March 13, 2020 will remain forever etched in my memory. It was the last American Airlines flight I took and the last time I was face to face with a client.
I’m far from being alone here. By one measure more than 100 million people are working from home, hunkered down in second bedrooms and kitchens, taking Zoom calls between helping their kids with math and taking the dog for a walk. Since the early months of the pandemic, some people have returned to the office, but with the unpredictability of COVID-19, emote work is likely to remain part of every financial institution’s next normal.
Overall, most businesses and their staffs have made the best of a difficult situation. In fact, a study by Barclays Capital indicated that nearly 75% of employees considered the experience positive and 60% would continue to do it even after the pandemic passes.
Now juxtapose that data with these numbers from a Barlow Research study: 72% of business owners say that the personal connection they have with their account officer is one of the key reasons they stay with their primary financial institution. That is the challenge of the unique circumstances we’re all operating in.
How do bankers balance the need to “see” a client with the need to avoid face-to-face meetings? Technology is a big part of the answer. By now many people have participated in virtual meetings using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype or other videoconferencing applications. But using these tools and using them effectively are two different things.
Our firm has been a SOHO (small office, home office) company since it started in 2000. We’ve been able to glean some ideas and best practices we can share from our own operations and from our financial institution clients. Below are some of many suggestions we’ve developed that would greatly assist bank and credit union sales employees to effectively generate business in a remote environment.
Essential Technology Resources for the Long Haul
Technology has enabled work from home on a massive scale. However, some financial institutions don’t allow associates to use their own equipment for security or other reasons.
Short term thinking won’t fly here. Financial institutions need to make an investment for the long term. Here are three types of remote-work equipment that we’ve purchased for our people that can make financial institution sales employees far more effective in their work:
1. Extra monitors. Two large screens allow associates to work with multiple documents without constantly minimizing one and bringing up another. The cost for these is about $300 each — nothing compared to the improved productivity. For any institution conducting virtual training, having multiple screens allows facilitators to see the Zoom class on one monitor and have the materials up on another.
2. Good cameras. It’s true that every laptop has a built-in camera. The quality isn’t up to our standards, however. We invested $59 per person for a camera that hooks on the back of one of the monitors. The lens is larger than the built-in units and that makes it easier to remember where to make eye contact, very important in meetings with clients or prospects.
3. Lighting. Our homes weren’t meant to become television studios but overnight it happened. Lamps are great and windows are nice, however, both create shadow and glare challenges. Two products, Lume Cube and Ring Lights, can help here. These are as little as $50 and create a far better on-camera experience for the buyer.
4. Background screening. Several financial institutions we know have worked with their marketing partners to create custom virtual backgrounds (or physical banners) that bankers can use as backdrops in video meetings conducted in their homes. This helps secure personal privacy as well as optimizing the brand by showing your logo, etc.
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Old Dogs Can (and Must) Learn New Tricks
Trying to educate a veteran banker to hold a conversation on a small screen is like trying to teach your 10-year old Irish Setter to roll over. It takes time, effort and coaching — and then more coaching. (Treats are important for both.) But it can be done.
We’ve seen bankers go from onscreen neophyte to MVP in a short period of time. It’s all about desire. The good news here is that whether your organization has deployed Skype or something more sophisticated such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, there is an endless supply of You Tube videos, books for dummies and technology websites that walk people through the basics and beyond step by step.
Here’s the tip:
5. Call on “power users.” Once your veterans (and newbies) get the basics down, practice with them and hold them accountable to use what you have invested in. Some financial institutions call on video “power users” in the organization to conduct lunch ‘n learns that are recorded so that associates can benefit from their skills.
‘Mission Control’ – the Details Matter
You either control the technology or it takes charge of you. Tailoring your system based on the policies of your organization makes life better. Here are ten things we recommend to our clients.
6. Customize the invitation subject line. Instead of a generic meeting title, tailor it to the client or prospect — their name and their company.
7. Include some content of value when the invitation is sent. A link to an economic update from Vertical IQ or an article from Smartbrief or Feedly works well.
8. Send thought-starter questions in a thank-you email when the client accepts the invitation. It will help differentiate you.
9. Send an untimed agenda one day ahead of the meeting to confirm without asking to confirm. Put their logo on the upper left and yours on the upper right.
10. Customize the “waiting room” with the name of the client and their company so that when they enter the meeting, it’s all about them. (Be sure to change the names for the next meeting!)
11. Greet them when they enter the meeting: Have your screen set to their website or LinkedIn company page.
12. Set the record function to automatic (if within your policy) and ask if the client would like to receive a copy of it. It should also be sent to the sales manager for coaching purposes.
13. Maximize documents you wish to show and be sure you know how to easily tab between Word, PowerPoint and the internet with ease. It shows you are tech savvy.
14. Double-check the tech. It’s a given that you will use the camera and that the buyer will be on camera (set that as an expectation). Make sure they’re working and also check that your sound is working, your ear buds/headset are fully charged, and the lighting is on target.
15. Turn off notifications. No one wants to see that you have a dentist appointment at 2:30 or hear the “bong” of an incoming text.
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Breaking the Ice Remotely
People take meetings with, and buy from, people they like and trust. In face to face situations, making this professional connection is less complicated than from a distance.
In virtual meetings, we see only what’s on the screen and hear the buyer through a small microphone. As a result, the early part of a remote conversation is likely to be shorter. However, there are some things you can do to make this important stage more effective and more pleasant:
16. Prepare ahead of time. Learn as much as you can about the communication style of the buyer. Are they more people-oriented or task-oriented? Do they want to get right down to business or like some light banter at the beginning of the call? Ask your referral source, go to the client’s website and check out the buyer’s LinkedIn profile.
17. Know your video-call system. Be sure to find out if the buyer knows it too. If not, a quick orientation shows your experience and helps the buyer get comfortable, which builds your credibility.
18. Show empathy, not sympathy. Asking about their family and the health of people in the business is a good way to move the conversation along, as long as it doesn’t become a protracted “Debbie Downer” routine. You can gauge the social style of the buyer if they ask you how you and your family are.
19. Frame the conversation. Review the agenda and spell out what you would like to accomplish in the meeting. Be certain you ask, “What do you want to be sure we cover today?”
20. Maintain a good gaze with your buyer. To do that you have to remember to look at the camera, not just at the buyer on the screen. Also: don’t “chair dance” during the call.
And one more suggestion:
21. Use “turkey feathering.” Post questions around the perimeter of your computer screen. This helps you maintain your camera gaze. Just think how you would feel if the anchor on the 6:00 o’clock news constantly looked down at the paper on their desk instead of at the teleprompter?