What are the keys to success in building relationships with prospects? Here are eight things that high-performing relationship managers do consistently:
1. They focus on the right companies. Bankers need to understand what their banks are looking for. But there's more to this than just memorizing the target profile. Bankers have to assess whether they’re a good match for the prospects as well, considering whether they have the requisite skills and experience to deliver a compelling value proposition. (Note: If you're unsure, talk through your strategy with your sales manager.)
2. They prepare appropriately for the initial contact. At a minimum they familiarize themselves with the prospect’s industry using resources like RMA, First Research, Vertical IQ or LexisNexis. They also spend time reviewing the prospect’s website. By comparing industry trends with what appears to be going on in the company, they're able to frame intelligent questions for the first meeting.
3. They build relationships at the right level. In most cases successful prospectors start at the highest point in the organization that they can reach. In small to midsize businesses this is usually the owner or president. In larger companies they may be dealing with a chief financial officer or treasurer. Starting at the top of the organizational totem pole is not always easy, but usually pays dividends in the long run.
4. They have clearly defined objectives for both the first and second meetings. These objectives are far beyond just getting in the door and getting to know the individuals involved. Often they include such things as learning more about the organization’s specific business model and short to medium term strategy. Every successful prospector knows that the primary goal of the first meeting is getting a second appointment. To do that requires the ability to ask intelligent questions based on the research conducted on the company.
5. They use their team members effectively in developing and executing their sales strategy. These team members include their sales manager and partners from different lines of business who may see other ways to add value to the prospect relationship. Good prospectors are good quarterbacks and leaders in implementing strategy.
6. They work to understand their prospects better than the competition does. Specifically, they learn more about the industry in which the company operates, its business operations, how it manages its financial affairs and perhaps most importantly, the value systems of the company's key decision makers and influencers. They seek to be known for their experience and expertise.
7. They find a coach, somebody inside or outside the prospect organization who can give them a window on the inner workings of the company. A coach can help bankers see things in a different light (e.g. who the real influencers are within the company, what the values are of the key players, and who the real competition is in a given situation.)
8. They understand that prospecting takes time. In our experience, it takes between five and eight face-to-face calls to move a significant share of a prospect’s business. That requires both patience and persistence.
Interested in more tips on prospecting? Download our article on Preparing for the First Call on a Prospect.
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.
In this new video Buck Bierly discusses the importance of moving away from typical product- focused questions to connect with business prospects.
“I need a better prospect list.” How many times have Marketing Departments heard that one? Don’t get me wrong; bankers do need good prospect lists. But I suspect that some people think that their Marketing Department is holding out on them, that there really is a magic database of creditworthy companies ready to change their banking relationships tomorrow.
While there are certainly ways to build a better list—by using multiple data sources, tapping into the knowledge that your colleagues have of the market and doing a better job of researching companies to be sure that they match your bank’s target profile—every list has flaws. Sure, D&B and InfoUSA have some out of date information, but that doesn’t mean that prospectors should avoid using them. Most lists that have been run in the last 12 to 18 months are plenty good enough as a starting point.
The real issue is what you do with the list you have. Your job as a Relationship Manager is to get in front of the prospects that your sales manager thinks are a good match for you and the organization. Until you have a chance to meet with the prospect—or as many say, the “suspect”—you won’t know whether you should spend more time with them or not. And remember that in 70 to 80% of the cases involving proactive prospecting, your prospects will be at least moderately satisfied with their current banking arrangement. That doesn’t disqualify them; on the contrary, that probably means you’re in front of a viable prospect, albeit one that you’ll have to work hard to win over.
So don’t complain about your imperfect list. If you need to add more names to it, huddle with your sales manager. The first challenge is to get first and second appointments, and if you’re having difficulties doing that, seek out some coaching on your strategy.
To download our eBook on prospecting, go to Q&A on Getting in the Door: Prospecting Tips for Bankers.
You might also be interested in a recent article on How to Confidently Ask Customers for Referrals.