“We learned to listen to the customers’ needs, rather than just sell our products.” Clare, New England Banker
October’s theme is opportunity. Throughout the month I’m profiling folks who have found opportunities during these disruptive times. This week it’s a New England banker we’ll call “Clare.”
Clare is a leader in a community bank. While she’s been in leadership roles in banking, she came to the field as a customer — both from the corporate world and as a government official.
Way back in 2019, her bank’s executive team decided that it needed to develop a culture of collaboration among its business lines — commercial lending, the branch, cash management, wealth management, etc.
Clare was asked to join the effort to help develop collaborative, holistic approaches to working with customers. She used her prior experience as a customer to help her colleagues achieve broader perspectives in repositioning their products.
Clare noted how the various business lines were seen as “the bank” and not through their individual products. As each segment visited the same customers, they created confusion because they were not working as a team.
Clare and her team were just making progress in collaborative approaches to their sales efforts; the team had tested and refined their approach and were ready to roll it out to other regions…
Then, COVID Hit…
And everything went virtual. All the traditional methods of business networking meetings, such as Chamber of Commerce breakfasts, evaporated.
Clare saw the opportunity to re-imagine the sales process and provide valuable information to current and prospective customers. She wrote blog posts covering key policies and best practices. Her posts focused on practical, tactical issues — what she’s termed a “blocking and tackling” approach that focused on real issues in disruptive times.
She covered issues like managing remote cash in a pandemic; operating under assumptions that no longer applied; addressing critical cash flow forecasting issues. She boiled them down to very practical questions like “who owes me money, are they going to pay me and when?” and “who do I owe money to and how much cash do I have?”
Clare’s past experience as a banking customer drove her thinking on these critical questions. And she outlined very practical strategies for the bank as it sought to address these questions for its customers.
One of the big challenges for the team was working with their customers to obtain federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. While Congress passed the law, there were no policies that outlined the criteria necessary for customers to obtain the loans. The lenders didn’t even have the program applications for their prospective customers. There was a sense of urgency to get loans to customers, but a lack of clarity regarding just how that could occur.
“We were the messenger with a cloudy message,” Clare noted; “our challenge was to express empathy, but also deliver the message that the details of the program had not been finalized. We’d say here’s the information we think you’ll need to provide, but it has not been finalized by the government yet.”
Faced with continually changing criteria, Clare found herself the person who led the shift of the sales team’s focus from analytical experts in particular business lines, to a more strategic, holistic, collaborative effort to define and resolve customers’ very specific, very practical banking needs.
Lesson Learned (Clare)
When the pandemic hit, the team was able to trust in doing the right thing for customers. They stayed focused on the customers and their needs vs. the short term goals of selling products.
Going forward the bank’s values will stay the same — as a community bank, helping the community prosper. The way it goes about executing on those values will change.
Also changing will be how to connect with customers virtually. The sales team has undertaken a listening campaign where they call their customers and check in to see how they’re doing, what they need. The team also conducts webinars to educate customers on emerging challenges and the solutions available.
The bank has repositioned its team as problem solvers. For example, the team conveys to customers about how to talk with their banker. Some customers may not want to talk with their banker, because they do not want to communicate a negative message. The bankers encourage their customers to communicate early with them so that solid solutions can be worked out.
Clare’s approach has been to figure out how to help. Her prior experience in corporate and government organizations as a bank customer provided unique knowledge that she felt obligated to share.
In addition to being involved with building the collaborative model for the commercial sales team, Clare has broadened her exposure to the various business lines and products.
Lessons Learned (You)
Clare built on her unique experience, as a banking customer, to help her team develop innovative efforts for working with its customers. The team shifted from selling their individual products to a holistic, problem-solving approach. She saw the opportunity provided by the COVID disruption to better position her bank’s team, which added greater value to their customers.
What opportunities has this current disruption brought for your organization? How are you able to capitalize on these?
What unique skills or past experiences can you leverage to create new opportunities?
Send me an email at email@example.com and let me know. I’d love to hear your ideas. By the way, all information you share is confidential.
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