Landing on advisors' approved lists of products can be a marketing and distribution boon.

To build these partnerships, mutual fund and ETF providers must first stand out to a decision maker that may meet with hundreds of funds each year. Getting a meeting is the first step.

Once there, the focus becomes what are the key things that a research analyst is looking for in an initial due diligence meeting, and how can a fund provider make the meeting count?

STRUCTURING THE MEETING

Most analysts schedule no more than an hour for an introductory meeting. They are essentially screening the fund to see if it could be a fit for their investment philosophy.

Initial due diligence meetings are a bit like buying a Eurail train pass to travel around Europe: you visit each city for only a day or two before boarding the train and moving on to the next stop.

You don't get immersed in any one city but you do get a sense of which places you would want to go back for a longer stay. With this in mind, fund managers should be prepared to describe their firm and fund within the hour time constraint and should make sure that their key strengths are highlighted toward the beginning of a meeting.

While analysts like to be prepared for meetings and will often know something about the strategy in advance, keep in mind that they see many strategies. Come in with a presentation structure so that the analyst does not have to run the meeting.

A conversational, question-and-answer format can be great for a more in-depth meeting later in the process, but for an initial meeting a less-focused structure can make it difficult for the analyst to pinpoint what makes a manager special.

A conversational angle can prevent the manager from conveying all relevant information within an hour or less. While structure is helpful in an initial meeting, pay attention to the analyst and leave space for questions when they arise; just as an unfocused meeting can fail to highlight key points, an overly-canned presentation can sound generic or miss areas of interest for the analyst.

MAKE SURE THE MESSAGE IS CLEAR

More than anything else, an analyst will want to get a clear understanding of the process, especially what makes it different than all the other funds that will walk through the door. A fund manager needs to be able to sum up the fund's investment philosophy succinctly and make the process understandable, since the analyst may ultimately be explaining the strategy to colleagues and clients. No matter how complex or involved an investment process might be, there are two things that can help analysts understand the process enough to judge if the fund is a fit for their clients:

Highlight what is different: Each strategy has a unique element and it is important to convey why a fund is different than all the other offerings in the market.

Give memorable examples: Providing an example of a portfolio decision can make the process more tangible. If the example is interesting, it can spark further questions and conversation.

PROVIDE PROOF

A compelling performance track record is one of the most powerful data points for an analyst, but no fund will have strong absolute and relative performance at all times. An analyst will be looking for good performance, of course, but perhaps more importantly will be looking for a proof statement: a performance pattern that is consistent with the process and strengths that were described.

When presenting performance, a fund manager should remember that analysts can easily run returns and Modern Portfolio Theory statistics, and will likely have their own opinions about the results. Rather than hear a recitation of the performance numbers and statistics, analysts generally value qualitative perspective on why the performance looked the way it did in different environments, and how that relates to the fund's strategy.

Ultimately, that is what a research analyst is looking for in an initial due diligence meeting: a focused meeting that highlights and reinforces the differentiating strengths of a process.

The best meetings also give the analyst the tools he or she needs to recommend the strategy to colleague or clients, such as a clear and concise investment philosophy, an identifiable advantage that can result in good performance, and an example that illustrates the approach.

Delivering this type of a meeting can go a long way toward turning a gatekeeper into an ally.

Emily Bannister is director of research at Federal Street Advisors.

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