As Sales Teams Proliferate, Sources Of Conflict Are Being Studied

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With more practitioners working in a sales team environment, educators are examining the different elements that impact the effectiveness of a team.

The American College, Bryn Mawr, Pa., is working in partnership with professors at three universities to study sales teams and the role conflict resolution plays in building those teams.

The study addresses the effective development of sales teams and the management of conflict among team members, according to Amy Dewey, director of agency and association marketing for The American College. The study is being done jointly with professors at Miami University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Cincinnati.

“Different personalities come out in any type of team,” she says. “You want to be as efficient and effective as possible, but theres going to be that social dimension that may prevent something from being as effective as it can be.”

The colleges goal with the study is to “develop knowledge that we can share with our students that will improve the sales process,” adds Eric Gordon, director of public relations for the college.

In the financial services industry, companies have the opportunity to build teams in a couple of different ways, explains Andrea Dixon, assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, who is one of the primary researchers working on the study. The two design strategies used in building a team are the organizational-directed team, where a field leader selects participants for a team, and a self-directed team, where team members come together on their own, she says.

One of the issues Dixon expects to address in this study is the degree of conflict that occurs in relation to how the team was built and the impact of that conflict on the team.

For example, it is helpful for an individual joining a team to know if someone external to the team designed it, she explains. It may give that person a better idea of what to expect in terms of conflict within the group, vs. what one would expect in a self-directed team, she says.

Dixon adds that the study will not determine whether one strategy is better than the other. Rather, the study will help organizations understand the types of conflict that may occur more frequently in each situation and what types of conflict resolution are likely to occur, she says.

“There are different types of conflict,” she says. “Theres process-related conflict, conflict in identifying the tasks and goals for the team and personality conflict.”

These are some of the problems Jim Rodd ran into when he started developing his team three years ago. The financial advisor with The Ohio Valley Group, a New England Financial agency in Cincinnati, had a few problems when he started building his team. “The first person we added was a prot?g? for me–I tried two or three individuals who, for a variety of reasons, didnt work,” he says.

Rodd admits he was part of the problem. Since he had spent the previous 15 years working independently, he had difficulty working with someone else. “I had to learn what tasks I could have a prot?g? do to help them grow in their career,” he says. Rodd adds that he expected to have these types of problems early on.

But with the support of his primary carrier, New England Financial, Rodd followed the team model and is now seeing success. Hes got two other financial professionals on his team and is aggressively seeking a third.

Rodd attributes the success of his team to following a carefully designed template, which addresses issues that could be potential conflicts.

“Most conflicts come when its time to write business–who gets credit for the case, how do the commissions split,” he explains. “We have a template we follow and with very few exceptions we do not have much conflict there.”

In addition, Rodds team had the opportunity to go through a team-training program. One of the end results of the program is a clear definition of tasks for each team member. This helps eliminate many potential sources of conflict, he says.

But some practitioners have not experienced any significant conflicts in their sales teams. “Its been pretty smooth,” says T.J. Rogers, a financial advisor with Baystate Financial, Boston. Rogers has been working as part of a sales team for the last five years. “We havent had situations where weve had to resolve any major conflicts,” he says.

Rogers team includes himself and another planner. Rogers specializes in insurance planning while his partner has more investment expertise.

Prior to joining Baystate Financial, Rogers had 12 years of experience as a Northwestern Mutual insurance agent. Upon Rogers joining the firm, the managing partner encouraged planners to team up and work as mentor/prot?g? teams. Since Rogers was experienced, he was the mentor and took on a prot?g?. Rogers prot?g? was new to the business but quickly developed a specialty in investment planning. “It turned from a mentor/prot?g? relationship to more of a partnership,” he says. “It just worked nicely; hes good at what Im not.”

In some cases, when necessary, another specialist within the firm will work with them. Depending on the case, they may need to bring in an attorney or a retirement plan specialist. “In those situations, we all work as a team to put together the financial plan for the client,” he says.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 8, 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.