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Building End to End Relationships with Business Owners


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Business owners have two lives – business and personal. Both lives have multiple financial needs. Limiting your prospecting calls to business products only reduces the profitability, growth, and loyalty of your relationships with business owners.

“Many financial institutions have basically said to their Branch Managers, ‘We need small business loans, so go get me some,’” points out Buck Bierly, President of MZ Bierly Consulting, Inc. (Malvern, PA). “When you look at the data supported by people like Barlow Research, roughly 35-40% of small business owners borrow on a regular basis commercially. The other 60 to 65% of business owners do not borrow on a regular basis. If they borrow, it is typically through home equity lines or credit cards.”

By focusing on small business loans only, you’ve automatically narrowed the focus for conversations with business owners. You go into the meeting asking, “Do you borrow?” and if yes, “What kind of rates are you being charged? And would you like to lower that rate?”

Five Stupid Questions

“We have this expression…it’s called the five stupid questions, and this is what most inexperienced salespeople do in the banking world,” says Bierly. Those five stupid questions are:

1.  Where are you banking?

2.  What products are you using?

3.  How are they priced and structured?

4.  What are two things your current institution hasn’t done that you wish they had?

5.  Can I have a copy of your statements to put together an offer of how we’d handle your borrowing relationship or your banking relationship?

“In the end, all those questions are doing is a product-to-product comparison for a single product, perhaps. Or a product-to-product comparison for multiple products,” Bierly says. “All you’re doing is setting up a price and structure competition.”

Expand Your Focus

An end-to-end relationship with a business focuses on the moment that an invoice is generated to the moment a payment is made for something like college tuition. Savvy bankers recognize that money is circulated all the way through the business and all the way through the owner’s personal life.

“The business owner has a business life and a personal life. Combine those two together using a phrase like in the business owner’s life, which really means from the moment that business owner generates an invoice,” explains Bierly. The owner sends the invoice to a client who then processes it through the accounts payable area of that particular organization.

The money from the invoice circulates through the owner’s business….paying off credit cards, paying employees, going into an investment account, paying down a line of credit, etc. At some point in time, the owner takes money out of the business through salary and/or shareholder distributions. The business then begins a new process….the money starts circulating through the owner’s life.

“There’s a high percentage of people who own businesses that have jumbo mortgages and second homes. So if all you’re focusing on is the business, you’re missing opportunities,” Bierly says. “If you focus on the business owner’s personal life, you may find opportunities that wouldn’t be apparent in their business life.” He cites these examples:

  College tuition

  Buying a second home

  Refinancing a mortgage

  Private wealth management

  Consumer banking

“Don’t limit your sales activity to just business loans. Find out, ‘What does this business owner’s life require them to do at this point in time?’ Then focus on that. By doing so, each interaction with a business owner becomes more profitable and more effective because you’re focusing across a broader array of financial management processes and uncovering a broader array of financial needs,” says Bierly.

Consistent Calling Activity

Consistent calling activity means that you consistently get in front of specific types of relationships. Here’s how Bierly identifies these relationships:

  Retention relationships are the top ten percent of the business relationships in your branch. “The top ten percent would have to be stacked ranking based on some metric. For example, aggregate loan and deposit balances or revenue contributions. Most institutions can’t measure the latter, so we suggest they use aggregate loan and deposit balances,” says Bierly.

  Expansion relationships offer a lot of opportunity to expand the relationships. Let’s say it’s a professional practice that’s got $1.5 million in revenue. The business is using somewhere between 10 and 15 financial management products; that would include both the owner’s business life and personal life. So if you have somebody in your book of business who only has two product categories (6 DDA’s is commonly viewed as one product category) with your institution, you can pretty much guarantee that they’re buying another 8 to 13 product categories from someone else.

  Acquisition relationships are the targeted businesses you’re trying to go after. “We [MZ Bierly Consulting] don’t call them prospects in our process,” Bierly says. “These are people that you and your bosses have agreed on would be good brand builders for your branch. They also match a credit profile and a profitability profile that your branch has defined.”

A Different Client Conversation

With a different client conversation you get deeper into what’s changing in the business. Instead of focusing strictly on financial issues, you focus on the business owner. If you’re calling on a business under $3.5 million dollars, MZ Bierly Consulting always recommends taking an owner focus. Instead of focusing on financial issues at the business management level, focus on how you can help the owner optimize some of your solutions for where the business is going, not where it’s been.

