Hanging Back From Prospect Calling?
Is prospecting your Achilles’ heel or your team’s? Are you or your people pretty good at closing business once you or they get in front of a customer? You are not alone; this is a common concern of many managers and quite frankly many sales people in our business.
Over the past year I’ve been listening to dozens and dozens of bankers talk about this issue and here’s what I’ve learned that may be helpful in diagnosing the problem of what keeps us from being more successful in prospecting:
Often we have misplaced ideas that we should be making a sale after just one call. It could happen, but most likely it won’t. Don’t set yourself or your staff up for failure by giving this idea credibility. Have specific goals for a first prospect call (for every call thereafter for that matter). The most productive goals for a first call are typically learning about the prospect and his/her needs and getting a second call. Prepare to meet someone who has an interesting life story. Learn about him/her! Solid discovery skills (asking good open-ended questions and listening to understand) and a process that’s designed to focus on the prospect are key.
Failure to Follow Up or Just Giving Up
Our workshop participants practice discovery skills in challenging role play situations and without fail one of their “aha” moments is that they realize that “in real life” they often give up to quickly. Their first call doesn’t result in a “warm cozy feeling,” the prospect seems disinterested so they don’t even attempt a second appointment. More often than not, they lead with a discussion of product and fail to spend quality time—any time—getting the prospect to talk about him/herself and things that are important to the prospect.
Failure to Make a Connection
This may surprise you! Stop searching for something you have in common with the prospect. Stop talking about yourself. Prospecting isn’t about you, it’s about the prospect, his/her interests, needs, concerns. Every minute you spend talking about yourself (or your organization) is a minute you are “stealing from the prospect”. Trust me, the prospect doesn’t care. If the prospect cares, they will ask. If they ask, give them a few morsels, and then turn it right back to them, their business, their family, and their interests. Ask questions and show genuine interest in things the prospect cares about. If you are calling at his/her home or place of business, look around. See what’s on the walls. Ask about the photos and or memorabilia that most people have in their personal space. What is that award plaque that’s hanging on the wall? Where was that family photo taken? Learn about the prospect’s story. Getting the prospect to talk about him/herself while you listen to understand, is what gives the prospect a warm feeling. That’s not all, while the prospect is busy talking he/she isn’t worried about “what you are trying to sell”. Good discovery doesn’t raise a prospect’s defenses; it helps them realize that there is not need to defend. You really do care and want to help them.
Talking About Products & Services Before You Fully Understand Derails Discovery
“But the prospect asked about (fill in the product-blank).” Yes, prospects may ask about a specific product or service but if you answer their question or worse yet provide a mini-seminar on (name the product) you’ve just derailed the process. Defer their question. Ask permission to provide this information once you’ve learned more about them and their needs. At the end of the first meeting you can address their questions, with as little information as possible because chances are you’ve not yet learned all you need to know before you can make a solid recommendation.
“Can” the Do Ya Approach to Learning About the Prospect
You’ve heard it before and we are saying it again: asking high-value, open-ended questions (who, what, when, where, why and tell me about) are the keys to good discovery. High-value questions are questions that get you the information you need to fully understand your prospect—the family situation, the full financial picture, the business, etc. But are you actually asking open-ended questions? More often than not we observe that closed-ended questions comprise the majority of questions being asked in discovery. Do ya have retirement savings? Do ya have a succession plan for your business? Do ya have a family? Do ya have life insurance? Do ya have a current will? Do ya have an accountant you work with? Questions asked in this way elicit only short answers, feel robotic and worse, make the prospect feel like you are just running down a checklist of items so you can “push” something on them.
Sales coaches- your time is well spent if you’re observing your sales people in calls and helping them perfect their questioning skills. Salespeople- don’t rely on your memory of the questioning approach you use. Ask your coach to observe you and give you feedback.
Listen, Listen, Listen
Listening is absolutely essential to a successful meeting. Ask an open-ended, high value question, sit back, shut-up and listen. Make good eye contact, use non-verbal listening behaviors (head nodding, smiling, etc). Don’t interrupt—ever! Rephrase or repeat things you are not sure you’ve understood. Ask for more detail, “Tell me more about that.” “What would that look like to you?” “Help me understand…” “How’s that working for you?” A buyer must believe that you have their best interest at heart before they will be willing to buy from you. Listening and learning about your prospect builds that belief.
