“Bankers don’t want to be salespeople,” he said.
We were talking about small business lending and the influx of alternative lenders and how it’s created more of a “sales” atmosphere around small business lending in particular and banking in general. Having spent a fair amount of time marketing financial services, I know tellers, loan officers, and other banking executives don’t like the idea of “selling” banking services the same way they perceive a used car salesman pushes a “super-clean” late-model sedan.
My Dad, a small business owner and professional salesperson his entire life, hated being associated with guys who could “sell ice cubes to Eskimos.” He felt like manipulating people into buying something they didn’t need or coercing them into paying more for something than they should because they were uninformed, was not professional sales. He despised smooth talkers and called them “peddlers.” A pejorative designation in his mind.
He considered himself a problem solver and offered products to his customers from that paradigm. He never convinced a customer to purchase something they didn’t need or pay more for it than they should have. Had he been a banker, he would never have been considered a salesperson in the ice cubes and Eskimo sense—although he would have been an incredible banker.
Many of the “sales” skills I have, I originally learned from him. Here are just a few:
- He understood the long-term value of building positive relationships: He never looked at a sales opportunity today as a one-time deal. Regardless of who it was or how much they purchased, every customer was a potential repeat customer and he treated them that way. Bankers can relate to this. The small depositor today can eventually turn into a big depositor. The same is true for small business loan customers. As businesses mature, the loan request from the less-than-perfect borrower today can turn into larger loan volume down the road when savvy bankers build meaningful relationships.
- He was meticulous about following up on customer requests: He would have loved how much easier technology makes this process today. He didn’t have a CRM and I don’t think I ever saw him even open a spreadsheet, but he recognized how important following up with his customers really was. Although he seldom forgot anything (he had an incredible memory), he did forget stuff from time to time. If he was in business today, I think he would have embraced the technology we have at our fingertips to keep track of customer communications, manage relationships, and make sure nothing falls through the cracks. His “tickler file,” as he called it (a series of hanging folders in his desk drawer), would have wound up in what he called the “circular file” (the trash can) in favor of software that made it easier to progress customers through the sales process, manage phone and email follow-up, and keep track of all the information he needed to close the deal.
- He wanted to be kept in the loop regarding all the customers his salespeople were working with too: In those days it was a lot tougher than it is today. He wanted to make sure everyone, even the customers that he didn’t personally deal with every day, were treated right. As a young salesguy working for him at the time, we often talked about my customers, how they were doing, and how I could serve them better. I’m sure he did it with the other guys out on the road too. There were times when I felt like he got in my grill a little, but most of the time it was about stuff that took him by surprise. When he could see deals progressing and customers growing, he was content. We were all empowered to make decisions and worked hard to make sure all of our customers’ needs were met—although he would have never described it that way. We were also all accountable to grow and improve our territory. I also think he would have embraced software that showed him on a regular basis our successes. He liked to celebrate wins.
Although he did occasionally wear a pair of white shoes (it was the 70s after all), I don’t think I ever saw him in a plaid jacket and I never heard him say “What’s it gonna take to close this deal today.” He would have hated being called a peddler, but was very proud to be a professional salesman.
I think there’s a thing or two we all can learn from great salespeople. Bankers might not think of themselves as salespeople—but they are often problem solvers.