Have a conversation about…

  Where do you want your business to go over the next one, two, three years?

  How is that likely to change your day-to-day business operations?

  How are those operational changes likely to change your financial management processes?

EXAMPLE: Let’s take a look at some of the products you’re buying from my competitor. At XYZ Bank you bought some of those products three or four years ago. Are they still working as effectively for you as they did when you bought them? And as you look down the road over the next year, two years, three years, do you see how that effectiveness could potentially change based on our conversation?

Change is the common thread in having a different client conversation. Whether it’s change in the business itself or the owner’s life, successful salespeople identify and address emerging financial needs. Having the skill to look ahead is key to developing relationships with business owners.

“Stop selling products, sell to change,” emphasizes Bierly. “What’s changing in the business owner’s life? Look at the end-to-end relationship. And whatever is changing is what you sell to, because that creates more momentum to change the banking relationship than selling a single product does or campaigns or blitzes do.”

The Quality Factor

“You can make more calls on businesses talking to the business manager about financial issues…and you keep making more and more calls at that level, but it always leads you to the same thing. You end up with a product focus and selling one or two products at a time, if you’re lucky,” Bierly continues. “Changing the conversation and staying focused on what we call key relationships [includes your retention, expansion, and acquisition relationships] results in more opportunities with fewer calls because the calls are better focused, better planned and you’re spending more time understanding the business owner’s total life rather than just one element of their business.”

Honing your relationship development skills isn’t just changing the activity; it’s changing the quality of the activity by…

  Changing the quality of the clients and prospects you’re calling on

  Improving your conversations with business customers

Examples are focusing on your key relationships and being better prepared. “In the end, you change that client conversation because you are better prepared,” Bierly says. “You’ll find more opportunities faster to get into a relationship and create more momentum in moving those relationships from whatever institutions currently are fulfilling them.”

This article by Lana Chandler was originally published in the "Branch Manager Letter" in October 2014.

New Webinar: Is Cross-selling the Secret Sauce?


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Bankers know that cross-selling can lead to increased customer loyalty, higher revenues and improved profitability. But for most business and commercial bankers this knowledge hasn’t translated into significant results.

In a live complimentary webinar on Monday, November 3, special guest Charles Wendel, President of Financial Institutions Consulting, and Buck Bierly examine why most banks struggle with cross-selling and review specific things that bank sales leaders can do to create a more effective approach to expanding relationships with business customers. Among the topics they will discuss are:

  • Product knowledge

  • Account planning

  • How to break down silos

  • Improving teamwork

  • Metrics and compensation

If you would like to register for the live webinar on Monday November 3 at 11 AM Eastern just click on http://mzbierlyconsulting.webex.comSpace is limited to the first 100 participants.  (If you can't make the live session, register anyway and we'll send you a link to the recording.)

If you have any questions call 610-296-4771 or email

Other Upcoming Webinars:

October 27 Q&A on Prospecting

November 24 What Small Business Bankers Can Learn from Moneyball with Ted Triplett

Go to to register.

Bank Sales Managers Need Coaching Too (Podcast)


I had dinner recently with the head of corporate banking for a regional bank. He was concerned that several of his new sales managers weren't getting the job done. As we talked, it became clear that the challenges they face are the ones that impact all sales team leaders.

To hear six challenges they face, click on the link below.

Sales Managers Need Coaching Too


coaching sales leaders

Our next 3 live webinars are complimentary:

* “Q&A on Prospecting” with Buck Bierly on October 27, 2014

* "Is Cross-selling the Secret Sauce?" with Charles Wendel on November 3, 2014

* "What Small Business Bankers Can Learn from Moneyball" with Ted Triplett on November 24, 2014.

All webinars begin at 11 AM Eastern. To sign up go to or call Susan Lersch at 610-296-4771. Space is limited to the first 100 participants. (If you can't make the live webinar, register now and we'll send you the link to the recorded versions.)

What Makes a Good Prospect List? (Video)


prospecting for bankers

In a recent poll we asked bank Sales Managers what percentage of their relationship managers had good prospect lists. Many Sales Managers were unsure.  In this brief video Ned Miller examines the key components of putting together a prospect list. 

To view the video, click on the link below.


Our next 3 live webinars are complimentary:

* “Q&A on Prospecting” with Buck Bierly on October 27, 2014

* "Is Cross-selling the Secret Sauce?" with Charles Wendel on November 3, 2014

* "What Small Business Bankers Can Learn from Moneyball" with Ted Triplett on November 24, 2014.

