Investments in technology routinely rank high on the priority lists of most financial service providers. Enhanced marketing customer information file - MCIF - systems, data warehouses, platform automation, call center systems, contact management applications, intranets, or interactive Web sites are found on the current project list or shopping list of almost every banking company.

For many banks, intended technology investments have actually been little more than unrecoverable expenditures. Technology, of course, is not the villain. Too often, banks have simply failed to design their technology with sales in mind.

Technology solutions have provided tremendous efficiencies in transaction processing, made it easier for customers to contact their banks, identified high-profit clients and opportunities, improved internal communications, and enhanced decision-making capabilities. However, technology has fallen well short of expectations for helping banks sell more.

In the absence of focus, accountability, and skills training, access to systems and information has not been enough to sustain the sales behaviors required to leverage the technology that companies install.

Here are 10 ways to do that and increase sales:

  • Design the company intranet with sales in mind. The collective sales knowledge of the entire organization should be catalogued and maintained in an easy-to-query format, using "hot key" or "one-click" access that keeps frequently used information on products and services, on best sales practices, and on sales performance at people's fingertips. The intranet should include an on-line product manual with rates and terms, benefits, unique selling strengths, competitor weaknesses, and proofs of performance, plus a guide to best practices for completing written sales proposals; tips on organizing for sales; and preferred methods for prospecting, pre-call planning, and pipeline management. Bulletin boards or sales-related "news groups" would enable employees to post suggestions and questions and answers about difficult selling situations.
  • Make MCIF data accessible and ready to support action. MCIFs may be the single most disappointing and least leveraged use of technology for bank selling. Most are controlled by system administrators who don't understand much about sales beyond simple customer householding and profitability analysis. And the sales force typically has limited access to the data. MCIFs' real value lies in how they focus client retention efforts, guiding product offers by predicting the buying patterns of clients and directing sellers to their best opportunities. At most banks, this will require wholesale changes in data collection and updating. The best architecture is a relational data base that is accessible directly by the sales force, continuously updated by product application and servicing systems, and hospitable to the appending of third-party and public data. Inclusion of information on homeownership, the amount of equity clients have in their homes, credit scores, motor vehicle registration information, ages, income levels, and family composition is crucial for advancing the bank's predictive marketing and sales-lead capabilities.
  • Establish a customer valuation methodology. Snapshot or point-in-time profitability calculations lose credibility with the sales force if they don't include potential for identifying the best prospects to call. Bank sellers are spending too much time calling on prospects and customers whose likelihood of doing additional business with them is small. This is because their bank's customer valuation model doesn't include potential for development. The selection process doesn't have to involve rocket science. Even a small community bank can use collective knowledge of product profitability, retention rates, predictive sales indicators, customer profiling data, and sales-closing rates to estimate the potential value of customers and prospects.
  • Provide a structure for using relationship management tools. Assign customer portfolios to specific employees and measure the growth and retention of customers within each portfolio based on goals for each relationship. Portfolio assignments should be based both on current profitability and on potential for additional business. Establish guidelines for frequency of contact for each type of portfolio, and build in automatic notifications to alert employees when it is time to call. Deliver client profiles and client profitability indicators to employees at the point of customer contact, such as teller stations, new-accounts desks, and customer service counters.
  • Make it easier for managers to coach employees. Technology vendors are installing outstanding sales systems, but they seldom give help or coaching on the systems' application to everyday selling. The proper use of technology has to be sold and reinforced through training in the use of these tools and through supervisory coaching. Without coaching or motivation, salespeople fall back to routines with which they are most comfortable, leaving the high-tech tools underused. Sales supervisors - armed with the powerful MCIF data available today, platform systems, and contact managers - should be able to direct sales strategy, assess employee behavior, and give continuous feedback on performance. A simple one- or two-page summary report can give each employee activity and performance data. Factors such as sales per banker, sales to best clients, referral results, prospecting and call activities, sales pipeline progress, and add-on sales should all be included. Distributing multiple reports almost always leads to underuse of all reports or over-emphasis on one.
  • Use technology to improve distance sales management. For district, regional, or area managers, supervising sales activities at multiple sites poses a significant challenge. Office visits may occur less than once a month, and travel between sites is wasted time. Managers may avoid going into the field for fear of being out of touch, or they may use office work as an excuse to avoid making field visits. Even technology as old as the telephone is underused when it comes to managing remote sales units or individual sellers. It is reliable, reduces travel time, and can be effective in daily coaching and feedback on weekly sales plans. Cellular phones, laptop computers, e-mail, and a wide-area network or intranet for reporting and disseminating information can create a virtual office that increases efficiency and eliminates excuses for not making office visits.
  • Give contact management and prospecting better focus. Off-the-shelf contact management software is often too complex for bank selling and may be to expensive or difficult to integrate into platform or front-end systems. As a result, salespeople often do not make full use of the software. Contact management software also frequently becomes an excuse not to sell for "over-planners," who may spend countless hours organizing and reviewing customer data, never actually getting around to selling. Salespeople should be given reasons and motivation for using the software. The best reason is almost always improved focus. With better contact notes, better profiling, or better awareness of a prospect's position in the sales cycle, a salesperson is simply better organized and makes better use of time. For most banks, two or three simple screens of contact management information, tailored from data base software such as Microsoft Access, will be enough.
  • Design product delivery to support the sales process. In our sales training for clients, we frequently find that salespeople are adding five minutes or more to their transactions by simply bypassing screens that don't flow with the bank's preferred sales process. The answer is to program delivery systems (platform, loan application, and call center) to complete routine approvals and background checks "behind the scenes." New-account verification and approvals, approvals for consumer overdraft lines or credit cards and debit cards should all be automated based on employee input of a few key bits of customer data. Then employees can stay focused on the customer conversation, which allows more time for profiling and add-on sales and increases overall efficiency.
  • Expand call center use to include proactive selling. Most banks view call centers solely as a means to cut expenses, eliminate branch-directed calls, and reduce lobby traffic. These are worthwhile objectives, and call centers are getting the job done. But call center adoption has also directed the industry's best customers and prospects away from the best sellers, and a bank could actually be losing more in sales revenue than it is gaining in cost efficiency. To better leverage the call center investment, expectations should be different. It should be viewed as a stand-alone profit center with requirements for internal rate of return. Center managers should be hired on sales leadership and management skills rather than operational expertise, and the staff should be people who like to sell.
  • Customize instant messages. All capabilities in MCIF, predictive marketing, and identifying each customer's potential for new business can be pulled together in the form of instant messaging at every point of customer contact. This means customized sales prompts to tellers, new-account representatives, or call center reps while they are talking to customers regarding the "next logical add-on sale" or the most appropriate promotional product. Instant customized messages can also be delivered to customers on a voice-response unit, company Web site or Internet banking site, and at automated teller machines. Improving the use of technology requires leadership. Technology has given every bank the capability to focus its sales force on their best opportunities for profitable revenue and for serving clients in the ways that best fit each one. The full potential of these powerful tools will never be realized until bank managements view technology as a source of revenue as well as a source of efficiency and then and coordinate technology initiatives with preferred ways of selling.

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