Skip to main content

The Essential Elements of a Strong Benefits Advisor and Benefits Administration Vendor Partnership, Part 1: The Relationship

In the benefits industry, there’s plenty of talk about how benefits administration solutions can help employers maximize the impact and ROI of their benefits programs. But what about benefits advisors who help facilitate solution vetting, selection and success? You play a crucial role in the benefits ecosystem. Without benefits brokers and technology consultants, many employers would struggle to build and maintain benefits programs with the right tech solutions required to support employees while remaining affordable, competitive and innovation-ready.

This 2-part series discusses how a “right fit” benefits administration partner can help you deliver maximum value to your employer customers — and what to expect from the relationship and solution that supports and drives your efforts. The first part explores the “softer” side of a successful partnership: what defines a healthy vendor/advisor relationship.

Part 1: Relationships Before Technology

Benefits administration solutions are more than the sum of their (technology) parts. Naturally, the functionality and capabilities of a vendor's solution are central to building a successful business case and, ultimately, a technology “match” for a client. But when it comes to the consultant’s ability and willingness to advocate for a particular solution, perhaps the most important factor in the relationship is the relationship itself. 

What does this look like, and how does it play out? You’re likely to find trust and mutual respect at the core. From an experiential perspective, brokers and consultants should expect to encounter the following with a right-fit benefits administration partner:

Alignment of corporate values and culture 

For most benefits advisors — and their employer customers — cultural “fit” is important when evaluating a technology partner. This has a lot to do with a vendor’s leadership team, strategic vision, organizational commitments and team culture, as well as the experience and expertise of the individuals and their approach to developing solutions and delivering service. Values and culture are resonant in the way they communicate and collaborate with you, set and iterate on customer goals, incorporate client feedback into product and service enhancements, invest in innovation and more.

These attributes, which often show up as a “we just work together so well!” feeling, can make a huge difference to the vendor-advisor and vendor-client working relationships and have the potential to make or break the overall impact of a partnership. Fundamentally, if advisors and their clients don’t feel they can work effectively with their partner’s team, it’s unlikely to be a good long-term choice.

A robust (and reliable) solution roadmap

A benefits administration vendor’s solution roadmap needs to strike the right balance of furthering core functionality and innovation. Ideally, roadmaps are developed around meeting clients’ needs as they evolve, delivering tools that help benefits teams do their jobs better and more strategically, while also appropriately leveraging emerging tech.

The timing and delivery of solution enhancements and new product rollouts can be challenging for vendors to plan with precision. Owing to changes in the marketplace, technology and customer needs, roadmaps tend to be dynamic, and projects can be reprioritized for any number of reasons. For vendors, keeping consultant partners in the loop  is an important way to demonstrate their commitment to not only managing expectations, but following-through on developing technology that impacts customer outcomes.

The bottom line is that advisors should expect partners to deliver what they say they’ll deliver. And if they're not able to deliver as expected, to be honest and transparent about the reasons why, along with a clear path forward.

Customized guidance and consultation

Providing cookie-cutter, one-tech-fits-all guidance is not the sign of a partner that strives to cultivate strong, consultative relationships. Everyone wins when advisors effectively support their customers with right-fit solutions – and it’s the benefits administration partner’s responsibility to inform and equip brokers with what they need to take care of mutual clients.

A vendor that is focused on helping advisors serve their customers should be able to guide them on specific customer cases, incorporating thoughtful commentary around a client’s industry, key business challenges, technology environment, etc. Examples of customer-specific support could include:

  • Discussing how the vendor’s roadmap might look for each client and how new solutions might be added over time to help the client address new challenges, scale for growth, etc.
  • Identifying and assigning the right internal talent to handle each client’s needs.
  • Working with brokers on finalist presentations – and winning business together in a way that optimally serves the mutual customer and maximizes outcomes for all parties.

Transparent and responsive communication

A customer’s overall impression of a vendor is developed through the experiences of purchase, implementation, service and problem resolution. Making a strong positive impression throughout all stages of this journey – including while scaling for growth – helps build significant trust in both the vendor-advisor and vendor-client relationships.

Partners should have a strong track record of being transparent about changes and the ability to act quickly to address opportunities and resolve problems when they arise. Most customers understand that platform maintenance is essential, and that “issues” are inevitable over a long enough period. Vendors that plan and communicate preventative maintenance ahead of time and address unexpected issues promptly while communicating openly and honestly with customers make far better partners for advisors and their customers.

Business Relationships Make a Difference

Benefits advisors should look out for these relationship-oriented attributes to help them gain maximum value from a partnership with a benefits administration provider. Of course, it’s also important that the relationship is backed up by “hard” solution-based capabilities, and there are three critical areas where benefits consultants should assess their benefits administration partners. Stay tuned for part two of this series to learn more!