Brave New World of Inside Sales

While internal wholesalers’ biggest obstacle — gaining access to advisors — hasn’t changed, the way they go about it has.

Internals have more resources at their fingertips, including tools that can be used to understand advisor preferences, thanks to shifts in technology and new data resources. As a result, the sales desk model across the industry is evolving. Here are three prominent elements of this shifting approach to the business.

The Buzz Is Never Coming Back

In the past, senior managers perceived internal desks as productive if there were many sales conversations happening at once. The room is quieter now, but it’s not because internals are not dialing enough. It’s because advisors don’t answer their phones. In fact, some firms instruct sales desk managers to restrict internal wholesaler communications to e-mail only. For many desks, the average internal may get through by phone to six advisors per day — a more than 50% reduction from just a short time ago — and a five-minute call is considered a luxury.

Today, so-called buzz on the sales desk can actually be a bad sign because it could mean internals are leaving too many rushed voice mails. Or when they actually do get through, they may be talking to low-end advisors, or worse, pitching frantically and ineffectively. The best desks now determine success by measuring the number of e-mails or voice mails that result in specific phone appointments with high-potential advisors, or how many calls they receive in response to so-called strategic touchpoints, such as customized e-mails and voice mails.

An effective e-mail might include a personalized subject line, a short, non-product-specific benefit-laden message and a P.S. with a relevant article from an outside source. An effective follow-up voice mail could have a similar message, but with a very deliberate focus on tone and a clearly articulated benefit to the advisor of having a conversation or setting up a meeting with the firm — a departure from the robotic standard message of the past.

Integrating Multiple Data Points: A Required Skill

In the past, internals would simply follow up on appointments advisors had with their external counterparts. Now the internal plays a big role in determining which advisors the external wholesaler calls on.

This requires internals to sift through a series of data points, including market share, previous buying patterns and predictive analytics to pinpoint real-time opportunities. This direction from the inside aims to get their partners in front of the right advisors at the right time.

Strategy Replaces Pounding the Phones

Personally engaging advisors by making them open e-mails or take phone calls requires an increasingly complex set of skills. Internals must try to nurture an advisor’s interest in the firm before making any calls. This might include invitations to Web meetings, e-mails that highlight the firm’s thought leadership or personal notes. If they are successful in getting the advisor on the phone, a personalized opener that reflects that the internal has done his homework trumps traditional small talk. This is particularly true for high-end clients and prospects.

While this strategic approach may result in fewer conversations, it also enables internals to prepare more critical questions. Traditional profiling — where wholesalers would ask self-serving questions like “Tell me about your business” — has been replaced with questions that prompt advisors to think through what might be most helpful for their overall practice. For example, an internal might now open a conversation by asking for the advisor’s view on current market conditions and the impact they might have on his clients. Advisors expect internals to know the answers to questions when they’re available through other sources. Successful internals recognize that calls are interruptions to the advisor’s day, and scheduled, more personalized conversations are much more likely to begin or deepen relationships.

As the role of internals evolves, so too should the way they are reviewed. Managers should evaluate internal wholesalers based on their abilities to analyze data to determine the right advisors to target. Managers should also assess internals’ abilities to gather intelligence about the advisor’s buying cycle and needs by reviewing data and skillful questioning. This does not mean activity metrics should disappear. Instead, higher value should be placed on the quality of interactions, rather than quantity.

Firms that have redefined internals’ roles are seeing an increase in sales that are closed via e-mail or over the phone, as well as accompanying cost efficiencies. The challenge that remains is aligning the job descriptions, training and compensation to better match and prepare internals for the brave new world in which they are operating.