Any Excuse (Issue 619)

In which we are reminded that it’s our job to create reasons to talk and possibilities for action.

More than once past decades, I have asked a motionless teenager: ‘What are you going  to do this afternoon?’

The leaden one replies, ‘I don’t know…………. I can’t think of anything.’

I’ve learned this is an accurate response. A thick fog has descended on the child’s brain, rendering thought impossible. It’s the kid’s job to come up with something.  Only the kid can break out of the fog.

Segue to: A story from a friend.

A banker called one of my friends. ‘John, this is Bill Smith. I’m the branch manager with [large well known bank]. I just wanted to call and introduce myself. We’re building a new branch in your area. I thought if we could talk, I might be able to figure out if there’s anything we could do for you. I look forward to hearing back from you.’

My friend John’s question to me: ‘Why on earth would I call the guy back?’

A great question. Our recommendation to the branch manager: Make an offer! Create some reason for a conversation.

“But,” might sputter said branch manager: “I am a branch manager.  We are going to build a new branch near John’s location.  But my bank doesn’t have any special offer.  There’s no ‘for the next 30 days,’ no special CD rates … We’re just a pretty solid bank with lots of very happy customers and we want John to be one of them.”

It’s the same fog. ‘What are you going to say to your prospects to pique their interest in talking to you this afternoon?’

‘I don’t know….. I can’t think of anything.’

This is the beauty in and the lesson from Professor Harold Hill in Meredith Wilson’s, ‘The Music Man.’

Hill arrives in River City, Iowa, a peddler of band instruments. On his arrival, there is no need for, no interest in, and no hurry to buy band instruments. Everything is fine.

Hill needs a way to start a conversation. He surveys the town. Learning that there’s a pool hall in town (something he didn’t know when he arrived), he reaches out to the fears and doubts of the upstanding River City citizens and CREATES a reason for conversation and action:

“Either you are closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge, or you are unaware of the caliber of disaster brought about by the presence of a pool table in your town. Well, you’ve got trouble, my friends…”

Back to our branch manager. New in town. New branch. No need for, no interest in, and no hurry to talk to a new bank branch. Everything is fine.

It’s the branch manager’s job (and his/her District Manager’s job)  to follow Harold Hill’s example, to survey the situation, to CREATE something, impending trouble or rising opportunity, to begin conversation.

It doesn’t have to be a ‘killer reason’ that prompts a ‘We have to meet right now’ response from prospects. The idea is, simply, to start a conversation.

They could take Professor Hill’s ‘you got trouble’ approach:   “Interest rates are rising, you should act now. Credit is still tight, we’re offering a free cash flow management analysis to identify ways to conserve cash.  Health care costs are rising, we’ve invited an expert speaker to talk about health care cost management.”

Or they could ask a question, something as simple as, ‘We’re  new in town, our branch is new,  we’re getting to know the business people in the community, and we wanted to ask you a question: ‘What do you see as the top three business priorities in town now?’’

Branch manager and town person talk for a few minutes. Branch manager says goodbye. Branch manager calls each person back two weeks later: ‘Thanks for speaking with me two weeks ago, I wondered if you’d like to hear a summary of what I heard?’  ‘You would?  Great, may I come out to visit next week?’

Even if we have exactly the same products as the other banks in town, we have CREATED a new conversation. There’s now a possibility.

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