How New Technology Drives Sales in Your Bank


4-3-15-yseop.pngIn this highly competitive and data-driven environment, financial institutions are looking for innovative new ways to drive sales in the finance sector.

For banks, one of the most exciting technologies to explore is the artificial intelligence and natural language generation (NLG) space. NLG is a technology that can write like a human and turn big data into narrative and easy-to-understand content. It serves big data analytics, customer service and sales.

Three Ways to Drive Sales
Artificial intelligence-powered NLG software allows banks to understand unprecedented levels of client data, enhance customer service and ensure regulatory compliance.

  1. Make Sense of Big Data
    Banks need tools that explain what their big data means, what to do about it and why—in plain English (or the language of their choice) and in real time. The challenge is there is too much data, too few data experts and too little time to transform volumes of data into insight. But AI-powered NLG technology can turn data into written financial reports, executive summaries or portfolio analysis, for example, and explain how and why a conclusion is reached.
  2. Provide the Highest Level of Customer Service
    Banks are competing to deliver expert customer service—on the phone, online and in the branch. AI-powered NLG systems, often called “smart machines,” can be programmed with the expertise of your bank, can connect to client data and serve as an interactive expert to guide customer service teams through interactions. These systems can turn customer service agents into top tier sales people. They can even be deployed online to replicate the in-store banking experience and help make selling complex products and services easy.
  3. Ensure Compliance and Autonomy
    The advice-giving space is fraught with the potential for litigation in the face of ever-growing levels of regulations. Financial advisors and bankers must protect themselves by keeping meticulous records. These records, a sort of audit trail in case of litigation, coupled with legal fees and the fear of legal action, cost businesses millions if not billions of dollars each year. But AI-powered NLG can help. Programmed with the bank’s unique regulatory and legal framework, it can ensure compliant, expert advice, as long as the system is kept up-to-date. In case of litigation, it creates what we would call in banking an “audit trail.” The software shows its decision-making process, the advice it gave and explains why (and pursuant to what rules) it gave the advice. Since the software is incapable of human error, it never forgets a rule.

Is AI-Powered NLG Ready for Your Business?
NLG has been around for several decades, but NLG software has only recently been commercially viable, really since 2008. Fast forward eight years and Fortune 500 companies on both sides of the Atlantic are already using the combination of NLG and AI as a single software to make sense of big data, provide the highest level of customer service and ensure compliance and autonomy—all to drive revenue. In fact, these solutions are now fully scalable so banks can build their own applications—with no need to rely on vendors. Additionally, leading vendors of AI-powered NLG software provide configuration environments so easy to use that even non-technical users can build and update their own applications.

How to Create a Sales Culture and Process at Your Bank


10-20-14-ignite.pngThree years ago, the word sales was more or less a four-letter word in banking. At the time, banks didn’t really understand the sales culture and didn’t see the need to implement a sales culture at their institution.

But times are changing. Customers are taking greater control of their banking relationships. They are switching banks, changing their behavior and demanding improvements. Faced with unprecedented competition from non-banking competitors, new regulations that limit their ability to generate fee income, and shrinking net interest income, banks are challenged to find new sources of revenue if they want to grow.

Outside the banking industry, at the core of any growing company is its ability to connect, nurture and satisfy customers. Although customer service is engrained into the banking culture, a sales culture is not. It is the combination of the proper sales culture, sales skill sets and sales enablement tools that are largely missing from retail banks.

Banks have been focused for several years on cost-cutting measures such as reducing headcount and offshoring, which has been good from an expense standpoint. But in order to grow, they must implement a measureable sales process once and for all.

