Like most brokers, I spend a good part of the summer meeting with my clients to start mapping out a plan for their Q4 open enrollment. And after doing this for more than two decades, I’ve come up with a checklist of to-dos that helps me make sure these client planning meetings are as helpful, productive, and stress-free as possible. Here it is:

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What To Do a Month Before the Meeting:

1. Conduct an employee satisfaction survey

A month or so before we meet, I send my clients an employee engagement survey that I encourage them to ask their workforce to fill out. The survey asks a variety of questions about employees’ satisfaction with their benefits, and the communication the company provides around those benefits.

I avoid “yes or no” questions, and use statements that can be responded to with ‘strongly agree,’ ‘strongly disagree,’ or somewhere in between. Statements like the following work well: “I believe our benefits provide better-than-average savings and protection” or “The benefits provided by my organization played a significant role in my decision to join this organization.”

Not only will these kinds of prompts result in very useful data for you and your client, but your client’s employees will feel better about their employer just because they’re being asked. Don’t be afraid to ask variations of the same question a few times; sometimes it’s how something is said that gets to the heart of the issue. However, you want to avoid making the survey much longer than 15 minutes. You can use SurveyMonkey or other survey generators to collect this kind of data.

2. Do a claims review

In advance of any open enrollment planning meeting, someone from our analytics team does a claims review. This is especially important to our clients as healthcare costs continue to rise. We look at what’s going on from a spend perspective, and where there might be opportunities to save in the coming year.

This data is the crux of our planning meetings. An agent should be able to provide thorough data surrounding the medical loss ratio, and a good carrier should be able to provide lifestyle indicators that are driving the group’s claims. That way, you can offer solutions during your meeting: like promoting preventative care to address expensive medical trends, or introducing a mental health program if more employees are filing therapy claims.

3. Send the invitation for the meeting (and add a few extras)

I conduct planning meetings 3-4 months before my client’s open enrollment. I usually ask the client to come into our office, but things are different now thanks to the global pandemic. In-person face time is always great, but if you’re sticking to Zoom this year, make sure you communicate any changes to your usual routine with your client.

Usually, we make the meeting two hours long. That’s enough time to get through everything without it feeling super-taxing. We cover the cost of lunch, either through catering or an offer to provide delivery if you’re planning a remote meeting. And sometimes, I bring a case of Bud Light and some noisemakers. Just kidding. 🙂

What to Do a Few Days Before the Meeting:

4. Send along a little preview

A couple days before the meeting, I generally send along an email of what I’m hoping to cover…a quick agenda of sorts. And I run it past the client to see if there’s anything they’d like to cover, too. This way there are no surprises.

What to Cover in the Meeting Itself:

5. Follow an agenda like this

Every client is a little different of course, but a typical meeting agenda would look like this:

  • Eat & intros
  • Ask the HR team to voice any concerns/ questions right off the bat. In other words, start by listening, not talking.
  • Quick recap of what we learned from last year’s open enrollment (presumably, you would have covered this already earlier in the year, so this would be touching on the highlights from that discussion)
  • Results of claims review and what it means
    • Depending on findings, this may lead to discussions of whether a self-funded plan is a good idea; or if there are a lot of claims that a strong wellness program could help curtail, we might touch on that.
  • Highlight new products or technology we think they may benefit from
  • Review our benefits communication strategy for the year
  • Optional: A brief run-down on how any upcoming legislation will affect coverage
  • Nail down a good date for open enrollment
    • It’s great to get this figured out now. The earlier I can get a date locked down, the better chance our team has of avoiding having a whole bunch of open enrollments for multiple clients during the same week.
  • Quick review of what was covered, any last questions, and that’s it!

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After the Meeting

6. Follow up right away

It’s easy for things to get lost in the shuffle after a big, meaty meeting, so I always send along a summary of what was talked about the day after. I also include a list to remind everyone of next steps. And just for fun, I sometimes include a link to something random we about in the meeting. (For example: if we ended up talking about Westworld while eating lunch, I might send a link to an interesting article about Westworld. That sort of thing.)

Usually, our office’s next steps are to provide quotes on the cost of plans and benefits. We also send out a “decisions timeline” to the client. We want them to have a visual of all of the important deadlines for making their open enrollment smooth. It’s also nice because if they don’t meet those deadlines, we can refer back to the timeline when things don’t turn out like we wanted them to, and illustrate why that is.

7. Optional: celebrate!

Lastly, after these meetings are done, it’s possible that my fellow brokers (i.e. my three brothers) and I will celebrate with an adult beverage or two after work. Give yourselves a pat on the back: you’re one step closer to a successful open enrollment season!


Jonathan Porta is an owner and benefit consultant at Grace & Porta Benefits. He’s been with Grace & Porta since 1998, helping businesses of 50 to 2,000 employees develop benefit strategies that give clients a competitive edge in their market. He’s a husband and father of three.