Angling for Commercial Prospects

By Hillary Kelbick

Use this strategy to increase your catch in the commercial marketplace.

The other day I got hooked on a TV documentary about fly fishing in Montana. (Yes, the pun was intended.) And I thought, what a perfect analogy for commercial prospecting. Just like fly fishing, it’s practiced mostly by solitary bankers who spend years learning the subtle skills of their craft. And just like fly fishing, it’s really hard!

How can you help your sales staff with this effort? How do you cut through all the noise and the clutter, and have an impact on some of the most elusive and wily targets of all: the denizens of the C-suite at commercial companies? Maybe you need to take a cue from fly fishing, and make sure you’re using the right lure to reel them in.

Creating your lure.

I am a big proponent of using a “standout” strategy to help jump-start your efforts. By standout, I mean any item that will immediately get noticed among all the traditional letters and envelopes that normally hit an executive’s desk each day.

Your standout item could be in a package or a mail pouch, or it could even be a traditionally shaped mailing that is designed in an unconventional way. But it’s nothing like a traditional direct mail package—in fact it’s quite the opposite. You need to find or create something really memorable and unique, something that will ultimately prompt an executive to take a call he or she might not otherwise take. Here are a few thoughts to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Figure out a way to print unconventionally. I’ve had success with lenticular printing, which is the grown-up version of the 3-D baseball cards we used to buy as kids. It’s a dramatic and fun way to deliver a sequence of messages, just by tilting the angle of the card.
  • If you like the idea of a premium, consider one that can be divided easily into parts that work together but not separately, like an intriguing electronic gadget and the remote control that makes it run. Send the gadget with a promise to deliver the controller in-person. It’s a great incentive for prospects to accept a subsequent meeting with your banker.
  • Alternatively, you can simply create a beautiful, upscale package. It doesn’t have to be expensive to look expensive. Remember, you’re dealing with small quantities here, so if hand assembly is required, you may even be able to manage the process internally.

As you consider ideas, here are a few points to keep in mind. C-suite executives have gatekeepers who screen mail, but gatekeepers are far less likely to toss any mailing that looks highly personalized or valuable. Just remember, it’s important that the package is not construed as potentially dangerous in our post-9/11 world. Large, heavy boxes, lumpy envelopes or unmarked packages are a no-no.

Above all, you don’t want to come off as frivolous. Commercial banking is serious business, and you need to deliver a powerful message about a key competitive advantage your bank can offer. So your first objective is not to figure out what you should send, but what you should say.

It also helps if your standout item reflects that key message. For example, perhaps you want to focus on a competitive advantage like highly personalized attention from your business bankers. If you choose a standout item that’s message-related, your recipient is more likely to remember you each time he or she uses the item.

Making a good cast.

In fly fishing, casting your fly in precisely the right spot is the name of the game. Same thing with this effort: all aspects must be handled flawlessly. Errors of any sort are disastrous, so make sure that names and titles are executed to perfection. Send your standout item via FedEx, UPS, or other services that provide tracking capabilities. Once the item is sent, prompt follow-up is crucial, so be sure to stagger your deliveries, giving your bankers time to adequately reach one batch of prospects before moving on to the next.

As promising leads emerge from first-round calls, give your bankers the tools they need to make the most of their opportunities. Create talking points so you know you’re conveying key benefits on a consistent basis. Create sales sheets and/or electronic presentations that integrate with the promotional theme, if any, for them to bring to meetings.

In addition, encourage your bankers to expand their connections within each target company. Save your standout item for C-level execs only, but create messaging that extends well beyond the C-suite—to the money managers who make day-to-day financial decisions using your products, and even the technical staff who supervise the flow of information to and from your bank. Remember, your executive decision-makers will likely get a group consensus before making any significant switch in banking relationships. Anticipate that moment by reaching out to the other people within the organization whose opinions will matter.

Sure, all of this adds up to a long to-do list. But your bankers will be the first to tell you, the excitement of landing a large commercial account is worth all the time, patience, and effort required. So try this strategy. You’ll spend more of your time celebrating successes—and less time lamenting the ones that got away.

Hillary Kelbick is president and CEO of MKP communications inc., a New York based agency specializing in financial services marketing and merger communications. Email: [email protected].