Sandy Cleasby sums up what it takes to be a successful sales assistant with one word - communication.
"This is a communication business," she says. "We need to be able to listen to clients, verbalize their concerns, and convey these concerns effectively and accurately to the planner."
As a licensed sales assistant for Larry Carroll, president of Carroll Financial Associates in Charlotte, N.C., Cleasby has developed a knack for eliciting financial details. "She knows how to question even the most difficult prospects so that they tell her a great deal of financial information before meeting with me," Carroll says. He has a $250,000 minimum.
Cleasby gets prospects talking freely by asking about their current financial situation, whether they are in the accumulation stage, working with inherited money or nearing retirement. She encourages them to discuss their portfolio by asking where their assets are held and what type of investments they have.
"Once they start talking," Cleasby says, "they usually open up and get more specific about their investments." Whether it's the way Cleasby asks the questions or just how she conveys her interest in helping them, clients say she makes them feel comfortable.
"You always feel as if you are the most important thing on her agenda for that day," says client Averill Harkey, a partner with the law firm of Harkey Lambeth in Charlotte, N.C. "From a client's point of view, that's very reassuring."
Cleasby's ability to relate to clients is a strength she developed over 13 years. Hired by Merrill Lynch as a wire operator in 1987, Cleasby moved to Smith Barney in 1991 to become a sales assistant. She got her Series 7 license in 1992.
In 1994, she moved to Carroll Financial Associates. Carroll credits Cleasby with helping him advance from No. 22 in a field of 2,600 producers at Financial Network Investment Corp. to the No. 1 position in 1999. Carroll's practice generates more than $2.5 million in revenue.
"Sandy's consistent, top-quality approach to every aspect of the business has played a large role in this success," Carroll says.
So has her ability to work with the home office to keep clients happy. "Sandy takes a strong proactive approach whenever it involves solving client problems," says Colin Mackenzie, first vice president at Financial Network Investment Corp. in Torrance, Calif. "She's on the front line with us in the home office with any operational issues."
She takes a lead in technology, too. Cleasby serves on Carroll Financial's technology committee, a select group of five of its 19 people that meets monthly to brainstorm about how to better apply technology.
A self-described people person, Cleasby initiated an annual office-sponsored Christmas program to provide food and gifts to local families. In 1999, she participated in the Marine Corps-sponsored Toys for Tots program, delivering toys on her '99 Harley-Davidson 1200 Custom Sportster, which she often rides in her free time.
Reaching out and helping others are the high points of being a sales assistant, Cleasby says. "I like developing a rapport with clients, getting to know them on a personal level, and helping them by listening to their interests and concerns."