Many practitioners have found success by taking a team approach to selling. The way this works is that a number of professionals form a group–often with each member having a specific area of expertise–to provide financial planning for the same client.
“We see it as a growing trend,” says Amy Dewey, director of agency and association marketing for The American College, Bryn Mawr, Pa. “Rather than working as a lone wolf, you can surround yourself with other experts and have a good team approach to selling.”
Dewey says she sees many companies modifying their distribution structure to adopt the team selling approach.
One of those companies is New England Financial, Boston, Mass. For the past six years, New England has been integrating a team selling approach into its advanced marketing firm agency structure.
Working in sales teams provides a number of benefits for clients, says Jack Pini, vice president of field marketing for NEF. “Now, rather than have one person managing and servicing your business, youve got a team of people that all have a vested interest in assuring that your financial portfolio is in good shape.”
Furthermore, the team environment encourages agents to become specialists in different areas of planning, adds Cathy Baron, second vice president of field marketing for NEF. “Instead of trying to be all things to all people and trying to keep up with everything in this very sophisticated market, agents can specialize and go to experts within the firm–so clients receive more expertise than they would if the agent was working alone.”
While sales teams are most often found at the retail sales level, at The Phoenix Companies, Hartford, Conn., wholesalers work together in sales teams when marketing their products and services to distributors.
Phoenix started using wholesaling teams a few years ago when it introduced a new annuity product line. Phoenix already had established business relationships with distributors through its life insurance and asset management wholesalers. By teaming up the annuity wholesalers with the other product wholesalers, “it was a way of leveraging those existing relationships,” says Mike Gilotti, executive vice president, wholesaling distribution and marketing for Phoenix.
Gilotti notes that the primary reason for taking a team approach was to build the annuity business, but now the company has seen many ancillary benefits from this action. “We discovered the power of teamwork,” he says.
Since many distributors have specialists in each of these areas (life insurance, annuities and asset management), it is a natural fit for working with a wholesaling team representing all product lines. “We see the multitude of teams that are forming in many different types of distributionwere starting to see more specialization,” he says.
“So when we go to these various high-end producers and they talk about their specialists, we have the ability to show we have the same specialization as well. It makes a terrific match; they feel very comfortable with it,” he says.
When building sales teams at NEF agencies, senior agents are teamed up with junior agents and managing associates. The managing associate acts as a relationship manager between the senior and the junior agent, and is also the person responsible for training and supervising the junior agent, says Baron.
“One of the biggest decisions a sales manager makes is who they put on a team,” she says.
In most of their agencies, new agents are on board for at least six months before they join a sales team. During this time, new associates have an opportunity to see the teams that are currently in place and how they work. Meanwhile, senior agents observe new associates and determine who would fit best on their team. “There has to be a good match,” says Baron.
Once formed, the team usually goes through some form of team training session. In these sessions, members work together to develop a team plan and determine the roles and responsibilities for each individual. “If you do it as a team, you become accountable to the team and not only to yourself,” she says.
Wholesaling teams at Phoenix are built a little differently. Initially, annuity wholesalers were more motivated to form teams with other product wholesalers–mainly because they didnt have a market, notes Gilotti. These annuity wholesalers “had to look for pockets of success and then create a synergistic approach,” he says.
But not all of Phoenixs wholesalers have taken to the team approach, Gilotti admits. “Some dont fit into the team concept; theyre good wholesalers, but theyre less able to work in that environment.”
Even so, Gilotti has taken the team approach and applied it to a number of levels within Phoenixs distribution system–from initial training to awarding excellence.
New wholesaling recruits attend “the Phoenix Academy,” where they learn about each product line together and build relationships with one another. “We put them all together every chance we get,” he explains.
“Its the bonding thats really important, so we do that at every opportunity we have,” he says, adding these relationships make the team approach more natural once in the field.
Meetings that were once segregated by Phoenixs product line are now held together. This includes the annual planning meeting as well as the awards conference. “These are the ways we foster team spirit,” Gilotti says.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, August 11, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.