iStockPaperCutOutCommunityA Fortune 500 financial services firm was facing major competitive challenges. As margins had been squeezed, the company’s response had been to raise fees and beat the drum to sell new products. Now, clients were responding negatively. Client sales meetings inevitably defaulted to issues of product performance and defending fees. Relationships were strained and clients were putting out RFPs to look for new vendors.

The organization turned to us to assess the reasons why its sales team had been unable to adequately manage client relationships and address client concerns. There was an urgent need not only to head off losing clients, but to also to be in a position to expand the relationships with new product offerings. Our initial review of a survey of 500 clients revealed their customers felt the sales team wasn’t listening to their concerns and was not attuned to their interests.

Our own interviews with clients and stakeholders also revealed:

  • Their clients were getting barraged with calls from various siloes at the firm because the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing
  • Sales presentations were dense, generic PowerPoint decks that droned on about how old, big, and great the financial services firm was… and clients didn’t care
  • Discussions with clients tended to be focused on new product offerings and technical solutions whether or not they addressed client needs
  • Clients perceived even the most senior salespeople as transactional vendors rather than as trusted advisors and strategic partners
  • There was a clear lack of capability to ask the right questions and have insight-driven conversations with C-suite decision makers

As we discussed these issues with the management team (which included the EVP, Chief Marketing Officer, and Executive Steering Committee), they agreed these issues were pressing but were uncertain how to address them. We were asked to develop a plan, work behind the scenes with the senior leader team, and also facilitate sessions with their sales teams.

We designed custom facilitated sessions, in which participants brought actual client scenarios to the meetings. We provided simple but powerful thinking and communication tools that enabled sales and technical product managers to prepare for meetings better and engage in deeper, more strategic dialogue with clients. This is what we refer to as an “insight-driven approach” to focusing on the clients’ interests, anticipating and leveraging assumptions and avoiding the impression of simply pushing the latest product.

Objectives and Results

Our objectives were to enable them to develop greater sensitivity as well as the confidence to speak in ways that fostered peer to peer relationships with these senior buyers.

A team of Bates coaches rolled out the program with hundreds of client relationship leaders in seven countries on four continents over several weeks, teaching them about 180 Thinking and how to have real dialogue with clients instead of making them endure one-sided presentations. We followed up the program with online reinforcement, giving the global client relationship leaders badly needed tools for conducting meetings with a strategic agenda.

In the next phase, we deployed Bates Executive Presence Index (Bates ExPI™) as a post-project assessment tool, giving us an opportunity to measure specific leader behaviors as perceived by internal stakeholders as well as clients. The assessment measured behaviors critical to developing strong, trusted partnerships, from Authenticity and Humility to Practical Wisdom, Vision and Confidence. We were able to offer insights to the senior executive management about the group’s capabilities, and also help individual leaders strengthen aspects of character, substance and style measured by the ExPI, to address gaps that limited their impact and influence.

Over time, our work with this team has enabled the executive sponsors to execute on a transformational change that was critical to justifying healthy margins. In short, clients began experiencing the sales organization in a new way—as one unified team rather than a loose collective of siloes, and as strategic partners who now could leverage their expertise with a client-centered approach.

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