Question: My team is struggling with prospecting. We’ve lost a number of deals recently to other banks on price. My lenders are getting frustrated and so am I. Any thoughts?
Answer: Price competition is a fact of life. With more and more competitors out there, many bankers vow not to lose good relationships over price so they’ll cut rates and fees when pressed. To win over a prospect today usually requires something more than just beating the incumbent’s price.
Here are five things you can do:
- Before your Relationship Managers issue a term sheet or make a proposal to a prospect, discuss what their sales strategy is. This is not a discussion about pricing or structuring the credit, although those issues may well come up. What you want to know is what the prospect’s key issues are and how specifically you are going to differentiate yourself from the competition (your “value proposition.)
- Figure out what the default value proposition is of each of your Relationship Managers. You might be surprised how many naturally gravitate toward “we’ll save you money.” While this may resonate with the price-shoppers out there (about 50% of the universe in our view), it doesn’t get the job done with prospects who attach more importance to relationships or service factors. Coaching your people on how to position themselves and the bank is critical.
- Expect to lose to the incumbent more often than not in your first attempt to win new business. To the extent you can, prepare your prospect for the promises and love fest that will ensue when the incumbent feels threatened (“Think about our relationship. We have been with you since 1987. We got you started. Blah, blah, blah…”). If your prospect stays put, don’t give up—see #5 below. You may have lost the initial battle but not the war. (Note to Sales Managers: You might want to sign up for our archived webinar on “Losing to the Incumbent” at http://mzbierlyconsulting.webex.com.)
- Call up prospects you don’t land and ask for a few minutes to review how your bank did. The feedback may surprise you; one sales manager I know who has been doing this for years says that only rarely does a prospect invoke price as the deciding factor. Share what you learn with your team.
- Preach that prospecting is really about teamwork and persistence over time. Most bankers have a tendency to give up too soon. If you lose a deal, don’t stop calling on them. This may require some additional strategizing with your product partners (e.g. Cash Management, Wealth Management, Leasing, etc.) but it’s often the second or third at bat that leads to success in prospecting.
Check out our archived webinar on “Value Propositions: It’s Not All About Price” by going to http://mzbierlyconsulting.webex.com. You can also call Susan Lersch at 610-296-4771 for more information about our archived webinars.
When pressed for time, Sales Managers often cut corners. See whether any of these "sins" are ones you're guilty of:
- They don’t spend enough time with average performers. Sales Managers like to hang around with their best people; high performers remind them of themselves! (They also have massive recognition needs—“Hey, boss, let me tell you what I just did…”) Chronic low performers also command attention—often an exercise in futility. Who gets left out? The 70% of the sales team whose performance could probably benefit most from coaching.
- They don’t orient new employees well. Sales Managers often leave this up to HR or to a departmental secretary. No matter how much time they’ve invested in recruiting somebody, Sales Managers need to make orienting a new team member a priority for the first 4 to 6 weeks. That involves blocking out time to review such things as the bank’s target market, sales process, and sales tools. It also involves making sure that new colleagues get the training and coaching they need from day 1.
- They don’t talk to people before sending them to training sessions. Many Sales Managers “trust” trainers to explain why somebody is going to a session and what she should get out of it. Take it from a trainer who has stood in front of thousands of bankers over the last 20 years: Don’t abdicate your responsibility. Tell your people what they need to focus on. Be sure to follow-up within 48 hours of the session to find out what they learned.
- They don’t coach the top of the funnel. Sales Managers focus (appropriately) on helping people close business. But they also need to help people identify and qualify leads. That means devoting time each week to what bankers are doing to replenish their pipelines: Which customers and prospects are they calling on? What efforts are they making to get referrals?
- They don’t do enough pre-call, post-call coaching on sales. In commercial and business banking teams, we see a lot of coaching on credit—essentially how to shepherd a loan request through the bank’s approval process. What team leaders often ignore is how the deal will be sold externally. Sales Managers owe their teams coaching before a term sheet is generated; they also need to debrief sales calls, client presentations and other major events.
- They don’t develop sales management routines. Rituals to implement could include such things as weekly sales meetings; biweekly 1 on 1 coaching sessions; joint calling with every banker two or three times a year; and quarterly relationship reviews on key customers and prospects. If these meetings don’t get on the calendar they often don’t get done. (And don’t cancel too many of the ones that you do schedule—that sends the wrong message too.)
