Financial advisors who make a conscious and targeted effort to strengthen relationships with existing 401(k) plan sponsor clients can increase revenue significantly, a new study suggests.

Strengthening client relations can increase advisors’ income by 40% after 10 years, estimates Fidelity Investments, Boston, which conducted the study.

Plan sponsors are more focused on the level of advisor support and knowledge than they are on fees, investment choices or the advisor’s relationships with company executives, Fidelity found.

Plan sponsors said they are generally not completely happy with advisors help with employee communications and group investment meetings, according to Fidelity.

Improving satisfaction among plan sponsor clients can lead to longer plan retention, more referrals and greater opportunities to build relationships with plan participants, the report says. In fact, sponsors who says they are “very satisfied” with their advisors expect their relationships to last over 11 years, which is more than 3 years longer than those who say they are merely “satisfied.”

In such a competitive market as 401(k) plans, advisors who can effectively balance servicing their existing clients with prospecting for new business will be better positioned to achieve profitable growth, said Tom Corra, senior vice president of Retirement Product & Services for Fidelity Investments Institutional Services Company.

Fidelity developed 3 practice management strategies designed to help advisors increase plan sponsor satisfaction:

1. Focus on plan performance, including education to increase employee participation, increase deferral rates and assure appropriate asset allocation.

2. Optimize client relations by providing active communications and providing them with industry updates to help develop plan sponsors’ 401(k) and retirement plan knowledge as well as help them understand their fiduciary duties.

3. Formalize their business strategy by defining and communicating their value proposition, developing a referral and reference database, taking advantage of plan providers’ efficiencies and adding retirement income planning services.