During the Holiday season we all spend countless hours considering the gifts we want to buy for those we care about. In banking, we often consider gifts for customers as a reward for their loyalty and business throughout the year. Sometimes we receive gifts in return, but isn’t customer satisfaction the greatest gift of all?
During this season we often overlook what may really be the greatest gift of all for us bankers. And that is the gift of doing more business, more easily.
The Holiday season offers us a great opportunity to connect with our customers more easily and to explore more ways to help them (and their connections). And the reward for us bankers is usually a great end to the year, and more importantly, setting up a greater start to the New Year.
Throughout the year you have attempted numerous activities to create business development opportunities with customers. Therefore isn’t the greatest gift of all for us hard-working bankers simply an easier way to do business. Accordingly the Holiday season provides the perfect environment to receive this gift.
First, we need to overcome the limiting belief that the Holiday season is a less than ideal time for creating new business development opportunities. Many bankers claim customer absenteeism or businesses winding down for the Holiday period or nobody focused on changing their banking needs as reasons for low productivity at this time of year.
However, those claims are simply excuses masking the banker’s limiting belief that customers are unwilling to do more business with banks over the Holiday season. Perhaps what is easier to believe is that during this time of year your customers are willing to simply connect with you and affirm your relationship? Isn’t this the season to show gratitude and build relationships?
You see, your customers and prospects may in fact not be focused on buying more bank products or changing banks but they are in fact focused on engaging and interacting with people.
‘Tis The Season To Be Building Relationships
The Holiday Season is the greatest season of all for human interactions, networking and social engagement. Everyone is in the mood to share Holiday stories and experiences. Everyone is in the mood to spread good cheer. And in an industry where customer relationships remain essential for success, this is the perfect time of year to strengthen or build upon those relationships.
Stop thinking of the Holiday season as an inopportune time for selling bank products and more like an opportunistic time to be consolidating relationships and establishing greater opportunities for the New Year.
Many bankers who “ease off” over the Holiday season find it takes longer to “ramp up” in the New Year – when in fact some simple strategies and activities can help you launch into your most successful New Year ever.
After years of coaching bankers it is clear that the business development practices they most confidently execute are:
- Building upon their existing customer relationships;
- Local community networking; and
- Asking for referrals.
When executed diligently and effectively, these business development activities can certainly produce good results over time. And the Holiday season is the best time of year to execute these three activities diligently and effectively.
This is why the Holiday season is the greatest gift of all for bankers. It provides a very credible reason for you to connect with existing customers, attend networking events and ask for referrals. It is the season for giving and despite any limiting beliefs you may have that your customers are distracted or unavailable, there are many ways you can connect and leverage the spirit of giving.
Consider the following strategies that will inspire you to rethink your customer engagement efforts over the Holiday season and how you can better invoke the spirit of giving.
(a) Holiday Plans
Be willing to share your Holiday plans with your customers. At this time of year, the question “what are you doing for the Holidays?” is as common as “how are you today?”
Remember to always try and say something positive and interesting – something that your customers might remember. It’s a joyous time of year so people generally like to hear happy stories (albeit I do appreciate this time of year may be difficult for some).
More importantly, ask your customers about their Holiday plans. Show genuine interest in their plans and commit to memory. Deliberately seek an opportunity to gain commitment for a return visit in the New Year, or perhaps a meeting. Make sure to follow up.
For those bankers with customers who do not visit the branch, consider making a phone call to your customers over the next few weeks to let them know about your Holiday plans (and if you will be away from the office) and purposely ask about their plans. This is a very credible reason to call your customers and gain a commitment for a future meeting or even a customer referral.
(b) Holiday Cards
Many people are indifferent about the value of giving greeting cards to customers at this time of year, however if you are going to send cards then I implore you to personalize them.
Don’t underestimate how many cards your customers (especially business customers) may receive from their business partners, vendors and suppliers. You can make a difference and reinforce how much you value the relationship by adding a personal message rather than simply signing the card.
