You’ve made finals! Now, how do you get an edge?

By Charles J. French, CAIA

My philosophy regarding the sales and marketing of institutional investment products and services is simplistic – perhaps overly so.  In a traditional, direct sale to a pension, foundation, endowment, public plan, etc., it generally consists of only three stages: Get the RFP, make it to “finals,” and close the sale.  In order to win the business, you need to advance at every stage.

But what happens in a situation where an investor wants to add a new manager, but uses a non-discretionary investment consultant?  If you are on the institutional investment consultant’s “research approved” list, you may be in for some good news.  You have already proven yourself to the investment consultant (the investor’s trusted adviser) and, therefore, you “may” be a good match for their prospective investor.  I say “may” because it is very possible that the investment consultant decides for any number of reasons (investment policy, culture, risk profile, etc.) to keep you out of the search because of their superior knowledge of their client’s needs.  But if there is a suitable fit, you will likely skip the RFP process entirely under the investment consultant’s recommendation and proceed straight to “finals”.  This scenario is an example of why the investment consulting community is coveted by asset managers.

What do you do from the moment you get the call (or perhaps a letter or email) from the investment consultant regarding the opportunity?  How do you get an edge?  To discover best practices on the subject, I asked several leading institutional investment professionals with consulting responsibilities for their tips before a finals presentation, in the meeting, and after the meeting.  The consultants are:

  • Christopher Van Dyke, CAIA, CFA, Advisor, Arnerich Massena, Inc. (CVD)
  • Kweku Obed, CAIA, CFA, Principal, Mercer Investment Consulting, Inc. (KO)
  • Thomas H. Dodd, CAIA, CFA, FSA, President, Stratford Advisory Group (TD)

The insights shared by these professionals are both strategic and tactical.  Regardless of your experience level, you will likely find their comments useful in improving your chances of success in winning new investment mandates strengthening your relationship with the consultant community.  The consultant comments are as follows:

Ideally, you will want to schedule time with the lead consultant to discuss the opportunity, the committee structure and dynamic, and how the investment strategy would fit within the prospective client’s portfolio.  More importantly, utilize the consultant as a coach to provide any details with respect to unique client sensitivities and how to best position the strategy for potential success.  Discussions with the consultant should also help you determine who from your firm will participate in the finals presentation.  After accounting for the logistical constraints of the meeting location, cater the list of firm representatives accordingly.  (CVD)

Be – regardless of the dollar size of the mandate, it is important that the manager and their service team put their best foot forward.  Clients should not feel that are getting a “D-Team” response because their mandate is not perceived to be “big enough”.

No surprises – if there are any “non-routine” developments within the investment manager’s firm or with the portfolio management team, please be upfront and transparent as possible with the prospect and consultant.  (KO)

Insist on a call with the consultant to prepare for the finals.  Topics to discuss include:

  • Who is attending the finals and what are their backgrounds.
  • Make sure you get the correct spelling of all attendee’s names and correct spelling and usage of the investor’s corporate name.
  • What circumstances generated the search.
  • Try to get a flavor of the attendees’ personalities.
  • What is the meeting agenda (what topics to include and what to exclude—some investors may not want the manager to discuss performance as the consultant will have already presented it).
  • What is the format of the meeting (number of copies/electronic copies/are there attendees participating by teleconference/videoconference).  (TD)

During the meeting the following points should be considered and/or addressed:

  • Time is of the essence.  You have been given the opportunity to present your firm’s capabilities, but in a limited amount of time.  Be sure to manage your presentation and presentation materials accordingly.  Leave time for questions, and above all, seek to foster a discussion rather than deliver a lecture.
  • Highlight your firm’s philosophy and people.  Although your track record is undoubtedly strong, the client isn’t buying past performance.
  • Focus on identifying key differentiators and other positive attributes that will resonate with the client.
  • Ultimately, define your value-add proposition. (CVD)

Keep it simple – incomprehensible talk about investment philosophy and process will not necessarily be seen as a sign of “brilliance” by the prospect. (KO)

  • It’s the investor’s meeting, not the manager’s.  Allow the investor to deviate from the agenda.
  • Answer any questions immediately. Don’t say, “I’ll answer that question in a few minutes.”
  • Answer any questions concisely; don’t belabor the answer.  Make sure you answer the question, don’t duck tough questions or waffle.
  • Don’t let the marketing guy cut into the portfolio manager’s time.  The investor wants to hear the PM, not the marketing guy.
  • Don’t say in response to a question, “That’s a good question.”
  • Respect any time constraints. (TD)

Thank the client for the opportunity to present and the prospect of gaining their business.  Discuss the general timeline for the decision, implementation, and possible next steps.  Outline any follow-up items that resulted from the discussion.  (CVD)

Solicit feedback – Whether you are a “winner” or a “loser”, please get feedback on the selection process. If possible, try and find out how the final decision was made, whether there were any tie-breakers, etc.  Think long-term – If you are a winner, the additional follow-up is proof that you want to be engaged with the client; if you did not win the mandate, the gesture of simply “touching base” can keep the door open for suitable opportunities in the future. (KO)

  • Send thank you notes (email or, preferably, hand written notes).
  • Send any promised follow-ups promptly.
  • Call the consultant for a debrief, but don’t be a pest. (TD)

I am grateful for Chris, Kweku and Tom’s participation.  Together, their thoughts represent the experience of hundreds of finals presentations to institutional investors.

To briefly summarize, proactive communication at all stages of the finals process, the avoidance of in meeting miscues, and professional follow-up are key ingredients to successful long-term outcomes.  In our increasingly competitive space, attention to such details could be the “edge” that makes the difference.

Chuck French is President of Wamberg Asset Management – an organizer of unique alternative investment structures.  In addition, he has led sales and marketing for a leading institutional investment consultant.  He can be reached at chuck.french@wambergam.com.

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