Try a little “brain-based sales and marketing,” suggests ASSPA’s Lisa Allen. Speaking about building a loyal client base this week at the ASSPA/NAPA 401(k) Summit, Allen offered the view that plan sponsors typically choose to work with an adviser because they find a “good personal fit,” then retroactively confirm that all of the objective and numbers-based reasons for that decision are in line.”

So what makes for a good personal fit? One way to answer the question is simply to ask yourself the same question about people you purchase products and services from. In the interactive seminar Allen was addressing, the common theme of attendee answers was vendors’ enthusiasm for their work, and their willingness to go beyond the call of duty to satisfy their customers. (Example cited: The restaurant owner who drove a pair of patrons back to their hotel when no cabs were available to take them.) 

Regarding enthusiasm for one’s work, Allen quoted the late Apple Computer leader Steve Jobs who said, “the only way to work great is to love what you do.” 

While not every adviser conveys enthusiasm in an animated fashion (particularly at the level of a Steve Jobs), a clear demonstration of passion for what you do can be shown through your level of expertise and commitment to maintaining it, Allen said. 

She also invoked Steve Jobs’ statement, in a speech early in his career, that the purpose of Apple wasn’t simply to make computers, but that “we believe that people with a passion can change the world for the better.” Thus advisers should not think of their role narrowly as providing a particular laundry list of services, but enabling real people to have successful retirements. Such a vision may inspire more passion than “I recommend investments to retirement plans.” 

Additional tips on attracting and maintaining clients from the seminar: 

  • “Know the dog’s name.” That is, truly get to know personal details about your clients and information about their business outside the scope of your role as a plan adviser, and use that knowledge in a way that indicates you care. Example cited: Showing up at a client company’s volunteer activity day.
  • Take advantage of your TPA and other resources to offer, proactively, ideas and news of interest to clients. TPAs want advisers to have successful relationships with their clients for the sake of the security of their own relationship with that plan sponsor. And TPAs want to support advisers with insights they can use in winning new clients which, presumably, are likely to be new clients for the TPA as well.
  • Don’t simply offer a list of services and expect a client to be content to check boxes from that menu. “You have to create a box for them. Create your service menu around your customers’ needs.

The winning equation, Allen summarized as follows:  Proactive service + services tailored to clients + relationship cultivation = satisfied clients. “Make your clients love you so much they will never want to leave.”


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