Not Making Enough Prospecting Calls
The more calls you make, the better you get at prospecting. Planning time and making prospecting calls weekly is fundamental for success. Calculate the number of prospecting calls you need as part of your personal business plan. If you are or were a musician at some point in your life, you know that practicing scales is the foundation to being able to play music. Making prospecting call is fundamental to building your business. Need a formula to figure out how many prospecting calls you should be making? Call or email us, and we’ll gladly send you what you need.
If You Really Want to Get Better at Prospecting
Give some serious thought to analyzing your stumbling blocks. Get some helpful feedback from your sales coach about what they’ve observed in your calls. Get out and make calls. Set some short-term goals for practicing changed prospecting behaviors. Recognize your strengths and build up those areas where you are falling short.
Something to Think About
Isn’t it much easier to say we lost a sale because we couldn’t compete on rate? Sure it is. Consider the alternative. We know that people buy from people they know and trust. People buy with their hearts and rationalize the purchase with their brain. Trust is developed via an interpersonal relationship. It’s so much easier to say, “We couldn’t compete on rate” than to say, ” I failed to develop trust with the prospect” or maybe even worse: I lost the client because I failed to take care of the relationship.”
Is there someone in your book of business you’ve been neglecting? Surely there are things going on that you need to know about and can perhaps help with.
How to Intentionally Avoid Hiring the Best People or How to Sabotage Your Hiring Efforts
Staff Article by Frank Stratman, Director, Executive Recruiting, Pohl Consulting and Training, Inc.
Since the title of this piece adequately serves as an opening paragraph let’s dive right in.
1. Use too many filters: Filters or screens, such as education, experience, compensation and professional designations can be useful but remember they can also become the proverbial “double-edged sword.” Obviously the more filters used to screen out individuals will result in a smaller pool of potential candidates. Additionally, setting screens without flexibility or conveying a willingness to be flexible can lead to missing a great candidate.
A case in point: our firm undertook an engagement to locate a portfolio manager for the trust department of a well-known national bank. The formal job description read under the requirement section “An undergraduate degree in either accounting or finance.” We uncovered a candidate that fit the desired experience, was within the desired compensation range and had not only one but two of the desired professional designations being sought. The problem arose in the fact that this candidate had a degree in liberal arts and therefore, according to the human resources contact we were required to use as a coordinator, did not fit the job parameters and was reluctant to pass along the resume to the hiring manager. Now I suspect most of you reading this are saying to yourself (at least I hope so), “This is idiotic.” It may be, but this is a real situation. Thankfully for everyone involved we happened to know the hiring manager quite well and everything worked out. The bank got a quality candidate, the candidate found a great opportunity with a good organization and we got paid. But what if we had not known or had access to the hiring manager, what may have been the outcome?
I think that most readers will agree that in most situations, the longer one is in the workforce and doing a specific task, the less important a specific degree becomes. Remember, I said “in most situations.” It is easy for many of you to say that human resources should have used some common sense in this situation and I would be hard-pressed to argue, but to their defense they were comparing the job requirements to the candidate and it was not a match. I would argue that the person who wrote the job description was equally at fault for setting the screen too tight. The requirement could have just as easily read “An undergraduate degree is required” or “An undergraduate degree or equivalent work experience is required” or listed as a preference rather than a requirement. We can only wonder how many missed opportunities for both employers and candidates result from such situations.
This leads us to the second way to avoid hiring the best person for the position:
2. Succumb to the “first impression” bias. Study after study seems to validate that such a bias does, indeed, exist. Furthermore, this research acknowledges that many hiring managers make a hiring decision within 90 seconds – a mere one and a half minutes – after meeting a candidate. This is not to say that first impressions are not important in the hiring process but just be certain that it is not your preconceived biases that get in the way of making a good business decision. Be conscious of this effect and yourself. If you find yourself falling into this trap, press your reset button.
