In the employer-sponsored benefits industry, leading providers of account management solutions offer partner marketing programs to help third party administrators (TPAs) operate their businesses, market their services, and educate target audiences about tax-advantaged benefit accounts.
However, these programs can vary substantially from vendor to vendor. For the independent TPA, evaluating partner marketing programs often is overlooked, or at least not seriously considered, until after the contract is signed. As part of the customer service experience, partner marketing programs are nearly indispensable for the independent TPA, who may rely on them for personal success.
Business-to-business vendors often offer sales, marketing and operational support resources, known as partner marketing programs, to encourage channel partners to use, recommend, or sell the vendor’s products and services. In its 2018 State of Partner Marketing Survey, AFV, a sales and marketing consultancy, found that more than three-fourths of businesses surveyed considered vendor-generated content important to their marketing efforts1
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that all leading employee benefits administration solution providers offer some form of partner marketing resources. These resources help TPAs operate their businesses, market their services, and educate target audiences about tax-advantaged benefit accounts. But not all vendor partner marketing programs are the same; the level of customer support, ready-made and customizable marketing materials, enrollment season support, and similar assets can vary greatly between the providers. What is most valuable to one TPA may not be the same for another.
In this whitepaper, we will explore some important factors for TPAs to consider when looking for a benefits platform solutions provider.
TPA Resource Needs
In order to stay competitive and maintain customer satisfaction, TPAs in today’s employee benefits administration industry must focus on operational efficiency and keeping costs low for their customers. At the same time, they need to continue growing their businesses and often
turn to their solutions vendor for assistance.
Since the majority of TPAs do not maintain a professional in-house marketing staff, they rely on partner marketing programs for help with:
- Developing operational strategies and compliance guidelines
- Generating broker and employer sales and marketing resources
- Educating and engaging employees about their benefits
How the platform vendor’s partner marketing program addresses these needs can make a big difference in how effectively a TPA is able to use and apply them to their advantage.
What Does a Typical Partner Marketing Program Look Like?
Within the account-based administration industry, most solutions vendors offer some degree of shareable support materials that can be accessed on the web. They also offer educational opportunities including annual conferences, online blogs, market research, webinars, and similar assets. Beyond that, however, there can be significant differences between vendors, particularly how the resources can be applied by independent TPAs to improve their unique value proposition. Here are some factors TPAs should consider when searching for the partner marketing program that is best for their business needs.
Factors for consideration
- Marketing materials – A TPA needs to reach out to multiple audiences, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach for connecting with people. TPAs need options in terms of materials that best reflect their brand or audience. Some solutions providers may offer ready-made materials with some ability to customize; others may offer much broader opportunities to personalize materials to a particular brand or audience.
- Access to the vendor’s marketing team – Experienced marketing assistance can be costly, whether in terms of maintaining in-house marketing staff or outsourcing to a professional services firm. Some providers may allow you to connect with their own marketing team, thereby alleviating some of the costs for experienced marketing support.
- Enrollment season support – Enrollment season is the most hectic time for a TPA. Does the solutions provider offer a direct hotline for assistance? Are materials available on the web and in print to help boost enrollment numbers?
- Loyalty programs – Loyalty programs reward clients for their business. The level of rewards and the actual value provided, particularly for small to medium size TPAs, is likely to vary between vendors.
- Personalized service – Partner marketing programs are a part of the customer service experience. While some providers treat their clients like a number, others may offer a more personalized experience.
Searching for the Right Partner Marketing Program
The most effective partner marketing program is one that works hand-in-hand with benefits administrators to fulfill and expand their own unique value proposition.
While evaluating potential platform vendors, TPAs should consider which partner marketing program is best suited to their specific needs. TPAs should confirm exactly how the program will be applied to them based on their company size and product menu. They should also explore the level of flexibility available to them to vary program usage based on the unique needs of their company and customers.
Shareable Support Materials
In the highly competitive world of third-party benefits administration, it is important for TPAs to distinguish themselves from competitors. This includes marketing and educational materials. Many vendors offer only a single graphics style in their support libraries.
