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Group RRSPs and group benefits are a decidedly different business to be in. To help in your prospecting efforts we got in touch with a few group experts to get their advice on how to approach employers and land group contracts.
1. Know that sales cycles are longer
Advisor Howard Fergusson, president of Howard J. Fergusson Insurance Agencies Limited employs a "wheel marketing" strategy with clients to make sure they're aware of the different products and services he provides, including group benefits advice. "They usually engage us," he says. "We take the opportunity to be known. It may be quite a while until the opportunity exists to get the group business." Even if the opportunity is obvious, it can sometimes take more than one meeting to talk about the need.
2. Find target prospects within your existing client list
"I'd go into my client files and find everybody we were already working with who had a senior position in companies," says Fergusson. Similarly, Gil McGowan, regional vice president, group retirement savings at Desjardins Financial Security suggests approaching senior managers, vice presidents and controllers you already know. (Both say cold-calling is a difficult, nearly ineffective way to get into the business.)
"There are usually three points of entry," says Gavin Laws, benefits advisor at Quality Financial Service. "There's the owner of the company, particularly in smaller companies; then there would be the vice president of finance who obviously controls the purse strings. The third area of entry would be the human resources department. It's not what you know, it's who you know in order to get there but once you're in the door you have to show you have the required knowledge to provide them with adequate advice and ongoing service."
3. Consistent effort: Don't give up if your efforts don't work out at first
"Just trying it once won't generate results for you. It's a specialized market." says McGowan. "Once you do penetrate (the market) though, there are huge rewards because you're dealing with business people. Business people write bigger checks."
4. Think more like a business person
Think about their needs (employee engagement, service) and their time constraints. If you're talking to the CEO, "he doesn't have a lot of time," says Fergusson. "He wants something off his desk completely. That means you have to figure out what he'd like done, get it done and get it done accurately in a very short time."
5. Know your audience; customize your message
Where a promise to help the company stay in line with capital accumulation plan guidelines might appeal to a controller and employee engagement might appeal to the HR representative, the CEO probably doesn't care about either. Eventually all three will need to be onboard before you go ahead and implement a plan, but it helps to speak to individual concerns along the way.
6. Be a service provider
Present an opportunity to engage and provide service to employees – provide access to tools and additional advice. Have good staff on hand to answer phones and field queries in your absence, employ specialists who can make sure renewals and other business are handled effectively and implement standard service practices.
7. Get referrals; ask for referrals
As mentioned earlier, cold-calling is a rather ineffective way of getting in the group business door.
8. Seek out company plans which haven't been serviced in a number of years
"We run into a lot of companies who haven't spoken to anybody for three of four years," says McGowan. "That happens a lot."
9. Have a good product to offer
Traditionally, the group retirement plans had high MERs and lousy default options – employees who didn't engage in the process were invested in low-interest money market accounts. "Companies are offering better default options now," says McGowan. "A balanced fund, some very conservative asset allocation models; look for better default options." On the insurance side, Fergusson says a good carrier relationship is also important, thanks to the support and flexibility such an arrangement affords. "In my opinion, the carriers have to want you to be successful," he says.
10. Convince stakeholders about the merits of employer contributions
"Employers must make contributions to make the plans beneficial," says McGowan. "In our experience, if an employer says a plan is voluntary, you can contribute if you want but I'm not putting anything in, you'll be lucky if you get 10% of the employees participating."
Bonus: Have a dream list
"I know one fellow who's relatively successful in benefits, who does some prospecting on the basis of his dream list. He might pick ten companies he'd love to get into because he has a specific interest," says Laws. "He doesn't necessarily have great success, but he has fun doing it."