A term used in Japanese martial arts and a concept in Zen Buddhism comes to mind. The term is “shoshin” meaning “beginner’s mind” and refers to an attitude of openness and the lack of preconceptions when studying a subject. Open your mind, toss away those preconceived notions, and approach the situation with a new attitude. With this approach, you give not only the candidate a second chance but yourself as well.
3. Submit to the “Halo” or “Horns” effect: Closely akin to the “first impression” bias is the halo or horns effect. The term “halo effect” was first used by Edward Thorndike in his publication “A Constant Error in Psychological Ratings.” This was the first study to my knowledge that provided empirical evidence of this effect. The “halo effect” is when an individual observes an easily recognizable positive characteristic in a person and then has a positive disposition toward that individual’s negative or neutral traits. This works in both positive and negative directions with the negative direction referred to these days as the “horns” or “devil” effect. If your candidate is wearing a halo, take it off and take a better look. The same holds true if you see a set of horns.
4. Simply tally up those votes: One way organizations are trying to overcome the “first impression bias” and the “halo effect” is through either panel interviews or one-on-one interviews with several people. This also has some pitfalls. There are many hiring managers that simply tally up the yeah and nay votes of the interviewers with little in the way of discussion. Adding up a bunch of yes and no votes may get you a consensus candidate but will it get you the best candidate? Maybe. Maybe not. Far too frequently hiring managers accept a “no” vote without further justification. Recognize that a “no” vote carries no risk and is, therefore, a safe vote and easy vote. My advice: seek justification for every vote both positive and negative.
5. Foster a “Hire in our own image” philosophy: Now most of us like to hire people that tend to think like us. In today’s lingo this is referred to as “super-cloning.” Needless to say – but I’ll say it anyway – this will eventually lead to “group-think.” Creativity and innovation will be stifled when everyone in the group thinks the same way. In today’s highly competitive and rapidly changing world, creativity and innovation equate to survival. Take a chance; hire someone with differing views every now and then.
6. Definitely use compensation as a static screen: Set those compensation parameters and refuse to interview anyone whose salary is above the high end of your range. Forget that there are many different motivators other than money. A few years ago we were engaged in a search where the salary topped out at $100,000. We uncovered an exceptional candidate that was currently earning a base of $115,000. As it turned out in this situation, the candidate had two elderly parents (one of whom was quite ill) who lived in the town where the position was located. The candidate was single, easily re-locatable and clamoring to get to that area to help care for her parents. The deal came together for the $100,000. Don’t be too quick to cast aside a candidate based simply on their current compensation. It just may behoove you to pick up the phone and spend a few minutes with the prospective candidate to ascertain why they have an interest in your opportunity.
Will eliminating these pitfalls guarantee a great hire? Absolutely not but it will open the door and give you much greater odds to find that ideal candidate.
New Business Prospecting in the Retail Bank
Is prospecting for new business different if you are a retail bank employee? Yes, maybe, but not really. How’s that for a definitive answer? Let’s agree that like other areas of the bank you’ll have a certain portion of your new business that just walks in the door. This is the individual or the couple that walks in and says, “I need to open an account.” That’s where it starts. You kick into high gear, welcome the customer, ask some well-thought-out questions to determine the best type of account and make your pitch about how well the account you’ve identified meets the customer’s needs. In addition you’ve also identified a number of additional convenience services that fit the customer’s needs. The customer agrees and you wrap up the sale.
Time out! If this describes your process you are missing opportunities. Top performing organizations use the initial new account opening session to set the stage for an expectation of excellent proactive service. Explain to the customer that you’ll be following up at periodic intervals to ensure that the customer’s financial needs are being met. This goes way beyond the hackneyed questions asked in a new account follow-up call. “Did you get your checks?” (Like most people even need their checks anymore! Honey, have you seen our checkbook?) “Is the debit card working ok?” “How do you like our mobile banking app?” We are not suggesting that you don’t ask these questions, we are simply suggesting that if you did even a mediocre job of learning a little about your new customers you’ll be able to lead off in the call with questions such as, “Did you find the dog park we talked about when you were opening your account?” or “How’s your son Sammy doing in his new preschool?” Questions like these tell the customer that you really are aware of him/her as a unique individual. Follow this warm and friendly conversation with your “service check up.” Ask about the checks, the mobile banking app, the online banking and bill pay, etc. Make any service adjustments that are needed, answer questions and suggest an appointment to discuss any additional financial service needs that were touched upon in the new account opening but deferred for another day.
