Why Virtual Selling Skills are Critically Important for Commercial Bankers
Commercial banking is facing a period of transition. In only a few months, the global pandemic has begun to reshape the industry.
Responding to this upheaval has proved difficult because the challenges consist of three key parts.
- Commercial banks face credit losses expected to total anywhere from $400 billion and $1 trillion between 2020 and 2024, according to data from McKinsey. Much of these losses will arise from commercial and industrial loans originating in industries like transportation, retail and automotive.
- Commercial banks are suffering from a continued drop in net interest income, intensifying a decline that pre-dates the global pandemic. As the effective federal funds rates remain at historically low levels, commercial banks are generating less income.
- Payment revenues are falling as expenditures decrease with an impact estimated to be in the “hundreds of billions of dollars,” according to Accenture.
However, doing so is more difficult than ever, as social distancing restrictions are only beginning to ease, and business conditions slowly thaw. With sales cycles demanding anywhere from 6 to 12 months, commercial banks need to drive efforts today to maintain sales opportunities and develop new ones. Even as government-mandated restrictions end, many buyers are unlikely to travel for a meeting and engage a sales professional in person. Therefore, sales professionals need the skills to deliver effective and compelling communication over digital channels.
Making this happen means delivering a more effective sales experience virtually. The good news is that this approach does not require commercial banks to develop an entirely new skillset. Instead, it means that they must change the way in which they apply those skills. Many of the core competencies commercial banks possess are still relevant as long as they can be delivered virtually.
Here, we examine the three ways commercial banks can adopt virtual selling as part of their new model.
1. Develop a Three-part Plan for Selling Virtually
Preventing a drift into unproductive and disorganised virtual commercial banking sales conversations engagements requires a structured, repeatable plan.
This step-by-step approach is critical because it prevents the backslide into conventional selling behaviours that are more appropriate for in-person engagements. For commercial banking sales professionals working in a virtual selling setting, this approach includes three main components: an introduction, a body and a closing.
Interaction does not flow as naturally in a virtual room because stakeholders are likely to be less engaged. It is the sales professional’s job to create an environment that is welcoming, engaging and comfortable.
Doing so means asking rapport-building questions to specific individuals that encourage them to take themselves off of mute.
To get the customers on camera — an uncomfortable scenario for some — sales professionals should recognise a stakeholder who is on camera and encourage the others to follow suit. If all of the stakeholders have the camera off, the sales professional should explain that seeing everyone makes it easier to get to know the group.
After the sales professional feels that they have the attention of the group they can transition to a more traditional opening.
The body of the meeting is the sales professional’s opportunity to connect with the customer, understand their needs and ultimately position the solution. In the early section of the body, there should be fewer slides, more eye contact, and close attention to the diagnosing of needs.
Later in the process, the sales professional can begin to position recommendations and get more granular with the information provided. Finally, near the end, sales professionals should be sure to track where the common ground lies and share summaries of the discussion.
Virtual meetings often run short on time. As a result, the closing can become rushed as participants leave the meeting unannounced. Preventing this common outcome means applying the same level of organisation to the closing as one should the introduction and the body.
Sales professionals must be sure to leave enough time in the sales call to make sure they have the opportunity to summarise the outcomes of the discussion, gain commitment and establish next steps.
2. Streamline the Path to Becoming a Trusted Advisor
Sales professionals in commercial banking are more effective when the customer perceives them as a trusted advisor. A trusted advisor is equipped to address the complexities of the customer’s industry and therefore is consulted in advance of decisions.
Virtual selling capabilities help commercial banking professionals ascend to this level by taking advantage of the immediacy of a virtual connection to facilitate more interactions. With an understanding of how best to use the virtual medium, commercial bankers are always prepared to jump into a discussion with a group of stakeholders and become an influential voice. This increased frequency of interaction helps blur the line that traditionally separates the stakeholders from the sales professional.
3. Plan for Continuous Virtual Engagement
Successful business models today are fundamentally different than those of previous decades. At one time, companies could sell a product and build revenues behind protective barriers. The high cost of technology, long innovation periods and developmental lead time all meant that competitors had many walls to scale if they wanted to grab market share. Those walls have fallen. What remains is the agile approach.
An agile model focuses on collaboration and responsiveness to change rather than adhering to a single, unchanging plan. This fluidity perfectly matches the customer’s dynamic buying journey in which movement starts, stops, and sometimes even reverses. In this setting, customer conversations no longer follow a logical progression. Questioning for needs, floating ideas and positioning value are tightly woven and appear in every customer dialogue. Agility in selling means flexing and using different skills when and where you need them.
Virtual selling fits this model because it maintains communication during the critical periods that tend to unfurl in the periods between traditional in-person meetings. In these important “in-between” periods, sales professionals have an opportunity to understand the buying factors that contribute to the customer’s buying decisions.
Sales professionals in the commercial banking industry face a market that will continue to demand virtual selling skills. By adopting a clear, and repeatable three-part plan, sales professionals will be better equipped to apply their existing skills over a medium that is becoming a normalised channel. As a result, teams will become more agile and better prepared to rise to the status of a trusted advisor. Sales professionals who embark on this developmental path now will be best positioned to engage customers as the economy begins to recover.
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