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The right stuff: what it takes to be successful in sales.

In the heyday of the '60s, Canada's mutual funds industry earned itself a black eye when many companies fielded a horde of ill-trained sales people. Like locusts, they preyed on the naive by their tactics of overselling. The excesses of that era, particularly those of Bernie Cornfeld's infamous IOS Company, tarnished the image of selling and gave mutual funds a bad name for many years.

There is only one company that survived that unhappy period with heightened credibility: Winnipeg-based Investors Group Inc. Its survival is because it alone among direct sellers of mutual funds put its sales representatives through a rigorous training regime, and closely supervised each individual's sales activity.

This thorough and disciplined approach has resulted in Investors' becoming a spectacular success story, and a Mecca for men and women who want to be professional sellers of financial products and services. Its 2,500 sales representatives achieved coast-to-coast sales totalling $3.5 billion in 1992, an increase of 28.5 per cent over the prior year. The salesforce itself increased from 1,941 at the 1991 year-end to 2,491 at the end of 1992 -- a 25 per cent increase.

Investors has continued to recruit at a brisk pace in 1993, reports Glen Torgerson, senior vice-president of marketing. At time of writing, the salesforce had reached 2,840 and he expects the total will reach 3,000 by year's end.

While big segments of corporate Canada are downsizing and reporting lacklustre results, Investors is setting new records.

Says Torgerson, "Naturally, there's a direct correlation between the number of sales representatives we have and the sales volume achieved." The challenge is to attract and retain high-quality men and women for our salesforce. "This has become increasingly easy over the past few years. We've developed a reputation for being very selective, because we want our people to make a long-term career with us. And our training program is the best in the business. This is the real clincher, as recruits know that they will get thorough grounding in our products and services, and that their human relations skills will improve through coaching and encouragement." Also, a representative's income prospects are excellent, although the first two years are usually tough ones. Last year, the average income of Investors' representatives topped $52,000. The incomes of the field sales managers and the elite Executive and Corporate Division representatives are in six figures. Don Courcelles, the company's director of career development, confirms that Investors' multi-stage training process is a key attraction for would-be recruits. They also want to be associated with a stable, successful company. "But it's the training program we offer which is the most persuasive factor," Courcelles says. "What really impresses recruits is that after their initial training in the field by the managers who hire them, in due course everybody comes to Winnipeg for two one-week training seminars to further develop their knowledge and skills. This exposes them to head office people, and they gain a strong sense of belonging."

Jennifer Kavanagh, assistant manager of career development, says the 1993 total of training "schools" will be 33 -- of which 28 are in English and five in French, with a total of 730 participants.

The company spends well over $1 million a year on its training and educational programs.

Glen Torgerson says this investment "is the best one the company can make. It gives our representatives a real sense of confidence, and this is reflected in the way they sell our products and services to the public."

Surprisingly, only a minority of each year's recruits have direct selling experience. "They come from all walks of life -- teachers, nurses, bankers, small business owners, existing Investors' clients," he says. A steadily increasing number of women are joining the company, and they now account for 16 per cent of the salesforce.

Torgerson says the initial selection process is an exhaustive one because the company doesn't like to terminate representatives.

There are the human qualities Investors looks for in its recruits:

Do you have the personality and communication skills to generate trust with a prospective client? Can you cope with rejections? Are you a self-starter who can work productively on your own? Are you psychologically suited to be in the direct selling business? Can you manage your time effectively? Do you have a genuine interest in helping others to be financially successful? Are you a hard worker? Do you have a healthy level of self-confidence? Do you dress to match your surroundings?

Do you have drive and ambition? Do you study on your own, so that you can pass government-required licensing tests, and the course leading to the Chartered Financial Planner designation? Are you active in your community in volunteer work? Do you accept the Management by Objectives (MBO) approach to setting your income goals and achieving them? Torgerson says that Investors requires all of its representatives to operate by the MBO system. At the beginning of each December, each representative has to set his or her production goal for the coming year, by dollar amount. "You know how much income you'll need to meet your living costs and other financial goals, personal and family," says Torgerson. "So, you have to set your production goal to achieve that level of commission income. Each representative's manager then goes over the MBO and discusses whether it's realistic, and how it is achievable."

These individual goal amounts are fed into a company-wide sales production target for the coming year. Torgerson says the pre-set target is always within a few million dollars of actual sales for that year -- even when the total is $3.5 billion. Strange but true.

Harry Mardon is a freelance writer and former business editor.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Manitoba Business Ltd.
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Title Annotation:Investors Group Inc.
Author:Mardon, Harry
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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