How to Create a Competitive 401k Advantage Through Adaptive Selling

What if you could secure a competitive advantage by possessing greater insight into wants and needs?

401k, selling, retirement, clientsKnow the personalities of the clients for which you compete.

The boardroom is where it happens.

Multiple finals presentations will be delivered to the committee, including your case for why you should be chosen to manage a retirement plan.

As much as we strive to have a consistent sales process, no two meetings are alike; personalities are different every time. The companies themselves are from disparate industries and often have differing priorities.

Some are concerned with costs while others are focused on fiduciary liability. Some show tremendous compassion for their employees, while others don’t. Sometimes they express their needs and sometimes they don’t.

With so many differing agendas, it’s a challenge to know what to emphasize when presenting something as complicated as a retirement plan.

But what if you could secure a competitive advantage by possessing greater insight into wants and needs?

Adaptive selling might be it.

Most advisors are familiar with Myers-Briggs or something similar; they’re programs that describe four different behavioral categories into which buyers and sellers fall. By adapting your selling style to match your buyer’s needs, you can increase your rate of success.

As a certified DISC trainer and Registered Corporate Coach in charge of our Retirement Advisor Institute, I’ve adapted these generic sales concepts to our industry, specifically the interactions between plan advisors and plan sponsors.

Each company and committee member typically displays tendencies of one of four buying styles, which provides valuable insight into what they consider important.

So, what motivates each of the four styles?

Directors are found in businesses comprised of attorneys, doctors and other professional groups. They’re not looking for small talk or rapport building; they’re bottom-line oriented and want to get there fast (with facts). You’re presenting, but they like control. It’s best to be flexible, knowing your entire deck might not get covered.

You may therefore need to quickly pivot to issues like all-in costs, self-directed brokerage, safe harbor or fiduciary liability.

Motivators are found in the sales, service and hospitality industries. Your approach should be very different, because they want to socialize. They value relationships more than plan detail, so know your success will rest in part on your ability to be positive and energetic. What they seek most is ease-of-use.

How can you ease their administrative burden? They’re extremely receptive to 3(16), 3(21) and 3(38) solutions.

Relaters are found at non-profits, where patience is your greatest virtue. What you might view as an actual finals presentation for them might be just another step in a lengthy decision-making process. The best approach is to move slowly, be more thorough in your delivery and listen intently.

They’re looking for someone they can trust. More than anything, they care about the welfare of their employees and whether or not you’ll “take care of them.”

Finally, Analyzers are found in technology, architecture, engineering and related industries. The finals presentation is really just the opening salvo; they’ll want more information. They’ll request a formal proposal with detailed cost breakdowns and accompanying documents.

Tech demos will no doubt need to be delivered, and investment lineups will be thoroughly vetted. Unfortunately, it may all come down to a spreadsheet and the advisor/provider that’s least expensive. If you know your proposal isn’t the cheapest, be prepared to provide tangible proof of the additional benefits your service provides.

If you end up in a boardroom with all four buying styles, consider it the finals presentation to end all others. Will you come out on top? Knowing your audiences’ individual motivations—and your willingness to adapt—will afford you a competitive advantage in winning the plan.

Randy Fuss is a practice management consultant at CUNA Mutual Retirement Solutions

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