Make An Impression Mr. Banker (or Mr. Anyone!)

Sometimes I feel like my soul is in Sales.

Even though my career has not really been about sales, I am more and more convinced that the techniques of sales positively impact me – both personally and professionally. It’s been widely said by sales managers and CEOs (such as Shai Stern of CheckAlt and V-Corp), “People do business with people.” 

This blog started today when I read a piece in the American Banker titled “Bankers Should Want Customers to Know Their Names.”  Now as a banker and communicator at a bank renowned for its personal service, I can confidently assert my belief that most of our colleagues are well versed in the power of a personal connection.

However, I know that there are bankers here, and elsewhere, who could use a reminder that, as Hank Blank posted in his wonderful blog “It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you.”

I wish I could link to the American Banker article, but there’s a mighty pay-wall preventing random visitors from stopping by.  So, instead I’ll quote some of the key points made by Dave Martin, executive vice president and chief training consultant at NCBS, a SunTrust Banks Inc. subsidiary that offers consulting, training, design and construction services for retail banking programs.

Brian is our plumber. Ricky repairs the sprinkler system. Ziad? Home renovation and repair. Mallory cuts my family’s hair. Freddy and Butch tag-team my website work. And where would be without Guy, the guy who fixes our computers?

But ask me to name our banker … and I’d be stumped.

Why is this important? Let me continue quoting Mr. Martin:

I’ve had a few discussions with some marketing friends recently about what messages actually differentiate our banks in our commoditized environment. What are we actually promoting to folks that the other guys can’t as well?

They’ve got convenient branches, long hours, mobile apps and “free or near free” services, too. They’ve also got extensive ATM networks or waive fees when they don’t.

What the other guys don’t have are your best people. But would a customer know that?

A customer would only know that if they had a strong impression of the bankers they deal with.  And the best way that can be cultivated is with personal contact.  Mr. Martin writes about the impact of seeing your bank manager in a photo posted on the ATM you use, as well as on in-branch monitors. Both are high tech ways to invite your customers to get to know you.  But, he points out:

…  another effective technique for increasing the name recognition of our bankers involves pretty sophisticated technology: 3.5″ x 2″ pieces of card stock. In a technology-driven, advertising-saturated environment, a hand-delivered business card still has meaningful impact.

And it’s a seemingly vanishing activity. I’ve suggested to middle managers before that regularly asking their managers to give an estimate of how many business cards they handed out in the previous week accomplishes plenty.

And this brings us back to “Who Knows You.”  Whatever your goal is, selling widgets, getting hired, promoting the American Marketing Association, or gaining more members for your house of worship, there is nothing like face time – not just Facebook – to make the best and most memorable impression. 

Yes, people do business with people.   Even today, in our linked in social-media obsessed world, personal contact still packs a potent – and potentially profitable – punch.

Sales Observations for Bankers

I’ve been at City National Bank for one year now. Re-entering the banking field after a 13 year absence has been an interesting mixture of “déjà vu all over again” as well as “wow, that’s a great improvement over the old way of doing things.”

My job is communicating information about our cash management services (AKA treasury services or treasury management services) to our clients, our employees, and, of course to our sales team.

Déjà vu All Over Sales

I am pleased to work with the high caliber of sales pros on our treasury team. They consult with prospects who are usually recommended to them by relationship managers in our branches, as well as other client-facing employees. So, this is where the déjà vu part comes in.

Back in the ‘80s when my banking days were just beginning, bank executives were exhorting their branches to “sell.” At the time, I focused much of my attention on educating the branch world in cross-selling to existing customers. That continued virtually unstopped across two different banks until I left to join a life insurance company etc. etc. through the ‘00s until I arrived here in early 2011.

Guess what? Bankers are still learning to sell.

Recently, I read “How to Confidently Ask Customers for Referrals”, a guest article in American Banker by Ned Miller, Senior Vice President, MZ Bierly Consulting, Inc. I wish I could link to his article, but it is in “protected” ABA space and not readily available. However, I will quote from some of the article here.

According to research conducted at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, 92 percent of prospects almost never book a meeting from a cold call or e-mail. That number may be higher than I would have guessed based on the comments of the bankers I work with, but the larger point should not be lost: cold callers face an uphill battle getting appointments with decision-makers.

What is the alternative? It is no secret that customer referrals beat cold calling hands down. With an introduction from one of your best customers you will usually have little trouble scheduling that first appointment. Gatekeepers seem considerably less intimidating when you can say that ―Bill’s fraternity brother/ golfing buddy/ neighbor/ top supplier Andy Miller suggested that I set up a time to meet with him.

