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BankThink: Save the Product Pitch For Later, Please

Many of us have heard the saying, "The confused mind never buys," but have you ever really stopped to think about what that means?

In the world of financial services, helping customers, without confusing them, is more of an "art" than a "science." You have to be believable, someone your customers see as rock solid when it comes to providing reliable information. You also have to be someone they relate to, someone they actually like and trust they can talk to and connect with. It is in striking this balance that many financial services professionals get derailed, as I discovered from personal experience.

About a year ago, I decided to consolidate my business and personal checking accounts at one financial institution, thinking it would make life a little easier. Setting aside time in my busy schedule to do this was a big deal for me.

But the customer service representative at the bank seemed completely oblivious to the signs of my haste. She began to profile me, asking questions about my business, personal life, future goals and biggest challenges. She proceeded to offer me a business credit card and debit card and expressed surprise that I had neither. She also updated me on the range of small business loans available, along with leasing options for any equipment needs.

The more she talked, the more irritated and confused I became. I had gone to the bank for one thing: to move some accounts. I did not want to hear about other products and services she thought I should have. After 30 minutes, I politely told her that I had to leave and would open my checking accounts another day. But I never did end up going back, and my accounts are still sitting at the other bank. To this day, I do not have a small business loan or any other product from the institution that could not manage to help me move those accounts. Why? Because my confused mind was not willing to buy. The more I was offered, the less willing I was to get even the one thing that I really wanted.

Profiling is good. Understanding customer needs is good. Proactively recommending products and services is good. But the timing you apply to those things matters.

To master the "art" of getting to yes, practice these four strategies:

1. Listen. Employees should be trained not just to ask questions, but to listen to the answers. Customers want to be heard. Theoretically, my banker was assessing my needs, but in reality she was ignoring them. I felt that she didn't even care about my checking accounts.

2. Be helpful above all. To convey that you are listening, focus on what the customer wants before moving on to something else. I believe in asking questions to get to know your customers, but you need to adapt to their time frame. By doing a full profile on me at the first meeting, my banker missed the importance of solving my problems first, which alienated me.

3. Build trust. One of the wonderful things about asking questions is that people will tell you exactly what they want, and if you act on what they tell you—in other words, solve their problems first—they will trust you.

Trust makes people open to doing more business with you. My banker seemed more interested in what she wanted than what I wanted, and I didn't trust that she was offering things with my best interest in mind. She lost the opportunity to establish a relationship that might have expanded from checking accounts to other products and services.

4. Follow up. Today, business development is all about the follow-up. If you slow down with customers initially and allow the relationship to develop, you open the door for future conversations. That's how effective cross-selling gets done.

By understanding when and how to get to know people, you can turn them into long-term customers.


Powell is a strategist who advises on relationship skills and is the author of three books, including "Winning in the Trust & Value Economy."