A bank’s success is largely predicated on a banker’s ability to sell and we are not talking about the Wells Fargo way to sell. Whether you as a banker sell loans, deposits or treasury services, you need to understand the right questions to ask customers to optimize sales effectiveness. We visit hundreds of commercial clients and prospects every year and we have formulated some basic elements of success in the banking sales process. Our basic goal in most initial sales meeting is this: we want to talk no more than 30% of the time and we want our prospect to talk at least 70% of the time. Understanding the sales process and what questions to ask, and at what time, allows us to maximize sales effectiveness.
The Sales Process Broken Down
The sales process is summarized in the diagram above. Before we meet with a potential client we plan for the meeting. That entails reviewing our objectives, rehearsing the right questions and studying the customer’s business plus industry. The next stage is the opening. In our opinion, the opening is a less important sales differentiator. In the opening, we are attempting to establish rapport and exchange perfunctory information such as discussing the family, hobbies, the weather or that weekend’s football results. This step can take two minutes in New York, or thirty minutes in Alabama. Too many sales people take too long at the opening stage hurting rapport. Don’t get us wrong, making friends is a positive outcome and there is no downside if the friendship honest and spawned through a business meeting. However, people have time for only a few friends but can create meaningful business and sales relationships with hundreds of satisfied and fulfilled customers. A sales person’s immediate and top priority must be to serve the customer and provide a solution.
The discovery stage is the most important part of the sales process and where salespeople differentiate themselves with the right questions. The discovery stage is the subject of this blog. The final two stages of the process are the solution stage and the closing.
A few important pieces of information to keep in mind for a banking sales call:
A successful sales person is there to listen. Therefore, you are there to ask the important questions that provide you with information. Every sales person needs to understand what questions to ask and when to ask them. Information that you glean as a sales person is a powerful tool to making the sale.
Studies show that on average 80% of the customers that you will meet just want to get some information from you and get through their day. The vast majority of customers are not motivated to buy from you, and instead, they just want to maintain status quo and not change their supplier or process. This is a large mental and psychological hurdle for the average sales person to understand and then to overcome.
You are there to sell yourself and not your bank. Prospects have an exceedingly difficult time differentiating any institution, much
less banks that are largely homogenous. Think about why the prospect might want to do business with you instead of another sales person. Do not believe that you can convince your client on your bank. From the client’s perspective, the speed of underwriting or the CD rate or any other bank product is nearly identical across all banks.
You are NOT there to sell customers what they want. Instead, you are there to sell them what they need. Customers will often tell you that they know what they want, and sometimes a successful single sale occurs on that premise, however, long-term and profitable sales relationships occur as a result of investigating the customer’s true needs (which the typical customer has yet to identify).
In order to get the information you need from your customer, you will need to get the customer out of their comfort zone and ask questions that lesser sales people do not seek. You will want to receive information that your customer is not sharing with your competitors because those competitors do not know how to ask the right questions.
To make prospects change their status quo, you need to challenge them. But you need to challenge them for their benefit not your own. In other words, you need to understand your customer better, understand their needs, fears, desires, frustrations, and understand them from multiple angles.
Superficial standard sales questions will not differentiate you from the competition. The standard superficial sales questions include the following: “How can I help?” “What do you like about your current vendor?” “How is our level of service?” or “Can I put together a proposal?”
Superficial standard sales questions in most instances will get you a customer’s shielded response. A good sales person will have an arsenal of probing questions. Probing questions make customers think and challenge their status quo. Probing questions make the customer better understand how to grow their business, increase revenue or decrease costs. Those probing questions allow customers to get a unique perspective of you and your knowledge of their business or their industry.
Probing questions shake customers out of their comfort zone by challenging their status quo, introducing opposing or contrasting ideas and taps into the customer’s motives, beliefs, emotions, and values. We like to categorize probing questions into the following segments:
Descriptive – these questions are the basic building blocks of understanding the prospect’s business. These are easy questions to pose to get people to talk. Sample questions include the following: “Walk me through the steps of your acquisition strategy,” or “Clarify for me how you would identify a building site.” Within the descriptive segment, we like to focus on three sub-segments:Compare and contrast – asking questions that compare workflow, ideas or goals is important. Asking your prospect to compare their business to a competitor provides a good source of information.Time – ask prospects about where their business has been and where they want it to be in the future. This is another good way to get customers talking. Also, comparing goals over time can elicit a wealth of information for you. We also ask about long term vs. short term goals and opportunities.
Process – ask prospects about their purchasing and decision-making process.
Criteria – ask prospects about what criteria they use to determine what to purchase and who are the decision makers in the company.
Differentiators - ask your prospect how they differentiate their business. This allows you to help them be more successful.
Humility - we also ask questions that we may know the answer to, but allow the customer to educate us. Humility can go a long way in getting the customer to open up.
Keywords and triggers – we try to focus and identify keywords and emotional trigger words that our prospects use and ask questions surrounding those concepts. The words that might come up are as follows: "trying," "thinking," "struggling," or “facing.” These indicate some challenges or failures that you can help your customer with. If the customer uses these keywords, we will use questions to try to identify more information around that subject.
Our goal is to ask the questions that our competitors may not. By asking the probing questions, we benefit from obtaining the information needed to provide the prospect with a solution that our competitors have not identified. We are aware that most prospects just want to maintain status quo and will not freely share the right information with us. Our job as a banker is to motivate our clients to get out of their comfort zone and share important information with us. After every meeting, we ask ourselves, “Did we or our customer do most of the talking?”
Submitted by Chris Nichols on October 13, 2016