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We’ve been doing marketing for banks since we started, back in 1994. Before that, I worked on many, many, many banks. In fact, the very first advertising assignment I had was for Equibank, in Pittsburgh, back in the 1980s. Very retail!

Anyhow, I’ve always had this question. Maybe somebody can help me with this. It appears to me that the key to bank success is cross-sell ratio. I’ve observed that just about every bank measures this. Many complain about how theirs is too low, or boast to the boss that while theirs is lower than they’d like, it’s still higher than the national average. But, with the possible exception of the re-structuring of Wachovia’s marketing department back in the early 1990s, I’ve never really seen a bank DO anything about it. So my question for senior bank marketing people is, do you really care about cross sell? If so, why don’t you focus more resources on it?

It seems obvious that in a relationship business like banking, the longer relationships last (loyalty) and the more services/touch points each relationship represents, the more profitable the bank will be. Is that not the case? In package goods land, where I spent a good part of the formative years of my career, a high-leverage KOI (key operating indicator) like this would not only be a thing, but it would be the thing. Cross sell seems like it should be as important to banks as driving trial and accelerating usage cycles is to package goods.

I suspect the problem is that marketing was anathema to banking for so long. Then, as banks started to dabble in marketing, they never got much past the awareness (image) phase. Because there were relatively few banks in any given market, there was always lots of low-hanging fruit. Suddenly, times have changed. I envision a time, sooner rather than later, when banks will need to focus on…

• attracting the right customers, and discouraging the wrong ones (depending on the bank’s business model)
• expanding all current relationships through cross sell (grow profits from the current customer base, not from customer acquisition)
• working to identify and retain the most profitable 20-50 percent of customers (through loyalty/retention tactics).

Two out of three of these are related, and can be affected by cross selling. Which gets me back to my original question.

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