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Mistakes Bankers Make on Sales Calls: Not Asking the Right Questions


“You can add value in two ways: You can know the answers. You can offer the questions. Relentlessly asking the right questions is a long term career, mostly because no one ever knows the right answer on a regular basis.” --Seth Godin

There are a lot of different value propositions. Some bankers think that the only way to get new business is by undercutting the competition’s price or providing more flexible (translation: looser) credit. They say, “Give me your statements and I’ll come back with a better offer.”

But, you say, that’s not me. I know that portraying myself as the low-cost provider isn’t realistic. But are you unwittingly positioning yourself as the cheapest game in town? Do you:

  • Apologize to customers for your pricing?
  • Have difficulty justifying fees?
  • Struggle with what you’re worth as a banker?

Maybe you rely on your responsiveness to customers—“I’ll always be accessible. Here’s my pager. If you ever need me…” Taking care of customers is arguably an important skill for salespeople. But can you demonstrate that to prospects? It’s hard to be convincing—particularly when every other banker on the street says the same thing.

The highest performing salespeople have figured out that they have to deliver both good service and good ideas. They convince prospects that it’s their banking experience and expertise helping business owners get where they want to go that matters most.

High performers work hard to differentiate themselves by getting to know prospects well—how their businesses operate, what their long-term goals are, etc. They build their careers on asking lots of questions—good ones, the kind that demonstrate to their prospects that they are genuinely interested in learning first about what’s unique about their businesses.

These advisors—and that’s what they become for their clients—are comfortable sharing their perspective on what works for comparable businesses. They come to meetings armed with ideas on how to improve a business owner’s situation.

So how does this value proposition sound:  “Mr. Prospect, my job is to understand your business, anticipate your needs, and help you make the best financial decisions for you and your business.”

Action Items: Do research on a key prospect before your next meeting. Find relevant industry information from e-Mentor or First Research or Lexis Nexis. Plan what questions you need to ask to get a better understanding of how the business operates. Don’t pitch products before you understand the owner’s long-term (3-5 year) personal and business objectives.

Listen to what Buck Bierly views as the five most common mistakes bankers make in sales calls:

  1.  Planning one meeting at a time
  2. Not preparing “cognitively”
  3. Using the wrong question set
  4. Selling to the first need
  5. Assuming the business owner is committed to resolving the need

You can download a four minute mp3 file with Buck’s thoughts by going to

You might also be interested in signing up for the live webinar on March 14 sponsored by the Graduate School of Banking at Madison at 10 AM Central on “5 Mistakes Bankers Make in Sales Calls.” You can register for the webinar by going to GSB Registration Page.



7 Mistakes Bankers Make in Prospecting


Here are the 7 most common mistakes bankers make in prospecting and a remedy for each:

Mistake 1: Not having a prospect list that has been “vetted” by your Sales Manager

Remedy: Build a list of the businesses you want to pursue that matches the bank’s target profile. Review it with your boss—and any partners whose input you consider important.

Mistake 2: Not using your network to gather information about and introductions to the prospects on your list

Remedy:  Share your prospect list with colleagues, satisfied customers, and COIs to get information and, wherever possible, referrals. Ask for testimonials. Third party recommendations are the best way to get appointments with prospects.

Mistake 3: Not having a defined relationship strategy for the prospects on your list

Remedy: Build relationships based on providing value.  Demonstrate your experience and expertise in every interaction with your prospects.

Mistake 4: Planning one meeting at a time

Remedy: Always plan two calls at a time. You need to be clear what the likely next step is before you have your first meeting. The same would apply to every subsequent meeting. The best approach is always to set the next appointment before you leave your meeting.

Mistake 5: Not preparing “cognitively”

Remedy: Visualize the call—know where you need to take it to be successful and accomplish your objectives. Being prepared is a huge confidence booster and a differentiator.

Mistake 6: Using the wrong question set

Remedy: Avoid the same questions that everybody asks (“Where are you banking? What products are you using? How are they priced? What do you wish your banker did a better job of? Can I have a copy of your statements?”) Instead, use questions that help you understand the business challenges faced by the customer and demonstrate your value proposition.

Mistake 7: Selling to the first need

Remedy: In your initial meetings with prospects look for 3 to 4 possible needs. Let the business owner prioritize them. To overcome inertia—which is in many respects the biggest competition you face—you need to build momentum through a series of discussions. Having a number of areas to discuss is a huge plus when building relationships.

If you’d like more insights on prospecting, check out our website at

You might also be interested in viewing the Prospecting Clinic series of recorded webinars. For more details go to or call Whit Midkiff at 727-741-0766.

Also our article in the ABA’s Commercial Insights newsletter answers common questions about dealing with gatekeepers including:

  • The pros and cons of sending a letter first
  • Using scripts
  • How to treat secretaries and administrative assistants
  • Following-up after the first meeting

You can download it by going to




Resolutions for Retail Sales Managers: Feedback from Branch Managers


Humorist Andy Borowitz doesn’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions for himself, but he does like to propose them for others. “I find that when you propose resolutions for other people you experience none of the nagging guilt or failure that comes when you don’t live up to your own.”

