Starting the Conversation with Prospect 401(k) Plan Decision Makers

Starting the Conversation with Prospect 401(k) Plan Decision Makers

Cold Calling flow chart

The diagram above shows the evolving steps of a cold call to a prospect plan decision maker from the initial contact to setting up the discovery meeting.  No matter if your activity is cold calling, dropping-by or social networking there is the moment when you start the conversation with your prospect plan decision maker about their company 401(k).  I call them the “why you” words.

Why should they take your call and if they do, why should they listen to you?  Why are you different than every other Advisor that calls and why are you different than their current Advisor?  Your prospect plan decision maker must have an initial level of trust before they can respect you and begin a quality conversation.  Your opener is a sentence or two of meaningful words that can cause a trust-based relationship to begin with your prospect plan decision maker.  I suggest you build your opener from your value statement.

Your value statement should contain those one or two sentences that can cause the prospect plan decision maker to want to hear more about what you do.  “My name is          from     .  My team works with companies like yours that believe their 401(k) is too important for they and their employees to manage on their own.  I am hoping to have a conversation with you about how we work to assist you in accomplishing the goals you have for the company 401(k) plan.  Is it possible that we can have that conversation?”

With your opener delivered, the pump is primed.  To keep the conversation flowing you ask them one opening question.  What’s your favorite?   Mine is, “What goals do you want to accomplish with your company 401(k) plan?”  It’s my favorite because when you are chosen to serve you will be part of their answer to the question.

Your next step is to ask the initial profiling questions to verify what you found out about the plan through research, plus any other information that allows you to determine if you want to take your time to go out and conduct the discovery meeting with the prospect plan decision maker.  The next article in the series will review the initial profiling questions you pose to prospect plan decision makers and managing their objections.

Christopher Barlow

Managing Director

KnowHow 401(k), LLC

May 2018



No-Advisor 401(k) Programs

No Advisor

No-Advisor 401(k) Programs

I know there are employers that believe Advisors can’t add any value to their company 401(k) plan.  The no-Advisor 401(k) programs provide them everything they need, except an Advisor, at the lowest cost possible.  A chase to the bottom.  Employers and employees will never physically have anyone working with them to maximize this very important employee benefit program.  The no-Advisor providers boast about being the best 401(k) program for “small employers”.  Employers with fewer than 100 employees rely on local professionals to assist them to run their business, including CPAs, Attorneys, Bankers, Group Benefit Agents and suppliers to name a few.  And the employer can look in their eyes when speaking with them, possibly the same person over the long term.

I believe disgruntled employers have never worked with an effective Advisor to serve their 401(k) plan.  Effective Advisors are the one’s when asked, what’s your favorite part of serving 401(k) plans answer, “Working with employers and their employees to accomplish their goals.”  I believe effective Advisors can enhance the probability of a company’s profitability by working with employees to use the 401(k) plan to confidently prepare for their retirement.  The retirement readiness of employees promotes the long term viability of a company by facilitating the replacement of their workforce with younger, better skilled and less expensive employees.

All 40(k) plans should have an effective Advisor working with the employer and employees.  A Chief Retirement Officer to assist the employer to define plan goals, activities to accomplish those goals, monitoring outcomes and reporting back for next steps.  And a retirement coach for the employees who will work with them to confidently use the 401(k) to be ready to retire when they choose.

February 19th, 2018

Crossing The Line

Crossing The Line

We all know what the line is, the separation between lawful ethical and unlawful unethical actions.  No matter if the act is personal or professional we all know when we approach the line.  An unlawful unethical retirement plan industry professional negatively impacts the plan participants, their beneficiaries, plan sponsors and their employer.

The individual in our industry that commits an unlawful unethical act is always caught and pays a far greater price than the amount of money they absconded.  Where they may be held to repay the money, the value of their reputation will never recover.

Through all of my personal experiences and witnessing other’s decision as they approach the line, it’s apparent that if one catches themselves and doesn’t cross the line, or if they do and through the torment of their conscious or imprisonment they realize it isn’t worth the cost, they are better able to step back from the line in the future.

