Your Customers Are Your Best Prospects

By Mary Bonaccio

Never forget: your customers are your best prospects. This is one of the principle axioms of selling, and it applies across all industries, both business-to-business and consumer. But it’s especially true for banking, and there’s a good reason for that.

It’s because bank customers are always changing.

Let’s say you have a customer who as a 20-something student opened a college savings account for $5,000 and a no-minimum balance checking account to keep college money and summer job money safe. You know one extremely important fact about this person: He/she won’t always be a 20-something. In ten years or less, your 20-something checking/savings customer may very well get married (and need a joint account). And buy a house (and become a mortgage customer). And have a baby (and open a college savings account).


In 20 years or less that same customer will change jobs—and since he’s a millennial, probably a few times. And you will open an IRA for him and his spouse. And you will manage his 401(K) rollover. And you will help with retirement planning. And you will, if you’re on your game, make a referral so he opens an investment account.

And the time may come when your customer—that original relatively low-value college kid with his low-balance accounts—will become your best customer, giving you the opportunity to earn substantial revenue from the spreads on his loan accounts, and fees for his retirement and investment accounts—even including fees for estate planning and wealth transfer.

Every customer has the potential to become a larger customer in the future—one who is waiting for you to come along and unlock the door. But what will it take to do that?

The timing is important. You must be his bank when he is ready for more services. You must have built the trust required for this precious customer to realize you can help. And you must ask for the business at the right time.

So how do you know it’s time to ask for more business? There are a number of ways to accomplish this, but one way is to implement a semiannual or annual customer needs survey to open up this dialogue.

The customer needs survey should combine the elements of a carefully crafted research instrument with an incentive to participate and an invitation to the customer to self-assess his financial picture and his lifestyle changes that can drive the need for additional financial services. Banks that have used this type of program over the course of the past five years report an average of 100 customer responses per branch with each survey execution, with needs ranging from specific product purchase plans to the more general (and often more lucrative) opportunities arising from a customer’s life event—change in marital status, new job, selling or buying a home, caring for older parents, saving for college or retirement, or estate planning.

“Our experience tells us that customer needs arise when a significant emotional event takes place,” said Jack Hubbard, Chief Experience Officer at St. Meyer and Hubbard. “When a bank coaches its staff on how to capitalize on customer life events, many more sales opportunities arise. Bankers ask better questions and needs-based cross solving happens, rather than product-based cross selling.” With this approach, the learning tends to stay with the banker and the customer feels more confident about the conversation. The customer experience improves, the banker feels better not being ‘salesy,’ and the bank wins because the process is sustainable.

The execution of a customer needs survey, bolstered by effective sales training, has been a winning approach for First County Bank, in Stamford, Connecticut. “A needs survey approach has consistently worked for us as a means of customer engagement, and has become a steady component of our marketing plan,” said Karen Kelly, chief marketing officer at First County Bank. “It is a key contributor to the achievement of our annual scorecard metrics.”

Mary Bonaccio is director of client services for The Verdi Group, a marketing firm with expertise in the financial sector. The Verdi Group’s Needs to Leads program has been implemented and tested over the past 25 years not just for the banking industry, but also for many other organizations large and small, including B2B and B2C. Email: [email protected].