“How we sell” to our clients matters more to them than product quality, brand perception, and service excellence. According to the Corporate Executive Board, 53 percent of a customer’s overall loyalty index to a vendor is driven by satisfaction with the sales process. This number is critical when we are thinking about translating our bank’s brand to action—to differentiate ourselves, provide a consistent experience, generate value through our sales process, and increase sales and client retention.
A major bank sought to encourage mass affluent clients to consolidate their wealth with the bank’s investment group. The bank’s previous attempts with price changes, new products, and differential service had produced no result.
Seeking a new approach, the bank defined an “end to end” client experience embodying their brand through the sales process, from first contact with a client, through the development of alternative plans, to account maintenance, specifying, for example, exactly how clients would be greeted, where they would sit, and what they would be handed to read while waiting for a financial planning advisor.
The bank quickly exceeded its targets of completed financial plans. Fees earned per completed plan were four times the initial estimates. Over a six-year period, portfolio sizes and fees increased at rates above previous rates.
Sales process and the client experience became the bank’s brand and a critically important component of its differentiation.
Translating brand to action effectively in the field requires four key steps.
Step 1: Translate brand attributes and client preferences into detailed descriptions of client experience.
This means choosing target client segments and objectives to be achieved, assessing client values and preferences from the outside in (meaning from the client’s perspective rather than the bank’s perspective), and developing a strategy to pursue the targeted clients based on the evidence gathered in the “outside-in” research. For example: if your target clients want “trusted advisors,” describe (from the client’s perspective) the experiences and conversations that would lead your clients to conclude that they were working with a “trusted advisor.”
Step 2: Define sales processes and activities necessary to create the client experience.
Label and define each step of a sales process for prospective clients from initial engagement, through understanding, exploration, recommendation, and following steps. For each step, ask, “What messages are we giving, or what impressions are we creating, by this step and approach?” Be explicit about how client interactions should look—when they happen, where they happen, how they happen, and who is involved. Use story-board techniques to map out each step in the process or each 15-minute segment of the client’s time with an advisor. Focus on activities and prescribed frequencies, methods of execution for each step in the process, and responsible individuals involved in each step.
Step 3: Establish and track measures showing how well advisors’ activities match defined processes and standards.
Measurement of process execution is critical. The most common client experience measure is a satisfaction survey. While surveys provide immediate summary feedback about clients’ experiences, they do not assess advisors’ execution of the branded sales process steps or suggest appropriate changes to improve alignment of the sales process with the bank’s brand. It is critical to measure whether advisors performed the right branded activities, at the right time, in the right way. Measures can range from simple, like tracking thank-you notes sent, to complex, like voice tones and physical mannerisms during a needs assessment. Independent assessments of client sales experiences and feelings of trust, loyalty, and comfort can confirm execution of the sales process.
Step 4: Relentlessly inspect, correct, and teach.
To achieve high levels of satisfaction, observe and shape behavior, and then measure and correct elements that are off target. Frequent, direct observation of advisors’ performance, comparison of performance to defined processes and standards, and coaching to reduce variations are essential.
Practice is equally important. Observe advisors practicing opening and transition statements, asking questions, and handling objections. The advisors’ progress through the process should appear confident, methodical, and purposeful. Satisfaction with the sales process is largely based on activities and behaviors.
The Bottom Line
Banks that are willing and able to translate brand to action, driving high levels of client satisfaction with the sales process to increase loyalty, will significantly increase their business results. Research from the Bank Administration Institute (BAI) shows that loyal customers will bring 24 percent more deposits and 14 percent more consumer loan balances to their bank, and are three times more likely to recommend the bank to potential customers.
J.D. Power and Associates reached similar conclusions, noting that, 82 percent of highly committed clients will use their banks again for business services while only 22 percent of moderately committed clients will.
Remember, your bank’s sales process and client experience are your brand. Translate your brand to action and watch your results soar.
Putting the 4 Steps into Action – A Success Case
Another bank demonstrates the four-step process in a similar attempt to encourage wealth consolidation.