February 2nd, 2018

40 Years and 11 Days

40 Years and 11 Days

The 40th anniversary of the Revenue Act of 1978 is nearing. The act added Internal Revenue Code Sec. 401(k).  Forty years from obscure code to $6 Trillion.  The reports are that early backers of the code created it as a way individuals could supplement their retirement income from a defined benefit plan.  They never intended 401(k) plans to become the primary retirement wealth accumulation vehicle it has become for about 50% of tax paying Americans.  It was 1981 before the first plan was submitted for approval.  I encourage you to read, The Day I Designed The First 401(k) Savings Plan, by Ted Benna.

Congress has tried to repeal or alter IRC 401(k) several times over the years when it realized the growing amount of taxes that would not be collected. Over eleven days in October this year IRC 401(k) went from budget bargaining chip to a non-negotiable topic.

Tankersley, Jim. “Republicans Consider Sharp Cut in 401(k) Contribution Limits.” NY Times, October 20, 2017

Weiss, Miles. “Here’s How Money Managers Plan To Battle 401(k) Cuts in Trump’s Tax Plan.” Bloomberg, October 22, 2017

Bryan, Bob. “Trump says ‘there will be NO change to your 401(k)’ after reports Republicans want new caps on retirement savings.” Business Insider, October 23rd, 2017

Lenzner, Robert. “Slashing Pre-Tax 401(k) Contributions Would Be A Big Middle Class Double Cross.” Forbes, October 30th, 2017

Bolden-Barrett, Valerie. “Update: GOP tax plan released, no cuts to 401k contributions.” HRDIVE, October 31st, 2017

There may be changes in the amount of pre-tax contributions and a major re-construction of the American Retirement Savings System in the future. If you are a financial sales professional currently serving or considering to serve the 401(k) marketplace you should have comfort knowing your career is on solid ground based on the duration, ferocity and quickness to protect the current 401(k) structure.  Time is on your side.

December 1st, 2017

Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary!

What were you doing 30 years ago today, October 19th, 1987?  I was in my fifth year as an Account Executive at Merrill Lynch in Dayton.  We had been told for months by the firms’ chief technical strategist, Robert Farrell that there could be a major downward move in the stock market.  I learned that tree’s don’t grow to the sky thirty years ago today.

The most memorable moments of the 19th and for the next few days was speaking with individual clients.  They were interested in their account values, but they wanted to make sure I was doing OK.  They knew that in addition to managing the emotion of the market, I was getting married in five days.

Thirty years after the biggest one day percentage drop in stock market history, the US economy has withstood incredible highs and lows as today the DJIA is 10x the value it was at the close of the market on October 19th, 1987.  Similar to marriage you have to have long term belief and commitment.  Happy Anniversary to my wife.

Continued Success.

Chris Barlow

Managing Director

KnowHow 401(k)

Founded in 2000, KnowHow 401(k)’s purpose is to increase the number of effective Advisors that serve the 401(k) marketplace.

October 19th, 2017

Treasury Terminates myRA and Congress Reverses Rules on State Sponsored Starter Savings Plans

Treasury Terminates myRA and Congress Reverses Rules on State Sponsored Starter Savings Plans

The Trump Treasury and Republican Congress have eliminated or weakened two initiatives, a federal program and various State programs, created specially to provide starter savings options for any employee not covered by a private employer retirement plan. These plans charge no fees to employees or employers and employers do not assume any fiduciary responsibility for their employee’s participation. The main benefit for employees is accumulating their savings thru payroll deduction at their employer, the ability to automate their savings. Payroll deduction is the feature that behavioral finance tells us removes a major impediment – inertia – for an individual to begin and develop a saving habit, encouraging them to more fully participate in our free enterprise society.

