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May 30, 2008 12:23 pm

I feel the need to get out of my comfort zone and start doing things that I’m not good at.  I’ve decided to try cold calling businesses about their 401k plans.  I will use the Larkspur database to identify prospects in my area with 401ks between $250k and $2MM.  I’m now trying to decide how I will approach these businesses.

Should I mail something and use the call as a follow-up?  This seems like a good idea to me but it would take a lot of time and effort.

Should I call and pitch lower cost, better service, and potentially better performance?

Should I call and try to shoot holes in the current plan and how they may be potentially liable if an employee tried to sue them?

My first instinct was to call and focus only on setting up a meeting to introduce myself and have a conversation over breakfast or lunch rather than trying to talk specifically about the 401k or my other services on the call…but as I said cold calling is something that I’m not good at so I don’t know if my approach would stand an ice cube’s chance in hell.

Thank you,

May 30, 2008 1:51 pm


I think that you are going about things the hard way.  If you want to go after 401(k) plans, why cold call?  You have clients.  They have 401(k) plans.  Get the referral from your client to the owner of the company.

I agree with Ice that if you are going to cold call, get the decision makers as personal clients.  If you have them as personal clients, you will always have a legitimate opportunity to get the 401(k).   If you just cold call for the 401(k), you are in third position at the very best.  You are behind the current rep on the plan and the decision makers person advisors and tied with the other 100 people who have made cold calls about the plan.

May 30, 2008 9:16 pm

Although I don’t pursue 401(k)'s like I used to, my first account was $10 million. It took a little over 1 year to acquire. Previous comments about it taking an extraordinary amount of time and effort is correct. It should never be relied upon as your sole source of marketing efforts.

  At the time, I also acquired a list of those companies who had plans. I simply cold called those companies and asked to speak to the person in charge of the plan; typically it's HR (if the plan is of any decent size). Once connected, I introduced myself, told them I offer a wide variety of plans, and that I would like the opportunity to compete for their plan. Very few said no.   Then I asked when their plan comes up for review. I then asked for permission to contact them a few months before that date, so that I could gather enough information about their plan, so as to prepare a proposal. Send a follow-up note thanking them.   Contact your various wholesalers and get as much info on the plans they offer. You should even buy a book about 401(k)'s if you're not well-versed about their in's and out's.   Unlike the previous posters who found it easier to acquire company plans by pursuing company bigwigs' personal accounts first, I've found it easier to get in front of more bigwigs by pursuing the company plans first. It's more relaxed and the bigwigs aren't on the defensive. I let them see how I operate first, then I've found them to be more receptive with their personal money. But be warned, if you go in there uninformed about 401(k)'s, you'll kill any chance of getting their personal accounts, as well as, the company plan.  
Jun 1, 2008 3:45 am

Many of the brokers I have spoken to at ML try to discuss lowering the fees with prospects.  It seems like many times this is a good foot in the door.  However, it may not win the plan if they already have pretty low fees as many do.   My experience has been that service issues are more important but the fee issues are a bit easier to tackle if you haven't dealt with 401k plans a lot.  

One of the other brokers I work with  actually likes to setup new plans instead of taking over plans.  Setting up a new plan for a business can be very lucrative and can get your foot in the door with a business owner's other assets.  Furthermore, people won't have prospected these business owners' 401k plans since they haven't been setup yet.  You may be seen as a real savior for the employer if you can help them establish a 401k that can help them retain employees. 

Jun 3, 2008 3:53 pm

Thank you for the input.  Yes, I agree prospecting my existing clients for their business relationship is great approach.  I have already done that and I’m doing the cold calling to meet people who I don’t already know.  So far I’ve called only twenty places and I have two meetings setup.  <?: prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


Here is the “script” that I used:

I’m not sure who I should speak with but my name is Wealth Manager, I am a yourtown resident and a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch.  One of the things that I specialize in is  401k plans and I would like to compete for your company’s business.  Can you put me in touch with the appropriate person to speak with?
Jun 3, 2008 7:27 pm

If you’re comfortable calling and letting the dreaded gatekeeper know that you’re cold calling a list of phone numbers, then it is fine.  My experience with this (by listening over the cubicle walls to the other ML advisors that are cold-calling retirement plans) is that 99% of the time the best you get is voice mail of the so-called decision maker.  

