Field Notes: Mike Burke on being in sales

By Michael J. Burke Jr.

Are bankers salespeople? The stereotype is that salespeople only sell products that earn them big payouts. They don’t care about the customer, just the sale. Bankers don’t want any part of that, right?

Not so fast. I believe we are salespeople and need to embrace the role. Community bankers aren’t just any old salespeople, though. We do it the right way. And with all the negative press about big national banks abusing their customers in the name of sales, we have an opportunity to shine.

Customers today are bombarded with financial offers. Recently, I counted the number of personal unsecured-loan offers I received in my mailbox. I received 10 in one week, and they all had different terms, rates and fees. I also received numerous credit card, mortgage and home equity offers. Add to that the number of solicitations I receive via email, websites and social media, and it can be overwhelming. That’s why community bankers need to be bold and step up. Everyone has a story of a friend or loved one who got into a bad loan, investment or deposit product. Most of the time, it was because they were not educated about what they were getting, or they were sold it dishonestly. If that person would have just talked with a community banker first, we could have helped him or her make a better decision.

We are the financial experts in our communities, and our customers need our counsel and advice. Don’t assume they know you want to help; tell them that you do.

If we can become the advisors our customers trust, sales really comes down to two simple questions. First, are the products and services our customers currently have the best ones for them? If they are, we should tell them that. No community banker I know would try to convince a client that one of our products is better than one they already have, if it is not true. However, if we can improve on what they have, shouldn’t we?

The other question to ask is, “What financial decisions are you looking at in the future, and how can we partner with you?” I know that if we are aware of our customers’ goals, we will give them the best roadmap to succeed and help eliminate confusion.

None of this can happen if we aren’t talking with our clients regularly. That is what sales really is: helping and talking with people. And that sounds like what true community bankers do every day.

Michael J. Burke Jr. is president of $610 million-asset Lakestone Bank & Trust in Lapeer, Mich.