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Elevator Pitches — and Retaining a Client's Loyalty

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Plan Consultant. 

Any elevator you’re on likely is library-quiet as the dictates of unspoken social etiquette demand. But it nonetheless does afford a unique opportunity for communication and that most ideal of audiences: a captive one. An opportunity that the more gregarious among us find irresistible.

Most of us are not going to find ourselves alone, or nearly so, with a potential client in an elevator. But even if you’re not on an elevator, the fact remains that one sometimes has just a short time to make an impression, capture attention and to attract — and later, retain — a client’s loyalty.

So what’s your elevator pitch?

To gain some insight into successful elevator pitches, and strategies to retain clients whose business they succeed in winning, we asked some experts at top firms what worked — and works — for them.

Look at Us!

One has to attract clients before one can serve them. And part of that is setting oneself apart from the competition.

Some employ a big-picture approach. But a forest won’t long be one if each of its trees are not adequately nourished.

“Laser focus is critical,” says Seth Holstad, Account Executive at Alliance Benefit Group North Central States, Inc. (ABGNCS) “If you go too broad, you may be good at many things but not great at any one thing. Once you know what that thing is, capitalize on it. ”

MassMutual melds the two, with an approach that is broad-based in a way that emphasizes individualized service. “We see the employee benefits marketplace undergoing a convergence as more employers seek to help their employees better manage their benefits and personal financial decisions,” says Chelsea Atiyeh, Regional Sales Director for MassMutual Retirement Services.

“What differentiates our approach to measuring plan health is the use of actual data — not averages or assumptions — to appropriately measure and improve results,” Atiyeh says. ABGI also believes in providing data plan sponsors will find useful; it provides an annual report for plan sponsors and advisors that Alliance Benefit Group of Illinois ABGI President and CEO John D. Blossom says “slices and dices participant behavior with demographic data on retirement readiness, investment diversification, contribution levels, etc.”

Theresa E. Piotrowski, Principal at Alliance Pension Consultants, LLC, reports that Alliance’s “combination of our open architecture investment platform and our advanced plan design expertise create a unique product offering” that clients can leverage, in turn, to attract new clients and increase their assets under management.

BMO Retirement Services National Sales Director Micha DiSalvo says his firm offers a specialized focus on professional services and industrial clients. He also cites their penchant for encouraging new approaches, including challenging plan sponsors and participants to think differently about retirement security.

Keep the Customer Satisfied

You’ve landed a client — now you’ve got to keep it. But how?

“Every action participants take through the website, on their statements, interaction with a call center representative, or in person with our education team is tracked,” Atiyeh says of MassMutual. “Using this data we are able to provide prescriptive solutions for both plan sponsors and plan participants, customize their experience based on their past behavior and actions to help them achieve their retirement plan goals,” she adds.

MassMutual also recently restructured its relationship management team. This includes 85 education specialists deployed across the nation whose sole responsibility is driving participants to take action. And that’s paid off, Atiyeh reports: “Our relationship management team is a big reason why MassMutual has recently enjoyed record plan sponsor retention rates.”

Alliance seeks to earn loyalty by creating strong partnerships through service and by watching out for clients’ best interest. What drives loyalty to Alliance, according to Piotrowski, is that it:

1.     does not offer services that compete with those its clients offer;

2.     critically reviews plans to identify weaknesses in plan design and operations;

3.     makes sure investments have no underlying issues, and helps address any identified; and

4.     keeps clients informed.

Making sure clients know they are important is part of ABGI’s approach. “We do our best to provide each participant, each advisor and each plan sponsor with a sense of their importance to us and our value to them,” says Blossom.

Another loyalty-builder: cooperation. Jason Crane, Transamerica Retirement Services’ Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Retirement Sales, says Transamerica works to put together solutions that will best meet the needs of clients and their employees. So does ABGNCS, which according to Holstad believes that plan sponsors know their own clients best and that their knowledge is “invaluable in structuring a total retirement plan solution that is as unique as their client.”

Make it Personal

Keep in mind that you’re meeting real needs and addressing individual concerns. “Not a single participant woke up in a cold sweat last night worried about the average expense ratio on their small cap growth fund. When we keep this is mind, we can address the real concern participants have: Am I going to have enough to retire?” says Atiyeh.

Serving individuals is key for ABGI, according to Blossom: “Recognizing the need for a holistic solution to help participants to save enough, we created a Financial Fitness Center to help participants with financial well-being. It begins with a personal fitness assessment, includes individual personal phone consultation, or chat time, about any financial matter, and a financial aggregator to assemble and monitor all of a participant’s financial matters that post a daily net worth.” 