Mrs. Johnson, we talked briefly about your hopes for Sammy’s (your son’s) future education. While this is still a few years away, it only makes sense to use the time between now and then to build the financial resources to support your college dreams for him. When would you like to come in and talk more in depth about the many options we have for educational savings?
Mrs. Johnson, we briefly touched upon your wishes to move from renting to buying a home. Our bank is offering a seminar designed exclusively for first-time home buyers. Its designed to help those who are considering home ownership understand more about the process. One of my customers who attended last year’s seminar told me it was a very valuable experience. She learned about options she never knew existed. She said that our mortgage lenders explained everything clearly and simply. They were great about answering questions and really seemed to enjoy helping the participants learn about this major step in their lives. Shall we reserve a seat for you and Mr. Johnson at the next seminar?
Isn’t this prospecting at its finest? You identified an unmet need from a prior conversation and you follow up. Prospecting doesn’t have to be about making “cold calls.” It can be highly successful as an extension of providing excellent, proactive service.
This works great if you identified clues to unmet needs in a prior conversation, but what do you do if there were none? Use common financial service needs as a starting place. State your purpose in asking questions. “Mr. Brown, we at (state your organization’s name) take providing excellent service very seriously. We believe that excellent service means looking out for what you need and helping you meet your financial goals. In order to do this I’d like to ask you a few questions to help me understand your financial situation.” At this point you ask questions that help you understand what’s on the horizon in terms of major purchases, savings goals including retirement, education for self or others, debt issues, etc. Use your best open-ended questions. Listen and take notes. Need more information on these topics? Check out the Hanging Back from Prospecting article in this issue of Fill Ins.
Is there any reason you can’t take this approach in the new account opening meeting and in your follow-up calls? We recommend that you always set the stage for learning more about the customer’s “bigger financial picture” and his/her financial goals. Once you’ve satisfied the initial service need (in this case, the request to open a checking account), always introduce the idea of learning more about the customer’s financial “big picture.” Your questions will tie in to things you’ve already learned about the customer. “Mrs. Jones, tell me about your family’s financial goals because understanding your financial goals will help me do a better job of serving you. What are your plans for retirement saving? What about higher education for your children?”
In every interaction you have with a customer you have the opportunity to earn more business. What are your new account opening strengths? Are you missing opportunities?
Bankers: Don’t Let Google & Technology Replace You
Guest Article by Susan Bell, Co-founder and Director of Bank Success at Vertical IQ
Hey bankers…I hate to have to break this to you, but the internet is taking your place.
In the February 11 edition of the Barlow Research Associates’ Analyst’s Journal, Joel Mueller discusses a disconcerting stat from their first quarter 2015 Pulse data: while 75% of small businesses solicited advice about various business activities in the previous 12 months, more owners used Google than a banker when seeking that advice. So in short, businesses with under $10 million in sales would rather consult with the internet than with you. No offense.
Now, Joel goes on to say that the number-one topic that these small businesses were researching was technology–not exactly in most bankers’ primary wheelhouse–but they were also interested in topics like marketing, sales, financial management, and strategy.
And here’s another troubling fact: technology is making the small business loan application and approval process easier and easier. Non-traditional banking competitors such as OnDeck and American Express have lower cost structures and are lending billions to small businesses. And new types of banks such as LiveOak Bank, which caters specifically to industries, are springing up too.
So why should traditional banks continue to pay for your salary (sometimes north of $100,000 plus overhead) instead of eliminating your job and putting everything online? It’s a really important question to ask yourself. Bankers need to make themselves increasingly relevant in order to keep their value. Here is a start…
4 things Google and non-traditional competitors can’t do…but a banker can
No matter how good a search engine or website is, there are some things they will never be able to do as well as you. A human banker can:
1. Offer advice, assistance, and ideas about how to improve a small business’s cash flow by reengineering its financial operations.
