• What to Know to Market at AEP

    While AEP is the source of most of an agent’s Medicare Advantage business for the year, it’s also the time of year when every agent is working, including the ones you might not be competing against during lock-in. This means it’s that much more important for you to make the most of the marketing opportunities you have available.

    Brand Yourself

    Insurance is, more than anything, a relationship business. Think about what sets you apart from an agent down the street who could offer a client the same products. Have you been involved in the community for a long time? Do you have a deep knowledge of a particular set of products? Do you offer a wide variety of products to provide a one stop shop for clients? Once you figure this out, incorporate it into your advertising, office signage, business cards, and your introduction to potential clients and colleagues.

    Generate Leads

    If you’re still building your book of business, simply buying leads from a direct mail or online lead company is a great way to get started. Direct mail leads are generally the least expensive, but have a lower response rate, whereas online leads are more expensive but are more likely to lead to a sale. In many cases you can narrow down the demographics to particular zip codes, ages, and income levels to help you focus on exactly the prospects you want.

    If you already have an established book of business, whether from Medicare or other products, AEP is a perfect time to get in touch with them. By sending your clients a letter or even giving them a personal call to let them know that you’re available and can help them with their Medicare plan needs, you can help your retention with any existing Medicare plan business, as well as generate referrals from your clients’ family and friends. Remember that you should also be planning a review with your existing Medicare Advantage clients during AEP, since their plan availability and benefits can change every year.

    Another option for generating new business is to hold sales events in your community. These are public events where you invite prospects to either come to a presentation on Medicare and the benefits of a particular plan or plans, or to drop by a table or kiosk during a particular time to ask questions or get information. These events need to be filed with CMS through carriers with which you’re contracted, and you must follow the CMS guidelines for registering, advertising, and conducting these events. Each carrier’s requirements for conducting sales events can vary, so it’s important that you’re familiar with the process for each carrier with which you work. You can view our guide to deadlines and other info about registration here. If you have any questions about sales events, feel free to email our team at

    Leverage Your Community

    Are you involved in your local Chamber of Commerce, small business association, Lion’s Club, or other community group? Those groups and relationships are a prime opportunity for you to reach out and market yourself as an available resource. That kind of visibility and good will can be a great way to generate referrals as well as making your other marketing that much more effective. People are more likely to want to do business with someone who is seen as a trustworthy and active member of their community than someone with whom they’re not familiar.

    AEP will be here before you know it, so get out there and sell!

  • No Need to Fear Secret Shoppers

    Time and again we hear it from agents considering doing sales meetings or other community events — “But what if a secret shopper comes?” While the concern is completely understandable given the potential ramifications of a CMS complaint, it’s also probably based more in fear than in reality.

    Secret shoppers don’t find anything wrong the vast majority of the time – In 2014, 85.5% of the events that were secret shopped by CMS were found to be totally compliant. 85.5%! Do you have faith that you’re better than the bottom 14.5% of agents out there? We bet you do. If more than 85% of events can be pulled off with no compliance issues, so can yours.

    They really don’t try to trap you – Secret shoppers may ask you a lot of questions, and they may be specifically asking questions related to areas of concern for CMS, but they won’t go out of their way to ask you the most obscure question possible and trick you into giving the wrong answer. Answer questions compliantly and be honest if you’re not sure of something.

    There are example checklists you can look at – Every CMS secret shopper fills out the same survey and is looking for the same things. While CMS doesn’t make the most current one available to the public, you can click here to look at a sample from a prior year. If you know what they’re looking for, you know what you have to do.

    Most deficiencies found were for easily avoidable infractions – In 2014, CMS secret shoppers found 305 deficiencies at the events they surveyed. Sixty-nine were for failing to provide and go over star ratings, and 67 were for failing to make available required information like the Summary of Benefits or provider directory when providing an enrollment form. These are easily prevented by making sure you have the necessary materials and that you go over the information required.

    If you take a little time and some care, you can put together an informative, compliant event to help grow your business, without fear of a secret shopper lurking around every corner.

  • Planning an Effective and Compliant Sales Event

    Sales events are a great way to generate leads and get clients the information they need, but there are some things to consider to make sure your events are both successful and compliant.

    Event Registration

    Get your registrations in early. – CMS requires that all events be entered into their system at least seven days in advance. However, many carriers have stricter requirements. Generally you should plan to get the appropriate registration forms to your FMO (or the carrier if you’re contracted direct) at least two weeks in advance. Check with your FMO or broker services for deadlines for specific carriers.

    Understand the difference between formal and informal events. – If you’re going to stand up and give a presentation, that’s a formal event. If you’re going to be at a booth or table and take people’s questions as they come by, that’s informal. Having your event registered correctly can potentially save you an allegation or discipline from carriers.

    If you need to change or cancel an event, you need to give at least 48 hours notice, barring a natural disaster or similar emergency. – If the event was advertised, you have to either advertise the change or cancellation in the same manner the original event was advertised, or you or someone standing in for you have to be at the original location at the original time for at least fifteen minutes.

    Venue Choice

    Think about accessibility for clients who use things like walkers or wheelchairs. – Wherever possible find an ADA compliant location. It’s also a good idea to look for someplace that doesn’t require extensive walking from parking to the actual venue.

    Figure out a head count. – How many people do you expect to attend? You want to make sure you have enough space for everyone to be comfortable and have adequate seating, but you’ll likely spend more than necessary if you reserve a space much larger than you need.

    Remember that choice of location reflects on you and the companies you do business with. – You don’t necessarily need to pick anything upscale, but pick something family friendly and where a wide range of people will feel comfortable.

    Make sure your location is easy to find. – Someplace on a small side street or down an alley or in a back corner of a crowded complex can make it hard for clients to find your event. If you’re holding your event in a particular room of a larger building like a hospital or community center, find out if the venue will allow you to put up signs near the main entrances directing people to the correct room. It’s also a good idea to include the room number or room name in any advertisements if possible.


    Show your personality, but avoid going too far off script. – If attendees have questions, gauge whether the answer is relevant to other people and if not, tell the client that you’ll be happy to discuss it with them in more detail after the meeting. Also, be wary of sensitive topics like politics and religion. While they can sometimes overlap with health care, they can also turn off clients who may have differing opinions. Stick to the facts, at the very least until you’re dealing with someone one-on-one and have a sense of how they’ll react.

    Use a presentation from a trusted source. – If you want you use a slide presentation or some other kind of visual aid, check the marketing materials from the carriers you’re presenting. Most carriers have presentations, flip books, posters, or some other visual aid that you can use. CMS also has downloadable presentations on a range of topics available here.

    Sales events are a great way to build your business, as long as you plan ahead!