Maintaining communication and nurturing prospective client relationships is one of the most critical functions you perform as an adviser. It’s a delicate balance — you want to stay top of mind with prospective clients without creating extra noise. The right timing and messaging can open doors, demonstrate acumen, build trust and strengthen relationships.

To deepen prospective client relationships, be conscious of the times when potential cracks between plan sponsors and their current provider may start to widen. We’ve outlined five times throughout the year that test plan sponsors’ relationships with their provider — what we like to call the five moments of truth. During these times, you can offer insights and solutions, grabbing plan sponsors' attention and, maybe, their business.

1) Annual census: Late January to early February.
The new year is a good time to reconnect with prospective clients to see if they’re looking for new services or considering switching providers. During this time of year, the annual census may also be top of mind for plan sponsors, particularly if there are pain points associated with it.

Conversation starters:
· Did your provider make it easy to understand what was needed to complete your annual census?
· Did you get the support you needed from your provider to complete the annual census?
· Did your provider collect data year-round on all employees to simplify the census process?
· What more could your provider have done to make the census process easier?

2) Compliance testing: Late March.
By late March, prospective clients should have received their compliance testing results and have taken any necessary corrective actions. This process can be cumbersome and costly. In some cases, compliance testing can shine light on potential plan design changes that need to be made. This can be a good time to check in with clients and gauge if they’re being well served by their provider.

Conversation starters:
· Did your provider communicate about the compliance process and required deadlines?
· Was compliance testing completed in a timely manner?
· If the plan failed, did your provider use alternate testing approaches or recommend additional contributions to mitigate the effect of the failure on your highly compensated employees?
· If the plan failed, did your provider arrange required distributions to your highly compensated employees in a timely fashion or offer alternative solutions, such as paying the penalty?
· To improve testing results in the future, did your provider recommend changes to the plan design, enrollment practices or contribution rates for highly compensated employees?

3) Form 5500 preparation and audit: Early August.
Form 5500 preparation, filing and audit support can vary across providers. Your clients may need extra support in this area.

Conversation starters:
· Was it clear what paperwork was needed to file?
· Was the Form 5500 completed in a timely manner? Was it necessary to request an extension to file? Did you get the support you needed?
· Was the Form 5500 signature-ready? Did your provider file on your behalf?
· If an independent plan audit was required, did the provider make it easy for your auditor to prepare it? Did your auditor see your provider as an ally in this process?

Also see: Getting employees more engaged with alternative benefits

4) Budget and planning: August through November.
While many companies evaluate the effectiveness of their benefits year-round, the second half of the year is a good time to check in to see if any changes are planned or needed for the following year. It’s also a good time to see if the plan has been meeting the plan sponsor’s and their employees’ expectations.

Conversation starters:
· Did your provider measure and report plan and participant results?
· Did you receive information on how many of your employees are on track to replace income at retirement?
· Did your provider recommend plan design and communications strategies that can improve employee enrollment and engagement?
· Did your provider offer solutions to help ensure the plan is cost-effective?

5) Delivery of required notices: August through November.
For calendar-year plans, many required participant notices must be delivered in the last few months of the year. Distribution of notices can be costly and time-consuming for a plan sponsor. Check in with prospects to offer solutions for easing the administrative and fiduciary responsibilities related with notice distribution.

Conversation starters:
· Was it easy to understand what you need to do to send notices to participants, including the written message, required recipients and delivery dates?
· Did your provider create the notices? Print them? Mail them?
· Did your provider accept fiduciary responsibility for an accurate and timely completion of the notices?
· What could your provider have done to make the notification process easier?

With the appropriate timing and questions, you can balance on that delicate line of communication with prospective clients, earning their trust and, hopefully, their business.

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