Institutional Sales: Standing Out

I've grown to really appreciate the sales side of finance as opposed to the analytical side which I was interested in initially. I was curious within AM, when you're pitching to  corporations/pension funds/institutional investors, how did you really stand out early on in your career as a young guy without a grey hair?

I feel the one thing that intimidates me isn't the EQ or social component but rather getting your start as a young guy. Would love to hear your personal anecdotes/stories. 

Comments (8)

Jul 7, 2021 - 2:53pm

You'll likely be part of client facing service team that is involved in a nice blend of technical and client relationship items. Institutional clients will want to see a lot of  ongoing comparative analysis and results. They'll ask lots of questions and the team will have to do research and respond. Unlikely you'd be in a account management type role for quite some time (yrs), but when you're ready, you'll have had lots of reps at dealing with their issues and providing great service / relationship. Good way to get started. You don't need grey hair for that. You might want / need your CFA so you gain respect from the client's CIO.

Most Helpful
Jul 7, 2021 - 3:41pm

Preparation and self awareness. While I'm not full time Business Developer, I moonlighted as one for a little while. What I learned was to be twice as prepared (even if you didn't 'show' it) and figure out when to turn it on or turn it off depending on the situation. Even though they are 'institutions' - they are still people. Do your homework. Know as much as you reasonably can about them, take the time to understand what drives them - both at the organizational level but also the personal level. It's easy to forget that buyers are people at the end of the day especially when hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, are being discussed. 

An anecdote was when a board member was yelling about the economy in a meeting, rather than trying to answer myself - which would only beget more yelling at me this time - I brokered a conversation with our investment folks the next day, someone who I figured would resonate with him.. the more serious, analytical type. Similarly there were some events going on in the markets they wanted to learn more about - we put together some educational overview materials that I went through, then brought in an additional specialist to discuss further some follow up questions. This is all obvious stuff in most cases - but It's amazing to me how often we overlook how far those little things go. You build so much trust and credibility by being able to connect the dots, bring value and simply step aside - while still being an integral part of the process. 

To me, that's the key. Learn how to build relationships, understand or discover what their needs are, and build a presentation/offering that solves those challenges. It's largely about making them the focus, not your or your firm. Simple, obvious but obscenely hard to execute on when you are starting out as it takes a lot of persistence and, frankly, failure. 

  • Intern in AM - Equities
Jul 7, 2021 - 5:55pm

Thanks a ton, this is super helpful. I def plan on getting my CFA and will try my hand at a top MSF/MBA program seeing how important prestige is for IS type of roles. I come from a tiny liberal arts college that practically no one has heard of so I feel that may hurt as my career progresses.

Jul 8, 2021 - 9:47am

Don't get caught up in the prestige trap - might it make someone perk up when you say Harvard MBA + CFA? Sure - for about three seconds, then you show mediocre performance and you might as well have gone to Saskatchewan community college. 

Qualifications do matter and certainly signal to people - get your CFA, and if you can get an MBA paid for as well.. why not. But the reality is what you want to find is a mentor who can teach you to how to sell and work at a firm with something worthwhile to sell - the last part I simply CANNOT overstate enough. 

  • Analyst 1 in AM - Equities
Jul 7, 2021 - 3:44pm

Pedigree helps alot. People will feel much more at ease if they are being sold to from an ivy league grad than random state schooler. Which is why the very few people with a respected MBA brand that do IS tend to kill it (relevant for almost all sales industries too). 

The problem is, if you land an MBA program at a top school you will be tempted to go into other career paths, and may leave institutional sales alltogether. 

  • Intern in AM - Equities
Jul 7, 2021 - 3:54pm

Yeah good point. I go to an extreme non-target so a top MSF or MBA program is on my radar down the line. Just curious can you go into detail the exits out of a top MBA program with an AM background? The bank I'm at atm is a 3 year rotation; one in sales, port management and a specialized year after. So I'm def open to both ends.

Jul 7, 2021 - 10:38pm

Institutional Sales is 80-90% EQ/Personality and 10-20% technical knowledge. Don't overthink the age thing. Try and score a Business Development Analyst/Client Service Analyst role under a Salesperson(s) that knows what they're doing and pay attention - it's very much a learn on the job type role, particularly because it's relationship dependent. 

Spend 5-7 years working under a few good salespeople and, assuming you have the interpersonal piece in check, you'll do just fine. Bonus points if you have a technical understanding of investment management / products (Salespeople that can spin a narrative and actually articulate why PMs / the product is doing what it's doing are worth their weight in gold). 

Also, start networking now. Junior Analysts that your sinking beers with today could very well be the allocators that you're pitching to in 10 years time.

I started in a junior sales role several years ago and moved on to other things, but watched a lot of other people tread that path that I used to work with. Happy to chat if you want to PM me. 

Jul 8, 2021 - 10:10pm

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