The Five C’s of Trust-Based Selling

By Jack Hubbard

In today’s market environment, effective selling involves building trust through the use of five C’s: conversation, curiosity, collaboration, customization and coaching.

I’ve had the privilege of doing a significant amount of sales training and coaching with bankers over the past four decades, and, 67,000 bankers later, I have come to the conclusion that the best of breed separate themselves from the pack by acting on five key concepts. These five concepts together build trust and loyalty, maximize the customer experience and optimize bottom-line results. I call these the five C’s:






  1. Conversations, the ultimate differentiator

Recent data indicates 10 to 12 touches are needed (phone, e-mail, voice mail) before a cold pre-client agrees to see a banker. Data also indicates that 54 percent of bankers stop touching after the first rejection. A recent study from the sales research organization CSO Insights suggests that it takes an average of seven calls for a pre-client to become a client. Given those statistics, how can sales professionals create differentiation?

It’s in the conversation.

Conversations that are well planned and targeted to the needs of the client tend to help move the process forward faster and in a trust-based manner. Banks that have analyzed why their bankers do not get in the door for a second call with pre-clients have found that their bankers are too eager to talk—and not as focused on listening. Here are some things successful commercial resource managers (the next level of relationship management) have done to optimize the conversation.

–One banker in the Midwest forwards several impactful “thought starter” questions ahead as an agenda. Talk about differentiation. When was the last time one of your competitors put a list of impactful questions together and e-mailed them to the pre-client prior to a call?

–Another banker pre-boards some discovery questions down the left side of her note pad prior to making the call. She doesn’t “script” or memorize the questions, she creates a guided dialogue using an approach that flows well and is focused on the buyer. Sample questions:

–Where have you been?

–Where are you now?

–Where are you going?

–How do you plan to get there?

–What stands in your way of achieving those goals?

–What is your timeframe for those objectives?

–What issues will you face if you do or don’t execute on your initiatives?

–How are decisions made here relating to what financial partner you work with for those initiatives?

–What criteria will you use in selecting that partner?

–What mistakes do banks make when they attempt to build and sustain trust-based relationships with their clients?

–A relationship manager in Boston always has several stories ready to talk about depending on where the conversation goes. He sometimes brings a tablet, which allows him to share short clips of customers in a similar industry that he has partnered with. Why? Because he knows that 63 percent of buyers remember stories and 5 percent remember statistics and numbers.

  1. Curiosity, the sales cliffhanger

How do “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “American Idol” or any recurring series keep viewers hooked week after week? They always leave them wanting more. Premature product presentations have always been a challenge for sales associates. This happens for several reasons: 1) because the customer forces us into it, and we don’t know how to extricate ourselves; and, 2) bankers have goals and, if there is a “hot one” in front of us, we don’t want to let them get away—and certainly a quarter over quarter revenue mentality has made matters worse. This conflict of results now, juxtaposed against banking’s stated desire to build trust-based partnerships, has caused consternation on each side of the desk.

Curiosity is controlled by the sales associate. The banker determines the high-impact questions to ask. He or she decides what is brought along as a leave-behind on an initial call. Let’s get our terms right. There is a difference between building curiosity and manipulating the situation. It is critical for the salesperson to be transparent. To build curiosity the banker can:

–Avoid taking a briefcase on the first few calls. Take two pens that work, a leather-bound note pad, a printed or electronic calendar showing open dates over the next 30 days, and an open mind. It is much less intimidating to the pre-client when they aren’t wondering what’s in the briefcase.

–Be sure to be more interested than interesting. There are actually still banks that subscribe to the “elevator speech” or “value proposition dump” theory early in the conversation. This makes the pre-client less than curious and actually tells the business owner that the banker in front of him or her is no better or different than what he or she has now.

