In many financial advisors’ careers, there comes a time when they consider leaving production behind to move into a sales management position.
Sometimes, an advisor believes this is the natural progression for their career advancement. Other times, they (mistakenly) believe that managing advisors is easier, and more lucrative, then producing. Still other times, it can be the result of “sales fatigue” — they’re tired of the constant pressure to sell.
And every once in a while, an advisor wants to move into a sales management role for all the right reasons.
It’s not always easy for a program manager to recognize which advisor may be right for the move. Along with identifying the right advisor, there are many other considerations — are the advisor's expectations in line with the firm’s? Is this advisor right for the program? How will other advisors react to this?
So what does a program manager look for — what are the key skills and motivations they need to see in an advisor? How does a program manager handle turning an advisor down when they aren’t right fit? And if they are turned down, how does the manager minimize the impact of rejection and keep the advisor happy and focused on serving their clients and remaining loyal to the program?
“Promoting top FAs is a great idea when you do it right,” says Lawrence Orsini, managing director for wealth management and private client services at First Niagara Bank. “I think moving top advisors into sales management slots is kind of the secret sauce to a program’s long-term success,” he says.
There are many positives to such a move, he says. The advisor already knows the program, the team members and how things work. Perhaps even more important, they know the bank’s and the program’s culture.
Marc Vosen, president and CEO of Key Investment Services, agrees that promoting from within is a very good idea. “We believe great sales managers come from sales. We actually target FAs who we think have what it takes to become successful managers,” he says.
Vosen pinpoints the type of advisor they focus on for promotion. “We don’t want the very low producers or the million-dollar FAs. And we certainly don’t want micromanagers, either. What we do want are highly motivated people who show leadership and commitment to the program.”
Patricia Wood, vice president, advisory services at Navy Federal Financial Group, also looks for the right mix of skills and personality traits when drawing from her advisor ranks. “It really isn’t all about production, she agrees.
“Yes, they do need to be successful producers, but just as important are communications skills, fully embracing our corporate culture and being a program advocate both within the organization and in their communities.”
The respect of their peers is perhaps the most important factor when considering an advisor for a management position. “FAs know who the leaders are among their peers,” says Orsini. “Not only does peer respect demonstrate the leadership skills we’re looking for, but it also is a big help when that FA is in their new role. They’ll already have the respect of their FAs and they become a real example of how the organization rewards effort and excellence.”
One thing is obvious: all three firms we spoke to are proactive in identifying sales management potential. “Sometimes an FA will come forward and raise their hand, but we will target and nurture an FA who we think has what it takes,” explains Vosen.
Meanwhile, Orsini says that at First Niagara they will give prospective sales managers projects and work to do that will hone their skills so that they’ll be ready when the time comes.
So what happens when an advisor who really isn’t management material decides to explore leadership positions?
It can be tricky to let someone down without hurting feelings or generating resentment. “I won’t mislead someone if they’re not qualified,” Vosen says. “But I will listen to an FA and really try to understand why they want to make the move. I make sure to explain the headaches, loss of autonomy and probably lower compensation. I make it sound like they’d have to be nuts to want to be a sales manager.”
If they’re still interested, it does at least show they have a genuine interest. Vosen says. But ultimately, he would rather risk losing someone than make a bad hire.
Orsini agrees: “I’m defined by the people I hire. I have to take my best shot and promote the people I really believe will do the best job, period.”
Sometimes advisors say they are interested in a management position when they really aren’t. Orsini notes, “Sometimes a top FA will raise their hand out of ego or because they want you to think they’re interested because they believe you expect them to be motivated to higher positions.” He continues, “For these people, it’s pretty easy to let them down since they were just going through the motions anyway.”
While there seems to be near-universal agreement that it’s a good idea to promote sales managers from within, there is also agreement that a mix of internal and external people is optimal. “Outside hires bring a new perspective and competitiveness to a program,” Wood says.
Orsini notes, “Ideally we want a 50/50 mix of internal and external. The combination of new thought and experience from the outside, and familiarity with the program and people, is unbeatable.”
Still, there is one note of caution from Orsini: “We’re beginning to see a hesitancy from our top prospective FAs to move into management roles. They’ve worked hard to build a book and the thought of letting that asset go for a management position with its inherent lack of job security is beginning to be a pretty hard obstacle to overcome.”
It’s an obstacle for everyone involved, he says. “To grow and prosper, our industry needs talented and motivated sales managers.”
Indeed, banks need the best sales management talent. No one wants to settle for second best.
Paul Werlin is president of Human Capital Resource.
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