The hungry account executive: Part twoMichael McFarland, CMBknowledgeable, responsive, accessible, visible, enduring I was at the park with my children. A cold front had blown through the day before; the sky was a radiant blue, and the sun warmed the chill out of the air. I noticed a classic piece of playground equipment in between the rock wall and the giant wooden castle—the seesaw. It had three 12-foot long boards evenly spaced along side the other, each one centered on a metal pivot bar. As I watched the children play, I witnessed the trust placed in their friend to keep the seesaw moving. In that moment, I also saw the pivotal roll account executives play as the center of communication between their client and their office. Most of us who are engaged in relationship-driven sales sell an intangible product to clients that they buy based on how they feel about us. Good feelings are fostered by trust—the give and take or the up and down of the seesaw. No relationship, however, is devoid of bad feelings or problems. Problems are opportunities to build a deeper level of trust. Good sales people welcome these challenges as a time to prove their value. Part one of this series described "knowledge" as one essential tool in the successful sales person's tool kit. The "responsive" tool of the KRAVE success method describes how to ensure your value. The acronym, KRAVE, stands for: •Knowledgeable; •Responsive; •Accessible; •Visible; and •Enduring. Responsive has many meanings. It is more than simply responding to e-mail, voicemail and requests in a timely manner. Responsiveness, as an aspect of a successful sales person, is defined by his ability to provide accurate resolutions, proactively manage expectations and identify recurring issues, and be the internal advocate for the client. It is easy to fall into the fear trap of losing a client's business. The customer gets angry and threatens to quit playing. Fear is the emotional response to a stressful situation, and an irate client can certainly stimulate beads of sweat. A good amount of time and energy is invested in a relationship, and it can be difficult not to have an emotional attachment. Accurate resolutions arise by squelching an emotional reaction and dealing directly with the issue. Remember, you are the pivot point upon which both parties rely. Most of the time, your client wants to be heard. Allow him to respectfully vent his frustration. Once the steam is off the kettle, define the nature of the problem, the desired outcome and repeat it back for clarity. Armed with accuracy, you can resolve the dispute. Your operations team will appreciate your ability to efficiently problem-solve, which develops support within your office, and everyone finds balance. Also, an internal staff that finds you likable and trustworthy will help you win new clients and keeps existing ones satisfied. Finally, if a customer continuously threatens to send their business to a competitor, it is time to re-evaluate the relationship. A client who uses this fear tactic is probably taking up more of your time than he is truly worth. Allow him to play somewhere else, and focus your time on clients who appreciate the relationship and your responsiveness. Establishing realistic expectations with your operations team upholds honesty and integrity with your customer. Do you know how long it actually takes (not what policy states) to get a loan underwritten, to clear conditions and schedule a closing? There is nothing wrong with being honest about what is actually happening. Telling the truth about what your office can actually provide keeps you out of hot water with your client. It also allows your client to create expectations with his clientele, which keeps everyone in the chain informed. Responsive also means paying attention to the relationship between your customer and your office. It means listening to what your staff has to say about your client, trusting your instincts and monitoring production reports. Do you notice recurring issues on files or communications with your staff? How many loans are closing versus what has been submitted? A mutually beneficial relationship has integrity. When a relationship becomes one-sided, trust is eroded and bad feelings take root. The responsibility of an account executive is to monitor the relationship for issues and provide timely feedback, internally and externally, helping to keep smiles on faces and the seesaw moving. Another aspect of an account executive's job is to represent his client, much like an attorney represents his client in front of a judge. You take ownership of the relationship through advocacy. It is a delicate juggling act. You have to balance the interests of your staff and company with the needs of your customer. We go back to the first facet of responsiveness. To be an internal advocate, you must clearly define the nature of the problem. With the issue defined, you must then rely upon your internal relationships to find a resolution. First, work directly with the staff person responsible for the area of concern. If that does not resolve the issue, take it to the next level of management, and so on. Working with your operations staff is about respecting their abilities. The branch manager does not have the time to solve every problem. They have line managers who should be empowered to make decisions. Also, you need to know the risk appetite and policies of your company. While it makes sense to work to find a solution to an underwriting condition, it is a waste of time to ask for a loan-to-value exception when your company policy will not allow it. Some requests are worth fighting for and others are better handled by standing your company's ground. You don't want to upset the judge with frivolous objections. Understanding your company's risk appetite and policies will earn you the respect of your staff and your client. Clearly, the "responsive" tool of KRAVE centers on the account executive's ability to communicate, manage and resolve issues to build trust. You are the liaison between your office and your client, the eyes and ears of both parties. Like a seesaw, you are the pivot point balancing the needs of everyone. Your job is to manage the give and take, so the party on the bottom does not decide to hop off, sending the other crashing to the ground. Michael McFarland, CMB, is a regional account manager for Stewart Lender Services. He may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (713) 703-1124.