Artificial Intelligence and Sales

By Ron Wellman

How to achieve the next level of customer centricity in financial services.

Historically, for sales professionals—no matter the industry or solution being sold—the way to maximize effectiveness is to boost the sales pipeline. It’s an intuitive approach with iron-clad math behind it—if you have a 2% hit rate on leads, of course you’d want to get more leads to boost sales. So why not just ask your salesforce to target an additional 20 or 30 leads each month to increase the chances of success?

At the same time, many bank customers can cite examples of when their bank’s sales team has offered them a solution that was way off base—and not aligned with where they are in their life or what they need. When you think about the silos that can exist across such departments as credit cards, mortgages, retail, and small business, it’s not surprising that such a disconnect can exist. And it’s not comforting.

Banks need to ask themselves whether they truly understand their customers and are demonstrating this in their offers. If not, it’s time to reassess.

Shifting from a sales-centric to a customer-centric approach.

The batch sales and marketing approach involves a one-dimensional view of customers, counting people as numbers without acknowledging them as three-dimensional figures. This results in disjointed and seemingly disingenuous experiences that do nothing to help customer loyalty. In fact, this behavior is more likely to send a customer in the opposite direction to seek out a competitor.

Customers today demand excellent experiences from the companies they do business with. And they’re quick to use social media to disseminate bad experiences to the masses. Further complicating matters, consumer trust in banks has been eroding as the result of very public regulatory scrutiny, making it critical for banks to restore confidence.

To maintain market share and keep pace in this environment, banks must first reassess their overarching customer strategies.

And to establish trust, it is essential that banks consistently demonstrate personalized, relevant interactions with their customers—based on intelligent analysis of customer data. This should incorporate detailed customer assessments, involving a deep-dive analysis of each individual’s current situation and financial needs. For example, if a customer’s daughter is getting married this year and the customer needs to save to pay for the wedding, the bank can adjust its recommendations, set the right goals, and guide that customer through financial planning.

This might sound like a tall task for banks, but technological advancements have changed the game.

Technology keeping pace with aspiration.

In recent years, new approaches to sales have emerged due to artificial intelligence (AI) technology. When used correctly, AI can empower financial services organizations to truly get smart about sales.

AI has developed to the point that, if used effectively, sales professionals can become more efficient and successful by accurately forecasting sales-win probability and suggesting the next-best actions and content that will boost these odds at every customer interaction.

Many sales automation technologies act as glorified reporting tools requiring significant manual input for tracking, rather than solutions that actually help salespeople, managers, and agents become more effective at driving sales—while reducing non-value added administrative tasks. However, it’s now possible to not only accelerate sales cycles, but also to guide customer offers based on background and context.

This last point brings us to the heart of the opportunity: developing and introducing offers to customers with a focus on their specific needs or financial goals—and not on the sales goals of the broader organization.

Banks need to make it their mission to uncover and validate primary and secondary goals in every customer relationship.

In the past, the bank’s goal might be overselling a certain line of solutions based on direction from business decision-makers. Now, banks need to refocus on providing customers with what they need to optimize their money management and goal achievement. This means having the tools in place to understand that not every action is about the next sale, but rather understanding where customers are on their financial and life journeys and taking the appropriate next step.

In today’s complex business environment, it is still not enough to focus solely on customer needs and goals.

Banks still need to satisfy regulators and auditors and prove the product sold meets customer needs and goals. The good news is that modern tools can guide employees through a needs analysis or collaborative goal planning session with a client. All relevant information is then captured and any products sold that did not match customer needs or goals can be identified. In turn, this information can easily be shared internally for coaching, internal audit, or—if needed—exported for regulatory inquiries, eliminating the need to manually record the interaction.

In a similar way, it is a noble endeavor for a bank’s sales team to manually record every customer or prospect interaction to learn more from offers they’ve accepted versus rejected. But these tedious actions take time away from developing customer relationships.

Instead, banks can configure AI across the organization and take advantage of a centralized decisioning platform to ensure that no one is making irrelevant, unsuitable, or duplicate offers. The technology can also help sales leaders manage their coaching and sales pipeline, providing more accurate recommendations on coaching and forecasting. Marrying these intelligent decisioning capabilities with the ability to operationalize at the point of each customer interaction can make salespeople better at their jobs and focus on what’s most important: building strong, long-lasting customer relationships based on trust while ensuring regulatory-compliant practices.

With advancements in AI, there are no excuses for banks to sell their solutions in a disjointed manner, not taking into account past interactions or real customer needs. Those who wait to maximize these technologies risk alienating potential customers, falling far behind more savvy competitors, and opening themselves to compliance risks.

Ron Wellman is global director and industry principal, CRM Solutions, Financial Services, at Pegasystems, a company that develops strategic applications for marketing, sales, customer service, and operations. Email: ron.wellman@pega.com

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