A three-person "value-added sales team" from American Century Investments Inc. is teaching intermediaries' sales reps about the fund company's products and how to sell them.

Such teams, common at insurance companies as "advanced sales departments," are only now proliferating at mutual fund houses.

American Century's team members - two of them former salespeople, one an investment researcher - visit and bring training materials to reps at banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies, and independent advisory firms.

The program started in the first quarter with two team members; the Kansas City, Mo., fund company announced it last Friday.

"The goal is not to sell products to the rep but to help the rep close the sale," said Martha Miller, a member of the sales team and the vice president in charge.

The training is free to representatives who sell American Century products. The topics include the recent bear market and the new Internal Revenue Service rule on minimum distributions from retirement accounts. Trends in retirement benefits are also discussed The team is also helping clients' sales reps set up college savings programs for their Kansas customers. The Kansas 529 program is administered by American Century and marketed by Charles Schwab & Co. through registered investment advisers and to individuals.

With the wide variety of investment products now sold through intermediaries, fund companies must work harder to make their products stand out.

Hayden Berk, American Century's institutional sales manager and a member of the educational team, said helping intermediaries develop their own businesses is an increasingly popular way to get sales reps' attention.

"It's important to help people become more successful as the industry becomes more commoditized," Mr. Berk said.

American Century has helped third-party salespeople in similar ways before, but demand for such help has grown, Mr. Berk said. Investors now use stockbrokers and financial advisers more frequently to buy funds, he noted, so fund companies that offer useful services to these intermediaries will have better opportunities for growth. Other fund companies that have set up training programs like American Century's include Fidelity Investments and Putnam Investments.

American Century Investments manages $95 billion of assets through more than 75 mutual funds.

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