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Monday, August 10, 2020

Time to Prepare Now for the Future of Wholesaling
Guest Column by: Michelle DeMond-Axelrod

With wholesalers now bound to their desks (or their homes) for the immediate future, it can be difficult for sales managers to keep wholesalers motivated and productive. But productivity and management issues today may signal the future. What should sales managers do to prepare today for the future of wholesaling? We talked with many sales managers at large and boutique asset managers. Here's what they said:

Michelle DeMond-Axelrod
Fugent, LLC
Vice President, Product and Accounts

Keep Wholesalers Engaged and Motivated as a Team

Sales management must first alleviate the natural anxiety and uncertainty many wholesalers feel in a world where their roles and routines are changing. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the movement away from traditional in-person, product-pitching lunch-and-learns and office drop-ins.

In this new environment, wholesalers must learn how to use virtual contacts to engage effectively with advisors. And with the outlook for the economy and the markets still up in the air, wholesalers are looking for guidance from senior management to identify other ways to measure their success — and attain job security — when it may be harder than ever for them to close deals and generate inflows.

One of the biggest questions sales managers are grappling with is: How can we maintain our firm's culture when everyone is working remotely and/or their job responsibilities are changing?

All of the asset managers we've talked to have said that it is imperative for management and sales to continue to be connected as a team. Sales managers are focusing on ways to help their teams manage stress, manage work/life balance issues, and continue to have opportunities to grow professionally.

One firm hosts regular videoconference calls where regional sales teams can share their challenges and concerns with senior management. Another is holding their annual sales conference online, recording all of the sessions so wholesalers can go back to review the presentations they've found most useful.

Many sales managers have also embraced the value of using the remote-working environment to help wholesalers let off steam and boost comradery. At one firm, their sales team holds monthly virtual "spirit wear" cocktail parties, where wholesalers wear T-shirts representing their favorite sports teams and discuss topics such as their favorite TV shows and local craft brews and spirits. Another asset manager recently hired a comedian to conduct a virtual "roast" of senior management.

Grow the Pipeline and Avoid Pipeline Decay

With on-site visits and conferences curtailed for the immediate future — and potentially for the long-term — wholesalers have lost one of their most effective means of filling the sales pipeline. This has been a great time for asset management firms to get creative. Examples we've heard from sales managers include:

  • Partnering with other asset managers to conduct joint webinars to featuring high-budget motivational speakers and thought leaders presenting on subjects such as behavioral economics.

  • Combining regional wholesaler budgets to bring in an expensive and popular sales coach that individual wholesalers and teams couldn't afford on their own.

  • Scheduling virtual lunch meetings and shipping food to advisors.

  • Delivering care packages to advisors with firm-brand hand sanitizer and face masks.

  • We have also seen sales teams set up re-engagement campaigns for top clients and prospects that employ personalized emails to get recurring meetings on wholesalers’ calendars. Other asset managers have reviewed territory strategies to ensure that internal and external wholesalers have a well-defined plan for communicating with their advisors — so that they don't duplicate efforts with the same advisor.

    Re-Skilling Wholesalers

    The nature of sales engagement has changed. Wholesalers need to be re-skilled today to be successful in an environment where advisors and consultants are only likely to respond to messages and offers that align with their own business needs.

    The key to this re-skilling lies in training wholesalers to become more effective users of data-driven sales enablement technologies that empower them to increase consistency and relevancy of their outbound contacts.

    It's not just about using CRM systems more effectively. Wholesalers need tools that will make it easier for them to set up meetings and phone calls, host and promote webinars and conference calls (and find out who is attending), and quickly send out emails offering relevant value-added content — and instantly know who is accepting these offers.

    Sales engagement tools can automate most of these manual processes, enabling wholesalers to spend less time manually setting up meetings and webinars, writing emails, and recording the results in CRM. They can use the time they've saved to focus on gaining a deeper understanding of the interests of their clients and prospects, which will help them make the transition from pure product-pitchers to envoys of valuable, client-centric insights and thought leadership.

