Sales: What Is It?

Patrick Curtis

Reviewed by

Patrick Curtis WSO Editorial Board

Expertise: Investment Banking | Private Equity

Sales is the division within an investment bank which partners with trading to provide services to clients. This division is often packaged with trading and labeled "Sales and Trading (S&T)". While this position is often overlooked, it is one of the most important parts of a bank because if a bank cannot sell its services to a client, then it will not be able to do business. People in this role will often interact with their clients on a daily basis and make sure their orders get processed (with the help of traders) and to present new investment opportunities to clients. They are also responsible for building strong relationships with their clients as well as understanding their specific needs and requirements. 

  • Commodities
  • Credit
  • Emerging Markets
  • Equities
  • Fixed Income

This slide by Brian Sudweeks does a great job of breaking down the banking structure:

investment_bank-careers_banking-structure

Typically the clientele of those working in S&T are institutional investors. An institutional investor is a corporation that pools money and invests that money on behalf of others. Some examples of one are:

  • Hedge Funds
  • Asset Managers
  • Pensions
  • Mutual Funds

Skills Needed in S&T

Here's an overview of the skills needed in this field:

  • Strong interpersonal abilities
  • Expertise and solid technical knowledge in the services you're selling
  • Reliability and consistency

Working in S&T requires that you have very strong interpersonal skills. It also requires being able to interact well with your clientele so that they will trust what you are advising them on and will want to put their orders through you, rather than through any other salesperson. However, do not believe that simply having strong social skills is enough to succeed in this field, your clients will expect that already. Instead you should also focus on having expertise on the services you're selling and the technical knowledge to back it up. Furthermore, if your client believes that you are reliable and consistent with their needs, they will be more likely to continue giving you their business. Ultimately, your end goal in sales is to convince outside investors that your firm's services and traders are perfect for their specific needs. The skills listed above will help you achieve that goal.

Day in the Life in the Sales Division

While your work hours do mainly revolve around the hours of the market, you will be expected to be up to date on trends and events happening in the market. This means reading and/or watching financial news sources whenever possible. Your day to day will also be filled with more client interaction and relationship building than in other roles. You may also be tasked with coordinating the client's specific needs with traders, analysts, and other departments inside your firm. For a more detailed breakdown of a day to day in this field, reference this article.

While not reflective of every single position, here's the day in the life of a rates derivatives sales WSO user:

  • 7:20 A.M. In the office
  • 7:30 A.M. Morning Meeting
  • 8 A.M. - 4 P.M. get trades printed and earn sales credits. You remember client trades and where they are at. 
    • Ask the question of:
      • 'Would they (Client) be keen to get out of this at this price?'.
      • 'Would they be keen to buy this product?
    • Sales help the traders get out of positions also by picking up the phone and answering the questions above.
  • 4:30 P.M. - 5:30 P.M. Reply to emails, do admin and write a few market pieces. Pushing firm's trade ideas or even their own.
    • Not everyday but most days a salesperson would be meeting clients, maybe 3 meetings a day formal tie/blazer style or some days just a quick morning coffee. Taking traders to these meetings also adds value.

For a more comprehensive breakdown visit the full forum.

Downsides to a S&T Role

It can be easy to be caught up in the glitz and glamor of the wine and dine with clients. However, like many things in life, there is a downside to all the upside. Here's a brief overview of some of the potential downsides from the perspective of one of our users. For a full breakdown visit this forum.

  • It's not a particularly stimulating role. You're not taking risk or investing (which is why most of us got into finance). You will soon realize that those 'pitches' to clients are all for naught, as they typically know more than you, or at least they think they do. So your day to day role eventually gets limited to:
    • Small talk or IB's with clients
    • Rehashing whatever 'idea' your traders may have.  
  • The night life gets tiring. Don't get me wrong, going out for a nice dinner/drinks, sporting events is certainly fun, but the novelty wears off soon. Also keep in mind that there is a huge difference between taking a date to Nobu, or going to a Football game with your buddies, vs. taking a client. Shave off at least 50% off the fun meter.
  • Hard to prove value-add. A trader has a bit of an easier time pointing to how much money they earned for the desk. Sales people? Not so much. How much of your sales credits were driven by your relationship, or simply because of the bank's brand name?
  • Status. On the trading floor, the traders are considered the gatekeepers/kings of the jungles.  The analysts were the sharp, introverted guys. The sales people were perceived as slick and/or smarmy.  It sounds like a stupid stereotype, but you will quickly see how much weight an analyst or trader's ideas has compared to a salesperson. 

Sales vs. Investment Banking

Some similarities between working in the sales division and working in the investment banking division are that in both roles your position is acting as a mediator or a middleman. In the case of investment banking you may be working on a deal between two companies or helping them raise debt/equity. In S&T, your role is to help the client find the best price for the services they require.

While you need strong technical knowledge and social skills to be successful in both, there are some nuances between working in the investment banking division and working in the S&T division. In investment banking, they favor people that can work longer hours and still have extreme attention to detail. In S&T, while the hours are not as intense as in investment banking, they do require having quick reactions and the ability to rapidly match their clients needs with the correct product from their firm.

The Future and Exit Opportunities From S&T

The rise in automation and technology has certainly impacted the S&T division. While building relationships with clients will continue to be a human centric task, this rise in technology and automation has allowed many clients the ability to achieve most of their needs through this automation. Due to this, the ability to understand computer science and technology is increasing in demand for these roles.

Due to the specific nature of working in this field, your exit opportunities are not as diverse compared to the traditional exit from investment banking. Your exits will mainly consist of other selling positions in other companies. The skills gained from a S&T position will set you up best for continuing to do sales. On the other hand, the broader skills gained from doing a more traditional investment banking position will grant you greater flexibility in the finance job market.

FAQs on the Future in Sales

Is S&T dying as much as everyone says?

  • It's dying for sure- the general trend is toward more automation not just front office, but MO [link to Middle office] and BO [link to Back Office] stuff as well- you'd be shocked at how many mundane, simple tasks still require humans to do, meaning there is a lot of room for automation and therefore headcount reduction. This trend is quite hard to stop due to the ongoing cost cutting that all banks are undergoing. There will still be a need for humans, but most of the people on the trading floor will be quantity or at least people who can program well.

How will Covid-19 impact S&T?

  • If anything, the crisis has proven that even with less headcount, trading desks can generate just as much revenue if not more than in previous years (given the bump in S&T PnLs due to market volatility). Also, most banks have 70-80% of traders/sales being able to WFH, which has shown that the industry isn't tied to the trading floor (i.e. all that investment/maintenance cost in fancy computers, hoots, infrastructure etc) isn't essential to generate PnL when traders are still getting by fine trading from home.

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Patrick Curtis is a member of WSO Editorial Board which helps ensure the accuracy of content across top articles on Wall Street Oasis. He has experience in investment banking at Rothschild and private equity at Tailwind Capital along with an MBA from the Wharton School of Business. He is also the founder and current CEO of Wall Street Oasis This content was originally created by member WallStreetOasis.com and has evolved with the help of our mentors.