Tales Of Infidelity

I got a call earlier in the week from a very polite man who, after identifying himself as a Fidelity employee named Jim, asked if we could talk for a few minutes about my financial future.

He had my account information in front of him, and wanted to review some important questions,such as. . . “Are you comfortable with the amount of money you have set aside for retirement?. . . Are you paying too much in taxes?” . . and, the financial question that since the beginning of time has caused parents everywhere to hide their faces in embarrassment. . .“Are you saving enough to put your kids through college??!!”(insert scary music here)

Not wanting to appear fiscally irresponsible, I told him that I was well aware of the “miracle of compound interest,” thank you very much, and provided my children were willing to put off college until the approximate age of 35, I was confident that my current savings would be sufficient.

Realizing that I was intent on wasting his time, Jim thanked me politely and hung up.

So here’s my question for you: Based on this experience, how would you rate Fidelity’s approach to growing its business through its existing relationships?

Here’s my take on it:

1. Targeting. Using the information they have about me (assets, zip code, age), they did a good job of identifying me as a likely candidate for questions regarding retirement and college savings.

2. Hiring. If Jim was any indication, they seem to have been successful in finding people who are friendly and articulate, putting them head and shoulders above most of the telephone salespeople I come in contact with.

3. Training. They’ve obviously taken the time to arm their people with client specific financial data, as well as a compelling set of opening questions that play to both the target audience’s dreams and fears.

1,2,3, all good stuff. And yet, when the phone call came in, I ended it as quickly as possible (well almost as quickly as possible; I had to first get my joke in about compound interest).

Why? Because I don’t know Jim or anybody else at Fidelity! My “relationship” with the company consists of the quarterly statement that I get in the mail and an online account that I use to check my balance once in a while.

Picking up the phone on a Tuesday morning and having a total stranger invite me to talk about my financial future felt about as comfortable as somebody in McDonalds identifying himself as a doctor and questioning my decision to order a Big Mac.

Effective selling requires more than just the intersection of my needs, with your company’s quality product, reputation and sales techniques. With no prior history between us, Jim was at a severe disadvantage in trying to engage me in a financially intimate conversation, much less in upselling me to additional Fidelity products.

So what should our friends at Fidelity do to improve their success rate? Three suggestions.

• Give Jim tools that will allow him to systematically touch his Fidelity customers on a regular, ongoing, low pressure basis (e.g. E-Newsletters; sequenced informational emails, print materials for those who want it), and train him on how to integrate these into his daily routine.

• Prompt existing customers to self identify regarding their interest in receiving additional information or in having conversations with salespeople. Not only does continually inviting customers to interact provide an effective means of uncovering those who are getting ready to buy, the act of interacting itself begins to build a relationship between customers and company.

• Show some patience. You can’t jump from no relationship to “let’s discuss your financial future” overnight, and frankly it’s a little off-putting when you try. Make contact with me long before you want to sell to me.

Bottom Line: No matter how large or small your business, marketing to your existing circle of contacts — your customers, prospects and anyone else who’s expressed a willingness to hear from you — is fantastically effective.

But don’t confuse the fact that I happen to be your customer, with you and I having a relationship. If the only time I hear from you is when you’ve got something to sell me, the only time you’ll hear from me is when I move to your competitor!

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