• Al Townsend

Developing Top Performing Teams

Few wholesaling teams function as well as they could. Today the stakes for under-performing are getting higher; dysfunctional teams can slow down sales, derail business initiatives, or negatively affect the reputation of the whole company. In our work with top wholesaling teams in Canada and the US, we have identified three crucial core competencies that are necessary to develop top performing teams. Wholesaling teams that get these right can develop more predictable and sustainable AUM, attain higher levels of advisor satisfaction, and significantly improve individual team member productivity.

Teams Need to Have a Clear Focus

Many wholesaling teams struggle to find purpose and focus beyond just selling as much as they can to whoever will buy it.  Too often teams fail to have a strategy and plan that targets the firms and advisors that represent the best opportunities for their products. Segmentation with well-defined dealer firm and advisor profiles are a primary component for building a good business plan.

Annual business plans are the foundation for top performing teams to develop a clear focus on how they will implement a successful business strategy.  This requires an analysis of the market, advisor population, and investment trends that represent the best opportunities for the firm’s products. Included in the plan are well thought out logistics on how to use team members’ time and resources to ensure that sales goals are achieved within budget.  The entire plan needs to be documented and reviewed regularly by team members and sales leadership to track results and hold everyone accountable.

Roles and responsibilities for each member of the wholesaling team, usually consisting of external and internal wholesalers and a sales support staff, also need to be clearly defined and aligned to the business plan to ensure that everyone on the team strategically leverages each other’s time and capabilities. Without this in place, team members can fail to distinguish between opportunities they must act on collectively, independently, or those they should merely monitor. 

An extension of the business plan are individual team member action plans that identify how everyone will work together respective to their role to meet business objectives.  Every 90 days the action plans are prepared to allow the team to adapt to the market environment and any changes in an advisor’s investment needs/challenges/preferences.  This prevents teams from falling into the old “milk run” behavior which is no longer efficient, effective, or productive.  This also helps the team to understand that it is not about showing up and booking meetings that achieve activity requirements mandated by the firm.  Meetings with advisors because they have old standing relationships or stagnant/redeeming AUM are eliminated and replaced with the focus on more productive relationships that have quantifiable opportunities/potential.   

Get the right people on the team . . . and the wrong ones off

Determining the right requirements to be on a wholesaling team is critical and is the most powerful lever to shape a team’s performance. The key to getting a wholesaling team’s composition right is deciding what contributions the team as a whole, and its members as individuals, must make to achieve the performance objectives for each territory and then defining the minimum competencies (skill, knowledge, attitude) to be on the team. This sounds straight-forward enough, but it typically requires conscious attention and courage from sales leadership to train, coach, and/or make changes.  Otherwise, a team can underdeliver for an extended period of time and potentially drag down the performance of other teams. 

Minimum competencies should include, but not be limited to:

  • Sales skills and practices that are proactive, strategic, and consultative that will allow them to uncover new opportunities for the firm’s product solutions with every advisor contact.

  • Sufficient knowledge about the market, the competition, and the firm’s investment products relative to how they fit into an advisor’s investment portfolios. This includes an understanding of each product and how they solve to investment needs and problems that are prevalent in the advisor’s client portfolios.

  • Good communication skills that allow them to build rapport quickly and proactively engage advisors in a credible and professional conversation about their investment business.

  • Presentation skills that allow them to effectively position products as investment solutions specific to an identified need or problem and meeting the advisor’s requirements.

  • The ability to position themselves as an investment consultant to overcome obstacles and answer questions.

Team dynamics and processes

A final area demanding unrelenting attention is effective team dynamics, whose absence is a frequent problem.  Among wholesaling teams that we studied, members reported that only a small percentage of their time was spent in “productive collaboration”—a figure that dropped even more when teams had differing, entrenched interests.

The financial services industry, the markets, and the business environment are in a constant state of change.  The rate and intensity of that change can be quite severe.  The change can either create opportunity or failure depending on how a wholesaling team deals with it.  Teams need to be collaborative and creative on how they deal with this change to be able to adapt to each situation.  This requires regular, open communication to leverage the talents and information that each team member has. This should be formalized as part of the team’s ongoing business practices.  This improves team dynamics and facilitates more responsive and effective sales practices.

Sales leadership plays a critical role and needs to be conscious of how each team works together.  If problems exist, several steps can be taken to remedy the situation when they arise. The first is to work with their teams to develop a common, objective understanding of why its members aren’t collaborating effectively. There are several tools available including surveys, interviews with team members, and 360-degree evaluations. As an example, the National Sales Manager of a mutual fund company used these methods to discover that a number of his wholesaling teams needed to address lack of confidence with one another and sales leadership before they could agree on how to implement the new corporate strategy. For the teams to move forward, they needed to take ownership of the strategy and to hold one another accountable for implementing their action plans. 

Correcting dysfunctional team dynamics requires focused attention and interventions, preferably as soon as an ineffective pattern shows up.  Regular reporting, tracking to goals, and good communication are critical to identifying problems and building top performing teams.

Each wholesaling team is unique and every company will need to address a unique combination of challenges. Developing highly effective top performing wholesaling teams typically requires good diagnostics, followed by a progressive series of workshops, and ongoing coaching to enhance the competencies of each team. It is important to have each wholesaling team buy into and take ownership of the process to ensure they are willing and able to meet the company’s strategic goals.  This will help them focus on the right business/sales practices and improve team dynamics, allowing the company to achieve positive results faster.

Providing the Right Solution

Far too often we see initiatives implemented that are not connected to the vision and goals of the company, the market environment, or organized around the products and the specific needs of the sales team…. good training but no lasting benefit. Over the past 25 years, TMC Group has worked with investment management firms throughout North America and their wholesaling teams to develop their business strategy, skills, and knowledge to create a lasting performance advantage in the markets they serve. Our approach is to do the necessary diagnostics and then provide comprehensive consulting, training, and coaching to help our clients achieve their specific goals. 

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