–Redirect. Answer a question with a question. Some call that the Socratic model. When the chief financial officer asks about cash management products, the banker can be ready with three or four questions: about what the business is doing now, how it is working, how technology is involved, etc. Some would say this might anger the pre-client. Great salespeople indicate it is exactly what they do to be successful, and it is what their pre-clients are seeking.

–The leave-behind. The outstanding new book, “Insight Selling,” discusses how winners in the sales process do one thing better and more often than second-place finishers: They educate the buyer with new ideas and perspectives. That doesn’t come from a product brochure or an annual report. Great bankers scour the Internet and use resources such as VerticalIQ, and for great articles, blogs, white papers and best practices to share at the conclusion of the conversation. All the banker has to do is print it (in color please), know what it says and hand it over when the timing is right.

When a banker starts the conversation, the entrepreneur is imaging “Do I see myself banking with this person?” When the salesperson always leaves the call on a “wow” note, the pre-client will think “I wonder what the next conversation with this banker might sound like?” When the salesperson sets that tone, he or she will always have a better than average chance to get back in for call after call, which may lead to a new relationship.

  1. Customization, this Is a one-to-one world

It isn’t possible to tailor every product for every situation. It is easy to understand, however, that every business owner buys cash management solutions, a loan or even a checking account for their own reasons. As the banker presents his or her solutions, therefore, feeding customized buying benefits into the life of the buyer creates more “yesopportunities.

Gaining knowledge as to “why” they buy can occur in the first or second meeting if the sales person is adept at the curious. Issues about the reasons for the services they have or believe they need, what type of a banking relationship works for them and criteria for their buying decisions all factor into future presentations.

On-demand brochure printing, proposal software and tailored pitch books allow the buyer to see how his or her objectives match the solutions the banker is bringing to the table. Here’s where the chief marketing officer can be a great partner.

  1. Collaboration, the ultimate in transparency

Some sales training I’ve seen talks about “going to war” and employing manipulative techniques to get the client or pre-client to buy. In trust-based selling, it’s not the banker versus the customer, it’s the banker and the customer versus the problem.

It is important for the salesperson to determine if there is a “fit” between the philosophy and the abilities of the bank and the vision that the company has of what a banking relationship should be. If there is a mismatch, the relationship could be shorter than a Kardashian marriage.

In his book, “Trust-Based Selling,” Charles Green discusses the importance of transparency as the salesperson and the pre-client sit at a desk and assemble the proposal together. When the banker shows he or she has nothing to hide, more collaboration occurs and less negotiation is needed.

Green suggests that the ultimate in trust is when the banker refers his or her best customer to the competition because the competition can do a better job on a certain initiative. That is total collaboration.

  1. Coaching, sustaining the culture

None of the first four C’s occurs without an ongoing commitment to reinforce the process. Great sales coaches understand they manage numbers and lead people. In his classic book, “Go Put Your Strengths to Work,” Marcus Buckingham suggests: “Our people aren’t our greatest asset. The strengths of our people are.”

There is a fallacy that working with sales associates on their deficits helps them improve and, therefore, they sell more. While that can certainly work over the long term, a great sales coach helps his or her people use their strengths now to pull the culture, their career and the client growth to the next level. Bank CEOs, executives and team leaders should ask themselves:

–How am I reinforcing conversations, curiosity, collaboration and customization?

–What tools am I using to reinforce this process?

–How do I interweave it all into team meetings and individual interactions?

–During team meetings, how to I support the vital nature of using LinkedIn as a social collaboration tool, practice with my bankers so they ask better questions and focus them on the right behaviors versus simply the outcomes?

–During joint calls, am I observing the other four C’s or taking over the call?

–Does our reporting help me coach the “metrics that matter” or does it simply count calls made and sales accomplished?

We’ve come a long way in sales since Adam bought that apple. We still have a long way to go and the five C’s provide an excellent road map.



Jack Hubbard is chairman and chief sales officer at St. Meyer & Hubbard, a sales training and coaching firm based in Elgin, Ill. Telephone: (847) 717-4328; email: [email protected].