Take these steps to get the process started:

  1. Focus on the buying process at the point of sale. When the first account is opened, it often falls far short of revenue potential. Most business customers are eligible for up to seven income generating products, however only one is typically sold at the initial point of sale. Once this happens, the opportunity for additional sales is lost indefinitely. The best opportunity to sell add-ons is immediate.
  2. Think about merchandising. Merchandising is the cornerstone of a best-practice sales process. Retail banking is the only industry known as retail that doesn’t also have merchandisers. Merchandising is simply presenting the right product, to the right customer, at the right time—this is done best at the point-of-sale when customers are already inclined to purchase.
  3. Make all channels equal. Whether the customer is online using a computer or mobile device, on the phone with a customer service representative or in the branch, the customer experience should be the same. Based on their needs, the advice and products offered to them should be consistent in all channels.
  4. Automate product recommendations. With more than 100 retail banking products on average at their disposal, is it reasonable to expect employees to understand them all in detail? By using a digital playbook, your bank’s representatives can interact with the customer via automated, guided selling. This enables them to automatically find the best products for the customer and engage them in a consultative manner. Guided selling also takes away the complexity of learning every product detail and ever changing regulations so that customer service representatives can focus on engaging customers and developing long-term relationships.
  5. Empower employees to create customer loyalty. Give your branch and customer service employees the framework, the tools and the flexibility to use their creativity to provide exceptional customer service.
  6. Enact measurement tools. Unless you have in place the sales analytics tools for measuring performance, there is no way to know if you are meeting your objectives. Use sales analytics to track recommendations and openings to ensure your investments are paying off.
  7. Create in-the-moment feedback mechanisms. You can’t expect improvement from employees if you haven’t let them know how they are progressing. Don’t wait for review time for your staff to provide feedback. Ensure feedback is being provided on the spot. That way, proper action can be taken to improve performance.
  8. Coach them. Without making anyone feel inferior, develop your low performing employees in the branch and call center by coaching them on tried and true tactics used by the higher performing members of the team. Identify and incorporate those tactics and strategies into your digital playbook to ensure you are winning customers.

In retail banks, most sales organizations are underdeveloped. There are few processes in place and as result, fewer measurement tools to make sales accountable. Banks need to implement proven sales processes, use technology to help merchandise income-generating products, and apply both consistently to drive successful sales outcomes.

And last, but not least, the most successful sales programs are spearheaded, promoted or at the very least, approved and supported by the CEO. Sales cannot be successful if the CEO is not on board.

Banks Can Improve Sales to Commercial Clients with Analytics


6-27-14-izale.pngCompetition is heating up in the world of business banking. New entrants such as Square, Wal-Mart and PayPal are serving notice to traditional banks—evolve or die—and the board has taken notice. Business banking sales is now a board-level issue.

In order to compete with non-banking competitors, banks need to be able to consistently recommend and sell products through any channel to truly understand potential sales and profitability.

American National Bank of Texas, Comerica Bank, Sovereign Bank (now known by its parent’s name, Santander), SunTrust Banks, Central Bank and Rockland Trust are just a few of the banks that are using Ignite to improve their sales process so that it is consistent and measurable.

Ignite’s solution consists of product recommendation guides and robust analytics. Recommendation guides personalizes a customer’s banking experience. It can be used directly by the customer on the website or via a mobile device or by banking personnel in the branch and call center as an interactive tool to provide a consultative, direct touch experience for the customer. The recommendation guide conducts a needs assessment by asking a series of questions to understand the prospect’s current situation. The guide uses the collected information, banking thresholds, and eligibility analytics to evaluate the responses to recommend product bundles to meet the specific needs of the customer. Recommendation guides help banks:

  • Shorten the sales cycle by automating selling, cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.
  • Create a consistent multichannel sales experience—whether online, mobile, at the branch, or in the call center.
  • Produce high quality leads by using demographics, bank eligibility and bank-defined thresholds, in real-time, at the point-of-sale.
  • Increase the average number of accounts opened.
  • Decrease user frustration by making banking products easier to find and select.
  • Increase customer loyalty to obtain a three-product loyalty threshold.
  • Easily integrate credit risk management solutions including Salesforce, FIS Customer Relationship Management, and Avidian Profit.
  • Increase customer profitability.