When considering the value of a prospective vendor’s shareable materials library, TPAs should look for multiple coordinated themes that allow them to choose a design that reflects both their company brand and the customers’ demographics. For example, sales materials in muted colors can convey an inconsistent brand message for a TPA known for its bold company culture. Likewise, educational materials populated by photos of typical office employees, while suitable for a corporate customer, may prove less engaging for factory workers.
Employee Engagement Program
Employee engagement is a hot topic in the benefits administration industry. The International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans (IFEBP) found in a recent survey that nearly 80% of organizations report their employees do not have a high level of understanding of their benefits.2 Couple that with a recent Aflac study in which more than 75% of employees said they spend 60 minutes or less choosing their benefits (46% claiming 30 minutes or less).3
In other words, traditional methods and materials used to educate employees about their benefits are no longer enough. Today, TPAs need leading-edge engagement initiatives that can break through the information overload and capture the attention of employees quickly and effectively. Employer-sponsored benefits can be difficult to understand. Therefore, not only should the information be accessible and delivered in bite size, easy-to-grasp doses, but it should also be captivating for the audience.
A well-rounded employee education and engagement program should utilize a range of media types that appeal to different audiences. In addition to colorful, easily digestible print materials for enrollment meetings and benefits fairs, the program should include short, entertaining videos and digital versions of all print materials. On the internet, the program should offer a website with regular blog posts and interactive social media accounts across popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Custom Support Materials
In addition to shareable support materials, TPAs may also need custom materials made for a specific purpose or to distinctively market their brand. As in other industries, benefit administration solutions vendors may provide more intensive marketing support to larger customers than to comparatively smaller accounts. As part of the vendor selection process, TPAs should factor in the nature and scope of the marketing support that is available specifically to companies of their size.
Smaller TPAs typically have a greater need for intensive support than do larger ones that have internal marketing resources already in place. For example, independent TPAs would nearly always benefit from having the ability to leverage a vendor’s own, experienced marketing staff to create specific materials or to help in choosing effective marketing strategies for revenue growth. Some platform solutions vendors may offer access to their marketing staff, but at what price? The potential business impact on an independent TPA from having direct access to an industry-experienced marketing team, either for free or at substantially discounted rates, cannot be overstated.
Automated processes are important to platform vendor marketing support programs, but there are times when personal contact is needed. In addition to client account managers, TPAs should consider the entire scope of direct interaction with vendor personnel that they will be able to have after the contract is signed. As previously stated, for example, having ready access to the vendor’s marketing team can be very valuable to TPAs wanting guidance in that area.
TPAs are looking for relationships and resources that cement long-term commitments and establish long-term bonds. Vendor loyalty programs can provide TPAs with substantial value that is hard to quantify and obtain otherwise. Such programs typically include some combination of incentives and business-building services
Like any successful business, platform solutions vendors take special care to cater to the needs and wants of their largest clients. TPAs, however, come in all sizes, and scaling needed services may be challenging. Providing choice to the TPA, through incentives and rewards, can be a creative part of the solution. TPAs could use incentives from a loyalty program to purchase the partner marketing resources that are most valuable to them. Depending on the TPA’s needs, these could include enrollment season materials, customized marketing pieces, marketing services and consultations, registration for conferences, or other needed products and services.
As part of the vendor selection process, TPAs should factor in the existence (or lack) of a defined loyalty/rewards program for companies of their size. The impact of such a program on their operational success can be sizeable.
Independent TPAs often need more than just a benefits administration solution from their platform provider. Whether they are looking to increase enrollment numbers, inform participants, or market their services to new and existing clients, these duties can be too much for them to handle on their own without additional support, as most TPAs do not have a dedicated marketing team in-house. When a TPA is evaluating account management solutions vendors, how the vendor can provide assistance through a partner marketing program should be a significant factor for consideration.
About the Company:
Founded in 1984, DataPath, Inc. is an administrative solutions provider for tax-advantaged healthcare benefit plans including FSAs, HRAs, HSAs, Transit accounts, and COBRA. The company is also an end-to-end card and payments processor. Learn more at dpath.com or call (800) 633-3841.
2,3 “Encouraging Employee Engagement with Health Benefits.” Miles Varn. Employee Benefit News, 3/19/18.