All webinars begin at 11 AM Eastern. To sign up go to or call Susan Lersch at 610-296-4771. Space is limited to the first 100 participants. (If you can't make the live webinar, register now and we'll send you the link to the recorded versions.)


Are Your Bank Board Members Bringing in New Business?

bank sales

Several years ago search firm Heidrick & Struggles and the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California conducted a survey of directors and CEOs at over 600 of the largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. In perhaps another example of the Lake Wobegon effect (“where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”) 95% of the directors rated themselves and their boards as effective or very effective. The CEOs surveyed did not share this inflated view of their board members: only 20% of them rated their directors as effective.

I’m not sure what responses a current survey of the effectiveness of bank boards would get today. But if the test was on only one aspect of their increasingly complicated job-- their contribution to the bank’s business development efforts-- many board members would flunk. Why do bank boards of directors struggle bringing in new business?

There are a number of possible explanations.  Some board members may never have been asked to get involved in business development. The CEO may want board members to contribute to the effort but not get too concerned if individuals don’t. (One banker I know likens this to the approach of not-for-profits regarding fundraising.  That task is one that every board member is expected to shoulder, but at the end of the day many don’t do much to bring in new donors.) 

Over the last decade, new business didn't get much attention at board meetings.  Compliance issues, asset quality and other more pressing topics took precedence on board agendas. And even when it did merit time, the focus was  more about what bank management was doing to grow the bank, not on the contribution of the board members themselves. (This would not apply to the advisory boards that some banks have established to generate leads.  That is their sole mission, one which most directors take seriously. They want to be involved and are disappointed when they feel they’re being underutilized.)

It’s clear from our work with regional and community banks over the last 20 years that for board members to be successful at this task, they need direction and guidance from Executive Management.  It usually starts with the CEO’s commitment to engaging board members and holding them accountable. As one senior manager put it, “If the CEO doesn’t makes it a priority and hold them accountable, it won’t be effective. “

Others in the bank’s Executive ranks can drive the routines that will make a director business development initiative a success. But while CEOs can delegate this task, they still need to stay on top of what’s happening.

Here are some of the critical elements in an effective plan:

1.Directors need to be clear what types of business the bank is seeking:  While some directors are familiar with the bank’s sales strategy, some are fuzzy about which business opportunities different lines of business are pursuing.  Involving them early on in developing the annual sales plan provides an excellent opportunity to review the bank’s target markets, top clients and prospects, competitive strengths and weaknesses, and relationship-building strategies with prominent CPA and Law Firms.  As one banker remarked recently, “It's important to make sure that they understand what you are looking for or you’ll get junk.”

    2. Board members need to know how they can assist: If they are unsure of what specific things they can do, board members will probably do nothing.  Some bankers are reluctant to ask for help, which only exacerbates the problem.Think about how they can assist you and your team. Do you need somebody with expertise in a particular industry? Are you interested in getting an introduction to a leader in the local business community? Would testimonials from board members open doors?

    3. Your directors need to get to know your front-line people: Whether you assign RMs to specific board members or encourage individual RMs to build relationships with a number of directors is usually the CEO’s call. But unless your directors know, like and trust the key players on your sales teams, it’s hard to imagine that you’ll get many referrals.

    4. Review progress at your board meetings:  Provide written reports and summaries for all to review. Have directors update others on their business development activities. Get people to commit to upcoming activities (e.g. arranging a lunch with a prospect, making phone calls to invite COIs to a bank-sponsored event, going on joint calls with bankers, etc.)

    5. Decide how best to reward board members who do a good job.  Not every bank opts for trips and prizes for referrals. Some find that board members get rewarded by learning more about the bank’s products and services, including its credit process. Other CEOs use special networking events as a way to energize and motivate their board members. Listen to one community banker:  “We have a small intimate cocktail hour once a quarter hosted by the directors and the commercial and private bankers. We schedule them for the time when people are heading home at the end of the day. It lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. We typically have a mix of about 20 customers and prospects. The purpose is to thank good customers and give prospects a chance to interact with our directors and bankers. The added benefit is that the customers typically espouse the virtues of doing business with us which further supports our client development effort. This is now a coveted invitation among business people and has been successful beyond our expectations. The directors love it!”

    Bottom line: If you want your board members to be successful, you need to make sure that they can identify which customers, prospects and COIs you’d like their help on and plan  with them on how they can assist you in executing the strategy.

    Comments? Add them below or email

    Complimentary webinar on October 27 with Buck Bierly: Q&A on Prospecting. Call Susan Lersch on 610-296-4771 to register or email her at


    Building Your Personal Brand (podcast)



    bank sales

    Many business customers today are demanding a higher level of professional expertise from their bankers. How do you become a more valuable resource for your best customers? Here are a few things to focus on.

    To download the mp3 or a transcript, click on the link below.

    Building Your Personal Brand (podcast)

    Next Live Webinar: Q&A on Prospecting with Buck Bierly on 10/27 at 11 AM Eastern. To register go to or call 610-296-4771 and ask for Susan Lersch. 

    7 Rituals for Bank Sales Leaders

    sales rituals for bankers

    Rituals are routines. At one level, a ritual pulls at you, as opposed to things which require discipline or conscious effort. Bank sales leaders have to design positive rituals to drive change.

    Without rituals, team members often lose focus and honest attempts to change behavior fizzle.  In the time we have at work, we need to make intelligent decisions about where to spend our energy. The urgent— phone calls, email messages, interruptions of all types—is always going to force bankers into reacting. But particularly when the will is there but the discipline isn’t, new rituals provide a framework in which breakthroughs often take place. Rituals enable us to structure our lives in the face of competing demands.

    The best sales rituals have certain common elements:

    • They are very specific: “You must turn in your weekly call planner with all the calls you have scheduled for next week by the close of business on Friday.”
    • They occur at a scheduled time: “Our weekly sales meetings are on Monday at 8:30 AM.”
    • They are widely accepted by all as critical to sales success and become in essence, non-negotiable: “We review our relationship plans on all of our Key Customers and Key Prospects with our Sales Managers twice a year.”

    To change a behavior—eating too many cookies after dinner, something which I can relate to—requires that we substitute another behavior—perhaps drinking a glass of water or eating a piece of fruit when the craving for chocolate chips strikes.

    What are some rituals that all Sales Managers should institute? Here are 7 to start with:

    1. Holding Monday morning sales meetings
    2. Reviewing your team’s pipeline and weekly call planner every Friday to prepare your key message for your weekly sales meeting
    3. Establishing quarterly reviews of Key Lists with each banker to review progress on developing relationships with top customers, prospects and COIs
    1. Scheduling 1 on 1 time every two weeks to coach each salesperson
    2. Riding with team members at least once each quarter to observe their calls
    3. Doing pre-call, post-call coaching with one team member each week
    4. Holding some form of educational session at least once a quarter for the entire team
    Changing habits is hard. Our capacity for self-control is limited. Over time rituals become a source of comfort to individuals, midwifing new behaviors that can become automatic and relatively painless.

    Planning your budget for 2015? Talk to us about your plans for refreshers, sales conferences, and leadership retreats. Call Ned Miller at 484-433-2378 or email him to set up a time to talk at

    Upcoming Live Webinars:

    Q&A on Prospecting on October 27 with Buck Bierly responding to questions from participants

    Is Cross-Selling the Secret Sauce? on November 3 with special guest Charles Wendel of Financial Institutions Consulting

    What Small Business Bankers Can Learn from Moneyball on November 24 with Ted Triplett of Insight Ecosystems

    All live webinars begin at 11 AM Eastern time. If you can’t make the live webinar, sign up for the recorded version. For more information and to register go to

    8 Reasons Why Branch Managers Should Call on Small Businesses

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    1. Many Branch Managers know their communities and can find opportunities.
    2. Feet on the street matter.
    3. Some Branch Managers are pretty good at this. Others can be too.
    4. They don’t need to become commercial lenders to call on small businesses. You want your Branch Managers to become “conversationally competent” discussing credit and other business products.
    5. This isn’t just about identifying business loans and deposits—you’re trying to find consumer loans (and deposits and investments, etc.)
    6. You can get a lot of traction by coaching your coaches; if your Branch Managers get consistently good feedback and guidance from their Sales Managers, big things can happen.
    7. Small business owners want to talk to bankers.
    8. With all the revenue challenges you’re facing, what do you have to lose?
    Looking for more ideas on how to engage your branch team in calling on businesses? Download a copy of a presentation on “Building Momentum with Small Businesses” by clicking here. You might also be interested in checking out our webinars on coaching branch managers. For more information email



    Are Quarterly Reviews Micromanagement? (Podcast)


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    Your team is behind budget. Pipelines aren't exactly where you think they should be. So what do you do? Regular quarterly reviews give Sales Managers a chance to determine what mid-course corrections are needed. They are another opportunity to drive home the important message that top-line revenue growth is critical to the bank's success.

