Vertical IQ’s latest eBook, entitled “Unlock Sales Readiness: Advice from the Experts,” is available now! Along with it comes valuable insights from Sales Readiness experts, and in this blog series, we have brought you some of the highlights from our conversations with each of them. This is our final installment in the series.

Our “Advice from the Experts” blog series has featured some of the top experts and thought leaders from across the sales space. They have shared their thoughts on the meaning of “Sales Readiness” and offered best practices and tips on how to strengthen relationships with customers.

But what can organizational leaders do to ensure they are setting up their sales professionals for success in the long run? Vertical IQ’s recently released eBook, Unlock Sales Readiness: Advice from the Experts, touches on this idea and much more. For the final edition of our “Advice from the Experts” blog series, we sat down with Nick Miller, founder and president of Clarity Advantage Corporation.

Nick – also a co-founder of Vertical IQ – has spent over 45 years in the banking space. He and his company help train banks and bankers to market and sell to small- and medium-sized businesses, and he also authors the Weekly Sales Thoughts blog located in Clarity Advantage’s Knowledge Center.

Q: Tell us about your role and your experience related to sales in the banking industry or other industries.

Nick: I started in a Chicago bank lender training program. When I moved to consulting, I designed and wrote bank credit, product, and sales training programs. Our work now also includes sales strategy development and interpretation. For example, banks will say, “We want sales training,” but they haven’t clearly defined their sales focus, differentiation, or processes to serve their target segments. We help with those before we start training.

While we’ve worked with professional services, manufacturing, and non-bank financial services companies, our primary focus is banks and credit unions and, within that space, small business and business banking.

Q: The premise of this ebook is a concept called “Sales Readiness,” and I understand that phrase can mean different things to different people. When you hear the term “Sales Readiness,” what does that mean to you?

Nick: The classic definition is, “equipping salespeople with the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to facilitate conversations throughout a buyer’s journey.” To that definition, I would add strategic clarity, integrated marketing and sales processes, and consistent execution rigor.

Too often, in our experience, banks and credit unions think they are sales ready once they articulate sales goals and launch incentive compensation programs. Those are important yet insufficient – they don’t make a credit union or commercial bank “sales ready.”

Q: Here at Vertical IQ, we talk a great deal about the importance of becoming a trusted advisor to your clients. How do you see that concept?

Nick: People seek advice or advisors when they face difficult questions or problems, whether they are buying computers or renovating old houses. They seek technical expertise, perspective, or both.

Bank or credit union clients are looking for trustworthy, useful advice around financial decisions. They want perspective that they can’t get through online search.

When banks or credit unions say they want their consumer or business bankers to be “trusted advisors,” the central questions are strategic: Who do you want your bankers to advise, on which difficult questions or problems do you want them to advise, and how will that advice be delivered (e.g., through conversations, through web site resources, etc.)?

Once you’ve answered those three questions, you have a framework for developing relationship bankers or salespeople as “trusted advisors” – within that framework – and supporting them with the appropriate training, tools, and online resources.

For most organizations and bankers, the advice should focus on problems that their products solve (and the best use cases and alternatives for the products) and connections to other resources in the organization or community who can offer advice on other issues.

Over time, a few bankers in any given bank or credit union will develop to the point that their clients see them as advisors on a wide range of personal and business issues far beyond their companies’ product sets. “I wouldn’t make the decision without talking to her.” – that level. Value beyond the products.

Q: Can you elaborate on how it applies to training and leadership roles in sales?

Nick: Credit training and procedures training are, typically, well done and tested: People have to demonstrate the knowledge or skills because there are significant negative consequences if they don’t have them.

Sales-related training (e.g., client problems, credit union or bank products that address them, example use cases, conversation management) is far less rigorous and, for the most part, insufficient to prepare either consumer or business bankers to be “trusted advisors” on much beyond which checking account is best and should you use a line of credit, a term loan, or equipment financing in a particular situation. And, sometimes, not even that.

Since expertise, perspective, and ideas are the table stakes for providing advice, bank or credit union training should focus more heavily on the context in which their clients operate, the problems or difficult decisions clients face, the problems that bank products solve (and the best use cases and alternatives for the banks’ products), and connections to other resources in the company or the outside community who can offer advice on issues about which the particular business banker cannot provide perspective or offer advice.

By “context,” I mean knowledge and understanding of the industry environments in which clients operate. Without that, the bankers aren’t credible. They aren’t equipped to share industry perspective or facilitate conversations that clients perceive as appropriate for them in their industry and valuable.

>> Learn how Vertical IQ’s Industry Profiles can help you prepare for client meetings!

Q: I know this sounds like a simple question, but what’s the most valuable piece of advice that you can offer someone who wants to develop themselves as a trusted advisor to their clients?

Nick: It’s a simple question with a multi-part answer!

First, develop yourself as a person. Develop your life experience – read broadly, go to the theater, participate in your community, and follow what’s going on in the world. This makes your life more interesting. It also helps you connect with and be attractive to clients and prospects.

Second, be a student of your craft and clients, responsible for your own learning; don’t expect your employer to provide it. If clients want expertise and perspective, study their industries, study the problems they face, learn different ways of solving the problems, and accumulate use case stories. Develop your value.

Third, learn to facilitate good conversations by learning to listen. Listen to what is said, and listen interpretively: What’s the meaning behind what was said? Why would they say it that way? What have they not said? Figure out what’s important and why it’s important. Learn to lead conversations through which both bankers and clients learn so that bankers are able to say, “Okay, based on what you’ve shared with me, here’s my thought.” Advice!

>> You can read more of our experts’ Sales Readiness insights in our new eBook by clicking here and more of Nick’s thoughts by clicking here.

Image credit: Vertical IQ

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