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Advisors: 4 Key Ways to Optimize Your Sales Support Team
Thursday, June 6, 2013

Do you remember The Ed Sullivan Show? There was a performer, Erich Brenn, who would come onstage and spin plates. He’d set up a table with a rack of long dowels, put a plate on top of each dowel and start each plate spinning. As long as the plates kept spinning, they’d stay on top of the dowels, but Brenn had to keep adding spin so that all the plates would stay in the air.

The tension would build as he ran back and forth, trying to keep all the plates spinning. Eventually, he’d have too many plates in the air to manage and they’d start to fall. He’d end up panting and sweating and watching plate after plate crash to the stage, making a glorious mess of things. The whole experience was invigorating, at least for some of us.

We use the spinning-plates metaphor regularly to describe what it feels like to manage a successful financial advisory practice. As your client roster expands, so do the number of tasks, sometimes exponentially. As markets become more volatile and productive investments become harder to find, the work of satisfying clients becomes even harder. It’s easy for little things, and sometimes even big, important things, to slip through the cracks.

For Brenn with the plates, the whole point of the act was to spin so many plates that he eventually couldn’t keep up. For advisors trying to run a productive practice, losing track of a deliverable can have serious negative consequences. Every successful advisor takes client requests very seriously, and most do whatever it takes to make sure clients get what they need accurately and in a timely manner. Satisfied clients mean a growing business and more opportunities to be of service—a virtuous cycle.

Advisors with growing practices quickly realize that it’s helpful to pass as many tasks and deliverables as possible to other team members. The role of the sales assistant or client associate becomes critically important to maintaining the cycle of client attainment and client satisfaction. Great support staff are invaluable, but are very hard to find and even more challenging to manage. Especially as teams get larger and work with more uniquely successful (and demanding) clients, effective staff management becomes essential to keep all the plates spinning smoothly.

Here are some practical insights and suggestions for how you can more efficiently develop a great support team and then manage their focus on deliverables.

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Understand Their Experience

From our coaching work with larger teams, we’ve isolated several important insights that will help to sensitize you to the experience of your sales support team. First, it is important to realize that how they experience work and reward is very different from how you do. For you, a new client represents an influx of revenue. You’ll need to invest time and energy to engage and integrate the new client, and then manage his experience of your value over time. In return, you will be compensated.

A new client means something very different to your sales assistant: a whole bunch of additional work for very little (if any) additional compensation. As a result, there’s a big difference in how you feel about gaining a new client versus how your sales assistant feels about the additional work. For you, a new client represents a meaningful gain, while your assistant sees it as one more plate to keep spinning.

In addition, your job requires you to focus on the big picture and meaningful human interactions. Your support team must focus on details and try to keep up with all your demands and those of anxious or busy clients. As you off-load the detail work to your staff, they wind up with complex and competing priorities that tend to shift as new requests are added to the old list of deliverables.

This constant and intense flow makes it likely that someone may miss the importance of a particular deliverable or lose track of the status of various needs. This is especially true when it comes to interacting with other resources within the firm—so true that it deserves special attention.

Establishing Priorities

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