Data collected using Ignite’s recommendation guides, web traffic, product eligibility, bank threshold criteria, as well as from a unique and specialized banking database developed from over three million data points on purchasing behavior is used to produce customizable reports that are presented in secure, customizable, graphical, interactive, and easy-to-use dashboards. These reports can be run weekly, monthly or quarterly and help banks:

  • Determine lost profitability.
  • Understand profit gap. Ignites’ profit gap analysis will show you what was sold, what could have been sold based on the customer’s eligibility, potential profit, and the resulting profit gap per product.
  • Manage sales effectiveness in the branch, online, and within the customer service center.
  • Justify and target marketing spend.

Rockland Trust Finds Success with Analytics
Rockland Trust implemented Ignite’s solution both online and in their branches as part of their overall omni-channel strategy. Rockland had been looking for tools to help their branch sales staff sell more effectively to business clients. With Ignite’s solution, Rockland increased new business account openings significantly within the first three months.

Rockland has also learned that most business prospects qualify for up to seven income-generating products. Ignite’s analytics performs a real-time analysis, during the consultation, that matches Rockland’s products with business customer needs and eligibility. This can be done on a computer or a tablet and gives the branch sales staff the information they need immediately at their fingertips so that they can provide a higher level of service for their customers. As a result, Rockland has seen an increase in cross sales at the initial account opening when using the tool.

“At Rockland Trust we’ve been meeting the financial needs of the business community for more than 100 years and we’re constantly searching for ways to enhance our service,” said Jane Lundquist, executive vice president and director of retail banking, business banking and home equity lending at Rockland Trust. “We looked for a solution that would help our branch staff effectively identify all the services that could benefit business clients. Ignite’s recommendation guides and analytics proved to be the tool that works best.”

Rockland was able to see measurable results within 90 days of implementation.

What’s Wrong with the Sales Process at Banks?


3-7-14-Ignite-Sales.pngRetail banking is at an inflection point.

Together with the obvious pressures from regulations and low interest rates, non-financial institutions such as PayPal and Walmart are threatening banks’ bottom lines. They are under attack in areas they have felt most secure, such as business banking. Walmart’s Sam’s Clubs are offering Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and PayPal has hired a lending team under an executive vice president of business banking. At the same time, customers are also taking greater control of their banking relationships: They are switching banks, changing their behavior and demanding improvements.

Banks need to reestablish their relationships with their current customers and evolve their consultative sales process to be consistent and repeatable throughout all their channels. They need to adopt best practices in sales found in other retail industries, as well as measure results. They also need to embrace technology to survive and remain competitive.

All banking channels, including mobile, branch, and online, are struggling with sales productivity and performance. These reasons include:

Loss of fee income: Ninety-five percent of non-interest, fee generating products are opened in the branch. Due to increased regulation, banks have seen a decline in revenue from these products and need to find ways to recoup fee income that was generated prior to regulation.

Too many expense centers: Banks are facing many challenges managing profitability across their branch network, which happens to be their biggest expense. They haven’t had the insight they needed to determine potential profits from their branch network.

Sales process has not been a priority: Banks have paid little attention to the sales process, and therefore, the buying process. Banking has never had to focus on a comprehensive sales process. Because of healthy margins from loans and fees, banks have historically shied away from proven sales methods found in other industries. However, now that the market has become competitive, the lack of sales infrastructure hurts. More progressive banks have begun to hire experienced sales management from other industries that bring the expertise needed to change this culture.

Making decisions on intuition, not real data: Most banks don’t have methods in place to capture data at the point-of-sale. As a result, management is unable to accurately track what is sold, or determine whether the revenue in each channel or branch is generating fee income or interest income. They have no real data that shows which channels are profitable, and which need coaching or even closing.

Fear of technology: Technology has rapidly evolved over the past several years. It is challenging to keep pace with the rate of change. Banking’s internal culture is slow to accept these changes, giving non-traditional competitors a window to use technology to capture market share from traditional banks.

