Bankers love to commiserate with other bankers. It’s a staple of high-priced conferences and round tables for senior managers. Sometimes the moaning is productive—when after a few drinks a peer shares with you how his bank actually figured out a way to deal with whatever has been holding you or your organization back.
Rarely do commercial bankers look outside the banking fraternity (and the consultants who support it) for insights into sales problems. So a blog post by Richard Ruff entitled Seven fundamentals for selling to physicians may be instructive for any banker targeting doctors and medical practices.
Addressed to sales reps in the medical device market, the article begins by talking about how industry changes are forcing people to rethink their sales approach. Failing to adapt isn’t an option for those who are trying to acquire new relationships and hold on to the ones they have.
But Ruff is quick to point out that certain fundamentals still apply. I’d encourage you to spend the 60 seconds it will take to read the post yourself but his list has several ideas that apply to bank Relationship Managers as well, including the following:
- Forget cold calling.
- Leverage your contacts with other doctors. They can be coaches and allies.
- Understand the decision-making process in larger practices.
- Don’t waste any doctor’s time.
- It’s about value.
- Be easy to do business with.
These suggestions shouldn’t surprise bankers at all. If you’ve been courting doctors (and here you could probably add other overly solicited health care professionals like dentists) you know what works and what doesn’t.
The only thing that I’d add for bankers—and this is not an omission in the original because it’s understood—is simple: Don’t dabble in this segment. If you’re not prepared to invest the time to develop a high level of knowledge and expertise about how medical professionals conduct their banking business, you’re likely to come up short in bake-offs with specialists. (And as much as I love industry research from First Research, RMA, IBISWorld and VerticalIQ, it takes more than 20 minutes of studying the Cliff Notes to get to that level of proficiency.)
So take some lessons on prospecting from the most successful sales reps in the medical device world. Their best practices may help you stand out in a very crowded field.
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Last week’s blog included three tips for building your business network. Here are three more things you can do to grow your contacts:
1. Go with a plan to every networking event. You may not love Chamber of Commerce functions or trade association conventions, but you can become an effective networker if you prepare well. Here’s what you need to think about:
--Are there people in attendance at this meeting whom you’d like to spend time with? If you don’t know, do some homework. If the answer is yes, make a list. (If you’re not sure of their names but can narrow it down to “attorneys under 35” or “small business owners” that’s a start. The individuals organizing the meeting may be able to help you identify who fits your description.)
--Set some reasonable goals for yourself. If you have 30 minutes to mingle before the main event, try to meet 2 or 3 new people. (Networking 101 tip: That means you have to get there early and avoid schmoozing with any of your colleagues who are also introverts.)
--Assuming you’re there to expand your network of prospects or referral sources, what business information are you interested in acquiring from any one you meet? My list is pretty short because I try to spend no more than 5 minutes with each contact:
- What do you do?
- How long have you been doing it?
- What’s an ideal prospect for you and your company?
--If you think the person is a likely prospect or Center-of-Influence for you, offer your business card (don’t leave home without them) and ask whether you could follow-up with them to talk further. You’ll usually get a card in return and can propose a few times when you could call. If you think somebody is a hot prospect, try for a face to face meeting right there. You can confirm it by email later.
-- Remember that in order to reap any of the benefits of meeting people you have to follow up.
2. It’s about relationships, not transactions. People will give you referrals if they know you, like you and trust you. It usually takes more than a few minutes of cocktail party banter to get to that level.
What can you do to get off on the right foot with a potential referral partner in your first meetings? The short answer is exactly what you would do to impress a business prospect:
--Do your homework on the individual and on his business.
--Be prepared to ask lots of questions. Be curious in a professionally friendly way.
--Share relevant personal and professional information about yourself.
--Look for common ground—interests, clients, anything that helps you build rapport.
--See if there are any small ways you can help your new acquaintance. An introduction perhaps? A book or article that might be of interest?
--If there’s potential here, find a reason to get together again.
3. Don’t ignore LinkedIn groups. If you check out the number of business-oriented LinkedIn groups in your market, you might be surprised. Obviously only a small fraction will be of interest to you, but researching the groups online can be done outside of normal prime selling hours. You can find out about their activities, get background on their members, and dip a toe in the group without a major commitment. If you like what you find, you can connect quickly to a lot of people. (For more information on how to leverage LinkedIn in business development, you can register for an archived webinar I hosted recently at https://mzbierlyconsulting.webex.com.)