In my time as a sales representative in the payments industry, I can vouch for this – as I’m sure any experienced sales person can. How much easier can life be than to get warm leads and referrals rather than making sales calls? The hard part, as Miller observes about bankers, is actually requesting referrals in the first place.

We find excuses not to ask for them. Do any of these excuses cited by Miller sound like things you’ve said or you’ve heard your sales team say?

  • I’m not comfortable asking for referrals.
  • I’ve gotten some pretty bad referrals in the past.
  • It shouldn’t be necessary — satisfied customers should give us referrals without our having to ask.
  • I’m not sure how to approach a customer on this.
  • It’s not part of our normal sales process.
  • It’s not something that is emphasized here.
  • This strikes me as too “salesy.”
  • What will I do if a customer doesn‟t want to refer anybody to me?
  • I don’t want to sound desperate.
  • I’m not clear when the best time is to ask for a referral.
  • It might be awkward for the customer.

As Miller states, the picture that emerges has implications for bankers (and other sales pros) at all levels.

  • For Sales Leaders: It is not enough to tell your troops to ask for referrals. You may have to provide specific how-tos and coaching on techniques to get people ready. If you do not break the process down into its component parts, your associates may struggle.
  • For Relationship Managers: This approach does take practice. Bankers who try it once or twice and moan that it does not work have to get about 25 more at-bats before giving up.
  • Beyond Bankers’ Reluctance

    Reluctance to call for referrals is not unique to banking, though it is probably more pervasive than in other fields where sales has been more widely utilized to drive new business. Traditional bankers expected the business to come to them because, after all, everyone needs to use banking services, right? Unfortunately, even though banking deregulation began in the mid 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s, bankers themselves took far longer to make a transition to the environment where competiton among banks and non-banks became fierce.

    My next post will be some thoughts on a great blog post I read recently about one of the biggest challenges any sales person must wrestle with – if they want to be effective. That is knowing when persistence morphs into its negative flipside: pushiness.

Southern California AMA Membership Drive

As the VP of Membership for the SoCal AMA, I’m pleased to announce an opportunity for marketers in SoCal to expand their network, increase the value of AMA membership and do their friends and colleagues a favor – all at once: just provide me with leads for new members who we can target for the Spring Membership campaign.

The national headquarters of the AMA is launching their spring membership drive in April, but now is the time for us to generate a list of leads. Please help us grow the chapter (and increase the networking value of membership) by giving us any leads for friends and colleagues who might benefit from membership.

Building Our List

  • Joining during the drive offers new members special discounts and benefits.
  • Have coworkers who aren’t members? Your firm can apply for corporate membership and get discounted membership rates for everyone on your team. Give us your boss’s mailing info and we’ll convince him or her of the value!
  • The membership campaign will include a direct mail package and emails. If you have leads for me, please provide me your colleague’s name, address and email information and I’ll add them to the list.
  • I need your input by February 15, 2011. You can email me at gregimlay44@gmail.com or send leads through the LinkedIn message system.

    Why Join the AMA?

    There are benefits to membership in the AMA – both from the local chapter and the national membership:

    The AMA national membership offers:

    • Exclusive access to vast resources, recorded webinars and whitepapers on MarketingPower.com.
    • Several times each week, join into exclusive members-only live webinars.
    • One of the great marketing magazines available, Marketing News, published 16 times annually and mailed to your home or business.
    • Your choice of additional special interest magazines included in your membership.
    • Discounts to AMA conferences.

    With your local chapter, you can:

    • Quickly integrate and network with the local marketers.
    • Connect with local business resources.
    • Enjoy discounts for UCLA Extension courses.
    • Strengthen your marketing and management skills.
    • Expand your conceptual, planning and execution skills through local event management.
    • Expand your management, business and public speaking skills by volunteering for the chapter executive board.

    Thanks in advance for your help.

If Ad Agencies Can’t Market, Who Can?

I’ve been an admirer of Hank Blank ever since I heard him speak about networking. I even wrote a blog post about that presentation in September 2009.

When The Problem is Lack of Focus

I just re-read his recent posts about problems he’s encountered at advertising agencies that don’t market themselves as well as they market their clients. While we can admire their focus on satisfying their customers, we should question their long-term prospects if they fail to apply strategy to their own self definition and self-marketing efforts.

