Yogi Berra, the Yankees’ legend and Hall of Fame catcher, once described the loss of an important game with a malapropism, “We made too many wrong mistakes.”
Famous for humorous turns of phrase, Berra’s insights have application to the 401k and retirement savings plan marketplace. Many “Yogisms” reflect fundamental lessons from what many 401k financial advisors refer to as solutions-based selling, the essence of which is doing your homework and asking the right questions.
The 401k retirement plan market for small- to mid-sized companies (fewer than 1,000 employees) is extremely diverse. It’s why many service providers support multiple plan designs featuring multiple products and typically offer assistance to 401k advisors in identifying the right solutions based on the needs of the particular employer.
Those needs can only be ascertained through asking the right questions and making sure you have the right information. Yogi clearly understood this concept. The reasons why advisors don’t sell more retirement plans can often be distilled down to a few of Yogi’s many famous observations.
- You can observe a lot by just watching
Some advisors waste their time with prospects who offer little chance of success, chasing anyone who breathes and is willing to talk to them. Too often, advisors invest hours preparing presentations for prospects with whom they have little opportunity to win their business, simply because they did not do their due diligence.
Make sure you do your homework and be observant of the prospect’s current situation. Review the status of a prospect’s current plan before approaching the firm by consulting one of several data-mining services that report plan information filed with the Department of Labor. For instance, if you live in Chicago, you can research local firms’ profit-sharing plans.
You might be surprised to learn that many companies fail their discrimination tests. The result is that the owner and key executives may be limited in how much they can save and therefore find it difficult to save enough to continue their lifestyles in retirement. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity to help those firms make plan design and other changes to boost plan participation, deferrals and, ultimately, retirement readiness for employees, management and the owner.
But what if the data shows that a particular company’s retirement plan has no identifiable issues or problems? If so, move on.
- A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore
Some advisors focus too much on a retirement plan’s costs, investments or both. By doing so, they turn what they’re selling into a commodity and in turn sell themselves and their value short.
Show your prospects your worth by helping select the right solution to meet their needs, offering guidance regarding their fiduciary responsibilities, helping jump-start the enrollment process, and regularly reviewing the retirement readiness of employees.
Many advisors fail to articulate a value proposition and differentiate themselves from the competition. Make sure your value proposition connects to the “why” of what you do, because most people don’t buy what you sell, they buy why you do it. Once they are comfortable with you, they are ready to engage.
- The future ain’t what it used to be
Too often, advisors talk to prospects about a product or solution before they understand the client’s actual needs. The advisor is on a mission to tell the prospects what they should do, what they should buy, and when they should make the decision.
Any discussion about a client’s retirement plan should start with asking questions and listening to the responses. This concept can be extended to finals presentations by asking each key decision-maker what he or she values most in a retirement plan. Write the answers down on a white board or large sheet of paper so that everyone attending the presentation can see them. Make sure you address each point at some point during your presentation and explain how you, the record keeper or both will solve for that particular issue.
Above all, don’t force your clients to patiently (or impatiently) listen to a presentation that doesn’t connect to what is important to them. It’s a sure way to lose a sale … and a client.
- When you come to a fork in the road, take it
Another mistake advisors make is providing the client with choices before agreeing upon a solution. The advisor displays a spreadsheet comparing different service providers and how they stack up in providing various services and support.
This is just another way to turn the sales process into an exercise in weighing commodities. Worse, it can confuse the client.
Show your value and insight by first discussing your client’s key priorities and make sure you align your solution or solutions correctly. You can then figure out what provider or record keeper can best meet those objectives.
- He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious
Advisors who do a good job of servicing and supporting a retirement plan can position themselves for additional sales down the road. In essence, they will get more turns at bat to meet their clients’ investment, insurance and other financial needs.
Don’t overlook or underestimate connections with employees in your respective organizations who are not the key decision-makers for the retirement plan. Those folks have financial needs as well and may welcome your help. Also, remember that positive experiences typically filter up to senior management.
Moreover, making those connections can lead to other business in the future. Many people who need help with wealth management decisions do not have a 401k advisor and supporting a retirement plan is a great way to prospect for new clients.
Often, success in life comes down to how well we execute the fundamentals. In Yogi’s world, that meant preparing for each potential situation before every pitch or hit, allowing for split-second decisions and reactions that ultimately lead to wins.
In the 401k retirement plans business, executing the fundamentals means listening by doing a thorough needs analysis and then providing solutions that truly solve problems. And once again, listening.
Yogi understood the value of listening as a fundamental communication principle and related his experience: “It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”
Thomas Foster Jr. is Assistant Vice President, Strategic Relationships, for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual).