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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 nmiller@mzbierlyconsulting.com.

    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 susan.lersch@mzbierlyconsulting.com.

     

    A Checklist for Evaluating a Prospect: 20 Questions for Bankers

      
      
      

    prospecting for bankers

    Are you broadly conversant in the prospect's industry (market changes, major players, regulatory issues, etc.)?

    Does the prospect value long-term relationships for their financial needs?

    Does the prospect fit the target profile for the services you are recommending?

    Do you have a relationship with any of the prospect's centers of influence?

    Do the decision makers know your story and the bank’s story ?

    Has this prospect had a successful experience with the bank?

    Does the prospect appear to meet our credit and cash flow requirements?

    Do you know what drives the prospect's financing needs?

    Do you know what is preventing the prospect from achieving their long- and short-term business objectives?

    Is there a compelling event that will drive the timing of the buying decisions?

    Does the prospect have a relationship with anybody at this bank (previous or current employee)?

    Have you identified a value-added service for this prospect above and beyond the immediate opportunity?

    Have you identified the ultimate decision maker/buyer?

    Is the prospect dissatisfied with the financial services other institutions provide?

    Do the decision makers share private information with you or seek advice on their strategy?

    Can you articulate to the prospect what differentiates us from our competitors?

    Have you customized your sales approach to the decision maker type [e.g., relationship shopper vs. price shopper, driver vs. analytical, etc.]?

    Does the decision maker understand your strategy to add value to their business with the proposed solution?

    Do the prospect's priorities (e.g., price, structure, flexibility) align with our proposed solution?

    Have you introduced a senior bank manager/decision maker to the prospect?

     If you found this checklist helpful, share it with your colleagues.

    Next live webinar: “Q&A on Prospecting” with Buck Bierly on August 4, 2014 at 11 AM Eastern. Summer special rate of $99. To sign up go to http://mzbierlyconsulting.webex.com or call Susan Lersch at 610-296-4771.

    Interested in a series of fast-paced refreshers on prospecting? Check out any of our 10 archived webinars on Prospecting Strategies::

     

    Building a Good Prospect List

    Leveraging Your Network to Get in the Door

    How to Use Your LinkedIn Network in Prospecting

    Preparing for First Calls on Prospects

    Industry Research as a Differentiator

    Business Operations Meetings: Building Strong Relationships with Business Owners

    Delving into Financial Operations: Selling to Financial Change

    The First 3 Calls on Prospects

    Following Up on Proposal – Persistent or Pest?

    Getting the Most Out of Networking Events

    Special webinar offer: You can receive a $100 discount when you use coupon code tm5tx8bg31 to sign up for any recorded webinar in the Prospecting Strategies Webinar Series. To register for any webinar go to the recorded webinars section at https://mzbierlyconsulting.webex.com.

     

    Where Bank Sales Managers Can Find High-Performers

      
      
      
    Recruiting Poster

    The single biggest predictor of sales performance is work samples. They demonstrate a salesperson’s ability to meet challenging goals, to work multiple sources of business, to adjust to a changing marketplace, and to maintain a level of focus and persistence. One form of work sample is an outstanding recommendation from a customer, prospect, or referral source—someone who has interacted frequently with a salesperson in the past with better than expected results. Identifying these “proven” salespeople in your market is the beginning of recruiting top salespeople.

    The sales manager is responsible for identifying and recruiting quality salespeople in his or her market. While sales team members and HR professionals can support this process, the key driver is always the sales manager. Only the sales manager has the knowledge of the market, the contacts within the business community, and the experience and expertise to identify salespeople with the intrinsic motivation and attributes needed for success.

    The first step is to identify the salespeople in the market who are in the top quartile, in other words, to build a candidate list. Here are four places to start:

    1. Work Your Customer and Prospect Base

    Business owners have salespeople calling on them every week. These business owners are an excellent source of names of top performers in your market. If your customers are impressed by a salesperson wouldn’t you want that salesperson to be working for you — impressing your customers and prospects? When you’re making calls on customers and prospects take a few minutes at the end of the call to ask them for their observations.

    “John, you and your business are well recognized in the community. I’m sure you have a
    number of salespeople calling on you every month. I’m curious, has anyone called on you in the last three or four months who really impressed you? Somebody who at the end of the call you said to yourself this is great salesperson? I’m always keeping an eye out for great salespeople.”

    2. Work Your COI Base

    If you’re calling on a COI the question sounds different. For example:

    “Joann,I know that over the years you have referred business to a number of bankers and other financial service salespeople. While I hope we have been your favorite, I’m sure there are other salespeople who have impressed you. I’m curious, has anyone-- an insurance person, a broker, a commercial finance guy, a banker-- really impressed you?”  

    3. Spend Time Where Salespeople Spend Time

    Let’s say you’re looking for a commercial banker with strong sales and credit skills. Join the Risk Management Association and get involved in the local chapter. Of course it’s not enough just go to chapter meetings; you’ll need to engage members and find out what banks are doing with
    their sales teams. You won’t be able to identify qualified candidates without knowing something about the types of sales goals they have (profit contribution, loans, deposits, fees, etc.), the level of their sales goals, and where their sales results are coming from (customers, prospects, COIs). These are the work samples! So, as you talk with members have some conversations like this:

    “Allan, I’ve heard some stories about your bank and how challenging the sales goals are. I know our goals are getting tougher and tougher. I’m curious what you guys are being asked to do? For example, what are your quarterly goals? Annual goals? Are your goals primarily based on loans outstanding, deposit growth, fees or what? What kind of loan growth goal would an RM typically have? Does anybody actually make those goals? In our company there always seems to be a few people who blow out the goals, 150% or 200% of goal. Is there anyone in your bank who is consistently way ahead of goals, year after year?”

    4. Work the New Employee Base

    Whenever you hire new salespeople consider them a source of leads to qualified candidates. After a new salesperson has been employed for a month, get together with him and have a conversation like this:

    “Dan, when we were interviewing you I asked you briefly about your goals at First Bank and the kinds of things you were incented to do. But I never really discussed them in detail because you were still a candidate. Now that you’re working with us, I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me about the sales process at First Bank. I’m always curious about how other sales organizations do things. What kind of goals did you have? At what level where they set? What percentage of sales team members met their goals? Who were the top producers?

    If you ask these kinds of questions for 6 to 12 months, you will build a candidate list of proven performers. But keep this in mind:chances are high that none of these people want to leave their jobs today or tomorrow — but the next 12 to 24 months are a different story. Things have a funny way of changing: their sales goals go up, they have a fight with a boss, their products change, sales incentives get shifted around, banks get bought. It’s the satisfaction curve at work.

    Live Webinar Alert: Negotiating Price: Strategies for Bankers

    Join us on Monday, August 26 for a live webinar at 11 AM Eastern. Among the topics
    we’ll cover:

    • How Being a Little Arrogant Can Actually Help
    • Understanding the Value You Bring
    • Learning How to Play Poker Better
    • Getting a Backbone

    You can register for live webinars three ways: (1) Call Susan Lersch at
    610-296-4771 or (2) email her at
    susan.lersch@mzbierlyconsulting.com 
    or (3) go to
    https://mzbierlyconsulting.webex.com . If you can’t make a live webinar, you
    will be able to view the recorded version within 24 hours of the event. We do
    provide discounts for organizations that sign up for three or more lines for a
    live webinar. Call 610-296-4771 for details.

     

    9 Business Development Ideas for Summer

      
      
      
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    Working on getting in beach shape for your vacation at the shore? Going on a cruise? Catching up on your reading? Whatever you plan to do this summer outside of work, here are 9 business development ideas for bankers:

    1. Do something nice for your best customers. I’m not talking about sending them tickets to a baseball game or a concert, although that’s not a bad thing to do. Let them know you’re thinking about their business. If you have something specific in mind—maybe something that would improve the way they manage their cash—visit them. If you don’t, visit them anyway.

    2. Bone up on the competition. Mystery shopping is not just for branches. Use your network of customers and prospects and COIs to find out what your top competitors are doing with their business customers. Share your insights with your colleagues.

    3. Take a product partner to lunch. Get to know your Cash Management rep better. See if he knows anybody on your prospect list. Pick your Wealth Management contact’s brain about what she’s seeing in the market. Remember it’s not just about them giving you introductions--ask how you can help them meet their business development goals.

    4. Do some industry research. Not just the First Research, IBISWorld or VerticalIQ kind—that’s a given to stay current. Visit some trade association websites to see whether you can learn things that will make you more knowledgeable about the issues facing your customers and prospects. Attend a trade association meeting. 

    5. Meet some friendly accountants. Review all the financial statements you have received over the last 18 months and see whether you know all the CPAs who prepared them. If you don’t, ask your customers to set up a lunch so you can meet them. For more insights here are answers to 10 Questions on Getting Referrals from CPAs.

    6. Write an article for a local business publication on a topic that would be of interest to your prospects. Milk it for all it’s worth. Before mailing it to the editor, send it to your customers and prospects for comments. After it’s published, get a PDF of the file and share it with everybody you know who might be interested.

    7. Review your relationship plans with your Sales Manager. What, no relationship plans? Click here to download a Relationship Planning Template.

    8. Keep improving your skills. Be honest with yourself about what you need to work on. If you’re a credit wiz who struggles with selling, sign up for a webinar or buy a book on prospecting. If your product knowledge is sub-par, get some tutoring from one of your colleagues. Lousy at negotiating? Take a course. (See below for some upcoming webinar ideas.)

    9. Show your prospect list to your satisfied customers. You might be surprised how inclined they are to help you with your business development efforts. If you’re interested in pointers on how to do that, check out this article on How to Ask Customers for Quality Referrals.

    Summer is a time to recharge your batteries. But it’s also a time to refocus your energies on how to retain your customers and acquire new ones.

    Looking for a suggestion on how to jumpstart your prospecting efforts? Check out our live and recorded webinars at http://mzbierlyconsulting.webex.com or call Ned Miller at 610-296-4772. Here are the next two live webinars:

    1. LinkedIn on 60 Minutes a Week Session 2--June 10, 2013

    * How to take advantage of LinkedIn's research capabilities

    * Using LinkedIn to identify prospects

    * Tips on scheduling appointments with prospects

    * How to use LinkedIn groups to expand your network

    * Leveraging LinkedIn as a communication tool

    2. Building Referral Relationships with CPAs--July 15, 2013

     

     

     

     

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    Are You Really Using LinkedIn Intelligently?

      
      
      

    In a session I led on “Gaining Momentum with Small Businesses” at a recent state banking conference, one of the participants in the group reminded people that they weren’t the only ones using LinkedIn for research. She said that some business customers are starting to look at the LinkedIn profiles of the bankers calling on them.

    If that makes you wince, do something up about it. If your LinkedIn profile looks like you put it together in three minutes, fix it. It shouldn’t look like a resume—unless of course you’re looking for a job. Update it with some insights into how you actually deliver value to your customers.

    Savvy Commercial and Business Banking Relationship Managers and Branch Managers know that taking advantage of social media tools can help them establish their expertise in the marketplace. Here are 7 recommendations for your consideration:

    1. Don’t ignore LinkedIn; it could help you build your brand.

    2. Don’t let bank policy stop you if you think LinkedIn will be useful to you. (Translation: You have a home email address, right?)

    3. It doesn’t replace traditional networking strategies.

    4. Don’t expect miracles. It requires work. Your ROI will depend upon how well you invest your time.

    5. Use it to research customers, prospects and COIs—and your competitors. You might be surprised what you learn.

    6. Join the right LinkedIn groups—local, state, national, intergalactic.

    7. LinkedIn will keep evolving in ways that will make it more valuable to you. Whatever your LinkedIn strategy is today, be prepared to revisit it in 3 months.

    If you’d like to get more tips on how to incorporate LinkedIn into your sales efforts, sign up for our upcoming webinars on “LinkedIn in 60 Minutes a Week.” (If you have fewer than 200 connections, sign up for the first webinar on May 20; if you’re a LinkedIn veteran with more than 200 connections, you should sign up for the second webinar on June 10.)

    Here are links to find out more information:

    LinkedIn on 60 Minutes a Week Session 1-- May 20, 2013

    LinkedIn on 60 Minutes a Week Session 2--June 10, 2013

    You can register for the webinars three ways: (1) Call Susan Lersch at 610-296-4771 or (2) email her at susan.lersch@mzbierlyconsulting.com or (3) go to the live webinar section of our Webex website at https://mzbierlyconsulting.webex.com and pay by credit card.

    Free Bonus Item: Download our article on How to Build a Business Network.

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    21 Basic Marketing Activities to Take to the Bank

      
      
      

    When August Aquila talks, accountants listen. So why should the article in his newsletter Partner Insights on  21 Basic Marketing Activities to Take to the Bank be of interest to bankers? Because, whether you like it or not, you’re in the same boat when it comes to marketing your professional services.

    I was recently asked by a youthful looking 27 year old business banker what he could do to impress business owners who were often twice his age. The obvious answer was to do his homework, be well prepared for all client and prospect meetings, and begin establishing himself in the local business community. In the course of our conversation it turned out that he had given a speech at a local chamber event on how to select a banker that went extremely well. A number of people came up afterward and asked for his card and he was able to set up appointments with them.

    Aquila would applaud the young lender’s efforts. He encourages accountants to join trade and professional associations and get on the program for events as a speaker. He also recommends teaching adult education courses for start-up businesses and offering seminars to reach business customers. Becoming famous might sound ambitious, but the question Aquila asks is worth considering: “Why should clients look to you to help them improve their business?”

    Many of Aquila’s 21 recommendations are applicable to bank Relationship Managers who are trying to grow their client base and expand their business network. Here are several, with my comments:

    • Attend at least two business luncheons every month: Yes, assuming that the gatherings draw people you would like to meet, and that should include prospects who match your target profile and potential COIs. Hanging out with other bankers is a waste of time. Go with a plan. If you’re looking for more ideas on how to take advantage of networking events listen to this mp3 on Networking Tips.
    • Communicate at least quarterly with your clients: This is in addition to your face-to-face meetings. It’s a lot easier today than ever before to share information with your contacts. Build a good email database that will enable you to forward articles to your network. Use LinkedIn to share relevant information.
    • Find yourself a niche: It’s tough to be a generalist. Even if you are—and most commercial lenders, business bankers and branch managers have to be--if you can develop expertise in one or more areas, it can boost your business. Being known within the local dental community as someone who “gets it” has obvious benefits.
    • Ask clients and referral sources for help: This is a no brainer, yet many bankers are reluctant to approach their best customers and others in their network for assistance in business development. If you’re not sure how to do it, check out our article on How to Confidently Ask Customers for Referrals.  You might also be interested in listening to Buck Bierly’s comments on Building an Effective Referral Network.

    Here’s a suggestion from me for a future meeting with CPAs (or any current or potential COI) on your calling list: Send them a copy of August’s article 21 Basic Marketing Activities to Take to the Bank and set up a time to compare notes on marketing professional services. Don’t just grill them about their approach. Talk about how you might be able to support each other. My bet is that it will be a profitable conversation. Let me know how it goes!

     

     

    Are You Making Too Big a Deal Out of CPA Referrals?

      
      
      

    “COIs aren’t necessarily just Accountants and Attorneys.  In fact, our best COI sources are current clients.” (Business Banking Sales Manager after recent coaching clinic)

    Are you overly fixated on CPA referrals? Do you think too much about building referral relationships with accountants? Are you spending too much time taking partners in local accounting firms to lunch?

    A confession: I have written lots of articles about getting referrals from CPAs (see 10 Thought-Provoking Questions on Getting Referrals from CPAs).  I’ve promoted our recorded webinars on the subject (listen to this Excerpt from webinar on Getting Referrals from CPAs with Buck Bierly and August Aquila). And I do discuss it in our prospecting workshops for commercial and business bankers, although only after reminding people that the best leads often come from satisfied customers.

     But you may be making too big a deal out of generating leads from professionals like accountants, particularly if you think for a minute about the numbers. Specifically:

    • According to Greenwich Research, if a business owner can’t solve a business or financial problem with the assistance of his colleagues, he is most likely going to reach out first to peers in his network. A veterinarian is probably going to sound out another veterinarian, a home care  franchise operator another franchisee, the owner of a plumbing supply company somebody who is in a similar position. The peers are not always in the same industry—many small business owners belong to networking groups comprised of other owners/presidents.  (As resources CPAs rank third after industry consultants, but before insurance professionals, bankers, and attorneys in that order.)
    • Approximately 65% of business customers are prepared to refer their relationship manager to a friend if asked to do so. The reality is that only about 22% of small business owners and 35% of decision-makers in larger companies (over $10MM in sales) are asked.
    • Referrals from customers are three times as likely to convert into closed business as referrals from professionals. Why? It’s a function of the way accountants and other professionals (including bankers) operate: we typically give out at a minimum of three names to clients seeking advice. For some of us it’s a way to protect ourselves from liability issues; for others it represents a deliberate strategy to create a bit of competition for our client’s business; for all of us it’s a calculated attempt to curry favor with our current and potential COIs. It translates into a lower hit rate than the lead from a satisfied client, which rarely comes with built-in competition.
    • Established middle market bankers have between 20 and 40 customers; business bankers can have 100 or more relationships. If you ask only your top 10 to 20 customers for introductions to others in their network (including their customers and suppliers), you’ll probably keep adding to your prospect list. And, if you play your cards right (see How to Ask Customers for Quality Referrals) you’ll get many more quality leads than you can often extract from a much smaller circle of CPAs .

     

    So here’s some unsolicited advice: Make it a bigger priority to leverage your network of customers this year. Stay in touch with your professional contacts, but set up more meetings with satisfied clients to ask for information, introductions, referrals and testimonials to boost your prospecting results.

    For more tips check out our blog posts on prospecting or download our complimentary eBook Prospecting Pointers.

     

     

     

     


     

    Wooing CPAs: 7 Rules for the First Meeting

      
      
      

    If you’re trying to expand your network of CPAs, here are 7 rules for the first meeting:

    1. Use a written call plan and stay on the plan.

    2. Demonstrate that you’ve done your homework on the firm and the partner. Check the firm’s Website, Google, LinkedIn and sound out people who may know the individual.

    3. Learn as much as possible about the clients of the partner and the firm.

    4.  Begin developing a personal and professional relationship based on trust.

    5. Discuss your value proposition, your internal credit process and your target profile. Be honest about the kinds of businesses you serve well . . . and those that are more complicated for your bank.

    6. Ask what you can do for the CPA’s business.

    7. Define success as scheduling a follow-up appointment.

    In subsequent calls, keep your focus on relationship development:

    * Bring your expertise to life for the CPA. Use case studies that resonate with the CPA.

    * Use your target profile to help the CPA understand what you do best.

    * Teach the CPA how to refer your business — always assume that he doesn’t know how.

    * Communicate, communicate, communicate.

    Looking for more tips on getting referrals from CPAs? Download a recent article at http://www.mzbierlyconsulting.com/getting-referrals-from-cpas-10-thought-provoking-questions.

    You might also be interested in viewing one of recorded webinars on prospecting at https://mzbierlyconsulting.webex.com

     

     

    FAQs on Referrals: How Can You Tell If a CPA Is a Rainmaker?

      
      
      
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    Question: How can you tell if a CPA is a rainmaker in the firm? I’ve read articles that suggest that only a small percentage of accountants actually are in a position to refer business to bankers.

    Answer: You’re right. According to August Aquila of Aquila Global Advisors, probably no more than 25% of accountants refer opportunities to bank relationship managers. He suggests asking whether the individual enjoys more serving clients or getting new clients. You might also inquire about how important landing new relationships is for him personally.  Do your homework: checking out an accountant's LinkedIn page and asking your colleagues and other COIs can also give you an idea of whether you're wasting time and money courting a particular individual.

    To download an article that recently appeared in the ABA’s Commercial Insights Newsletter with 9 more frequently asked questions go to CPA Referrals: 10 FAQs.

    If you’re looking for a cost-effective way to provide quality sales and sales leadership materials to your team, check out our recorded webinars. From refreshers on face-to-face calls to in-depth discussions on prospecting we have topical programs for experienced bankers and new hires alike. Find out how you can use our recorded webinars in sales meetings or training sessions by calling Susan Lersch at 610-296-4771 or emailing her at susan.lersch@mzbierlyconsulting.com. You can also find out more about our webinars at http://mzbierlyconsulting.com/webinars.html.

     

    Give Before You Get: Tips on Referring Customers

      
      
      

    There are good ideas that don’t last. One that seems to have flamed out was “Make a Referral Week”, which occurred for the first (and last) time in 2010. But bankers can still get in on the action.

    Start by thinking about who you might be able to assist with a good referral. At the top of your VIP list should be your key customers.  You should also think about your COIs, and even your prospects.  

    My guess is that some of them have referred business to you in the past; others might be in a position to do so if you ask them the right way. But slow down, this is not about you asking for referrals, it’s about giving them referrals. 

    The next step is to ask yourself whether you know the profile of an ideal customer for any one of these VIPs. If you don’t, it’s time to ask. Before picking up the phone, though, you might want to think about how you’re going to frame the conversation. You could say something like this: “Many of the best leads I get are referrals from satisfied customers. I was thinking about whether I might be able to refer business your way. Would you like to set up a time to talk about who your ideal prospects are? “

    At the same time, you could inquire whether they have identified any specific prospects whom you might know.  Some of your contacts might surprise you and actually share names of their prospects with you.

    There’s one other thing you should ask about. If you do identify a good prospect for your customer or COI, what’s the best way for you to make the introduction? The answer may well depend upon the nature of your relationship with the party you’re referring, but it’s useful to have an idea of how the handoff could be best accomplished. 

    Don’t be surprised if this conversation does lead to a question about how they might be able to reciprocate. Decide whether you want to take them up on it now, or defer it to another time.   My recommendation is that you should definitely plan on doing it at some point.  (According to research from Greenwich, over 60% of business customers are willing to provide referrals to their bankers if asked; fewer than 25% are asked.)

    If you want to get some specific coaching on how and when to ask for referrals, download our recent article on How to Confidently Ask Customers for Referrals.

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