Embrace Competition

Surmon is a seasoned financial services executive, registered as a key individual with the Financial Services Board. He has more than 23 years of experience in the retail banking and insurance sectors.

William Surmon

Vital Stats

  • Name: William Surmon, 45
  • Designation: National head of sales and distribution
  • Company: Zurich Insurance Company South Africa
  • Sales Team: More than 100 sales staff across eight regions
  • Sales Offering: General insurance across commercial and personal lines

How would you characterise your sales leadership style?

Collaboration and team performance orientation. Team achievement is critical to sustainable delivery. I believe in ensuring that the team’s sales culture is driven by strong company and personal value systems.

Key performance metrics and dashboards are also critical to ensure effective management across the value chain; this removes as much subjectivity from performance management as possible. Results orientation and commercial understanding are also key factors.

Who is your greatest sales mentor?

Gavin Opperman, former CEO of Absa’s Retail Bank, stressed the importance of understanding the interdependency between the sales effort and the commercial model – how to make a profit from sales.

A second piece of advice was to run with an 80% plan and fix the remaining 20% in flight. Wait for the perfect plan and you’ll end up never executing or implementing new initiatives.

What is the worst advice you have ever received?

That was from a sales manager I worked for early on in my career. I was making a significant contribution to overall team performance and he advised me to tone it down as sales management would not be playing to my personal strengths.

This was to ensure that I remained in a sales consultant role and continued to deliver the results as normal. Leaders grow leaders and this was an extremely short-sighted people management strategy.

Grow your staff and ensure they see enough opportunity within the larger organisation to support their career ambitions.

What are the worst sales mistakes you have ever made?

Sales mistakes occur when you don’t take the time to understand the detail and do effective planning – walk the plan, quantify the numbers, understand the process flow.

This results in a mismatch between strategy formulation and the implementation of strategic initiatives. Early in my career, I would often have a great idea and go straight to execution without thinking it through properly.

This resulted in wasted time and effort, reworks and in some cases, a negative customer experience.

How do you ensure that you beat your competitors?

Being competitive is about understanding your commercial priorities and delivering above the industry performance norms as well as exceeding your previous best.

Competitors are a valued comparison. Thriving industries are the result of great competition. Competition drives innovation, customer orientation and fair value for all stakeholders.