With the current instability in the markets, many Americans are concerned about whether they will be able to achieve their retirement goals. A 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) found that worker confidence in having enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years has continued to decline. The percentage of workers reporting they are not at all confident or not too confident has climbed to 50%.   Clearly, you have prospects out there who find their retirement plans in distress. A simple and effective way to address that pain point and begin building a relationship with your prospects is to send out an SOS: a Second Opinion Service.

Offer to review their current retirement plan for a flat fee with no obligation to continue the relationship.  An SOS gives prospects that may be unhappy with their current advisor a non-threatening opportunity to check out another alternative. Framing that exploration as getting a second opinion appeals to both their logic and their emotions. After all, given a diagnosis of a major health problem, many patients will seek a second opinion from another doctor. In doing the same with their retirement plan, they can feel prudent and responsible, rather than disloyal to their current advisor.  

By charging a flat fee for your time in conducting an SOS, you communicate to prospects that your services have value. A free retirement plan evaluation feels too much like bait—prospects will be asking themselves, “What’s the catch?” By paying you for your time, they feel more comfortable that they don’t “owe” you anything for the review, and they feel less pressured.  

When you prepare your second opinion review, be sure to start by pointing out the steps that the prospect and his or her current advisor have done well. They will likely be expecting you to point out only the negatives and then sell your services. By praising their early decisions and actions—even if it’s only the fact that they actually took the initiative to create a plan—you create a positive feeling of respect.  

In outlining your suggestions, avoid implying that the prospect or the advisor who prepared the plan did anything wrong or unintelligent. Keep in mind that preparing the plan may have been an emotional, stressful or tedious task for the prospect in the first place. Phrase your recommendations as improvements or enhancements to their existing plan. To the extent that their circumstances have changed since the plan was created, acknowledge that those circumstances didn’t exist when the plan was created.  

Other than the nominal fee you make, your SOS will be wasted if you don’t create a plan for following up with these prospects. Be sure to send a thank you immediately after the meeting to discuss your recommendations. Give the client a few days to absorb what they’ve learned, then call to see if they have additional questions or would like to begin implementing your recommendations. Based on their response, you will move them into your new client process or put them on your mailing list.

Be sure to take and retain copious notes during your discussions, and watch for articles or developments that may be of particular interest to the prospect. For example, if the prospect had concerns about an aging parent, send articles on that topic. Or if the prospect has an interest in growing roses, send an article or some other small token or gift to show you remember that fact. Such personal touches will be remembered when the client does decide to change advisors.  

Here’s an important time management tip for the SOS: establish in advance what the SOS will cover, how long it will take you to complete it and the base fee for that hourly service. Communicate these guidelines clearly to prospects, leaving them the option of paying an additional hourly fee if they would like you to include more in your review.

You may strategically want to limit the depth of your review to give them a reason to come back. Because your time is valuable, you need to balance the service you give against the fee you will generate and the potential for the prospect to become a client.   Some advisors express concern that offering an SOS will plant the idea in their own clients’ minds to seek out the opinion of another advisor. For that reason, an SOS campaign may be best conducted via direct mail to your prospect list, rather than overtly through your website or an advertising campaign. Of course, your confidence in the loyalty of your own clients may lead you to be more public about your SOS. 

A parting note…If you’re worried you may lose clients to another advisor, that may be a sign that your own client service processes and delivery need examination.