My suggestion is that if you get a handful of names or a few hundred names from larkspur or JDA, call and ask simply to verify the company’s address, and the name and phone number of the person in charge of the company’s retirement plan.

You’ll get the address no problem, and then if the gatekeeper asks why you want the person’s name, tell him/her that you are sending information on recent plan changes (PPA, blah, blah, blah), and you need to follow up.  Or just start talking to the gatekeeper about vesting requirements under PPA and cross-testing and the DoL, and you will get the decision maker’s name.  If for no other reason than the gatekeeper will want to pass you off onto someone else.

What’s this get you other than high blood pressure?  It get’s you the deceision maker’s name, so that the next time you call, instead of admitting this is a cold call, you will ask in a commanding voice, “V.P. Jones, please.”  You’ll greatly increase your chances of actually speaking with the decision maker.

I know this one broker at ML who will repeatedly call lists of businesses using your exact same script.  Zilch.  After our former BOM suggested the initial call to get the name of the decision maker, his hit rate went way up.

The biggest objection from people is that you are doing “twice as many” cold calls for the same number of prospects.  Not true.  You are doing one additional call in return for what I’ve found to give a higher hit rate.

Just my two cents.

Jun 4, 2008 2:57 am

With a gatekeeper you may be able to just say, " This is X with ML, I am calling regarding the form 5500 form that your company filed with the Department of Labor/IRS for your retirement plan, what is the name of the plan administrator for your 401k?"..."Will you please transfer me to him/her?" 

Saying this in a stern tone may throw them off the trail that this is a sales call.  Mentioning a tax form that they may not know about make them quesy and they may just want to get you off to the correct people without getting too deeply involved.    John's advice about getting the names of the people you are calling first and then calling back later also seems solid.    Also, I think if you are talking to HR managers, they may not be getting prospected very much so you may be able to get in to meet with them pretty easily relative to other prospects.  Think about how you can make the HR department's job easier and they will be a key ally in helping you pursuade the owner/board to move the plan with you even if the HR manager doesn't make the final call.  While they may not be the decision maker, their input will probably be the largest determining factor if a move is made.    You may want to touch base with Paychex and ADP.  A lot of times integrating payroll and 401k more closely can make the HR department's job a lot easier.  They have some good marketing material that can explain this concept pretty well to a layman.  The good news is that most plans you will encounter use one of these payroll vendors for payroll so using them for 401k may be a natural step.   You have to remember, the plan sponsor is making decisions with OTHER people's money.  Getting the cheapest deal on funds for participants isn't always going to be at the top of their agenda if the people who administer the plan have an administrative nightmare.    Good service questions for a prospect may be:   "Is your current recordkeeper and broker doing everything they can to make your job of administering your plan as easy as possible?"   "Do you fail any of your discrimination tests." or "Can your highly paid employees defer as much as they would like to defer into your plan?"   "Does your recordkeeper return your calls and emails promply."    "Are the representatives you deal with on your plan competent?"   "What would you like to improve upon for your payroll upload process in your 401k?"   "Do participants ever complain that they are receiving incorrect information from your provider when they call your providor?"   "Are distributions and loans processed qucikly and accurately; are you and your participants have to do a lot of work to get these processed?"
Jun 4, 2008 3:12 am

I don’t know what it is about what I am doing that is “right” but my simple script has landed me three in person meetings with only 30 contacts.  I have not received one FU…only a few polite reasons why they are not interested in entertaining my offer to compete for their plan…and most of those “nos” have agreed that it would be ok for me to fall back in the later summer to early fall.

