Financial advisors who voted on this year’s Financial Advisor IQ Service Awards agree that an asset manager’s sales and relationship management team matters greatly to their business. Some 53% of advisors say this aspect is “very important” or “crucial” to their opinion of an asset manager.

But it’s not just about how wholesalers present a manager’s products.

While a small portion of advisors shun fund firms’ salespeople, most appreciate wholesalers for particular purposes. Past research by Ignites Research, the FA-IQ affiliate that oversees the Service Awards, has consistently shown that the average financial advisor relies on four to six trusted wholesalers with whom they meet throughout the year.

Advisors, though, don’t want to be “sold.” In fact, 66% of advisors say a consultative approach is very important or crucial characteristic in sales teams.

Many asset managers have been making changes in their approaches, adopting a truly team-based model, a departure from the old model, which centered around the external wholesaler. This shift empowers different parts of the distribution department to do more and be more proactive; typically, external wholesalers coordinate closely with internal wholesalers on the client service side so that advisors’ questions and requests get answered quickly.

“Relationship management” also includes key accounts teams, which hammer out operational issues with the advisors’ home office, as well as specialists who can more fully explain specific product structures or counsel advisors on building client portfolios. Advisors notice when these teams operate in sync.

While the move to teams has evolved over a number of years, the past year dramatically accelerated the change due to a rise in virtual meetings. Asset managers’ sales-and-relationship teams rely more than ever on the phone, video and websites — especially in tending to existing relationships. Many advisors plan to continue working from home at least part of the time, even after the pandemic, so virtual engagement is going to remain a large piece of the relationship between advisor and asset manager.

Advisors say providing quality customer support is, by a wide margin, the top action that salespeople and relationship managers can take to engender positive feelings toward the manager’s brand — in fact, 71% of awards voters cited support.

Offering qualitative information about the firm’s investment products, such as a fund’s philosophy behind investment decisions, ranked second (cited by 56% of advisors).

Just over half, or 51% of advisors say that articulating a distinct value proposition is important to understanding what an asset manager brings to the table. And 47% of advisors value sales teams that deliver useful market commentary and insights that they, in turn, can share with clients.

Advisors appreciate salespeople who can arrange access to portfolio managers, but only 39% say these actions will genuinely differentiate the asset manager — in part because the spread of video meetings has made PM calls more common. This is evidence that advisors and asset managers continually raise the bar for what’s considered “outstanding” in client service and sales.