I wrote an article posted in December 2015 titled, “Let All Save”, in which I bemoaned comments by several retirement industry professionals that federal and State sponsored savings programs would take business away from for profit firms. The Treasury just did away with the myRA program for cost cutting reasons and Congress took away the State’s exemption from ERISA, causing several states to pause their programs.  Other states are still moving forward with their plans including California, Illinois and Oregon.

The myRA and State plans are designed for low and middle income tax paying Americans that work at one of the 96% of US companies that employ fifty or fewer employees that don’t sponsor a retirement plan. This segment of employer size has the most failures, employee turnover and the lowest percentage with a company retirement plan.  This is also the employer segment where most employees are low and middle income tax paying Americans.  58% of those Americans with the lowest 10% of income have access to a private employer retirement plan according to a March 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.  myRA and State programs are for the 42% of the lowest paid and other middle income tax paying Americans not covered by an employer plan.

There will always be employers that chose to never sponsor a retirement plan at their company, and most employers have to believe they will have an ongoing enterprise before they offer a retirement plan. That could be ten years or more.  All the while employing low and middle income tax paying Americans that need to save automatically from their first day of employment.

We should be improving and encouraging participation in employer based payroll deduct savings programs, even any federal or State program we don’t get paid on. Without alternatives, the elimination and dismantling of these starter savings plans make no sense and opposes a core way we grow our economy, promoting the ability of the individual to accumulate capital for future investment.  These voluntary federal and State sponsored programs incubate future clients for Advisors.  Even the myRA program mandated that once a participant’s account balance reached $15,000, it had to be transferred to a private sector financial services firm that could involve an Advisor. As investors account balances grow so does their belief that they need the assistance of an Advisor.  Let’s give the lowest income employees the opportunity to more fully participate in the American dream.

August 2nd, 2017

A Perfect 401(k) Prospecting Tool

A Perfect 401(k) Prospecting Tool

401(k) Advisors are active at this time of the year prospecting, profiling and delivering sales presentations in the hope of acquiring new plan clients. Selling season is once again upon us.  I want to make you aware, if you’re not already, of one of the most perfect prospecting tools ever and it’s supplied by the Department of Labor.

Follow this link to the Internal Revenue Service instructions for Form 5500,

Scroll to page 81 where you will find the ERISA COMPLIANCE QUICK CHECKLIST. The checklist was prepared by the IRS in partnership with the DoL’s Employee Benefit Security Administration and contains fourteen questions, eleven of which if the employer answers any “No”, and three of which if they answer any “Yes”, are instructed to “ your plan’s operations because you may not be in full compliance with ERISA’s requirements.”  This perfect prospecting tool is a great guide for you in the development of your service model.  Explain to the employer how your service will help them to compliantly answer the questions.  Few employers read the instructions for Form 5500 and have not seen the checklist. It’s a great community service you can provide.  Best of luck and persist with your prospecting activities.

July 18th, 2017



Welcome to Selling Season 2017!

Welcome to Selling Season 2017!

401(k) Advisors know that the four month period of time from July thru October is the time of year you make your numbers in 401(k) sales. Employers are most inclined to improve their company retirement plan during this time of year we call the Selling Season. Employers seem to be conditioned and comfortable discussing retirement plan improvements for implementation on January 1st, 2017.

Plan sponsors with a calendar year end plan are more aware of their company retirement plan at this time of year because Form 5500 is due by July 31st, (unless a 2 1/2 month extension is sought).  And if the plan has over 100 participants the plan audit is being finalized to review with the auditor and attach various schedules to their company retirement plan Form 5500.

This is the time of year for all 401(k) prospect facing sales professionals to continue to be in contact with plan decision makers. Hopefully you have been in communication with plan prospects over the past months and possibly past years leading to the 2017 selling season.  Those numerous communications prove your determination and make it easy for the decision maker to remember you.  401(k) plan decision makers will still vacation over summer, but as each day progresses your persistence and timing can be rewarded.

