If you think that I'm not qualified to dish out advice about selling because I am only a technology consultant, think again. My very first business venture at age 10 went through a rude awakening that I was able to overcome for one simple reason: I learned how to sell.The business almost fell into the popular category of "most new businesses fail within the first year." I know I didn't do the right research. I didn't have any capital. I wasn't a visionary. I had no skills, just a lotta chutzpah. But how was I to know W.W.II would end in 1945. And did I expect my war heroes to come home and compete with me, the sole provider of ice cream at Foss Park?
My first year in business, just before the war ended, was all gold. I parked my loaded pushcart under a tree, found a cushy spot to rest my thin body and waited for every kid to come to me. If I didn't have root beer popsicles, they bought pineapple. If they didn't have a dime, they resigned themselves to buy a nickel fudgesicle, while their rich buddies enjoyed an ice cream sandwich.
I was heartless. Some kids who were broke, promised to pay tomorrow. I would hand them a piece of discarded wrapper and tell them to fill out a credit application. They didn't have a clue about what I was asking them to do, so I sent them off to Arts & Crafts a little further up the park where the high school kids were in charge of training.
At the end of the day -- which by the way was the same time every banker took off to play golf -- I went home with an empty cart and weighted down by $30 worth of nickels, dimes, quarters and those damn pennies. My net interest margin was 50% of my sales figure, if you exclude sweat equity. I was one happy puppy, especially since my board of directors (my widowed Mom) marveled at my performance. This went on day after day until Labor Day when even enterprising kids went back to school.
The next year, everything changed. War veterans came home, and they too had the entrepreneurial bug. On opening day of the new season, I was alerted to an unfamiliar sound way off in the periphery. Jingle, jingle, jingle went the bell on Nick's Ice Cream truck all shiny and new, with slogans on the truck promising all kinds of goodies that only today would be regarded as the stuff that contributes to obesity. All my former customers flocked to Nick's truck. He even let them pull the chain to sound the siren. I became an overnight case of toast.
Today, I would call McKinsey & Company to develop a new strategy for me, or I might have hired Bear Stearns to find a buyer for my company. But back then, not willing to risk my savings that would eventually pay for four years' tuition, I decided to noodle my way through the problem.
I was in the perfect mode. The "board" was doing her thing as a seamstress making ends meet for the family. I had a lot of peace and quiet because I had no customers. So I sat on the cart and looked out into the landscape of Foss Park. I was so cool about the whole thing I nearly dosed off.
But then I noticed something that in the past I had overlooked. My territory included more than just kids. There were other prospects that I easily determined might enjoy the benefits of an ice cream. It's just that they were not as mobile as the kids. So it was clear that I had to get off my butt and go to them.
I wheeled my push cart to every nook and cranny of the community. When I was under their noses, they couldn't resist. And because they were Romeos, Seniors, Nannys and Grannys, they demanded the best. Also, when the competition struck, I immediately knew I had to have a better product. So I went to my buddy Billy Ryan whose dad worked for Hood's Milk and got him to convince his dad to load up my push cart with the best ice cream in Boston as long as I stood at the corner of McGrath Highway and Broadway to receive my commitment of ice cream, rain or shine, every day.
Billy's dad never missed a deliver, nor did I -- even though on rainy days I experienced a day of "reserve for loan losses." But on sunny days, my new customers bought from me because I delivered quality and I offered the convenience of being right where they were. My business venture was restored. I worked harder; I was more responsive; I went where my customers were; I offered a better product; and most of all, I was more humble. That's the kind of experience that qualifies me to tell bankers to wake up and learn how to sell.
Several years ago, I created a paper model of what I called a "Valued Prospect Scoring System." The late Jack Henry liked it so much that he told me to brand it as the "Gillis Index." I did. Think of a credit scoring system for loan applicants and you've got the concept of the Gillis Index (GI) -- with one difference. There are no losers in the GI. Low scores just mean greater opportunities to sell something.
In its simplest form, my system identified prospects based on common sense attributes and produced a record with just enough data (no transactions data, please) to quantify the prospect and set them up for a sales call. The records could then be parsed out to calling offices and downloaded to the appropriate "owners." The next night, a calling officer could surf 100 or more prospects, depending on the action of the game on TV, and produce a call list for the following day.
After that, success depended on the personal skills of the calling officer. Oh, and did I tell you the technology was doable? I didn't know because I had flunked Programming 101, and Jack Henry wasn't sure either, so he asked Mike Henry, head of development, and Jerry Hall, cofounder, what they thought. They didn't blow trumpets and cheer, but they acknowledged that because of integration, all the data were available to fill the cells for the GI automatically during the posting run.
If anything was missing (for example, the GI includes notations, such as other generations of the prospect that have banked with the Bank), it would give the calling officer a good excuse to call the prospect. This sales approach used the power of technology and the charm of a calling officer to do what John Reed, former CEO of Citibank, said when he announced that Citibank was out to get 6 billion customers -- one customer at a time.
Banking needs in-your-face sales people. Prospects bypass ads that offer one "oatmeal" for all. Snail mail ends up in the trash, unopened. Web sites are so cluttered that pop-ups just irritate a customer who wants to get a job done. And a teller's voice sounds a bit insincere: "Is there anything else I can do for you?" "Yeah, give me a subprime mortgage at a fixed rate of 4% for 30 years, no questions asked."
By Art Gillis, Former Ice Cream Vendor Extraordinaire