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How to Impress a Business Owner on a First Call: Buck Bierly's Comments



A survey conducted by Greenwich Research a few years ago revealed that nearly 50% of business customers had not been on the receiving end of an effective sales call from a banker in the preceding 12 months. That had been our experience at MZ Bierly Consulting. The sales calls that bankers had made on us had been uninspiring, unmemorable and unlikely to lead us to move our business. Until last Monday.

Some bankers think that the first call is all about developing rapport with the customer and spend too much time shmoozing. Others think that because business owners are typically pressed for time they need to cut to the chase and start talking business quickly.

Experienced bankers know that taking the time to get to know a prospect is very important. They also realize that by the end of a first meeting they need to find at least one valid business reason for the prospect to agree to see them again in the not too distant future. How do you do both in the first call?

It begins with how you sell the initial meeting. If your normal approach is to say something like "I just want 10 minutes of your time," good luck. Generally speaking, a first meeting with a business prospect takes about 60 minutes. In that amount of time, you can begin to build a relationship and identify possible needs that could provide the basis for a series of follow-up meetings.

Some bankers protest that they could never get an hour with a business customer. "They're too busy to spend time listening to me talk about banking products." Exactly. That is why the first call has to be about them, not about you and your products. Business owners are usually prepared to talk about themselves and their business. You will find that the same folks who have little time for bankers pushing products will spend time answering your questions about how their business works.

Listen to what impressed Buck Bierly about the call that two business bankers made on him last week. It's all true. Click on this mp3 file:  HOW TO IMPRESS A BUSINESS OWNER: BUCK BIERLY

For more information on how to conduct a first call on a prospect, go to

You can also find out more about our recorded webinar series on prospecting by going to or emailing Ned Miller at

Standing Out in a Crowd: Send a Letter


In case you missed it, the U.S. Post Office is in trouble. Until 2006 the Postal Service made an annual profit. But since then, a falloff in mail, in large part because of the ascendance of e-mail, has led to losses which this year will be in the neighborhood of $7 billion.

The Postmaster General is considering a number of cuts to reduce the budget gap. He's also investigating the possibility of adding more products, including some new direct mail tools for small businesses.

I have a modest suggestion for patriotic bankers. It won't make a huge dent in the deficit, but it might help you stand out in the crowd. Start using snail mail to communicate with customers and prospects.

I realize you can't wean yourself off of email entirely. But why not mix it up, particularly with those marketing "touch" pieces that you send to stay top of mind?  A recent economic forecast or a particularly good industry assessment can get lost in anybody's e-mail box.  Attach a handwritten note to a snail mail salvo may take a little longer but might just get through the clutter.

By some accounts George H.W. Bush got elected President because of his prodigious personal note-writing on the campaign trail. Legendary car salesman Joe Girardi religiously sent postcards to his customers, often with nothing other than his name and a scrawled "Thank you." Did this lead to more referrals? Joe was convinced that it did.

Yes, you say, but this is another time. We have LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. But think for a minute: If you want to be different, why not send that hard to reach prospect a letter? The same thing could be said of faxes-they're rare enough these days to stand out too.

See you at the post office.


Agree or disagree? Send me your comments at

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  • Preparing for a First Call
  • March Madness
  • Prospecting for Bankers: Get a Coach
  • How to Ask Customers for Referrals

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Prospecting Tips for Business Bankers: Getting in the Door


Question: Why is getting in the door with prospects becoming harder for business bankers?

Answer: Some people think it's because business owners have less time than they used to. I think the real reason that bankers are having trouble arranging appointments is because they don't realize that they are competing for the business owner's time. And, for a prospect to give up his valuable time, he will need to get something of value from you.

How do you demonstrate possible value and get a prospect interested in talking to you?  Here are several approaches that will improve your chances. (In parenthesis is our estimate of the success rate that a typical banker speaking to a decision maker has for each.)

1.         Third-Party Referrals: Use a referral from an existing client, an acquaintance, or a third-party professional. Be sure to ask for permission to use his or her name before using it as a referral: "Betty Jones from XYZ Electronics suggested that I contact you." (65%)

2.         Industry Experience and Expertise: Focus on your experience and expertise with the prospect's industry. "Over the last few years I've worked with a number of trade associations like yours and I'd like to discuss with you some of the ideas . . ."  (30%)

3.         References: Refer to a piece of news, an article in a publication, or the company's website. For example, if the prospect is a dental practice: "I saw on your website that you do cosmetic dentistry..." (20%)

4.         New Situations/Products/Services:  Discuss a new situation, a new product, or any innovation at your bank that might be of value to the prospect:      "We recently enhanced our cash management products to provide wholesalers with . . ." (10%)

5.         Community Approach:  Discuss the fact that you both do business in the same community and could be a resource for each other in the future:

 "You've been doing business in this area for a number of years and so have we. Unfortunately, we've never had a chance to meet. I'd love the opportunity to find out more about your business, where you are, and where you're going; to tell you more about us and the kind of things we're doing. And then, who knows, maybe we can be a resource for each other somewhere down the road. Do you have some time in the next week or so to get together?" (Varies by market. In small towns this can work 80% of the time. In larger metropolitan areas, it has a much lower success rate.)

All of these can work but none is foolproof.  Use the one that fits your situation. Obviously, if you have a referral from a satisfied customer, use it. Some relationship managers weave elements of several of the approaches into their calls to schedule appointments-the more ammunition the better!

Tip for Bankers:  If you're struggling setting up appointments with prospects, write out the key points of your opening for the next 10 calls you make. Review them with your Sales Manager or a colleague before you make the phone calls. See whether your percentage improves.

Interested in more tips on how to get in the door? One of our recent articles in the ABA's Commercial Insights newsletter answers common questions about prospecting 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

You might also want to check out the recorded webinar on the same subject in the Prospecting Clinic series at


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