A humble approach to gaining customers

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While many people enjoy hearing tales of career success, I tend to be drawn to stories and recollections of episodes that are not likely to show up on someone’s personal highlight reel. Those stories are usually funnier as well.

My interest in these stories likely began during my training period in my first banking job, when I spent time “shadowing” branch managers, including one seasoned manager, Leonard.

Leonard brought an upbeat demeanor and level of humor to the job that made it appealing. Still, after hearing some of his stories, I initially wondered how in the world he succeeded. And yet Leonard was consistently a top producer for the bank — it just didn’t compute.

Eventually, it dawned on me. He was a top producer not in spite of his “blooper reel,” but because of it. He had the most and funniest stories because he made the most calls, shook the most hands and smilingly asked more people for their business than anyone else.

Digging a little deeper, I learned that many of the people and businesses involved in his funny “failure stories” eventually became his customers. The idea that building friendships and gaining new customers was a process and not an event sank in.

Whether or not he secured new business on calls, he left a positive impression on the people he met. He would preach that you always wanted a person to be happy to see you whenever or wherever your paths crossed again.

Leonard would also advise that we “always stay humble.” He joked that if he ever found himself feeling too smart or too full of himself, he would get in his car or pick up the phone and make business development calls. He explained, laughing, that “someone telling you, ‘Uh…who are you?’ will keep you humble.”

His “stay humble” advice is something I have kept in my mind and shared for years. As employees get promoted to higher levels within their organizations, it is common to have fewer and fewer personal interactions with customers and potential customers.

At some point, many find themselves largely surrounded by people doing what they ask. They are seldom told “no” or “I don’t think so.”

Don’t get me wrong. Getting to this place in your career often requires putting in a lot of work — and it can be a nice bubble to live in — but it’s still a bubble.

I recently suggested to a group of mid-level managers that if they hadn’t been humbled on a business development call recently, it might be time to accompany some of their people on a few visits. If that wasn’t possible, then maybe they could pick up the phone and make a few prospecting calls.

As I saw a few folks trying to get their heads around that comment, I explained that being humbled isn’t the same thing as being embarrassed. It would be embarrassing to be unprepared. It is humbling to deal with potential customers who may not show initial interest.

I also point out that some of the best research available is free. You can get it by personally asking potential customers for their business. Most bankers believe that they would be the best bank for most customers in their market. That is useful.

What is more useful, however, is hearing firsthand from prospects in your markets what (or if) they think of your team and your bank. Simply fielding their questions can be extremely educational.

As technology continues to reduce the foot traffic into branches, personal visits and outbound calls are becoming more critical to growing and protecting our businesses. With the right (humbling) approach, you may get a better grasp of existing and potential customers’ needs while giving them a clearer picture of who you are as well.

Show your teams through word and example that business development visits and calls can be rewarding with or without immediate sales results. I’d humbly suggest your business will benefit from it.

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