I’m constantly baffled by how few salespeople in the banking industry say that they take notes when they make sales calls. You’ll hear excuses like:
- “I lose too much eye contact if I take notes.”
- “They talk too fast, I can’t write it all down.”
- “If I’m too busy writing I don’t listen as well.”
Some younger bankers think they can remember what their prospective clients say without writing anything down. Others think it’s awkward, discourteous or intrusive. Some have told me they fear folks will clam up and hold back information if they tried to capture it on paper.
Actually, the reality is quite the opposite. Many studies indicate that people will answer questions less completely — and even less honestly — if a salesperson does not take notes. Further, when a banker calls, people expect professionalism. Part of building such credibility is taking notes. Being able to put them to use later on is another part.
Five Things You Must Learn on the First Call
When you make a first call on a potential client, there are five pieces of information you want to leave with, which I call the “First Call Five”. Simply start by writing the following five words in a two-inch square box at the top right-hand side of a standard yellow notepad:
1. TIMEFRAME. This will help you understand your prospect’s sense of urgency, so you can be as responsive as possible and manage your time.
2. COMPETITION. Ask about your competition, but don’t force the issue. If they mention another financial institution they are using without mentioning the name, you can follow up with a question like: “You mentioned a financial services provider. Who are you working with now, and who are you looking at besides us?”
3. DECISION PROCESS. At this early point, knowing how decisions are made is as important as knowing who makes them. Studies have found that businesses with over 50 employees typically have an average of 5.4 decision-makers involved in buying situations. But salespeople in banking typically only reach two of them because they are either asking the wrong question about how decisions are made… or not asking at all. And then there are the hidden persuaders — advisors, spouses, friends, and others for help with decisions. Not knowing that that is the case could scuttle a promising sale. Ultimately, you want to focus on the decision process, not the decision-maker.
4. CRITERIA. Prospects usually want deposits, loans, merchant services, etc. — we know that. What we need to understand is the why behind the what. Too often we don’t understand the factors that could allow us to win or might cause us to be first runner up. What factors will determine why the prospect will end up selecting one institution over all the others? It’s fascinating how many times this question is not asked on calls. And sad.
5. ISSUES. Stuff happens, much of which you can’t control. Maybe your institution turned down Aunt Gertrude or Uncle Fred for a mortgage. Could be that the business owner has had a standing tee time for 15 years with your main competitor. Maybe the covenants with the current lender are so restrictive it would be impossible to move now. There are all kinds of political and potentially delicate issues lurking out there. Learning what they are early on will be critical to your future strategies, and keep you from spinning your wheels.
Tee Up Your Sales Questions
Let’s go back to your yellow pad. Buyers have answers, sellers have questions. Writing questions out as full sentences, however, makes conversation sound robotic and staged. People have grown tired of sales people who script out and memorize everything — think of the typical conversation with a telemarketer.
Here’s where your pad’s left margin can be your friend. Write down the following five key bullet points (not in question form) on a single sheet of paper:
1. WHY. You don’t need a lot of space under this item. You want to find out why the person is meeting with you and what they hope to accomplish. What triggered their call or inquiry? What motivated them to take action?
2. WHAT’S DIFFERENT. What would be different for the prospect and their business if you were successful?
3. BEEN. Get the prospect to talk about their company’s history, their personal work experience and background with the company.
4. NOW. Ask the prospect about the key priorities on their plate? What are some top trends in the industry affecting their business? Who are some peers and pacesetters they respect? Ask them about their target markets and top competitors.
5. GOING. Where does the prospect want to go? Where is the business going in the next 3-5 years? What are some future plans you have? How do you plan to get there? What stands in your way? What outside help do you need?
As you engage with the prospect, write bullets and phrases all over the page. Circle or box the key priorities or notate them with stars. Then when you get back to the car, you can transform them into sentences (or at least into a form you can read later). This will help you create a “conversation recap” that you can send to the prospect.
Some bankers use smartphones or tablets with recording devices and take notes that way. They won’t miss a thing with this method and — with the buyer’s permission — it can be very effective.
Follow-up, Action, and Sales
Note-taking is an art, and preparation helps complete the masterpiece. Yes, preparing for sales conversations takes a bit of extra time, but it leads to better results — critical for the amount of time and energy financial institutions invest in field calls. Such preparation should be mandatory, and financial institution marketers and sales managers should too. It likely should be at your place too.
Making that happen takes some training. If you are a sales manager or senior manager, consider running a skill builder session around these points. Managers who have tried this tell me it’s a real eye opener (and not in a good way).
Ask about note-taking during your regular staff check ins. And when you go on a joint call with one of your sales people, be sure you do it yourself. Then after the call, swap notepads. See how much you were able to capture and what questions you might have asked versus your associate.