"Banking on ignorance is not a very viable sales and marketing strategy for businesses today. We’ve got to put customers in a position to make decisions on their own. ” -Marcus Sheridan

Banks want more customers but aren’t always willing to give up the level of control it takes for customer acquisition. Today’s customers are armed with an impressive amount of information. Are you giving them enough control?

Marcus Sheridan, an international keynote speaker who is one of LinkedIn’s top voices of entrepreneurship and small business, and author of the book, “They Ask You Answer,” joined the Banking on Digital Growth Podcast to share his expertise. 

The Seller-Free Sales Experience

Did you know 33% of all buyers prefer a seller-free sales experience? This was the surprising result of a recent Gartner study on buyer behavior. Fully one-third of all buyers said they prefer interactions where the seller is completely removed from the transaction.

This percentage was even higher the younger the buyer. Among Millennials, 44% preferred a seller-free experience. The takeaway from the study was that many companies could improve their sales figures simply by taking a huge step back from the customer experience.

In truth, it’s a bit more complicated than that. When consumers think of a transaction as “seller-free,” they likely mean they don’t want to feel pressured. They don’t want the hassle of dealing with a human. They simply want to buy something and move on with their lives.

Here’s the bottom line: Customers want to feel in control of the process.

By contrast, many traditional banks are still addicted to face-to-face interactions with customers. They push hard to deliver human interactions even when it’s not what the customer wants. There’s a resistance to a more modern customer-driven path where everything - setting up a new account, taking out a mortgage, all of it - can be done without in-person interactions.

The Myth of Financial Illiteracy

Marcus explains that before the internet, bank executives commonly viewed buyers as poorly informed or even outright dumb. It was common to view a bank as the most knowledgeable source of financial information out there. In 1995, it was difficult for people to get financial information anywhere other than the daily newspaper or perhaps an accountant friend.

Fast forward to today, where every corner of the internet is bursting with financial facts and figures. By banking on customers’ ignorance, you’re making a bad bet. Even the most uninformed buyer has probably done some quick research on their smartphone before contacting the bank for a loan.

This changes the buyer’s journey. In the old days, the customer would head over to their hometown bank in person and start from scratch by asking questions like, “What’s the best type of savings account for me?” Then they’d converse back and forth with the banking professional, eventually settling on a specific product.

Today, many customers would prefer to experience an extremely fast online account creation process where they make a few selections, and bam, they’re done. Only if they have a question or a complex need do they want to interact with a human.

A banking executive will probably respond to this scenario by saying, “Well, people can open accounts on our website.”

But is this 100% true?

If a new customer has to send an email and wait for a response, that’s not online account creation. If one of your employees still has to manually go set up all the account information, that’s not online account creation either.

Is the Focus on “We” or “You”?

Financial brands often do themselves more harm than good by making assumptions about what kinds of experiences their customers want. Banks offer financial advice through the lens of the bank’s needs, rather than putting the focus on the customers’ needs.

Marcus saw a glaring example of this when he worked with a bank that wanted to redesign its website. He asked their VP to count the number of times their website used the words “we/us/I” vs. the number of times it used “you/your.”

They had about 30 to 40 of the former, and 5 of the latter.

How can a bank be customer-focused when all they’re doing is talking about themselves?

While this company was blaming bad website design, their content was what was truly letting them down. They weren’t addressing the fundamental worries, concerns, and fears of their audience. In turn, their audience was drifting away.

5 Tips for Driving Bank Traffic, Leads, and Revenue

Marcus has developed a set of key concepts that all banks can use to stay attractive in the marketplace. It boils down to five tips, all of which start and end with the customer.

1 - Costs

The first step is to become more transparent about your pricing and list it clearly on your website. Update your rates in real-time. Customers love to research pricing before buying. Help them do this quickly and easily.

2 - Negatives

Negatives aren’t negative. Everyone wants to know what might be wrong with something they’re about to buy. But this is good news for banks. Anyone who’s researching the negatives is highly invested in the potential partnership. They’re open to your messages.

3 - Comparisons

Don’t be afraid to directly stack yourself up against your competition. Help buyers make comparisons that show exactly why you’re the right choice.

4 - Reviews

Our society is obsessed with reviews and star-based ranking systems. Lean into it. Follow up with people who leave both positive and negative reviews about your business. Show that you’re not afraid to be reviewed.

5 - The Best

Be the best at something, but not everything. Choose a niche and focus on it. Instead of viewing your audience as everyone, select a more specific audience and put extensive effort into wooing them. 

When your financial institution can do all five of these things very well, you’ll dominate your space. Customers will feel welcomed and stick around.

Transformation and Learning How to Be the Right Fit

Hometown banks and traditional financial institutions like to think that they’re the best fit for everyone. It feels egalitarian to say that anyone can bank there. It’s common to ask a banking executive who their audience is and have them answer something like, “local people.”

That’s too broad. It’s barely better than shrugging your shoulders and saying, “I don’t know.”

Marcus has found that the most dramatic way to shake banking execs out of this rut is to ask them to write something called, “Who We Are Not a Good Fit For.”

It’s a concept based in human psychology. By saying you’re not for everyone, your intended audience becomes more eager to feel like the right fit. Sure, you’ll miss out on a small group of people who aren’t the right fit. But that’s a worthwhile sacrifice because you’ll also connect strongly with a large audience of “good fit” customers who feel bonded to your brand.

Financial brand transformation is about telling the truth and tackling tough issues head-on. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned banking VPs and marketing executives face enormous pushback from their institutions when they try to transform into a fully customer-focused company.

Marcus has received phone calls and emails from these desperate executives, many of whom were on the brink of considering leaving their companies over the issue.

How do you drag an old-fashioned institution into the future, kicking and screaming?

Ditch the Buzzwords and Speak Leader Language

One of the best ways to urge the right kind of transformation is to stop using marketing and social media lingo. Avoid all the buzzwords, stop talking like a marketing guru, and speak the language of a banking traditionalist. This is how you reach CEOs and others who are heavily invested in the old world of banking.

Instead of droning on about content marketing or social media, just talk about the idea of trust. Bankers appreciate trust. The entire banking industry is built on trust.

When you’re trying to convince your leadership team to make a major transformation, bring every conversation back to trust. How can we help our customers trust us? How could we become the most trusted voice in banking

The answers are still things like content marketing and social media, but now your company’s leaders are buying into the idea of customer trust. The principle is clear.

What if they’re still not getting it? Try talking about banking deposits and withdrawals, but in an interpersonal sense. We make deposits into a customer’s trust fund that sits between their ears. It can take weeks or months to build up enough deposits, but when you do, you end up with something of extremely high value.

In turn, an entire savings account’s worth of trust can be depleted in a single moment. If the bank does something to drain the customer's internal trust account, all of the value is instantly lost. When viewing it this way, most banking professionals - even the stubborn ones - will have a lightbulb moment and think, “Aha! I get it!”