The personal touch

23 November 2015
By Tiziano Giannotti

By Fiona Maciver

▪ The top-four groups for sales and account management remain unchallenged over the year with JP Morgan staying ahead of the pack.

▪ Experienced sales teams that anticipate clients’ business needs are fundamental to success.

▪ Investor savviness and the passive vs active debate rise higher in selectors’ minds as industry Drivers.

In the midst of the digital revolution and the accompanying pressure on the way we all do business, it’s easy to lose sight of something fundamental to successful companies: people. Sales and account management teams stand on the front line, bearing the responsibility for not only creating favorable first impressions but also maintaining relationships and ensuring future business. Selling to professional fund buyers is a complex process with multiple touch points. Understanding their expectations of fund groups’ sales support can prove vital in strengthening the foundations of B2B relationships. Where should sales support be focused? As part of its interview program, Fund Buyer Focus measures the relative importance of nine attributes of sales and account management. The table to the right illustrates the relative impact of every attribute and the changes in distributors’ perception of the relevance of each, over the 13-month period to 31/08/15(1).

1 This is the time period since Fund Radar last covered the subject of sales and account management in depth

Sales staff expertise, covering both product and market knowledge, remains the top influencer in the overall rankings. Managers that are rated highly in this category have well trained sales employees who exude technical expertise on products and the broader industry, and only promote relevant funds to their clients. Qualitative comments from distributors suggest that the overall length of service of their contacts is also a factor influencing the perception of sales expertise.

Understanding clients’ business needs has risen two places. This undoubtedly relates to the approach of Mifid 2, given the inevitable impact on business models and required levels of support from asset managers, and it’s understandable to see its relative importance increasing. Asset managers that rank highly for this attribute are generally lauded for proactivity and anticipation of challenges by delivering support in areas such as training, information provision, end- client material and promotion of pertinent products and solutions.

Quality of contacts and visits was the biggest mover over the period, highlighting the importance of getting relationships right. This aspect entails the provision of easy access to specific areas of expertise, whether face-to-face or remotely. It is not solely linked to sales but also encapsulates other areas of support and, significantly for some, includes access to fund managers. The ideal frequency of contact and visits is often hotly debated. What is good for one distributor may not be adequate for another – this loops back to understanding client’s needs for successful execution. Companies that are hitting the sweet spot on this subject, according to qualitative feedback from distributors, include Fidelity and Amundi.

sales

Scope of information provision – the relative importance of this aspect fell significantly over the review period but this should be viewed with caution. Information provision is still a key requirement but it has increasingly become a hygiene factor, clients treating its satisfactory delivery as a basic expectation.

Who gets it right?

The top-four managers for strength of sales and account management capabilities remain unchanged over the 12-month period to 31 August 2015. All of them scored highly across the key impact drivers, demonstrating not only expertise at a product and market level but also in their quick response to queries, being proactive and understanding distributors’ business needs. The leader, JP Morgan, once again outshone its rivals with top ratings across all Fund Buyer Focus sales and account management measures. Qualitative comments from distributors noticeably focused on the speedy delivery and quality of the information provided, accessibility of sales staff, and understanding of distributors’ business needs. Strengths which are clearly articulated by this Italian IFA:

‘What really sets JP Morgan’s sales team apart from its competitors in this area is the sheer competence of the people. They are real professionals, who can offer the right blend of technical abilities and a strong capacity for the purely commercial aspects of the business relationship.’

There was not much by which to differentiate the second and third groups. BlackRock remained just ahead of Fidelity, thanks to sales staff expertise and understanding clients’ business needs, but Fidelity was perceived to be slightly stronger on the quality and frequency of contact and visits.

10 Top sales

Invesco, the most significant mover in the top table, demonstrated consistency across all sales and account management attributes. This comment from a Spanish discretionary portfolio manager encapsulates the attention paid to both distributor and end-client needs:

‘Invesco’s sales people maintain a close working relationship with us and they have a good understanding of our needs as well as those of the end-client. They are very attentive to our requirements and always call us very promptly to let us know about any change or new information that is relevant from our point of view.’

Outside the top 10, Amundi and Henderson made significant progress in the rankings. Amundi moved up four places to 11th while Henderson climbed eight places to 16th. Reviewing qualitative comments from distributors highlights the strength and expertise of these two groups’ sales teams, as reflected in the following quotes from a Dutch discretionary manager and a Spanish advisory manager, respectively:

‘Henderson’s sales people are very accessible and pleasant to deal with and I especially like the abundance, transparency and quality of the information that they provide to us.’ ‘Amundi has a stable and experienced sales team that is, by now, well established in the Spanish market, with a good understanding of our particular business needs. We don’t have to explain things to Amundi’s sales people: they already know what we want. For us it’s important that a provider’s sales teams are stable: dealing with teams that are well known to us is obviously much better from our point of view than having to cope with frequent changes.’

The data considered in this article represent an aggregated pan-European view of distributors’ key sales and account management requirements. Of course, fund managers also need to consider local- market nuances and tailor their support accordingly. For example, German fund buyers attach greater importance to the quality of contact and visits than overall sales expertise, really valuing personalized opportunities to communicate. Meanwhile, in Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden, selectors place more emphasis on the ability of managers to proactively provide information. For a fund group to keep its distribution clients happy across the board is no mean feat, but the leading players show that it can be done.