Tackling each one of these issues is a formidable challenge on its own. Collectively, they become a board level issue. Banks that do not address these issues will continue to struggle or will not be able to remain independent.

The first step is to close the gap between the buying process and the sales process. To do this, banks need to:

  1. Put successful and repeatable sales processes in place to ensure that the bank is opening profitable accounts and to ensure a consistent customer experience;
  2. Collect data at the point of sale to be able to measure productivity and profitability in real-time, so that the bank can adjust to changing market conditions;
  3. Be agile enough to embrace technologies quickly to remain competitive.

Banks that take the first steps in modernizing the sales process and embracing technology will be well on their way to compete in the new age.

Five Tips to Sell Better in Your Branches


sales-training.jpgDoes this sound familiar? Your bank is launching a new product or sales technique that’s going to be a surefire hit with your customers. You’re expecting big results in growing customer relationships. But, the results don’t meet expectations. The new ideas fail to infect your branch teams with your enthusiasm. In my experience, lackluster training is usually the culprit. But even the best instructional content is not guaranteed to produce great results. Don’t take chances with the success of your retail initiatives. Follow these five ideas to add new life to your branch sales performance. 

1. Create the Right Environment  

First of all, don’t call it, sales training. Branch employees hate the “S” word. Instead, focus on customer service training. Your front line will be more open to your ideas and their emotional buy-in can be the difference between success and failure. 

If you want your branch teams to care, then you have to show them that you care, too. Have senior managers kick off the training sessions—let them hear the critical messages directly from you and your senior management team. Share your passion with them. Tell them why the training is important and what success can mean for the bank and its customers.

Let’s face it—bank sales training can be boring. Just a few details can add a little pizzazz to your sessions and leave a lasting impression on your branch teams. Blast some upbeat music for arriving students. Provide some goofy training gifts (see me after class for your  “I know the Secret of the Bank Secrecy Act” T-shirt).

2. Market Your Training to the Front Line

Involve your marketing team in your training initiatives. Give them a budget. Set goals for how the training should be communicated to targeted employees. Create an internal email campaign or a fun video at the beginning of each training session to solicit buy-in from your retail team.

3. Practice, Not Role Plays

There’s no better way to be a better seller than to learn new sales techniques by role playing.  However, just saying the words, “role play” will incite panic attacks in most retail bankers.  Don’t single out participants for role playing exercises in front of their peers. It freaks them out. Instead, pair off the participants and let them practice with each other without the pressure to perform in front of the whole class.

4. Target and Reinforce Simple Training Behaviors

Even great trainers are lucky if participants remember 20 percent of what they hear in a training class. Make the target skills easy to remember. At our company, we use memorable phrases like: “Remember the 1-2-3.” Reduce key ideas down to something as easy as 1-2-3. You’ll have a better chance of connecting with your trainees.

Don’t train new sales behaviors and then hope for the best. A wise sales manager once told me: “There are only two ways to get people to adopt new behaviors pleasure or pain.” Without pleasure or pain, people usually just revert back to the same comfortable behaviors as usual. So, focus on the key activities and behaviors that you want to change, and then reinforce these behaviors with things that make people feel good. Include lots of public recognition for top performers. How about a sales contest to reward the new sales behaviors?  Or announce a spot incentive to put the focus on a new goal.

5. Don’t Forget the Branch Managers

Too often, sales training focuses just on sales behaviors. But managing new behaviors is equally hard. Help your branch managers develop a “fast start plan” to guarantee a successful implementation of new sales skills in their branch. Brainstorm a list of easy five minute sales meeting huddles. Be sure to plan fun reward and recognition activities that sustain the enthusiasm of your front line. Over the years, I’ve grabbed dozens of inexpensive ideas from the book,”1001 Ways to Reward Employees,” by Bob Nelson.  Every person in a leadership position should have a copy of this book.

Execution is always the difference.  We’d love to hear about things that your team has done to take your training events to the next level.