Good Financial Sales Person

Mint, 16/11/2010

What makes a good financial services salesperson?

I have identified some qualities that go into making of good salespersons–actually, these qualities distinguish the good ones regardless of what product they are selling

Good sales personnel are difficult to find generally and more specifically in the area of financial products. Salespersons are, typically, a much-maligned lot. We are told that all that they care for is their next sale and the resulting incentives and bonuses. As with all generalizations, this is definitely not true. One always hears that all Indians are experts in elections and cricket. After having sold financial products for a long time, I can safely add a third, investing and stock markets. If an an investor buys a well-performing product, he attributes it to having done his homework, else it smacks of mis-selling that the glib salesperson palmed off on the unsuspecting customer.

I have identified some qualities that go into making of good salespersons—actually, these qualities distinguish the good ones regardless of what product they are selling, wholesale or retail, big-ticket or small-ticket.

Product/market knowledge: Some are good on micro aspects, while others at giving the overall macro picture on the economy and markets. Either way, they make the customer feel comfortable so that he makes the decision.

Speaking the client’s language: You may have the best sales pitch, but it would matter little if the customer is used to receiving and processing information in a particular way. Good sales personnel understand this and use it so that the client does not feel that he is being talked up or down.

Understanding the client’s pulse: Good sales personnel know when a client is not going to make a decision and instinctively stop pushing.

Holistic view of the client’s portfolio: Whether they get the deal or not, they know the decisions that clients are making at that point of time. Thus, they are able to pitch in a product according to its position in the overall portfolio. Sometimes this could also mean that a salesperson does not push his product, but gives a view on something that the client is considering.

Knowing the difference between perseverance and pestering: Knowing when to step on the accelerator and when to stop.

Market intelligence: Having information about what is happening in the market and sharing it with the customer makes a salesperson seem more intelligent that he actually is. Plus, market information helps a salesperson ferret out leads and keep creating new pipelines.

Networking and the ability to remain connected: Networking in India sometimes has a negative perception, but we all know its importance and benefits. Whether it is remembering birthdays or anniversaries of clients or remaining connected with other market participants, this is an important ability.

Following a process: There are the methodical ones who maintain detailed records, some others do it involuntarily. Leaders of sales teams should have the ability to recognize what makes their different team members tick and allow for individual styles—whether you score like Sehwag or Dravid, what finally matters is the total runs.

Sense of humour: It is essential to see the lighter side of things and even laugh at oneself when the situation demands so. This also helps sales personnel to handle failure.

Desire to win: If I had to pick up one quality over all others, it would be this. Good salespersons want to bag deals and meet more customers because ultimately they want to win. Monetary incentives are incidental. This is beautifully captured in the movie Rocket Singh–Salesman of the Year. I once had a salesperson who despite all the training sessions and coaching struggled to explain technical product details. Yet, whenever I had any trouble in achieving targets, I would turn to him and he would always deliver. He simply had an overpowering desire to win.

David Mayer and Herbert Greenberg, in their 1964 Harvard Business Review, talk about a positive ego drive and need to conquer that good salespersons tend to have. They stress on the need to have a robust selection process of good sales personnel, which must eliminate obvious biases such as equating interest with aptitude and emphasizing on conformity rather than creativity. Further, they add that experience may also not be as important as it seems compared with the possession of two central characteristics—empathy and ego drive. Selling is a tough job and salespersons need all the support that they can get from their companies. One has to remember, that in a company nothing ever starts till someone sells something.

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