    To download the full mp3 or a transcript of the recording, click on the link below.

    Are Quarterly Reviews Micromanagement?

    Managing Priorities: Feedback from Bank Sales Leaders

    sales manager feedback

    Last week’s article on Managing Priorities: Tips for Bankers  prompted several interesting comments from senior managers:

    Market President for a regional bank:

    “This should be directed at NEWER EMPLOYEES. If you are a veteran and still having these issues then no article or coaching is going to get you out of it. Time Management is a choice (it’s 100 choices a day). Either you run your calendar or it runs you – it’s just that simple.

    It’s become too easy for RMs to blame their inefficiency on others – too many requirements, tasks, reporting. Not enough hours in the day. I agree – for those who continue to run their businesses today the way they ran them 10 years ago, there is no way to keep up. They spurn checklists, ridicule time blocking and reject help from others (because no-one can do a good enough job).

    There are successful bankers out there – and they are not unicorns. Here is what they are:
    • They are creatures of routine and discipline (yeah, nothing sexy there).
    • They make 20-or so good calls a month. They plan for these calls and have action oriented follow-up with deadlines.
    • They delegate as much work as possible so that everyone can practice at the highest end of their license.
    • They routinely bring in partners and then let them do their work.
    • They block administrative times to days when customers prefer not to be met (oh, yeah, sometimes they work Saturdays or evenings).
    • They don’t overcommit (they say no when it doesn’t serve success).
    • They are not obsessed with being liked and being nice.
    • They invest in their industry knowledge.

    Frankly, they never spend any time reading time management articles, because they DO IT.

    Holy cow, Ned, some of these bankers have had a different version of the same complaint for 20+ years! If this sounds harsh, sorry – for some reason, I just would like to see people start doing more and talking less.”

    Community Bank CEO:

    “Sales folks are often weak in time management and administrative things, and sometimes are supported in this by sales managers because “they are revenue drivers.” It is accepted at many banks to just assume commercial lenders won’t adhere to deadlines for administrative items, will try to get out of group training that does not directly relate to lending, etc. We all have some degree of administrative tasks, email responding, etc. to deal with.”

    Head of Commercial Lending at a regional bank:

    “All great points and very useful. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in today. A few observations:

    • The 2 week tracking of an RM’s activities sounds like a great idea but its very time consuming and may be viewed as an exercise of time (something RMs don’t have).
    • If you’re running a meeting and have allocated one hour, stick to one hour whether the agenda has been completed or not.  You will get better participation and engagement if committee members know you are staying within a defined timeframe.
    • Consider working from home if you have a time sensitive task to complete…no disruptions (unless you can’t handle the home work environment).
    • RM use of AAs (Administrative Assistants) or LAs (Loan Assistants) is key to time management.  Challenge your AAs. I’ll bet they are both capable and willing to take on more responsibility."

    Head of Retail Banking at a community bank:

    1) Schedule time to perform certain tasks - This is the most critical and beneficial behavior for me so everything you say here is true. Aside from an actual appointment, people tend to only schedule operational tasks or busy work and do not schedule tasks that ultimately result in a sale (letter writing, phone calls, proposal writing, etc.). This is a biggie...

    2) I keep my email audio notifications off – so agreed and important.

    3) Conducting a time audit - Excellent idea, particularly when taking on new people, to help all (including the Sales Manager) become aware of exactly what they are spending their time on and how much of it, which leads to a discussion and plan on how to make changes. If you are not aware of what's broken you cannot / will not fix it so this is imperative.

    4) Shifting non-customer activities to others – There’s a fine line here between delegating true non-customer activities vs. not being there for existing clients, so I would caution folks to be careful here as you run the risk of being perceived by clients as ‘just a sales person’ vs. a relationship manager.”

    Comments? Feel free to send your thoughts by email to or put them in the space below.

    Live Webinar Alert: “Q&A on Prospecting” on September 15 at 11 AM Eastern, 10 AM Central, 9 AM Mountain, 8 AM Pacific. To register go to, email  or call 610-296-4771. If you can’t make the live webinar sign up for the recorded version.
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