Moving to a new engagement model…digital first!

Thursday, November 5, 2020 | By Matt Fronczke, Director, Strategic Business Consulting

Moving to a new engagement model…digital first!

The past several months have been a good time to think about the future of distribution in asset management and the evolution of advisor engagement. While the current virtual operating environment has accelerated this thinking, changes to traditional sales models have been a persistent topic of attention for some time now—please read our 2018 report titled “Designing the Modern Sales Organizations” and our 2019 report, "Maximizing Distributor Relationships."

Attention to the topic isn’t just given by the SS&S Research, Analytics and Consulting team. Senior distribution leaders are also thinking about this, given the number of inbound calls and emails we’ve received year-to-date. Based on a series of recent surveys conducted from March through August with national sales managers we know they are considering changes to their sales organization. In fact:

  • 4 out of 10 national sales managers say their team structure requires change
  • 5 out of 10 national sales managers say their distribution model requires change
  • 6 out of 10 national sales managers say their territory design requires change
  • 7 out of 10 national sales managers say their coverage assignments requires change

In the same survey series, we also know sales leadership anticipated a lasting impact on the traditional methods of engagement by their senior field salespeople. National sales managers, on average, anticipate the percent of meetings conducted in-person to decrease from around 90% (pre-COVID) to around 50% (post-COVID). However, there is the impression that sales leadership, while well intentioned, are not making transformational changes, but rather, smaller incremental adjustments to their current operating model.

The need for increased sales efficiencies and effectiveness is not/will not go away. Consumer expectations for personalized and digital-first experience will only accelerate with the continued growth and influence of technology in our lives. Yet, many organizations are looking to fit digital/virtual into the traditional model of in-person engagement versus the other way around. A common approach is to find the “right” advisors receptive to virtual engagement (along with other explicit data points like size of book, growth rates, location, etc.) and deploy a team of hybrid or virtual wholesalers to engage with that designated group of advisors. Shouldn’t all advisors be “right” for digital/virtual engagement? Shouldn’t we be more precise in finding which advisors want/need to meet in-person, and when? Wouldn’t that be a more efficient/effective method of engagement rather than default to the “in-person” requirement?

Ultimately, modern sales organizations need to adapt their distribution philosophy and engagement processes to a digital-first world. In-person/high-touch engagement will always have a place. However, in-person engagement should fit into digital engagement and not the other way around. There is a time and place for in-person engagement but it shouldn’t be the first step in the customer life-cycle. And sometimes, it doesn’t need to be a step at all!

Every firm will have an operating model that will be unique and right for them. There are, however, a few universal things sales leaders need to consider when planning for a new operating model—note, these are not all mutually exclusive.

  • Build a tech-driven sales roadmap based on segmentation and other data signals
  • Stand up a robust and scaled distribution intelligence effort
  • Design and manage your distribution capability like a product
  • Aim for distribution excellence
  • Focus, focus, focus—smaller more condensed territories are better
  • Monitor, measure and reward results and activity to desired strategy and outcome
  • Content and messaging is kind in a digital and personalized world
  • Experiment, and make it work for you!

Everyone recognizes the need for change. If sales leadership were starting from scratch, there’s no way they would build what they have now. They would do it differently. In fact, almost all senior sales leaders are the first to admit that. The challenge is, they cannot just flip a switch and revolutionize their structure or model—but change shouldn’t be a deterrent from trying. They should understand what model makes the most logical sense to them and set a path to that. It will be hard and it will take time. But imagine the consequences if you never move toward that future. Do you want to compete against others who do make that move? Disrupt or be disrupted!

Research, Analytics, and Consulting

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