be reducing obesity, helping people age gracefully, or improving other aspects of wellness. Employers may express concern about those matters when you bring them up. But they’ll make a buying decision based on what your product can do for their financial results and worker productivity.

Don’t spend your sales call lecturing about national health trends. Focus on what you can do for their business, right now. Show them how your business can save them healthcare dollars, reduce lost time due to illness, and increase employee effectiveness on the job.

Get your product ready to sell to employers:

1. Employers are not bottomless pits of money.

Don’t decide to sell to businesses just because you think they have money to spend. Your product or service needs to solve a problem for them. If your product solves a problem for employees – rather than employers – you’ve got to be able to explain why that matters to the company. Will it lower their healthcare costs? Will it reduce absenteeism? Be ready to back up your statements.

2. Assertions are weak. Proof statements are powerful.

An assertion is a statement without evidence or proof. All vendors make assertions about product greatness. “We keep people feeling great.” How do you know? How long did they feel great? Did it save their employers money or increase their productivity? Who knows…

Proof statements are powerful. These statements are specific and supported by data or other evidence. For example: “75% of our program’s participants took fewer sick days last year.”

3. Understand that you have to market to two different audiences.

First, you’ve got to convince the employer. Until they’re convinced, they won’t buy your service. You market to the employer on the basis of the business benefits they’ll receive….lower cost, more productivity.

Once you make the sale, you’ve got to win over employees based on the personal benefits they’ll receive. If they’re not happy with your program, you won’t be able to deliver the benefits you promised to their employer.

4. Larger employers will wonder whether your firm can step up and deliver.

For example, if your firm has been offering two nutrition workshops each month, they’ll probably wonder how you’re going to handle, say, 200 employees who all want nutritional advice. Tackle these questions head-on. Do not wait for them to ask.

5. The bigger and longer the contract, the harder and longer the approval process.

Your programs deliver demonstrable financial and productivity benefits for employers, right? Businesses tend to leave well enough alone if things are working. Work with your attorney to simplify your contract. Don’t build in protection for every possible risk – focus on the most likely ones. The key to success is to get in there and start providing valuable services.

6. Employers generally want comparable services available to all employees.

Women-only health and fitness programs are less attractive to employers than programs designed for both genders. For geographically spread-out companies, services available in all areas where they have large offices are more appealing than services available only at one or two locations. Consider whether their employees’ language of choice is always English. For example, you may need to provide bilingual staff or materials in Spanish or other languages.

7. Get up to speed on the special legal concerns of employers.

Educate yourself about the Americans With Disabilities Act, federal and state non-discrimination statutes, and privacy statutes like HIPAA. Talk with your attorney about how these legal requirements affect your business when you provide services to other companies. For example, under some circumstances it might be illegal for you to reveal an employee’s health condition even to an executive at his company.

8. Don’t give your customer a headache.

Employers have plenty of work to do. They don’t need the hassles of ticked-off employees. And they don’t want to baby-sit your company to make sure things work smoothly. Anticipate what could go wrong. Know what you’ll do to respond. Let your customer know that you have a plan.

For example, say you offer a lunchtime weight management program at your health club. One day the power’s out in your area. All the employees who usually visit at lunch are wondering whether you’re open. Some of them are going to call Human Resources and ask. You want to avoid that. How will you let them know what’s going on so that it doesn’t turn into their company’s issue?

9. Employers worry constantly about liability.

They want reassurance that your program reflects well-founded and broadly-accepted health and medical advice. Staff who develop and deliver programs generally need to be degreed, licensed, and/or certified. Your customers don’t want to risk legal liability. Their greatest fear is an employee who suffers a bad outcome from advice which later turns out to be inconsistent with generally accepted medical opinion. And your company shouldn’t take that risk either.

Establish guidelines for your staff about who may provide advice about what. For example, your company may not allow fitness trainers to provide nutritional advice.

Consider how to handle health advice provided by participants to each other in support groups, whether online or in person. It may be wise to moderate newsgroup and message board postings or disallow certain topics (for example, discussions about the use of certain nutritional supplements). Consult your attorney for guidance on liability waivers.

Almost every provider of workplace wellness services should have a medical advisory board overseeing their programs, products and services. Include this as a selling point.

Keep selling after the sale:

1. Conduct formal customer meetings quarterly.

Go back to your sales materials. Note the benefits your firm promised your customer. Show proof that they’re getting those benefits.

Include data on how many employees used your services during the last quarter. Provide summarized anonymous health statistics – for example, total or average pounds lost, blood pressure reductions, or sick days taken. If appropriate, work with Human Resources, the company’s benefits broker, and their insurance carriers to correlate healthcare cost trends with use of your products and services.

It’s also a good idea to survey program participants and provide aggregated results to the employer.

2. Communicate success broadly.

Your quarterly meetings may be with your day-to-day contact. However, you want to make sure that their boss, and their boss’s boss, and other important parties know that their company’s relationship with your business is paying off. In particular, make sure that top financial managers are aware of positive results for their company.

If they don’t attend the quarterly meeting, send them to-the-point reports summarizing financial and productivity/health benefits.

Watch out for these gotchas:

1. Even smaller businesses often make decisions slowly.

However, many businesses will expect you to be ready to move fast when they do decide to act. One way to get them off the dime: propose a pilot or other small demonstration project.

2. Don’t bet your business on a single deal.

You cannot force companies to buy. All you control is their awareness of your product, so that if and when they do decide to buy, they think of you. Remind yourself of this eternal truth every summer and winter, when vacation and holiday schedules slow down decisions at most businesses.

3. Be clear on who the decision-maker really is.

Unless it’s a very small company, your initial contact won’t make the decision. However, they will make the internal pitch to their boss. That’s why you’ve got to have sales materials that can represent your key messages. If you’re talking to a division of a larger company, find out if they have to get headquarters approval and how that process will work.

4. Know your customer’s business cycle and budget cycle.

Most businesses have natural peaks and valleys. In retail, for example, the business cycle usually peaks in November, December, and January. That’s when they’re busiest and make most of their money. You won’t get their attention then. Early spring is a great time to approach them, though.

If youre talking to your customer towards the end of their budget cycle, you may be able to help them bake your program into the budget for the upcoming year. Remind them to include the financial and productivity benefits from your services, and not just the cost of paying you!

5. Your sales materials must speak for you when you’re not there.

Make it easy for your customer contact to tell your story on your behalf. Create clearly written and professionally-presented sales materials. Spell out the features, advantages and benefits. Summarize key points in bullet form on a single-page executive summary. Proactively answer likely questions.

6. After the deal: bill promptly and keep an eye out for payment.

Many businesses are slow to pay, regardless of size. Be ready to cut off services until they bring their account current. Letting payments slide without consequences won’t earn their respect. It isn’t healthy for your business. And it makes it much harder to get tough later.

7. Watch for scope creep.

If your customer asks you to provide extra services, make sure your business receives extra value as well. Consider a higher price for additional services, for example. Dont expand the scope of your services without making sure that your business will benefit. Expanded services can eat away your margin as you incur additional costs but get no additional value for your business. And if your business is helping theirs perform better, your contribution should be compensated.

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Leslie Nolen, Radial's president, is the nationally-known expert on the art and science of selling health and wellness.

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