The bank’s sixteen-hundred financial advisors were spread nationally across three different lines of business within the wealth management group with no common process or rationale. Competitively, thousands of independent advisors were trying to draw investment money out of established institutions, banks, and brokerage houses.
Here is how the bank implemented the four steps detailed above to translate its brand to action and increase results:
Step 1: Translate brand attributes and client preferences into detailed descriptions of client experience. The bank chose affluent clients who needed help in dealing with financial issues as their target clients. The objective was to get the clients to consolidate their wealth with the bank. From its research, the bank learned that its clients wanted trusting relationships with advisors who knew them personally and that the clients cared less about price and products and more about “belonging.” The bank also learned that its clients did not want to be sold products and cookie-cutter solutions. The research also concluded that clients would not reveal all of their information until they achieved a certain comfort level with their advisors.
Step 2: Define sales processes and activities necessary to create the client experience. The bank designed sales and sales management processes to meet the needs identified in the research. In the new sales process, advisors were first instructed to have three meetings with the prospective clients. The first meeting was a “get to know you” meeting. In the second meeting, clients brought their financial information and there was discussion around objectives, current financial situation, and preferences. In the third meeting, advisors presented specific recommendations based on the facts shared in the previous meeting.
To support the new process, the bank developed a set of competencies for its advisors based on the client’s needs and preferences. Advisors were supported with outlines and talking points for each segment of the first three meetings, presentation aids to help them with their review of and discussion of the proposed financial plan, and guidelines about how the meeting should be arranged and where it should be held. Managers were given quality criteria for coaching.
Step 3: Establish and track measures showing how well advisors’ activities match defined processes and standards. The bank adjusted its goal setting and feedback mechanisms to reflect the change in sales process (three meetings before the selling starts). The bank’s growth targets acknowledged the need to build relationships during the first three meetings. Measurement and tracking systems were established to track which meetings took place, when they took place, and how they took place in order to determine whether they followed the prescribed model or not. The bank also reorganized its compensation system to support delivery of what the clients wanted and to reward adherence to delivering the client experience.
Step 4: Relentlessly inspect, correct, and teach. Managers were coached to coach the advisors around the 90-day funnel for each client to emphasize managing of the relationships and execution of the prescribed sales process. Managers were instructed to teach and coach advisors to follow the model with no “early jumping to conclusions.” Coaching focused on behaviors and processes first, business outcomes second.
Before launch, 14 percent of customers willing to consolidate. During the six month pilot, 22 percent consolidated and 66 percent said they were willing to consolidate. After launch, the bank realized a consistent 20 percent increase in assets under management and effectively “de-marketed” or referred customers who didn’t fit the target model.
The bank achieved success because:
- It had a clear strategy with specifically defined market objectives and a target population.
- It designed its strategy, translating brand attributes and client preferences into detailed descriptions of the client experience, and defining sales processes and activities necessary to create the client experience.
- It defined and tracked measures showing how well advisors’ activities matched the defined processes and standards.
- Managers paid close attention by inspecting, core reckoning, and teaching the advisors to use the prescribed process.
In any bank, there are financial consultants who seem to “have a way” with clients that leads to significant increases in assets and satisfaction. They instinctively or thoughtfully work out their own approaches to the four steps and manage themselves – that’s why they’ve become top producers. The trick is to develop the same connection over a large number of financial consultants and to develop the bank’s brand rather than the individual’s brand.
Good news! While the four-step process can be implemented by team leaders or individual financial consultants who seek to expand their books of business and increase client loyalty, it can also be implemented by companies for all financial consultants.
The main point is to look first from the “outside in” – who do we seek to attract, how do we propose to help them, and what do they need to see or experience in order to change their existing buying patterns – and design a sales process built around the client experience that the clients want, rather than what the bank wants or what individual producers think “might be cool to do.”
Nick Miller is president of Clarity Advantage, Concord, Mass., a firm that helps banks generate more profitable relationships faster with small- and medium-sized companies, their owners, and employees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.