June 30th, 2017


Chief Retirement Officer

Chief Retirement Officer

One benefit for Advisors that build a business plan is they define a custom value statement that serves them throughout the 401(k) sales cycle and overall business development. Developing a custom value statement begins with answering questions that cause you to think about why and how you work with 401(k) plans and develop your overall business.  Questions you might not be asked all that often.  You will answer them with words you carefully choose to communicate your beliefs.  And your value statement will contain those carefully chosen words.

One of the value statement questions is, “What do you do for a living?” Pretty straight forward.  I asked that question to a 401(k) Advisor and he replied, “I am the Chief Retirement Officer at several local companies.”  I paused and said to the Advisor, “That’s genius.  My immediate response is to ask you, what a Chief Retirement Officer does.”  That is the response you want your plan prospects and referral sources to have.  You want them to say, tell me more about what you do.

The Advisor told me that he sees himself as part of the management team for his client companies. He is like other “C” level employees, but he is responsible for management of the company retirement plan.  Owners and key executives understand the “C” level employee role.  The Advisor went onto say that like other “C” level employees he assists with plan goal setting and defining activities to achieve those goals.  Once activities are defined, he monitors the execution of activities and reports outcomes and any other recommendations to improve the plan to the decision makers.

Top 401(k) Advisors work to understand the goals employers want to accomplish with their company plan and then manage the accomplishment of those goals. Just like a Chief Retirement Officer.

June 1st, 2017

7 Reasons Why Cold Calling Is Still The Best Way To Contact 401(k) Plan Sponsors, And Why You Should Do The Calling

7 Reasons Why Cold Calling Is Still The Best Way To Contact 401(k) Plan Sponsors, And Why You Should Do The Calling

Besides being given a plan that you would have otherwise pursued, I believe of all available ways to connect with your target 401(k) plan prospects is by using the telephone and cold calling. Cold calling is not dead, not even a little bit.  If cold calling were dead – why are there lead firms willing to sell you leads of 401(k) plans they cold called?

And I believe that owners cold call best. Whether you are the team leader or solo Advisor, you are an owner.  And owners like talking with owners, key executives like talking with owners.  These are the seven reasons why I believe cold calling is the most effective form of growing your 401(k) business where you control your message and pursuit of plans that make sense to you.

  1. I believe you are responsible for making the first impression with a target plan prospect. When either you or someone from a lead firm initially connect with the prospective decision maker, according to Dr. Amy Cuddy* the prospect immediately asks themselves two questions; 1. Can I trust this person? 2. Can I respect this person? Who do you want responsible for the first impressions with the prospect? A caller you hire will not be able to communicate your value better than you.
  2. It is a small amount of time – 30 minutes to two hours a day based on your goals. It’s daily “exercise” to grow your business and accomplish your goals.
  3. Your experience is a differentiator in the marketplace. The longer your length of service the greater distinction you can make between yourself and your competition. And your competitors may consider cold calling too difficult, ineffective and demeaning.
  4. Calls can last longer because the decision maker can hear your passion and focus to assist them and their employees to achieve their goals with the company plan.
  5. On the phone you can reach as many potential plan prospects in 1 or 2 hours than the more expensive ways of buying leads, buying lunch for referral sources and time to cold walk and drop by target plan prospects.
  6. Telephone prospecting relays your value and is measurable. And you can quickly determine the quality of the prospect and whether to continue to pursue them or not.
  7. If the 401(k) conversation isn’t going well, you can pivot to discuss the most important company or personal financial need they have at the time.

Even if the decision maker doesn’t take your call, leaving a quality voice mail, month after month demonstrates your persistence. Persistence is easily recognized by the decision maker because it is a quality they admire about themselves.  As you continue to call they will reward you and take your call.

Cold calling is just one activity you can execute to process Cold prospects. I strongly encourage the development of a referral network with your continued success.  Educate your referral sources about the plans you are pursuing and ask them who they know at each.  But unless you are overwhelmed with qualified referrals, I believe a part of your day should be spent processing Cold plan prospects and the most effective way of doing that is cold calling.  Smile and dial.

* Dr. Amy Cuddy, Psychologists, Harvard Business School. Book, Presence.

May 18th, 2017