Over a decade ago, I was at the final interview to become a business analyst for a bank enterprise pricing and billing system. The executive interviewing me, in the interest of full disclosure, told me that the customer base was very angry. To calm them down, the company had promised to hire a business analyst with a finance background and banking experience. Wanting to understand fully what I was signing up for, I gingerly asked, “Okay, why are they so angry?”
The past decade has been a trying time for banks. In a flat interest rate environment, thin margins on loans and overall difficult economic conditions have made it difficult to drive revenue growth based on loan portfolios. As Financial Institutions have focused on other ways to grow, the average share of net revenue non-interest income has expanded to over 40 percent. Yet, a survey done by American Banker magazine reported that 15% of bank corporate clients studied were actually unprofitable. So clearly something is amiss here. Banks need profitable corporate relationships to keep growing the bottom line, but too many of those relationships are actually a drag on profits. This is a serious conundrum that banks need to address – how to keep growing profits by getting the right deals?
It is possible to sell a product to customers when you don’t understand their culture or their way of life. But it sure can be a lot more difficult. Curiously, the incident which made me acutely aware of this involved SEC football. I was on the floor of the convention center in Las Vegas in our booth, when one of the sales reps came over with four gentlemen in tow. The sales rep was from Spain, but lived in England at that moment. He was working the show primarily to make contact with international banks, but he had managed to make a connection with a U.S. regional bank that was strong in the Southeast. He had brought four of the bankers over for me to demo our product suite.
When I first started doing demonstrations for bank software sales, I made the most common mistake there is. I spent my time in front of potential customers telling them all about the wonderful features my software could provide them. I had helped design many of the features, and I was quite proud of my software application. So proud, in fact, that I made it hard on myself to sell it. Customers don’t buy features. They never have, and they never will. Customers buy benefits.