Emily Alexander co-wrote this blog post with Rubesh Jacobs.
Is it possible to double sales productivity with a virtual sales team? The answer is a firm yes, and it can change the commercial outlook for firms who crack the code. As you might’ve guessed, technology, analytics, and AI can drive sales productivity gains for virtual sellers – in other words, more revenue with no increase in sales and marketing expenses. Maybe you have an internal or hybrid team already in place and want to supercharge them, or you want to elevate a traditional internal sales team, but either way, technology and analytics can enable sales teams to do more than we ever thought they could from afar. But, successful firms shouldn’t fully unleash this power until they understand where and how the gains will come.
The formula, going back to the basics of sales, is simple: reach more advisors with assets and win more often to increase share of wallet. But in financial services, specific opportunities are hard to find and track because it’s often unclear when or which product will be bought. So, every interaction with a target client has to increase the probability that they will invest dollars in your products or eventually call you when an opportunity comes – that is, we can think of each interaction as an advertisement. If you take this view, to increase virtual sales productivity is to speak to (or meet virtually with) more advisors with assets and increase the impact of each interaction. Here’s how productivity can be doubled:
1. Increase amount of time for selling activities: Between a field sales person and a traditional internal sales person, a typical hybrid or virtual territory covers 1,000-1,400 advisors. Even removing travel from their plate, that’s a lot of advisors to reach in a year, so how can we reallocate time to selling? For instance, how much additional time would be freed up if:
- The amount of support and administrative work of these sellers was reduced? Yes, this implies changing the role and even enabling them with sales support like a traditional field wholesaler.
- Virtual sales personnel didn’t have to do their own data analysis and territory planning? And similarly, the variety of sales enablement technologies was integrated to seamlessly fit into the work day? Imagine the power of one interface that provided continuous guidance on which advisors to contact, what to discuss (along with agenda and content), contact medium (phone, email or video), when to contact, and potential material for a follow up.
- We estimate a typical desk-based salesperson spends a third of their time on these types of activities. If we reallocated that to sales, it’s not hard to see how we could significantly increase activity and reach.
2. Maximize impact of every interaction: The challenge with the current approach of meeting or calling an advisor once every four to six months is not having enough information to “meet them where they are.” So the common practice is to reach out to advisors on a regular (say quarterly) basis and go in with a list of topics, and pivot, hoping that something sticks. It takes a long time to develop any relationship, let alone one with high CQ (connection quotient: a measure of mutual benefit between advisor and asset manager). How much more effective would the interaction be if we could:
- Recommend topics of particular importance or interest to this advisor, at the right point in time?
- Key in on specific CQ dimensions that are particularly important to this advisor (education, personal success, feeling valued)?
- Suggest ways to approach the conversation or write the email?
- Provide targeted guidance related to priorities, such as a new platform placement, ways to retain assets at risk and a priority investment strategy
3. Upskill the virtual sales team: By now the role of technology and analytics in enabling the increased productivity should be much clearer. But what is not always as clear is the extent to which the role of the virtual (I’ll say again, both internals and hybrids) has to change to function at a higher level. Firms who recognize the mismatch upskill the virtual sales team.
Many leading firms in the industry still opt for staffing the virtual sales team with junior people who are apprentices in training for the field sales roles. Junior people in and of themselves are not hindrances to increased productivity, but their competency level becomes more important if they have to sell to advisors with portfolio discretion and carry a revenue goal, and even AI cannot make up for all of these skill gaps. We recommend:
A more talented, competent, and experienced virtual sales person will be more costly, for sure, but their attrition rate would be lower, their fully loaded cost won’t be as high as an external salesperson, and their productivity could be at least as high.
- Staffing the role with more experienced and senior people
- Viewing the virtual sales person as a functional equivalent to the field sales person
Even accounting for the increase in the cost of the virtual sales person, the increase in ability to reach more advisors and have more impactful interactions can easily double productivity. The transformation requires a new mindset and will take time, but getting on this path is important for future success.