2. Gain expertise by becoming an industry specialist, meeting with lots of businesses in that field, and applying that knowledge to similar niche clients.
3. Instead of simply offering answers (à la Google), ask small business clients thought-provoking questions that can help their business succeed. Such as, “Other engineering companies I meet with are buying upgraded computer equipment and software; are you considering that?”
4. Provide clients only trustworthy information that has been vetted by reliable sources. (Google can’t do that.)
The key is you must show your small business clients that you offer more value as an advisor to them and their company than does the internet.
Shift the conversation
As long as industries evolve and grow, the personal guidance of a knowledgeable banker will never be obsolete. But you have to put in the research time to gain that expertise and keep up-to-date as the industry changes.
Vertical IQ, an online industry call prep tool designed exclusively for bankers, can assist you as you strive to best the internet as a source of trusted advice for your small business clients. We offer the industry knowledge you need to ask the right questions and convey to your client that you understand their business needs, their challenges, and their opportunities. And unlike the web, all of the information you find on Vertical IQ has been vetted by a team of researchers who not only have MBAs but also have expertise in the industries about which they are writing.
Get to the Point During Meetings
There’s one way many bankers could be a bit more like a search engine: don’t waste a small business owner’s time with small talk…get right to the point the way Google does (best search results at the top of the page). Many modern business owners don’t want to spend time shooting the breeze about topics unrelated to their industry. Vertical IQ can assist with this too by offering timely, industry-specific news articles and call prep questions to help you keep the conversation flowing. Do your research using Vertical IQ, and pretty soon, your clients will be calling you when they are looking for business advice! Learn more about how Vertical IQ can help you prepare for your client and prospect calls.
About Susan: Susan Bell is co-founder and director of bank success at Vertical IQ, an online industry call prep tool designed exclusively for bankers. Susan is responsible for managing customer relationships and developing new relationships. Check out her bio and more information at: www.verticaliq.com.
The Last Word
with LOYD POHL
It may not have been you!
In the last issue of Fill Ins, my “Last Word” article was about toxic employees. I clearly hit a nerve with the readers. I did indeed have a couple of client situations that triggered the article, but a lot more people thought it was about their organization. Here are some reactions (and my observations):
“We have a person like you described but for some reason management is reluctant to deal with that person.”
Maybe…maybe not. I know that it is frustrating but perhaps / maybe / hopefully management does have a plan to address this and is in the process of dealing with it. In such situations, the rest of the team probably isn’t and can’t be in the loop on the plan. I have been involved in such situations with client managers and there are often steps being taken that the “public” isn’t aware of. Pardon my optimism that this is the situation. Perhaps the situation is indeed being neglected – time will tell. If the situation is not improving (perhaps getting worse) go talk to your boss (1:1) about the situation.
“We have a person like that but he is a top producer, so management refuses to even acknowledge the problem.”
This is going to be a real problem for management in a very pragmatic and tangible budget-related way. It makes a difficult situation harder to address. It is our experience that management has such budgetary constraints that dealing with this top performer in a way that might cause them to leave just isn’t something most are comfortable dealing with. Management needs to confront the problem child in a strong but positive way – emphasizing the impact their behavior is having on their sales results. In these situations, the reality is usually that we try and try to de-toxify the person. In the end, we often lose them to another opportunity elsewhere – on their own accord. I am not making excuses – just acknowledging the budgetary importance of a top performer to most organizations.
“We have a person like that but unfortunately it is our boss. What do we do about that?”
Ouch. That is a tough one. Do they know the impact they are having on the team? Has anyone sat them down and shared with them the perceptions they are creating? Is the department or organization performing well financially? If all those questions are yes, then you probably should seek employment elsewhere because it isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
“I read that article and wondered if it was about me?”
Double Ouch. But good for you that you are asking. And “if you have to ask, the answer is probably yes.” Examine your behavior and the causes. What can you do to change your attitude and the way you interact with your teammates? If there’s nothing you can or are willing to do – go find a place you can be happy and fulfilled – soon!
Chief Executive Officer