Financial advice firms today recognise the significant benefits that accrue from having a rich client base of companies. Whether they are large corporates or SME’s, companies offer fertile ground for advisers as they can open up a wide range of opportunities to advise not only the company, but also the individual directors and the employees about their financial needs. But what skills or attributes does it take to widen your companies client base to open up these opportunities?
B2B selling requires a different skill set than that needed to successfully advise consumers. This article attempts to identify those skills needed. Hopefully they will help you re-awaken some of your own dormant skills or indeed might help you if you are hiring someone to develop your business client base. Also, excellent account managers working for product providers, promoting their products to financial advisers, also demonstrate these attributes.
So what does it take to build up your corporate client base?
Good B2B salespeople will never approach a potential customer without carrying out detailed research of the company. While it might be ok (but certainly not preferable) to meet an individual and know little about them, this won’t work with companies. As there are so many rich sources of information now with websites, LinkedIn profiles and company reports available, you need to use them! As you set out to impress a potential company, you had better be able to confidently articulate how your proposition will be an excellent fit to meet their needs. To do so, you need to know their business.
Be a good listener
However I’m not suggesting in the previous section that you arrive with your pre-prepared solutions to the company’s problems because you’ve first of all got to find out what they are. Don’t dive into solutions! You need to start with strong questioning and close listening to ensure that the solution you eventually propose will address the right problem. Lots of “Open” questions needed here!
Ability to interact at multiple levels
Financial advisers who are dealing with business clients will typically begin a corporate relationship through CEOs, business owners, finance directors or HR directors. These people will share some common characteristics. First of all they usually have pretty good knowledge of their financial services needs as they will have covered the subject areas previously or indeed will have researched the areas themselves. Secondly they have very little time on their hands and they don’t suffer fools gladly! So if you want to be successful, make sure you are on top of your game when it comes to your advice proposition and product knowledge and get to the point – be professional and business-like at all times.
However this is not about being high-brow. If you gain a business client, you need to be able to engage with people right throughout the company, to empathise and build relationships at all levels of the organisation. Your relationship with the company will ultimately fail if you get on great with the finance director but no one else wants to do business with you. So deal appropriately with everyone throughout the company.
Be a problem solver
Company clients will expect you to make their lives easier, to add value both in terms of financial benefits for them and also in terms of addressing any problems quickly. They will expect you to proactively address any issues they might have with any financial institution and to solve these problems quickly and effectively. So basically you need to be more than a salesperson. You need to be a service agent too who will add value to the relationship on an on-going basis. If they feel that they have been left to manage issues themselves, they will question your value and ultimately replace you.
Corporate clients will expect you to be resilient, to manage stressful situations and then to come back looking for more problems to solve!
Use technology and innovative solutions
Business clients will typically use technology in many areas of their business to help them reduce cost and improve efficiency. They will expect no less from you. They will value access to key information online and the use of technology to make on-going servicing easier. And they will expect you to continue to seek out more innovative solutions for them, both in terms of your actual advice and product propositions and also in terms of your service to them.
The best financial advisers dealing with B2B clients realise that this area is not just the responsibility of product providers but an area in which they can actually differentiate themselves. I’m seeing this in systems being used by advisers to identify the emotional factors influencing individual investors, risk profiling tools, fact finding tools and of course CRM tools.
Highest ethics and integrity
Most companies place huge store in their reputation and actively seek to have a positive impact on their employees, customers and community. While this is of course the right thing to do, they also recognise the benefits they gain through better engagement with these groups, which ultimately will yield financial benefits. As an example, Corporate Social Responsibility programmes are very important processes within a lot of companies today.
The last thing these employers will want is to introduce an adviser who doesn’t share these aspirations. So never let your high ethical standards slip.
These are some of the characteristics I’ve seen in the best B2B salespeople I’ve encountered in both financial advice firms and in life companies. I hope they describe you to a tee!
Are there other characteristics? Please feel free to leave comments below.