- They manage everybody the same way. Many Sales Managers worry about being “fair” or “consistent” in their dealings with their teams. What they need to acknowledge is that everybody is different.
- They send inconsistent messages. Your people are constantly evaluating what you say and what you do. If you’re not careful about how you communicate you could confuse your team about the organization’s real priorities. Related to this is a failure to filter messages. Before forwarding on that email from your boss, think about how it will play with the troops.
- They don’t make people use sales tools. One example: If your organization has invested in industry research from RMA or First Research, make sure people take advantage of it.
- They don’t have development plans for all team members. Make sure that you know what your people need to get better. Don’t strategize about this alone; involve your boss for starters. And then figure out how to make it happen.
How would you rate the relationship development skills of your Relationship Managers? Many of our bank clients have found a simple chart that describes the four stages in the evolution of outside calling skills to be helpful in assessing their proficiency and confidence level. To download your copy go to http://www.mzbierlyconsulting.com/the-evolution-of-relationship-development-skills-where-are-you-today.
Sales Managers can dupe themselves into thinking that the coaching they do around the water cooler is enough. Don't misinterpret this observation: most informal coaching is valuable. But just because your team knows your door is always open doesn't mean they are getting the one-on-one time they need from you.
Building a coaching process that helps your average performers, what Buck Bierly calls the "core of the sales team", involves scheduling blocks of time at least every other week. Listen to Buck's recommendations in Coaching the Core of the Sales Team mp3 file.
Interested in more on coaching? Check out our archived webinars at http://mzbierlyconsulting.webex.com or visit our blog for more articles on sales leadership at http://www.mzbierlyconsulting.com/bank-sales-corner-blog.
Here’s a scary thought: You have a personal brand. Whether you’re a seasoned commercial lender or a new private banker, you have an identity in the market.
The question for many bankers is whether it’s the brand you want. Think about my friend Dave, a 20 year banking veteran who has spent the last decade at a community bank. His card says “Commercial Lender,” but most of his loans have been to local real estate developers and home builders. His reputation in good times—before 2008, say—was as a go-to guy for A&D loans. He didn’t have to stray far from his desk to generate a steady stream of loans.
Now Dave’s bank has soured on that business—most have in this part of the galaxy—and it’s unlikely to reenter the market for construction loans any time soon. Dave has been busy if not altogether happy as a workout officer, but things are starting to stabilize and so his days handling problem credits are winding down. So the question of whether he needs to rebuild his brand is not purely hypothetical. If Dave wants to stay in commercial lending, he has to think about his choices.
Let’s assume he wants to stick with his current employer. His best option may be to refocus his energy on the small to mid-sized businesses that the bank’s CEO is clearly targeting. Some of his real estate savvy will be useful—the bank will do owner-occupied deals all day—and he believes that he can leverage his contacts in the community.
What would a brand consultant suggest? For starters, Dave should consider the following:
Doing a self-assessment. If this job requires more prospecting than he has done in the past, what does that imply? Will he benefit from some training on new client acquisition?
Studying the market. Are there any obvious niches for Dave to pursue? Professional practices are called on by everybody but can’t be ruled out. Dave got to know a lot of real estate lawyers in his previous incarnation; they might be open to referring him to others in their firms.
Scoping out the competition. By seeing what’s going on with the other players in the market he can learn what he’s up against.
Enlarging his network of referral sources. Is he going to have to develop new COIs? The chances are good that he will. How is he going to enlist the assistance of his customers, business acquaintances and friends?
Developing a self-branding action plan. What steps can he take to become more visible in the market? Which groups should he join? If he’s intent on pursuing law firms, does it make sense to attend meetings of the local bar association, or find out how active the American Legal Management Association is in his area? Should he be using LinkedIn to burnish his new identity, recognizing that many professionals are using it?
It’s possible to change your professional reputation, but it takes time. The first step is obviously to strategize with your boss. If you’re thinking that it’s time for a makeover, it probably is.
Do you know how to use LinkedIn to build your personal brand? Many bankers are finding ways to leverage it to do research on prospects and find warm leads that can generate sales revenue. Check out our archived webinar on Leveraging LinkedIn for Business Development by going to http://mzbierlyconsulting.webex.com.
You might also find ideas on our blog at http://www.mzbierlyconsulting.com/bank-sales-corner-blog.