sales champ | PLANADVISER March/April 2011

Cultivating Your Client Base

By | March/April 2011

3. Focus on asking questions in the first meeting. “Your first meeting is you with a piece of paper and a pen, and they do more of the talking­ than you do,” Cafaro says. “You are there, first of all, to ­understand their plans and their challenges.”

To prepare for that initial meeting, Stone and his ­colleagues research the prospect’s Web site to gain insight into its business, Google the employer to see what stories crop up that may apply to the plan and its operation, and review the Form 5500 or similar data. However, at the meeting, “the questions we ask are not canned,” he says. “They flow naturally from the dialogue with the prospect as we get them to talk about the plan, its operation, what concerns they may have, and what they are trying to accomplish.”

Do not waste time asking for basic information about a plan’s total assets or participants, since advisers can gather those publicly available details quickly. Before the meeting, print a copy of the employer’s full recent 5500, Cafaro recommends. At the meeting, she suggests asking a sponsor to talk about the plan’s population, its obstacles, how the retirement plan fits into the company’s overall strategy and management’s priorities, and how well its vendor relationship works. An adviser should bring some sample reports to give potential clients a sense of what they might expect to receive from the adviser should they hire him or her, she suggests, but do not leave the reports there after the meeting.

Rather than describing his company’s investment process and other selling points, Stone agrees that the first meeting should revolve around finding out what is going on with that employer. “Our initial meeting with the plan sponsor is not about us—it is about them,” he says. “If there is one failure that I have seen, it is advisers putting way too much ego into it, and wanting to tell plan sponsors about how wonderful they are. It is all about the adviser, in many cases.” That ruins the opportunity to have the potential client tell the adviser about the issues with its retirement benefits. “If you can ask the right questions and step on your tongue and not talk, you are really going to get somewhere,” he says. “That is where the opportunity is.”

4. Help keep potential clients up-to-date. How to go from initially meeting a sponsor to building ties that lead to signing a new client? “To me, it is education, education, education,” Carl says. “They need to be updated on the regulations, and how that translates into best practices. Maybe they are not a specialist in ERISA, and are covering other benefits, so they are really looking for that expertise­. From a plan sponsor perspective, try to increase their awareness that there are material risks that need to be managed like any other risk in the business.”

Plan Sponsor Advisors holds an annual sponsor confer­ence for clients and prospects in its base of Chicago: Last year’s conference had the theme “A Turning Point for Retirement Plans: Managing Your Plans in an Era of Increasing ­Responsibility” and included sessions on topics such as potential regulatory and legislative changes in Washington­. The company also does Webinars on topics such as ­operational compliance, target-date fund due diligence, and retirement-income solutions. Some clients sign up for the sessions, and others may become clients one day.

Helping educate sponsors includes not only legislative and legal issues, but also staying up-to-date on vendors, Kozemchak says—which vendors currently work well with plans and which do not, and new enhancements. “These are the ways to get traction,” he says. “It goes beyond being a general educator. Sharpen your skills to communicate successfully what is going on. Sponsors are looking for an opportunity to leverage other people’s expertise—the ability to drill down and tell them what they need to know.”