Bottom Line: Building a business network takes time and energy, but if you develop a plan, get some coaching, and stick with it, you’ll clearly benefit over the course of your professional career.
If you would like specific tips on leveraging your customer base for introductions, read our recent article on How to Confidently Ask Customers for Referrals.
Check out the quick reference guides available in our store at http://www.mzbierlyconsulting.com/store/.
If you want to grow your business network here are three things you can do to improve your chances of success:
1. Assess your current network: Everybody has contacts. They would include family, friends, classmates, alumni connections, co-workers, bankers you have gotten to know through trade associations like RMA, and people you have met through church and volunteer activities. If you’ve been in the industry for a while, you could add current and former customers, your prospects, your professional network of CPAs, attorneys, and appraisers, as well as some of their contacts.
Some of these people are just acquaintances, but others could fall into the category of advocates who would go out of their way to recommend you. Others are real allies, what networking guru Bill Cates (author of Unlimited Referrals and other classics on networking) compares to a personal board of directors. (To rate your current networking relationships, you can download a quick 10 question quiz by going to Rate Your Business Contacts .)
You should spend time listing and categorizing your current contacts into acquaintances, advocates and allies. If you are currently using a contact management or CRM system, this should be relatively easy; if you’re using LinkedIn it will take 60 to 90 minutes to complete this exercise.
As LinkedIn has demonstrated, the real power of this extended network is in its reach. Your acquaintances, advocates and allies all know people who could help you. The trick is tapping into their Rolodexes.
2. Make sure your contacts know what you’re up to: If you’ve just switched jobs, don’t keep it a secret. But updating your network has to be an ongoing part of your personal communication strategy, not just a communique heralding a new employer.
How do savvy bankers keep connected with their contacts? They typically rely on a variety of tools, starting with a database that they keep up to the minute. They send emails, cards (not just at Christmas) and relevant news throughout the year. Some are experimenting with personalized email newsletters, which are relatively easy to produce and much less expensive than mailings. For their allies, some form of phone or face-to-face communication alternates every month with written correspondence.
3. Join the right groups: There are lots of places to meet people. My favorites include civic events, conferences, alumni functions, non-profits, professional associations and private clubs. Some people have benefitted from networking (or BNI) groups.
But it’s not enough to join; you have to show up too. You have to seek out opportunities where you can share your talents, either by assuming a visible leadership position or volunteering to serve on a committee.
Agree or disagree? Post your comments below or email me at email@example.com
Next week’s blog will contain three more tips on building a business network. If you can’t wait, you can read the complete article that appeared in the ABA’s Commercial Insights newsletter by going to How to Build a Business Network: 6 Tips for RMs.
Why do bankers keep asking stupid questions? You know what I’m talking about. Asking prospects things like the following:
1. Where are you banking?
2. What products and services are you using?
3. How are they priced/ structured?
4. What are two things you wish your current bank was doing but isn’t?
5. How can I get a copy of your statements so that I can come back with a proposal?
One of our clients took offense when we kept referring to these as the five stupid questions. “But that’s what we have been taught to ask—I can show you the sales training manual that we used at my previous bank.”
Yes, sales trainers bear most of the blame for this. In the Dark Ages (before, say, 2000) just getting bankers in front of prospects was a rare enough occurrence. What they said to business prospects wasn’t all that important in many cases.
But in today’s competitive environment, you have to do better than ask the same old tired questions. To stand out—and to get a second appointment and a third and a fourth—you have to do a better job of getting your prospect talking more about his business than about his current banking arrangements.
And to do that, you have to steer the conversation away from your products and services—even if that’s what the prospect thinks the conversation is going to be about. That’s not necessarily your fault; even if you’ve sold the appointment as a chance to get to know the prospect’s business to see if there may be a way to work together, many customers will expect you to pitch your products. Surprise them: Don’t!
Your goal in any initial meeting is to learn as much as you can about the prospect’s world. A little history can help you gauge how the prospect thinks and what he sees as the keys to his success. Understanding the current environment in which the business is operating—that’s where industry intelligence fits in—can help you frame the kind of business (not banking) questions that will impress your prospect. And that will help you uncover some possible topics for your next meeting.
The “five stupid questions” aren’t bad questions. If you ask them before asking a lot of other questions, though, your chances of getting back in the door are going to be limited. The first conversation is about them, their products, their challenges, and their strategy, not about you.
To download a tool that will help you in planning a question sequence that leads to a better conversation, go to Inverted Triangle.
Interested in more tips on prospecting? Download our article on Preparing for the First Call on a Prospect.