I asked a group of Branch Managers what resolutions they would make for their Sales Managers.  Now this is easier for a consultant to do than it may be for Sales Leaders, but eliciting “feedforward” (a word that consultant Marshall Goldsmith coined) could be valuable to almost everybody. Instead of asking your team for feedback on your leadership, you could see what ideas people might have about improving something going forward.

Here’s an example. If you’re getting bored just thinking about your weekly sales meetings—which is a clear sign that you should change them somehow—you could say the following: “I’m thinking of changing (not cancelling—these meetings are important!) our Monday morning meetings. I’d be interested in your ideas about what changes you’d recommend going forward to make them more useful to you.”

Here’s how the Branch Managers responded to the question of what their Sales Managers could do differently in 2011:

  • Do weekly coaching
  • Make more joint calls
  • Give honest, supportive, critical feedback (but don’t always pick out the bad things)
  • Provide more market data
  • Review our call plans
  • Provide practical examples, tips, how tos
  • Discuss best practices of other Branch Managers
  • Recognize good performance
  • Consolidate reports to save time
  • Review lost opportunities
  • Observe more sales calls and give me feedback on my approach
  • Eliminate or shorten conference calls

There’s nothing surprising in this list—particularly if you believe as I do that (a) Branch Managers want to do a good job; (b) they are hungry for how tos; and (c) the best way to deliver that coaching is 1 on 1.

So whether you’ve made any resolutions for yourself or not, see what ideas your team might offer up for you to do differently in 2011.

If you’re interested in more insights on this topic, check out our recorded webinar “Small Business Leadership: Tactics for Coaching Branch Managers.”

You can register for the recorded webinar three ways: (1) Call Whit Midkiff at 727-741-0766 or (2) email him at  or (3) go to the recorded webinars section of our WebEx website at and pay the $225 fee (per line, not per person) by credit card.




Cracking the Code: Sales Leadership Lessons from the Ryder Cup


You don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy Cracking the Code, Paul Azinger’s account of his role in the 2008 Ryder Cup, the biannual competition pitting the best professional golfers from the United States against their counterparts from Europe. As captain of the U.S. side—which had lost regularly since the mid-1990s-- Azinger was faced with a challenge that many sales leaders easily understand: How to put players in a position to be successful. While you might not have prodigious talents like Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson on your side, you can benefit from Azinger’s insights on leadership.

His account is enlightening. I always thought that the captain’s role was more symbol than substance, and that Azinger’s big decisions revolved around picking the colors for his team’s golf shirts and the menu for the pre-match banquet.  Not true. Azinger spent the two years leading up to the Cup demonstrating that if golf is a game of inches, it pays to sweat all the small details. Here are my takeaways:

  1. You need the right players. The selection process for the Ryder Cup does give the Captain the ability to select some players who don’t automatically qualify. Recognizing that the U.S. could choose from a number of talented players, Azinger was more concerned about the personality and temperament of the individuals—he was looking for golfers who would support each other under pressure-- than finding the “best players.” Chemistry mattered. To get an understanding of how the pros he was considering would work out, he relied on a psychologist who used tools like Myers-Briggs and DISC to assess their natural tendencies to divide them into three groups: aggressive players, enthusiastic relaters, and even-tempered “Steady Eddies.”
  2. Involve your team in key decisions. After settling on a group of golfers who all had the right psychological profiles, Azinger left it up to his players to select their partners. He allowed the three aggressive players (Mickelson, Andrew Kim and Justin Leonard) to decide who they wanted to play with in the championship. He did the same with the other Captain’s choices. The result was greater camaraderie and commitment.
  3. You can’t control everything that happens on the course, but there is a lot that you can do to shape the environment. Azinger recounts how he worried about the cut of the rough and even the limbs on towering trees that might penalize one of his players. He worked closely with the grounds crew at the course to be sure that the pin placements and tees favored the U.S. side. (Note to non-golfers: This is not illegal or unsportsmanlike.)
  4. You are responsible for crafting the messages you want your players to deliver. While not scripting everything for the players, he wanted them to think more about golf than how they would respond to reporters’ questions. It worked.
  5. Surround yourself with strong lieutenants—his assistants were former captains Dave Stockton and Raymond Floyd—and listen to them. In several instances their insights proved critical.
  6. Give immediate feedback. If one of your team members is struggling, talk to him.  Azinger would be quick to point out that how you deliver the feedback—what you actually say, where you do it, the tone of your voice—depends on the individual. Some need to be challenged. Others may require a softer approach.
  7. Teammates can help each other. Peer coaching works. In certain situations you might do well to enlist the support of one of your team members to assist another player.

Final note: The U.S. side did prevail in the 2008 Ryder Cup.

Any other books on sales leadership that you’d recommend for bankers? Send the titles to and become eligible for a drawing for free passes to upcoming webinars.

Next Webinar for Sales Leaders on February 14, 2011 on Small Business Leadership: Tactics for Coaching Branch Managers. For more details go to or call Whit Midkiff at 727-741-0766.



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