Research salespeople constitute a vital link in the institutional investment process.

“The portfolio manager takes the decision to buy or to sell, the analysts offer the intellectual framework under which a stock should be bought or sold — and the salesperson has to be the filter to sort out the ‘right’ and useful information for the portfolio manager’s needs on a daily basis,” explains one participant in Institutional Investor’s 2012 All-Europe Research Team survey. (We keep confidential the identities of respondents and their firms to ensure their continuing cooperation.) Salespeople “offer the work of their analysts on a tailor-made basis, adding their specific views — which often gives an additional level of information.”

This portfolio manager doesn’t hesitate to declare Deutsche Bank home to Europe’s best equity research sales force — and he’s far from alone in his opinion. We asked participants in this year’s survey to tell us which firms excel in research sales, and Deutsche Bank captures the pole position in our inaugural All-Europe Sales Team. BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research takes second place, followed by J.P. Morgan Cazenove and then Morgan Stanley.

Nearly 1,500 buy-side analysts and money managers at approximately 650 firms that collectively manage some $5 trillion in European equity assets responded to our question about Europe’s top sales teams — that’s roughly 67 percent of the people who cast votes in the research survey, representing 85 percent of the participating buy-side institutions. For more information, see our methodology.

Money managers are enthusiastic in their praise for the German bank’s salespeople. “They completely focus on the needs of the client,” one Europe-based senior portfolio manager tells us, while another client observes that “the team offers numerous meetings with company managements, and the meetings are well organized. My salesperson is Jeremy Kilpatrick, and he is very good.”

Other salespeople singled out for special praise include Alexander Evans — “the best health care specialist salesperson on the Street”; Thomas Lindahl, who “is obviously very knowledgeable about the market and their research, but for me it is his personality that stands out — he is a genuine guy who truly cares for one’s needs”; Timothy Race, who does “a great job in large-capitalization pharmaceuticals”; and Torsten Slok, who with his colleagues in economics “are standouts.”

One survey participant expresses appreciation for the bank’s collaborative approach to research. “The Deutsche sales team is very responsive and very good at providing equity analysts like me access to broader resources in the firm: rates, credit and economics research. Both our general sales coverage — William Devlin, Jenifer Steinhardt and Kevin Hegarty — as well as the specialist salesperson, Rolf Zartner, are very good.”

Giving equity research clients access to analysts covering other asset classes is one way in which the firm has responded to changing customer needs, explains Richard Saunders, who oversees Deutsche Bank’s European equity research sales operations from his office in London.

“Macro has clearly usurped micro,” he says. “Thematic, long-term [research] has been very out of fashion, and intrasector long/short ideas have been very voguish. However, this is changing and will change as correlation breaks down and volatility declines.”

Saunders’ team is made up of 33 sector specialists and generalist salespeople working out of London, 25 more based in multiple locations across the Continent, and ten across the U.S. selling European research to North American investors. “Mark Murphy, who runs Deutsche Bank’s European equity research sales effort in New York, is a true standout who understands clients’ needs and delivers more access to European management teams than all of his competitors put together,” declares one respondent.

Collaboration is also key at BofA Merrill, according to Sean Capstick, who is in charge of the firm’s European equity research sales. The 60-strong squad works out of offices in Boston, Chicago, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo and Zurich.

“Given the macro environment around the euro zone in the last 12 months, our sales team has worked ever closer with our nonequity colleagues to deliver macro insights to clients — and then take the conclusions right down to the single-stock level,” notes Capstick, who is based in London. “We leverage our global platform to deliver ideas to clients where our research insights in the U.S. or Asia are relevant to Europe.”

Investors are impressed. “The sales team at BofA Merrill Lynch is very reactive and committed. They stay focused on their clients’ needs — which they know thoroughly,” observes one. “They filter the enormous amount of research their house produces and make sure you know what makes a difference — discriminating what is really news from what is pure maintenance. Regis Gonzalez in the Madrid office is the best expression of this commitment.”

Adds another buy-side loyalist: “We are very pleased — excellent service from the likes of Stephen Joseph on the midcap stocks, good access to management as well as some excellent-quality analysts across a very broad range of sectors.”

Survey participants also praise Jacques Joubert — “he understands our investment philosophy and offers services based on that, rather than pushing random stocks and ideas”; Andrew Crispin, David Prowse and Judith Shaw — “they all understand the importance of focusing on key drivers and don’t waste clients’ time”; Ghislaine O’Neill — “very skillful and knowledgeable, and provides quick responses to questions”; and Matthew Schibanoff — “he is highly responsive and is backed up by a very strong, proactive specialist sales effort.”

Accessibility and responsiveness are highly valued attributes, and portfolio managers say the salespeople at Morgan Stanley excel in this regard. “Whenever I have a question or request, they always get back to me right away,” says one survey participant; while another says the team “responds quickly, and often with out-of-the-box ideas — very helpful.”

Morgan Stanley’s European equity research sales operations are co-directed by Philip Griffith and Willem van Breugel, both of whom are based in London. Griffith is head of sales for clients in the U.K., which includes satellite offices of U.S.-based asset managers; there are 14 people on his team. Van Breugel’s troupe of 28 — five in London and 23 on the Continent — service European institutions and hedge funds. The team is supported by 12 salespeople in five offices in the U.S. — in Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco — under the direction of Nick Savone, who oversees U.S. sales of all Morgan Stanley equity research products.

“Client demands vary significantly, but most desire high-quality research advice that provides new insights into company and industry dynamics,” Griffith says. “Increasingly, people want to understand how businesses are connected globally, which plays into our deep and broad industry coverage across the Americas, Europe, [the emerging markets of Europe, the Middle East and Africa], and Asia.”

Van Breugel notes that investor expectations are changing. “We have seen two new trends gather real pace over the past year: the need for differentiated corporate access and the ability to systematically capture sales ‘best ideas.’”

Apparently, the firm is delivering on both. “The best team is the Morgan Stanley team — in particular James Crouch in the San Francisco office,” declares one buy-side ally.