I keep asking myself…“Why wasn’t I doing this from day one?”


Jun 4, 2008 3:23 am

Akkula, great points. 

WM, if it’s working, keep doing it and don’t let me tell you differently.  Those three meetings are solid leads and if you keep in touch with those companies and your contacts, you will get business.  Retirement plans in general have a longer lead time than individual investments, and as one who has made the mistake, do not focus all of your time on them in the beginning.  Keep focusing on your firm’s hurdles and your personal goals and you will get there. 

As my “support group” members tell each other all the time, “Keep your eyes on the prize.”  Actually, only a few people in the group use that cliche, but it is appropriate. 

Jun 5, 2008 12:27 am


  Dude!  Keep posting your script ideas if they are working as well as you say.  I may try to use them myself!   Hey try finding prospects that already use vendors that are on ML Connect.  To shorten the lead time you may just be able to take over as the broker of record on these plans.  That will save you from actually having to move the plan to land a prospect; you can always move them later if you want.   Keep me informed on how things go with your efforts. 
Aug 22, 2008 7:15 pm

Any updates?

Aug 23, 2008 4:06 pm

I think there’s alot of competition in the 401(k) marketplace. I prefer to go after the owners personal account first, then discuss his 401(k) plan.

  If you are cold walking, just walk in, introduce yourself and say " Alot of clients are concerned about the market these days, and I thought you'd like to  see how we're growing their money in the market while protecting their principal".   Ask for 15 minutes right then or set up a time in a couple of days. Give them a brochure on your firm and say " Here's information on my firms financial planning capabilities, next week bring your investment statements, insurance policies, trusts, taxes, and anything else you'd like reviewed." Actually I give them a preprinted checklist so they don't forget, which they will if it's not written down.   You're probably going to get the "I already have an advisor" line to which I reply "That's fine, I won't tell them we talked", or "you know advisors aren't like wives, you can have more than one." But I usually say "That's exactly why we need to get together. Most advisors aren't even familiar with this program. Does your advisor lock in your gains or does he force you to ride the markets sickening ups and downs?" They usually bite on that one.   I have a piece on  the Pru VA with the question mark  I leave. This is a great door opener, but most of the time after we meet and I provide recommendations, it's never discussed again, because it's not right for everyone.   Stok
Nov 21, 2008 2:59 pm

Any updates as to how these approaches have been working for any of you?

Nov 21, 2008 6:21 pm

Any updates as to how these approaches have been working for any of you?


I forgot all about this topic.  Yes, it has worked for me but I violated one of the golden rules.  I gave up too soon.  I have been telling myself that I’ll get back to it.<?: prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


The script that I used seemed to be effective to get a meeting.  Here it is again:

I’m not sure who I should speak with but my name is Wealth Manager, I am a yourtown resident and a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch.  One of the things that I specialize in is 401k plans and I would like to compete for your company’s business.  Can you put me in touch with the appropriate person to speak with?


When I finally got through to the appropriate person I would repeat much of the same script.  I think that the “I’m local” and “I’m looking to compete” are the reasons why a greater percentage of people would at least be polite and listen for a few seconds.  I did get four scheduled meetings with less than 200 calls.  All of the companies were small so the meetings were with the business owners.  One of those four cancelled the meeting for a valid reason.  Unfortunately after almost a dozen times trying to follow-up, she has yet to return my call.  I got to the point of presenting a retirement plan to the other three but none pulled the trigger on the retirement plan.  Fortunately I have been following up with them.  One wants to talk in the spring about his personal assets, another has had me put together a proposal for his Smith Barney personal assets and the third just told me to bring the over paperwork so he can transfer out his <?: prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />UBS personal assets.


Thank you for reminding me that I need to get back to the cold calling.  Even though I have yet to get a retirement plan, it works in the sense that I get an introduction to a person who may eventually want to do business with me.  To be honest, the retirement plans were never my focus.