Of the long to-do list for financial services leaders, few objectives are more pressing than reinvigorating client acquisition. A recent Gartner survey of industry executives identified “building a sales pipeline optimized for growth” as the #1 priority for leaders over the next 6 months. And a more aggressive approach to new business development represents a welcome shift after two years of judicious selling while helping clients navigate a terrible pandemic.
And as we’ve shared recently, the “Sense Making” approach to selling is tailor-made to help financial services firms reinvigorate growth. Sense Maker bankers and advisors deliver value by helping clients navigate a chaotic information environment. And the rewards for Sense Making are significant. Sense Maker sellers are more than twice as likely to close a high-quality, low-regret deal as frontline staff using more traditional sales approaches.
But the current business climate features unique factors that necessitate some updates to even an approach as powerful as Sense Making. In particular, two facts about the current selling environment are forcing a rethink of how to maximize sales effectiveness in financial services:
- The increasing availability of digital information – the proliferation of high quality digital information from financial providers means that frontline employees are no longer the information channel, but rather one information channel among many for clients. Clients are exposed to a large volume of information from competing providers. And the explosion of information is indeed having an impact, and not a good one for legacy financial providers. For example, 57% of consumers have used fintechs for at least some of their financial needs in the past 6 months, while 54% of CFOs say that they would likely consider a technology provider to meet the payments needs of their business.
- The unique context for each client – the way customers buy, the reasons they buy, and the emotions that influence the decision are highly variable, unpredictable, and unique to each customer. Take for example the COVID-19 pandemic, which has fundamentally altered the context for many clients. Consumers now face new obligations, high-net-worth individuals are reconsidering their philanthropic and family priorities, and business owners are rethinking the very purpose of their organizations. Typical customer journey mapping exercises are static and designed for scale. They cannot keep pace with the evolving dynamics of how and why clients buy, and the heterogeneity across clients.
To succeed in this new normal, financial services frontline staff must account for the unique situations customers find themselves in based on information they’ve considered, interpersonal stakeholder dynamics, and the emotional side of buying which impacts decision timing and outcome. And that means a focus on two things to boost client acquisition:
- Situational awareness – developing an understanding of the customer’s unique situation, and
- Situational tuning – formulating a tailored response to support the client on their unique journey
Let’s explore further what those concepts mean in financial services:
First, situational awareness is the understanding of a customer’s perspective, accepting that every client’s journey is unique, but with patterns that repeat across customers. There is a great deal of context to consider for each client, related to their readiness to buy and business or personal priorities. To the customer, their situation is unique: the consumer facing new expenses, the business owner exploring a new opportunity to grow their business, and the high-net-worth individual pursuing a new philanthropic priority. This exact customer situation has never occurred before to them and is unique to them. Technology such as AI can help bankers and advisors gain situational awareness, but an element of seller skill is critical too. Leaders must help frontline staff combine pre-existing patterns with their intelligence, curiosity and ability to think, “What is different about this scenario, and how do I help the customer with THEIR specific situation?”
Second, situational tuning is an empathetic and individual approach to adapt selling tactics to buying challenges. What’s important about this is not only the accuracy with which sellers can adapt their approach to deliver more tailored, confidence building client engagement, but the ability to do it empathetically. Empathy is a uniquely human element which digital just can’t replace, and crucial given the unique role of financial providers in empowering customers. Decisions by a consumer to make a large purchase, a business owner to open a new location, or a high-net-worth individual to make an investment are not merely transactional decisions, but also highly-emotional decisions. The insight firms glean from digital and technology enables more empathy and a true understanding of that customer’s situation. But frontline employees must act on those insights to deliver a more relevant experience for the client.
As you explore how your frontline should adopt this approach, it’s important to note that balance is important. While it’s crucial to position your bankers and advisors to deliver relevance and value, you can’t create an entirely unique process for every deal. The key is to balance scalability with relevance. For more information on success factors for client acquisition, please access our Financial Services Business Leadership and Strategy Primer and check out the section on Go-To-Market Strategy. And please check out our recent blog on Success Factors for Virtual Sales. Finally, we encourage you to schedule an inquiry with our experts to discuss how Gartner can help you improve sales enablement to achieve growth for your clients, your associates, and your firm.