In the process of meeting personal needs, listen. Crane says Transamerica is “continually listening” about what clients find useful. “We are also listening to our firm-level relationships with key distributors, and with other invested intermediaries like third party administrators,” he adds.

Adding Value

Another key component of good client service, being competitive and retaining clients is adding value to them and what they do.

DiSalvo says BMO does so through “our expertise in plan design and ultimately driving better retirement outcomes for plan sponsors and participants.” Transamerica takes a similar tack; Crane says their services are “wide-ranging, and can be customized to meet the plan’s needs.”

Keep the bottom line in mind — that of employers and participants. Atiyeh says employers are “increasingly realizing that it’s healthy for their bottom line to help employees retire on time,” According to Piotrowski, Alliance does both by offering “a high quality product in a very cost-efficient approach” as well as plan designs that can increase assets under management at a greater rate than traditional 401(k) plans.

ABGNCS looks within so it can look without. Says Holstad,Providers need to have superior tools and customer service that are more than words in a mission statement or core values. Each employee in the organization must believe in and live by those values each and every day. Our organization does that. We instill and reinforce our core values from the very first day an employee starts with us.”

It IS the 21st Century…

Technology is a key component in attracting, serving and keeping a client. Here’s a sampling of how:

  • MassMutual offers iPod Touch devices for use in education meetings and new patent-pending employee benefits guidance tool.
  • Transamerica provides a free retirement forecast app.
  • Alliance has a website specially geared toward participants, which offers them education, financial planning calculators, financial education articles, worksheets, interactive presentations, links to introductory videos and a retirement income feature that is displayed along with the estimated impact of increasing contribution amounts.
  • ABGNCS provides a plan website, guides, video tutorials, a system that allows messages to be emailed to participants, whiteboard videos and an online tool that helps participants with planning.
  • ABGI’s website features tools that make it easy for participants to understand options and make appropriate investment choices; it also includes financial fitness and lifetime income tools.

Playing by the Rules

With the Labor Department’s latest release of fiduciary regulations, what these rules contain and abiding by them is coming into sharper relief.

“We are particularly concerned about the possibility that helpful education may be precluded by re-defining traditional education as advice through changes to 96-1 rules,” says Blossom.

ABGNCS is proactive about obeying the letter and spirit of the new rules, according to Holstad — even though they have not been issued in final form and are not compulsory yet.

Alliance is even more vociferous about that, which Piotrowski outlined: “Alliance’s resources are solely dedicated to retirement plan consulting, administration, record keeping and actuarial services. By focusing only on this business, Alliance operates without bias. We receive no compensation from the investments that our clients invest in nor do we have the distractions related to the sale of ancillary services.”

Piotrowski continued, “We charge a flat fee based on work performed, independent of plan asset values. We also don’t sell any products, such as IRAs, insurance or wealth management. We are solely dedicated to providing expert retirement plan design, recordkeeping and administration.” She adds, “Most importantly, we are up-front with our costs and provide full fee transparency. There are no hidden or wrap fees and all ad-hoc service rates are provided.”

The Big Picture

An elevator can’t take anyone anywhere if it just sits in one place. And neither can an elevator pitch, if the company making it remains static and relies on doing the things one way because It’s The Way We’ve Always Done It.

ABGI has an eye on the future. “We try to stay at the head of the curve for new ideas and services,” notes Blossom. And, he adds, “As interest in the amount of income that plan accounts will generate (not just focusing on more and more retirement capital) is heightening, we offer a Lifetime Income Center.”  

DiSalvo said BMO has a big-picture approach, and focuses on providing an open architecture platform with no proprietary minimums, combined with fee levelization

Transamerica also thinks big. “We are bringing our ideas to the public domain and believe retirement readiness is a national issue. We are committed to changing the way people save by building a coalition to promote a retirement savings rate of 10% or more annually. We’re focused on the leading the retirement readiness movement to help people create better financial futures,” Crane notes.

A sense of mission also fuels Transamerica, Crane reports: “We believe that people want financial security and independence, and it is our mission to help people save and invest wisely to live the life they want. If an employee can retire from their company with confidence, then I believe we all have achieved our goal.” He adds that helping the sponsor’s employees become ready for a secure retirement “is the ultimate measure of success for a retirement plan.”

Atiyeh concurs. “In every sales opportunity I make sure all parties are on the same page as to the purpose of the retirement plan: To help participants retire on time with choices. When I can keep that as the focus of the meeting it becomes clear to plan sponsors what is truly important.”