The Future of the Internal Sales Desk

DIVIDE AND CONQUER

Published Article By

Mary Anne Doggett

Back in the day

Sales desks were built as a one-size-fits-all model: Same job, same metrics — just different territories and wholesalers to support. The model was designed to help external wholesalers be more efficient and relieve them of mundane and administrative tasks, such as scheduling, running zephyrs, sending marketing materials and putting together spreadsheets to help manage rotations and clients. It was a pre-Internet and e-mail world, and this model worked well to provide advisors with the information they sought.

Fast forward to 2017

Advisors today increasingly prefer phone and e-mail over face-to-face interactions, and are becoming more comfortable with individual Web meetings. Technology has replaced many of those mundane tasks for which internals were once responsible. Now successful internals need to be adept at prospecting, strategy, deepening relationships, retaining clients, business analytics, conveying capital markets assumptions and portfolio construction (and many are still doing some of those mundane tasks.

The traditional wholesaling model and approach to sales needs more than a couple of tweaks

The old wholesaling model doesn’t work well as firms continue to expand their sales desks (hybrids especially), while shrinking or keeping static their externals. (See Ignites Research, Evolving Sales Staff to Engage Advisors”). The overall cost of the sales force is under the microscope as firms hunt for opportunities to improve margins. #salesdesks #internalwholesalers #externalwholesalers

The old sales process doesn’t work either. Advisors expect much more from each interaction, and that requires a selling approach that lines up with how they buy and provides reasons to do business that transcend just product. The internal’s job requires an advanced sales skill set to stand out and meet the preferences of today’s advisors. #salesprocess.

Examples:

  • Getting the advisor to stay on the phone (or call back) requires a very different first 30 seconds of the conversation. Internals need to know how to connect on a psychological level without the luxury of extended rapport.
  • The old "go to" pitch is no longer enough — advisors tune out the classic (long) presentation that is all about the product.
  • Questioning requires a whole different approach; the old profiling process, aka "give me information so I can sell to you," needs to be replaced with broader questions that uncover business problems and opportunities and clarify the level of urgency. Examples: “What’s changed in your business over the last 6 months …?” and “I’m curious as to why you are interested in making a change now …”

Advisors expect an internal to know the basics of their business before they pick up the phone through social media and data. The quality of questions is a differentiator, and advisors want highly personalized value-add support beyond product. To stay in the game, firms can no longer afford to have high-priced internals use outdated sales approaches and spend time on low-impact activities. #helpingadvisors

Evolving Trend

The internal that is supposed to do it all — mastering cold-calling, relationship building, high-level client service, business metrics, power CRM usage and marketing integration, supporting two external wholesalers and mastering portfolio construction — finds that competing priorities make it difficult to excel in any one area.

Just as segmentation has transformed the selling process in the field, firms are beginning to experiment with segmenting the internal desk to boost results, minimize burnout and increase motivation.

The POD model carves out inside sales as a business unto itself rather than simply as an extension of the face-to-face sales team. This sets firms up to specialize in advisor sales and support functions and to more accurately track bottom-line impact of desk activities. Territory sales is today’s proxy but it fails to elicit the real and predictable drivers of business results.

With this model, external wholesalers would still get support, but the internal desk would be broken into a series of small business units (pods), very much like an orchestra with a variety of instrument sections. For existing sales desks, internals would be matched for specialty positions in pods that most closely reflect their preferences and skill set, each pod having its own high-impact functions.

Examples of Pods

Because every firm is different, the pods can be designed to align with the overall distribution strategy. Here are examples of a variety of different pod specialties. #salesspecialization

  • Some reps LOVE the hunt and thrive on outbound calling. They are driven by gaining access to and finding new prospects to bring into the fold.
  • Some reps are highly suited to providing that extra level of service to that makes a difference to larger clients, driving concentrated retention efforts. These might include handwritten thank-you notes, a personalized value-added touchpoint strategy and special event management.
  • Some reps are technology wizards and excel in mining the data and setting up processes to make the work on the desk more efficient.
  • Certain reps now are eager to take on hybrid positions — another specialized skill set. This allows for an external bench as well as an option to stay as a career hybrid.
  • For newbies, one pod might consist of entry level internals (the bench) that handle basic administrative tasks and more mundane duties (i.e., ordering lunches for wholesaler branch visits)
  • Some reps excel at coordinating with their external, acting as strategic partners, making them an unstoppable team. Assuming that this pod would be much smaller than a current internal desk, it might be that wholesalers have to "earn" a higher-level internal, or would get two or three days per week of dedicated support. This allows for batch processing of tasks and encourages establishing support priorities.

The exciting part of this type of business transformation is that it aligns skill sets and helps internals migrate to the pod that best suits their abilities and interests. One of the biggest productivity drains on sales desks today is the "stop and start behaviors" that come with competing priorities: Outbound call, wholesaler call, update Excel spread sheet, schedule appointments….

Getting started: Who goes where?

One approach to matching people with pods is to post the responsibilities, metrics and requirements for each pod, and have candidates self-select and apply for the position.

This opens up career path opportunities and lets highly talented internals migrate among pods.

This pod approach to segmentation of the overall desk will drive a different hiring process. New hires would start at the admin pod to learn the ropes and with the help of tools such as Strength Finder move on to the specialization that plays to their skills.

This model will not work for all desks and smaller firms may need to double up on specialty areas. The sales desk manager must be equipped with the skills to manage many moving parts, design metrics and campaigns that align with the focus of each pod and able to demonstrate and is able to coach and demonstrate the skills within each specialty — a tall order!

As specialization and segmentation become more important to meet growing advisor expectations, desks need to be designed with the client in mind vs themselves. This takes some heavy lifting in the beginning, but if done well, turnover decreases, job satisfaction increases, career paths expand and advisors get the support of highly skilled and motivated internals.