As Mr. Blank points out, one of the symptoms of a company without strategic focus is opportunism. They chase whichever “deal” presents itself, missing most of them because they haven’t developed the product set for that client because they were too busy addressing the previous “must have” deal. With a strategy, product development positions you for the market you’re approaching, with branding, relationship-building and focused communications bringing the opportunities that are a true “fit” for your organization.

Opportunistic misdirection? I’ve been there – with Electronic Clearing House, Inc. (ECHO) in its early days. As a small credit card processor competing against the likes of First Data Corp and other out-sized payment technology firms, we struggled to be all things to all people. We chased business by developing special technology to obtain one business, without regard to whether this set of features would be of benefit to a sizable segment of even one vertical industry.

Making Choices – And Sticking With Them
ECHO, like companies that survive their opportunistic early days, survived by learning to focus.

My former colleague at Intuit, Scott Blum, described a strategic focus as, among other things, “deciding what not to do.” This means evaluating many opportunities and choosing only those that have the most potential for growth and the most alignment with core competencies. Such an approach led ECHO to focus more specifically on market segments that fit our credit card and echeck expertise.

Applying this Lesson to Sales

I’ve noticed something being part of a sales team. What companies do over months and even years of strategic development, sales people do on a daily basis in spending their valuable time on lists of leads. Who do you call? Which emails do you spend the most time on for follow-up? Choosing means deciding among a variety of alternatives:

  • Call the CEO who showed interest in your product, but stressed the need for a feature you don’t have.
  • Call the businesses who use a service that you can implement quickly for a quick hit, or call the businesses who use a product that takes more set-up time but offers more long-term profit?
  • If this company isn’t calling you back, is it because I wasn’t “on” the first time I called, or is it simply a product they truly have no need for?
  • Does the theory that X service “would be good” for a Y vertical make sense?  Gee, wouldn’t some more research be good on this topic? Is it worth it for the sales person to prove a hyposthesis, or should this be handed off to a research effort?
  • What’s the answer? A salesman makes decisions based upon his own instincts as well as the direction provided by management. However, a company can’t afford for instinct to drive strategy.

Goodness, Gracious, It’s Cause-Related Marketing!

Cause-Related Marketing – Revisited
As Marketing Director at CheckAlt Payment Services (formerly Skyline’s DirectFED Payment Services), one of my many roles is as blogger for the company blog. While Sarah Goldbaum ably leads this effort as part of her social media marketing, I contribute periodically.

She started a thread on using volunteerism and community support as a means to expand awareness of a company, which I followed in my upcoming post for this week.

This got me to thinking about cause-related marketing. I recently wrote a guide to eBay Giving Works and its relationship to cause-related marketing. I was looking for the best definition to include in this guide, and here’s what I assembled from the explanations I found:

• Cause-related marketing is defined as the public association of a for-profit company with a nonprofit organization, intended to promote the company’s product or service and to raise money for the nonprofit.
• CRM is generally considered to be distinct from corporate philanthropy because the corporate dollars involved in CRM are not outright gifts to a nonprofit organization, hence not tax-deductible. However, the company benefits from gaining a positive reputation with their market.

Some History of Cause Related Marketing:

• The phrase “cause-related marketing” was first used by American Express in 1983 to describe its campaign to raise money for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty.
• American Express made a one-cent donation to the Statue of Liberty every time someone used its charge card.
• The number of new card holders soon grew by 45%, and card usage increased by 28%.

Why Do This?

Recent studies have documented that:
• Consumers carefully consider a company’s reputation when making purchasing decisions
• A company’s community involvement boosts employee morale and loyalty
• According to the Cone Millennial Cause Study in 2006, 89% of Americans (aged 13 to 25) would switch from one brand to another brand of a comparable product (and price) if the latter brand was associated with a “good cause.”

Tips to Leverage CRM

Cause-related marketing can become a cornerstone of your marketing plan. Ideally, your cause-related marketing activities should highlight your company’s reputation within your target market.

Cause-related marketing can positively differentiate your company from your competitors and provide an edge that delivers other tangible benefits, including:
• Increased sales
• Increased visibility
• Increased customer loyalty
• Enhanced company image
• Positive media coverage

Tips to Leverage CRM

• Team up with a charity. This means getting involved in as many ways as possible and really owning the relationship with them. In the DirectFED blog, I point to some great examples of this.
• Select a cause that is important to your target market. Note that womens products are likely to have an association with womens causes, such as breast cancer. Try to determine which charity is best for you to highlight your values and those of your customer base.
• Have fliers for your charity in your business, or links on your website
• Volunteer for the charity. This:
• Demonstrates commitment
• Builds awareness
• Builds your network among other volunteers or board members
But that doesn’t mean everyone is doing it. Whether out of a spirit of good old fashioned community support, or as part of an organized campaign of cause-related marketing, not everyone has seen the light. But take a look around the country, as I recently had a chance to, and you can see many firms active in this movement.

