The Demise of the Sales Assistant

The Demise of the Sales Assistant

Whether you’re at a major firm or you’re an RIA, it’s ultimately a financial advisor’s responsibility to invest in the infrastructure necessary to service today’s affluent clientele

Chicago:  “How do the top financial advisors you’ve worked with use their sales assistants?” asked Jon, then added with a smirk “They probably have all the help they need.”  Without realizing it, Jon had opened up a can of worms.

On one hand, he’s absolutely correct in thinking that elite advisors have all the support personnel they need.  On the other hand, he’s totally off-base in assuming that elite financial advisors have sales assistants.  Elite advisors have abandoned that role long ago.  And not just by changing the label to client associate, client relationship manager, or some other more progressive title -- but by actually transforming the role into one of a true knowledge worker. 

When affluent clients call their advisor, they are still apt to hear the phrase “He’s in a sales meeting.” or “She’s not available, do you want to speak with her sales assistant?” 


Elite Advisors have Transformed the Role

I know, old habits are hard to break.  But changing the label without changing the roles isn’t fooling anyone – especially today’s affluent.  As I spelled this out to Jon, it was obvious by his expression that he thought I was splitting hairs; sales assistant – client associate?  What’s the big deal about a title? 

Well, as I explained to Jon, apparently it’s a big deal for an elite team leader (one of our coaches just shared this story with me) who has assigned 300 client relationships, representing nearly $2 million in production, to be managed by three team members.  Many would refer to these former support personnel as sales assistants, but for this elite advisor they are relationship managers managing 60 to 100 clients each.


Meet the Relationship Manager

Here is an elite advisor transforming the role of these sales assistants of yesterday’s world, into a role of handling client review meetings, making telephone contact, solving client problems – basically doing everything necessary to manage the relationship but “sales.”  What’s happened?  These second tier clients are getting better service because three support personnel have been empowered to personally manage the relationship.  In turn, this has frees-up the three financial advisors (team leader, two juniors) to have the time to spend time with their top clients (150) that represent close to $5 million in production.  Now each is actively engaged in relationship marketing – acquiring new clients by penetrating the spheres-of-influence of their affluent clients.

That’s all well and good for a $7 million dollar team, but what about the typical financial advisor who doesn’t have enough support to help with basic service and administrative issues? 

Invest in Your Business

Whether you’re at a major firm or you’re an RIA, it’s ultimately a financial advisor’s responsibility to invest in the infrastructure necessary to service today’s affluent clientele, which includes personnel.  What many advisors forget is that every elite advisor was once a small producer.  Yet every elite advisor I’ve known hired additional support before they could afford it and or before their firm provided it.  These financial advisors invested in their business.

I recognize this tends to be a sore subject.  Your firm wants you to market to the affluent, they invest in your technology, but largely leave you on your own when it comes to support personnel.  This is nothing new.  But how today’s elite advisors are using their support personnel is new.  We’ve seen former sales assistants who are now CFPs, we’ve seen others who’ve become the business/practice manager for the team, others are responsible for handling social media.


Action Steps 

Here’s an action step to consider.  Think about the next hiring move your team should make.  Perhaps this is a role you previously thought would happen in 5 years time.  What if you were to make that investment today? We all have limited resources, but think about other investments you could make before you buy a new car, house, or seminar campaign.  Scary?  You bet.  The following questions can serve as a measuring stick to gauge whether or not this initiative is a success:

  • Are you able to spend more time with your top clients?
  • Will the increased time spent with clients equate to more introduction/referral flow?
  • Will your bottom tier clients get better service?
  • Is your practice running more proactively and with less stress? 


While much continues to be written about the threat of Robo Advisors, they’re no threat to financial advisors who invest in their business in order to continually enhance the client experience. Sales assistants are long gone, now it’s all about financial advisors being able to consistently quantify, demonstrate, and communicate their value. 


Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent Clients.

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