Medicare Sales in the Age of COVID-19

There’s no doubt about it: COVID-19 will change the way we sell Medicare products.

In previous years, health plans relied on agents for seminars, town halls and “kitchen table” sales. This year, plans cannot depend on face-to-face interactions with Medicare beneficiaries to be successful in the upcoming Annual Enrollment Period (AEP). Medicare beneficiaries are one of the most vulnerable groups for this virus. Meeting with people one-on-one and/or in larger groups is unsafe in this environment.

Plans will need to adjust and get creative in order to make sales goals this year.

Over the last few months, GHG has been working with several health plans on pivoting strategies to navigate the new norms of COVID-19 and a Presidential election year upon us. Here are some tips to consider.

Agents/Brokers

This year, Medicare sales will be defined by those who enable an effective virtual selling environment. Health plans should be in close contact with top brokers, helping to build tools to be utilized during new-to-Medicare/Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), Special Enrollment Period (SEP) and AEP. Most, if not all, one-to-one discussions and seminars will be conducted online; having access to audio and/or video conferencing tools will be critical. This also includes an online enrollment tool for agents/brokers, so if your plan does not currently offer it, now is the time to get one! Agents/brokers will want to walk prospects through the online enrollment process over the phone or via video conference (e.g., Zoom).

In addition, having the right tools is one aspect, but this type of selling is different from the usual one-to-one, in-person discussion. Even if you enable video for both parties, it’s difficult to read and understand body language during a conference call. Agents will need to adapt selling styles to take this into consideration.

Still, the path back to “normal” is unknown. Even when social distancing restrictions and stay-at-home orders are lifted, it’s questionable when “the most vulnerable” for COVID-19 risk will feel comfortable again. Plans will need to hold agents/brokers accountable for the health of prospects when entering homes, as well as how to safely approach a “kitchen table” sales environment—clean hands, disinfecting wipes, masks, etc.

This means that call centers will be very important for the future of sales.

Call Centers

Many plans utilize call centers as a way to answer questions and move prospects to the next step, such as fulfilling information requests or sending to an agent/broker. It may be time to rethink that strategy. Considering the impacts of COVID-19, plus Presidential election season, telesales will play a much bigger role in hitting sales targets for 2021.

GHG recommends using licensed agents who can sell over the phone and have the opportunity to set up an online conference call to take the prospect through the process, if that’s needed to close the sale. Having trained several internal call centers, we’ve found that many don’t know how to sell or close a sales opportunity. We cannot stress enough the importance of having a thoughtful call center strategy this year (and don’t wait until AEP to test new approaches—start with your new-to-Medicare program). Selling approaches and monitoring will be key to success.

Online Sales

Online sales have been increasing over the last several years, and COVID-19 will undoubtedly precipitate moving this to the next level. New-to-Medicare beneficiaries especially are gravitating towards digital platforms, and online/social media channels are now a viable and profitable form of advertising for most Medicare plans.

Plans today need a solid online presence that serves as a “real” sales channel, not just a website with CMS information and an online enrollment process. When a prospect visits your website, can they easily travel through a well-organized sales process? Is your market differential front and center? The sales experience should be easy and user-friendly for prospective members, with access to customer service via phone or chat to get answers to their questions quickly.

What’s Next?

The next few months are certainly going to be interesting. Given the unpredictability of the current environment, be sure to cover your bases now to be prepared for this AEP—including establishing a backup plan if needed. With COVID-19 and the Presidential election, AEP will be a difficult endeavor, but plans can utilize the OEP, agents/brokers and new-to-Medicare advertising to drive sales during AEP.

GHG is available to answer any questions you have and help evolve sales strategies for this unprecedented environment. Contact us to start the conversation.

Diane Hollie
Diane Hollie

Diane Hollie Associate Vice President, Sales, Marketing & Strategy Diane Hollie is Associate Vice President of Sales, Marketing & Strategy at Convey Health Solutions (Convey). In this role, she provides strategic consulting services to ensure organizations maximize their sales distribution and marketing mix. Diane brings Convey clients more than 20 years of experience in marketing, sales, and product development for Government programs. Her strong marketing, sales and compliance background has extended to providing compliance guidance for marketing, sales and customer service communications. Since joining Convey, Diane has worked with numerous clients to meet and exceed their enrollment goals, maximize their market potential with strong competitive products and develop marketing and sales strategies to improve market share within the ever-changing Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) compliance guidelines. Many of Convey’s clients have turned to Diane to provide marketing analysis, marketing and sales plan development and operational assessments of marketing, and marketing compliance and sales areas. She is fluent in developing the working tools and training programs for future success within the market and with CMS. Diane has published several articles providing marketing and sales guidance within the Medicare Advantage market.

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