The Lasting Benefits
One thing I can say from my own experience, volunteers are proud of their efforts and enjoy telling their friends and family about them. Those T-shirts that volunteers “get” to wear on the day of the event? They’ll be worn for months and even years to come, a constant reminder to their neighbors and friends about the generosity of their credit union employee. Hmm. I wonder where my old volunteer T’s have gone? I wonder if my wife knows . . . .

Cats are From Marketing, Dogs are From Sales

I’ve spent 20 years in marketing, and almost three months in sales.

And while I’ve owned cats my entire life, I’m only three months into life with Rocky, our chihuahua mix pound puppie. So if I’m off the mark here, please comment and set me straight.

In marketing, like cool cats, we stand back and watch things, analyzing with calculating interest the effects of variables on sales results. We touch and nudge with curious paws a factor here or there and chase down the occasional mouse with special interest. In general, marketers approach their craft with intellectualism. Yes there is passion, but passion driven by numbers (metrics).

In sales, I am already falling into the boundless enthusiasm and can-do attitude of the representative on the hunt. I am confident and energetic, my virtual tail wagging with anticipation of a positive sign from the lead. Like a bloodhound, I track a sale tirelessly, through gatekeeper assistants, voicemail mazes, price negotiations and multiple meetings. And, when a sales goes south, I’m sure I can look as forlorn as the doggie who’s been scolded by his master for chewing his shoe.

It is amazing how humbling sales can be.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
– You need to be upbeat and strong, delivering your message with enthusiasm (even when you’ve already repeated it several dozen times that same day – with no success).

– You need to listen carefully and think fast. Potential buyers will come across as negative first. It’s a natural defensive reaction. But then, a few times each day, maybe only a few times every week, someone will suddenly say something that leaves room for further discussion.

– Engaging the potential customer for 30 seconds can lead to a minute, can lead to 10 minutes, can lead to a warm lead. If you get past the initial defensiveness, you can spend a few moments talking and gaining the trust of the person on the phone. After they learn you’re not a shark-like salesman with white shoes, they’re more open to hear you out and think about your offer.

– I’ve learned – sometimes too late – that a statement of an objection may be overcome with a reasonable response that addresses how your product solves a problem or improves their bottom line. Keeping alert gives you the perception to recognize when those opportunities occur.

Cold Calling Means Always Having to Say You’re Sorry

One month into my new gig at Skyline’s DirectFED Payment Solutions, one notable addition to my list of experiences (but not necessarily my skills) is selling. I don’t mean standing at a trade show booth and selling to professionals who were wandering the aisles, I mean cold calling by phone. “100 calls a day.” That formula is how Shai Stern built his success. Being new to this and respecting his success, I’m doing my best to do a lot of calls. (Keep in mind, I’m also responsible for marketing so I usually do a lot less than 100.)

I used to think that cold calling meant always having to say you’re sorry. You’re interrupting someone’s busy day with an unexpected intrusion, and then giving them a pitch that they have usually decided in advance they will turn down.

You do feel like you’re interrupting a person’s busy day . . . so you have to get them engaged immediately or lose any chance of continuing. So, as part of my job, I’m continually refining the “elevator pitch”, er, make that a “pitch while the elevator door is closing” which is almost literally the sequence of events when some CEO picks up the phone and gives me ten seconds.

Not wanting to suck at this as much as I have so far, I did some research on-line for tips. Oddly enough, there are only about half a million pages of content to read on Google. But the AllBusiness site had the most succinct tips that made the most sense to me.

First Thing in the Morning

One of their tips is to do your calling early, when you’re fresh and when decision makers are in their offices before gatekeepers arrive. So far, this hasn’t worked. For me, I look at selling as something to divert myself from all the marketing activities that occupied my day. I actually look forward to dialing numbers and trying to find someone on the other line besides voice mail. It’s fun to connect.

Have a Script to Refer To
I haven’t tried this yet. I feel like I should know the shpiel. I don’t. A script is in order not for reading but for giving me cues. I won’t read from it, but it will help me to focus on the key messages that catch the listener and invite them to NOT hang up two seconds after I call.

However, this is the bottom line for me. I want to earn commissions just like any hungry sales pro. More than that, I recognize sales as a skill that can have advantages in terms of negotiations, persuasion, and thinking on my feet. I’ll keep you posted.