As I work regularly with bankers, commercial lenders specifically, I’m frequently involved in conversations about the pressure of sales growth. Revenue growth isn’t unique in business by any means, but it takes on a slightly different angle in banking. Banking resides in a sales category one step removed from where sales typically resides.
What I mean by that is — most bankers I talk to call themselves relationship bankers. In fact, Relationship Manager is the most common title used for this position. They are set-up very well by the bank. They have branding and fantastic products behind them. They have a great presence about them, — their dress, ability to communicate and demeanor. I love the sales environment they’ve created. When a business owner walks into a branch, the relationship manager exudes confidence and personality. He’s in the best spot in the world from a sales perspective. But the next moment is critical.
Most bankers then expect the business owner to tell them how they can help. The problem is, the business owner isn’t prepared to know how the bank can help. The successful relationship managers are able to peel back the layers of the business owner’s daily life to find a solution that best fits. The unsuccessful relationship manager asks “How are sales?” He’s stuck at that point. He has only the bank’s monthly special to fall back on. “Hey, Mr. Business Owner. We have a heck of a deal on equipment leasing that may help you out.” To this the business owner replies; “I’m in the hotel staffing business. My work occurs on somebody else’s property.” Sound familiar? That happened to me.
Trying to address this issue, I ran across an article in The Gallup Blog, by John Hughs and Beth Youra, titled, “Bankers: Want More Sales? Have Better Conversations”.
The graphic included in the article about critical conversations, sets the stage for knowing your client and finding the right solutions. It looks beyond the cash in the accounts, or the loan balances outstanding, and digs into the issues being faced on the street by the business. One of the primary complaints of business owners about their banker is they don’t understand their business. Truth is, understanding their business takes time and effort. Understanding requires engagement and engagement requires heart and effort. Or, the relationship managers I know aren’t equipped with the proper tools or knowledge to understand their client's business. This lack of confidence turns into reluctance. No one wants to seem like they’re in the dark.
The question then becomes “How?”. How do you get this knowledge quickly? How do you find the time to properly engage? How do I find something to talk about? You can set the agenda by first listening, then asking more probing questions. Guiding your client to a path you know you can help solve the issue with. It takes time and energy. There are tools available that set this agenda for you instantly. They give you in-depth knowledge about the business, compare your customer to his competitors, and help you become the advisor he needs to make more money. Why else would he be in the bank, if he wasn’t looking for money?
In full disclosure, I happen to work for Finagraph, that does this for relationship managers. In less than 60 seconds. That frees up a lot of time to find more customers or increase the product per customer ratio of your current ones. And there are other products available. You bank may have RMA data to help you compare your customer to his industry. You may have financials that have been spread. This is a great place to start the conversation by addressing the good and the bad of what he has already done. In any case, engage fully. Get to know your clients the way they get to know theirs in the field.