    For sales managers, the challenge is convincing skeptical members of their teams that these technologies will actually make it easier for them to do business. They need to show that these tools not only can help them become more productive, but the "numbers" the tools deliver can help quantify the effectiveness of their activities. And, more importantly, proficiency in their use will prepare them to meet the challenges of this new era.

    Some of the sales team we've spoken to are taking advantage of the current work-at-home environment to employ a variety of training-and-motivational methods and strategies to benefit not only top wholesalers, but the mid-tier where a greater percentage of revenue growth can occur. These include:

  • Initially training a small group of wholesalers representing a diversity of backgrounds and tech-savviness to become advocates and informal technical support resources for other wholesalers.

  • Adopting informal "apprenticeship-style" programs where new or technology-averse wholesalers are paired with experienced peers who serve as mentors to guide them through a series of training milestones.

  • Using "gamifying strategies" that foster competition among wholesalers and inspire widespread adoption. One firm uses a "league" approach where regional sales team compete against each other. This encourages wholesalers to share best practices and apply peer pressure to make sure their teammates are pulling their own weight. "Points" are awarded in different categories based on the results of usage, such as the number of registrants and attendees for webinars, the highest open and click rates for emails, and the number of meeting requests. The "metrics" for these scores are generated by the tools in reports that managers can view in real time. Members of "winning" teams receive boxes of firm-branded golf balls, online gift cards, or other prizes.

  • After wholesalers have completed training, managers should ensure that they understand how to combine technology and content to deliver the targeted, personalized messages advisors demand. Sales managers should also constantly review the results of wholesalers' efforts and refine their strategy based on the metrics.

    Maximize the Effectiveness of CRM Systems

    A CRM system is only as useful as the quality of the data that's in it. But wholesalers are notorious for not entering all of their activities and results into CRM, or for recording their contacts' topic interests and communication preferences.

    Sales managers should take this time to review the data and determine what output from the CRM is going to serve sales best — for today and for the future. We've talked to a few asset managers who have or are thinking of investing in CRM-add ins that are fully integrated with wholesalers' Outlook, mobile accounts, web meeting accounts, appointment booking tools, territory email campaign provider, and other contact management applications. When wholesalers engage with an advisor these technologies automatically log these interactions and stimulate follow-up. The more automation and less manual data entry these processes require, the more likely your salespeople will be to consider CRM systems to be a value—rather than an obstacle to productivity.

    The best CRM systems help create insightful advisor engagements and help accelerate a data driven approach to sales. Sales teams are looking to combine this data with marketing data to create scorecards that are predictive and forward facing—not historical facing, which is what a lot of CRMs end up being.

    Identify the Messaging that Generates Engagement

    The future of successful outbound sales communications depends on wholesalers' ability to deliver personalized messages to advisors. For this to work, marketing and sales teams need to collaborate to share data and strategies for the common good.

    Marketing needs insights from wholesalers into which kinds of content and messaging generating positive responses from advisors. Likewise, wholesalers need to understand what marketing is doing to communicate the firm's successes and subject matter expertise to both advisors and investors. By working together to analyze advisors' interactions with all online communications — emails, social media posts, web site usage and their responses to targeted contacts from wholesalers — sales and marketing can a deliver a better experience for advisors.

    Conclusion: Leveraging Technology to See the Big Picture

    With many asset managers likely to maintain work-at-home policies, it's becoming increasingly important for sales managers to prepare their teams for the evolution of wholesaling to remain competitive. Firms facing this challenge may want to consider using some of the budget dollars previously allocated for travel and conferences to invest in sales enablement tools and the re-skilling and motivation programs wholesalers need to make their engagement with clients and prospects, easier, more productive and ultimately more rewarding.

    Michelle DeMond-Axelrod is vice president of product and accounts at Fugent, LLC, an ally to asset managers' distribution leaders. 

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