Catalytic Management Consulting
Accelerating Growth, Driving Performance

Knowledge Drives Sales When Bank Managers Call on Businesses

Information is not knowledge.
— Albert Einstein, physicist and humanist (1879-1955)

“When you arrive for a sales call meeting armed with real knowledge about the prospect company, it speaks volumes about you as a sales person,” observes Shelley F. Hall, Principal, Managing Director of Catalytic Management LLC (Boston, MA). “It says you are prepared at least some extent to talk about the prospect’s needs and not just about what products or services your bank or credit union offers.”

Successful sales people learn about a prospect before a meeting. If “discovery” is done well, they continue learning about the prospect during the meeting. “Knowledge is not totally acquired before a meeting, but basic knowledge is necessary to direct the face-to-face conversation and learn more,” says Hall.

Knowledge vs. Information

Knowledge and information are not the same thing. Possessing information simply means you have specific facts about a prospect. For instance, you may know how many employees they have, what products/services they sell, what their annual revenue is, how long they have been in business, etc. If you’ve done a really good job researching on the internet, you should also be able to identify some of their competitors and gather facts about the prospect’s market or industry. But these are just facts…bits of information.

“When you understand how these facts impact your prospect and how they influence the way the company is managed, you have knowledge,” Hall says. “Knowledge refers to the depth of information and understanding of how these facts all relate – what picture does it paint of the prospect’s situation.” Only by understanding the prospect’s situation can you discover ways to offer real value.
EXAMPLE: As Branch Manager, you may know the revenue for the prospect’s company and how many employees they have. This is information. But when you learn that for the prospect’s particular industry revenue is considerably higher or that revenue per employee is higher, you now have an understanding of your prospect’s current and future financial situation.

Understanding Is the Goal

“Isolated facts don’t tell you the real story. Understanding is the goal and you gain this by researching before a meeting and by asking the right discovery questions during a meeting,” explains Hall. Before meeting with a prospect, be prepared to ask questions that will uncover needs and ways that your financial institution can help the prospect grow their business. This means coming to the meeting armed with information about the prospect. Hall recommends that you…

  • Determine annual revenue for at least 3 years, more if the economy is bad. This tells you about the prospect’s growth trends. Are they growing, stagnating or declining?
  • Find out number of employees. This gives you an idea of the prospect’s payroll needs.
  • Obtain information about the state of the prospect’s industry. This tells you how to evaluate their revenue figures. If the industry is growing at a rate of 11% per year and your prospect’s revenue is not growing at the same pace, you may question the prospect’s competitive strength, their continued relevance in the market, etc. With this knowledge, you can determine what kind of financial client they may be and are their financial needs going to grow.
  • Study the prospect’s website for information on:
    • Their products and services
    • Their management team – also, research the individuals on LinkedIn to uncover where you share connections.
    • How the company was founded and how old it is. Knowing this basic information is always a solid conversation starter and gives you an opportunity to congratulate the owner/founder on being an entrepreneur.
    • Is this a family business? That might mean all major decisions are made by “family committee.”
  • Research the prospect’s competitors. What is your prospect doing differently that enhances their competitive position? Are their competitors potential banking clients?

Research Your Prospect

“The object of selling should not be to just make the sale,” emphasizes Hall. “It should be to build a lasting, long-term client relationship that will drive profit for the institution for many years. To accomplish this goal, your prospect sales call must be effective.”

When making the call, you have to effectively demonstrate that you sincerely want to help the business – not just drive deposits. If you go into a meeting without basic knowledge about the company, the prospect has to spend time sharing things he or she believes you should already know. Doing some pre-call research says that you value the owner’s time and that you see the business as a unique entity, not just another name on your list.

“Your face-to-face meeting should focus on gaining a better understanding of the company,” says Hall. Anytime you meet with a prospect, Hall advises that at minimum you go in with the following information:

  • Company history
  • Management team
  • Products/services offered and who buys their offerings
  • Industry knowledge
  • Competitors

TIP:  All of the above is public information that usually you can find on the prospect’s website and the internet. If the prospect is a public company, then you can access facts such as revenue figures, credit history and number of employees. How You Position Knowledge Matters

“Information coupled with understanding gives you knowledge, but how you use that knowledge is critical to building that all important client relationship,” Hall says. “How you position your knowledge can set you apart from your competition.” She says you position your knowledge when you…

  • Begin your discovery by asking simple questions that then lead to the more complex questions. This gives the prospect time to feel comfortable with you. It also gives you time to assess the prospect’s communication style and for you to adjust your style to match theirs.
    EXAMPLE:  Does the prospect focus on details or the big picture? If they talk about the big picture, then you should adjust your questions and sales presentation to focus on the big picture. If they are detail or process oriented, then you tailor your questions to specifics and process.
  • Use the knowledge you acquire to form questions that will dig deeper into the company’s needs and will help you uncover a need that the prospect may not have even seen.
    EXAMPLE:  If you know that the company’s growth has not kept pace with the industry’s rate of growth, ask a question like:  “How would you compare your company’s growth rate to that of the industry as a whole?”
    The question is not:  “Since the growth rate of the industry is at 11% and your growth rate is only at 6%, what do you think you need to do?” Asking the question this way is negative and puts the prospect on the defensive.

Using the Knowledge You Acquire

To effectively use the knowledge you acquire, Hall offers these tips:

  • Ask questions that are based on comparison…not just questions that will illicit a “yes” or “no” or short answer.
    EXAMPLE:  I understand that you have approximately 28 employees while the industry average is 35. How has staying lean helped your company’s growth?
  • Think about the critical knowledge you must have in order to determine what products or services you want to present. Then using the knowledge you have, develop questions that uncover what you need.
    EXAMPLE:  Let’s say you know that you have a service that you believe will really help the prospect. You also know that their current bank doesn’t offer this service.
    Instead of saying, “I know that your current bank, Bank of the Universe, doesn’t offer free courier service. Well, we offer free courier service and if you bank with me, you’ll get it.” Use your knowledge about the competitor’s weakness to determine first if courier service is even important to the prospect. Why waste the valuable time you have together introducing something they don’t want. So instead ask:  “How important would it be to your business having courier service where the bank picks up your deposits?”
  • Use your understanding of current clients in the same industry to learn more about your current prospect.
    EXAMPLE:  Say to the prospect, “While doing research on your company and your industry, I found that many similar companies receive real benefit from cash management programs like the one we offer. With cash management you would realize the following benefits… Are these benefits you would value?”

The Client Has to Benefit

The most important aspect of knowledge is not that you know it . . . it’s that you know how to use that knowledge to your client’s benefit. Successful sales people know how to use knowledge as a way to gain increasingly deeper knowledge about the prospect. “Spouting information to a prospect about their business is meaningless. They know those facts,” Hall says. “What the prospect may not know or not see is how all of those facts combine and affect their business. Your job is to help the prospect turn that knowledge into action.”

Back to top ^