The standard sales process within a bank follows three steps: build customer relationships, market products and sell benefits (or solutions) that customers want and need. Institutions may think this process is outdated against the backdrop of fast technological change and the expectations of tech-savvy customers. But as I've seen firsthand as both a millennial and a vice president of sales for a bank, reinventing the wheel — or rebuilding a complex sales process — to respond to this change is not the most productive way to attract a younger client base.
Bankers need to keep their focus on relationship-based sales to expand their clientele, while certainly supplementing that traditional process with new, technological-based modes of delivery that millennial customers have come to expect. The biggest mistake banks can make is throwing the baby out with the bath water.
From the early development of banking in the U.S., people became customers through relationship-building. Despite the turbulent changes in digital innovation and millennials' expectations of fast and user-friendly platforms, the importance of relationships hasn't changed. Banks need to grasp the transition to the techno-focused environment while still maintaining what established banks as the place where people go to manage their finances.
Younger millennials' yearning drive to grow and succeed financially provides banks with an opportunity to educate them on the benefits and solutions they need to get there. That is no different from identifying the solutions tailored toward older Generation-Xers and even retirees.
But even though the core sales process should not be reinvented, adapting to the digital tools millennials have mastered to build relationships, market products and sell solutions is a must. Using digital tools to promote financial education tips, such as online blogs, Linkedin posts and Twitter connections are all ways banks can become more relevant to millennials. Younger customers need to trust that their bank is up to date with current technology, including remote accessibility and instant connections. Coupling digital tools with a focus on the standard sales process is intrinsically important to compete with other banks and nonbanks to retain and attract younger customers.
To be sure, developing effective and technologically-dynamic sales tools to attract younger generations proves to be arduous. It is particularly challenging to hold on to a millennial customer relationship. Most millennials have accounts in more than one bank, which suggests that they often find flaws with a particular institution and are therefore prompted to change where they bank.
With customers holding multiple accounts, and so many digital channels available to them at both banks and nonbanks, it becomes even more important for banks to hit the sweet spot in how they manage the three-step sales process. Traditional institutions still need to be methodical in their sales approach in order to retain and grow their customer base.
The advertising modes have also been rewritten. With print and TV no longer being the lead method of advertising, social media has become the prevalent area of communication, e-commerce and interaction. Relationships are continually ongoing and now require more digital capabilities to grow. Social media sites like Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook can be utilized as a new way to sell by interacting with customers and developing virtual relationships while also maintaining and growing personal relationships within the branches. The idea that customers can bank anywhere at any time helps determine which marketing approach will work with millennials.
But amid all of this disruptive change, customers are still coming to branches and a traditional branch culture still appeals to millennials. Whether they see a branch as a type of secure location for their money, need help with transactions or opening accounts, or because they want to speak directly to their trusted advisor or friend — the banker — the customer relationship still remains the key focus of successful sales.
To maintain the standard sales-driven process yet provide a more modern customer-driven experience, bankers need to hone a mindset that sales growth will come from the relationships they create and continually develop. That is no different today than it was before the arrival of modern technology.
Lauren McKenna is a vice president and officer of sales and services at Blue Hills Bank in Norwood, Mass.