I suggest you make the personal message relate to your interactions with the customer during the year (possibly referring to the benefit of a solution you provided for them) and confirm your commitment to building a stronger relationship (and offering more solutions) in the New Year.
The card may prompt a call from the customer and/or it makes it easier for you to engage in a phone conversation or arrange a meeting with the customer at a later date.
In my opinion, sending e-cards is impersonal and does little to bolster your relationship. I appreciate they are an efficient distribution to a broad customer base but simply accept that they will always have far less impact than a personalized card.
(c) Holiday Gifts
Like Holiday cards, many bankers are also ambivalent about the idea of giving gifts to customers. Of course your excellent service and innovative solutions are gifts in themselves, but the customer is already paying for that and generally has a high level of expectation.
Holiday gifts clearly require a greater level of effort than Holiday cards. Accordingly it’s preferable that you aim to personalize them but, more importantly, capitalize on the gratitude that is likely to ensue by gaining a commitment for further support – meetings, more services or referrals.
Many community banks like to offer their branch customers small tokens/gifts of appreciation during the Holiday season — a wonderful idea that certainly embodies the festive spirit, however reconsider how you offer them to customers and how you accept their gratitude. Remind customers that the gift is a token of your appreciation of their loyalty to the bank and that you are seeking their commitment for continued support in the New Year.
For some higher value business customers you may want to offer more personalized gifts. Don’t simply send bottles of wine or gift baskets. By personalizing the gift you demonstrate a deeper understanding of the customer and a greater commitment to building a strong relationship.
For example – in 2004 our bank was seeking to do more business with local insurance brokerages. In order to gain meetings with the owners of these brokerages we decided we would send a personalized gift. We contacted their assistants to determine the owner’s shirt size and favorite color. Accordingly we personalized the gift of a polo shirt and added a short note stating “We customize our banking solutions like we customize our gifts.” Of course the assistants also received a gift as a token of our appreciation for their help.
Finally, I would also encourage you to personally deliver the gift. You are more likely to gain a reciprocal commitment from the grateful customer in that moment. If you cannot personally deliver the gift, then it is essential that you follow up with the customer to ensure they received it, they liked it and are willing to meet in the New Year and/or provide a referral.
(d) Holiday Events
The Holiday season is certainly a busy time of year for bankers due to the multitude of networking opportunities, holiday parties, customer appreciation days and charity events. Accordingly, consider making a deliberate effort to leverage these valuable customer engagement activities to seek commitments for the New Year.
Be sure to be purposeful. Attend every Holiday event with a purpose/objective in mind. I suggest that your purpose/objective include some focus on business development – how can you obtain a meeting, a commitment to consider other Bank services and/or a referral to their contacts in the New Year?
Of course every event is a wonderful opportunity for you to remind your customers/prospects what you do for them (and the community) and how you value them – but how prepared are you to effectively articulate this when you engage them in conversation? Prepare and rehearse a script with your colleagues.
Finally, it is critical that you find time to follow up with all the contacts you met at each event via email and/or a phone call (also consider LinkedIn invitations). By proactively following up, you will significantly enhance your chances of realizing the future commitments given for a meeting or referral.
Some argue that these strategies may be inappropriate for a local charity event.
Let’s be clear – the Holiday spirit is alive and well and the simple “reward” you are seeking for your benevolence is an opportunity to help your customer further at a later date or to help their contacts. By believing you add value at all times to your customers and their contacts, the greater confidence you will have in leveraging any event to gain a future commitment.
The Greatest Gift of All
It is important to note that the intent of this article is not to undermine the values and virtues of the Holiday season. These strategies are not designed to make anyone feel insincere when engaging their customers over the Holiday season.
These strategies are intended to help every banker simply give more deliberate thought to their Holiday season efforts so that they can create greater value for their customers and make life easier for themselves in the New Year. A gift that benefits all parties. Now isn’t that the greatest gift of all?
Article written by Joe Micallef – Sales Strategist & Coach – Grow UP Sales. Grow UP Sales has partnered with BankTalentHQ to provide career, management and leadership coaching to its members. For sales strategy facilitation and sales coaching contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the webpage www.growupsales.com.