Wooing RIA Gatekeepers: The “VIP Approach”

A growing number of fund companies realize that Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) firms are the future of the intermediary business. This is a challenge for fund distribution teams, since traditional product-focused email marketing campaigns and wholesaler “greet, meet and eat” strategies that work in broker/dealers don’t align with a business model where fiduciary responsibilities, rather than commissions, guide investment recommendations.

Start at the Top

To gain access to advisers in these RIAs, fund companies need to start at the top—by cultivating partners and chief investment officers who serve as “gatekeepers” in these firms. These C-level executives typically determine which funds are approved for use by rank-and-file advisers.

Gatekeepers rarely take calls from wholesalers and routinely ignore generic marketing emails. To gain their attention, fund companies should treat them the way advisors treat their A-list clients—with personalized “white glove” attention.

Make Your “First Contact” Count

Unless your company has existing relationships with these gatekeepers, you’ll probably have to rely on a cold email as your initial contact. Since this email will either open the door—or close it completely—the messenger is as important as the message itself.

Rather than casting a broad-based marketing net that, at best, will net few bites, consider using a targeted approach aimed at RIA firms that are most likely to be interested in your company’s areas of strength.

Pitch “Expertise,” not “Product”

One approach is to ultimately focus on generating inflows for only one or two funds from a specific asset class that stand out from their peers in terms of performance and industry rankings. But don’t mention these funds in your first contact. Instead, lead with subject matter expertise.  Create a piece of value-added, advisor-focused content such as a white paper, commentary or webinar that demonstrates your company’s thought leadership in this asset class.

Match Your Strengths with Gatekeepers’ Interests

Next, review the web sites and publications of the RIA firms you’re targeting and look for clues that suggest they could be prospects for your focused funds. Once you’ve identified these firms, designate a “VIP” in your company to send these firms’ gatekeepers a highly personalized email offering access to the thought leadership piece you’ve created.

For example, if your company has one or more top-performing municipal bond funds, produce a muni-related white paper, commentary or webinar and offer it to RIA firms that specialize in managing muni-bond portfolios for their clients.

Remember that with this approach, the relevancy and VIP status of the sender is as important as the message itself. So, in this scenario, have your firm’s CIO, the head of your muni-bond team, or the manager of one of the muni-bond funds serve as the sender for this message.

Create a “Peer-to-Peer” Personalized Message

Everything in the email should be as personalized and benefit-driven as possible, with an attention-grabbing subject line, use of the gatekeeper’s name in the salutation, and recognition of the RIA firm’s interest in the subject. For example, in this scenario, the subject line and opening paragraph might be:

Subject line: New research on the future of the municipal bond market

Dear Michael:

After reading Bellwether Advisors’ views on municipal bonds in its Q1 market review, I thought you and your associates might be interested in our new white paper, Muni Outlook: Opportunities and Risks in a Post-Tax-Reform World.

Don’t include attachments in the email. Instead, require the gatekeeper to take action, either by downloading a PDF from a link in the email, by filling out a request form on your web site, or replying to the message with a request for the content.

The end of the message should include an invitation to discuss the content, with the contact information and full corporate signature of the sender provided.

Add Positive Responders to Your Pipeline

Consider any gatekeeper who requests this content to be a lead. If fulfillment comes through an order form or email request, make sure that your VIP responds to the request with a link to the piece. After a certain amount of time, have the VIP send a follow up message to these gatekeepers asking for their thoughts on the piece and offer an opportunity to discuss it in a one-to-one-conversation or a teleconference call.

When the Time is Right, Make Sure You’re Ready to Sell

The goal of this approach is to make the RIA gatekeeper feel that he or she has direct access to your company’s successful investment managers. If you successfully create this impression, the opportunity to soft sell your company’s funds will follow. Even if you’re only promoting one or two focused funds, make sure that all your funds’ marketing materials, pitch books, web content and thought leadership pieces have consistent messaging and branding and tell the “story” of your funds’ success. After all, if you go through all this effort to bring a gatekeeper to the table, you can’t afford to fumble at the close.