If you work in a sales job in an investment bank, there's something you need to know: clients will like you a lot more if you seem vulnerable.
This was something that ex-Goldman wealth manager Anthony Scaramucci touched upon at last week's Alternative Investments Conference. If you show you're vulnerable, people will bond with you, said Scaramucci: "The best way to make someone trust you is to show your own shortcomings. If I talk to you about my shortcomings and vulnerabilities, you immediately start to enter my space."
ING's investment bank would probably agree: it's taken Scaramucci's sentiment and built it into a full-scale employee training programme.
"We've been helping our salespeople to develop their understanding of clients," says Mark Pieter De Boer, global head of financial markets sales at ING. "It's about building intimacy by asking questions and listening carefully to the answers, by focusing on win-win solutions rather than win-lose, and by letting go of ego and fear so that you're vulnerable enough to be transparent."
In practice, this means one thing: ING's sales staff are exposing their vulnerability by disclosing their margins.
"There will always be a price negotiation in any discussion with a client," says De Boer. "But we are trying to move beyond that point. We are now being completely transparent about our margins with all our clients. We show what our prices and profitability are, explain how we're adding value, and let the client decide whether they want to work with us."
While this may sound a little unorthodox, De Boer says it really works. "Over the past two years, our client income has grown faster than the industry norm and 80% of the delta has come from our existing clients. Trust and loyalty have both risen."
It's a technique that Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan might want to get with too. Both banks are culling clients (Deutsche says 30% of its clients generate 80% of its revenues). Instead, they could be making clients more profitable by showing a little weakness.
ING's show of vulnerability is part of a broader programme to increase staff's emotional intelligence. All 350 of the bank's markets salesforce have been through a programme to make them more empathetic and intimate with clients.
The programme includes lessons on taking proper notice of a client's feelings. "If someone's saying yes while frowning, they are experiencing a belief or thought that might have doubt in it," says Steve Ellis, an emotional intelligence consultant who's been working with ING on the programme, "We want people to explore that, to have more social awareness so that they can see what people are really thinking and feeling." Most markets sales calls take place over the telephone, however. On the phone, it's all about "intonation, pauses, the sub-modality of voice, emphasis, de-emphasis and vocal vulnerability", says Ellis.
De Boer says the bank's salespeople are on, "a journey". It's a journey about facing the fear (of revealing what your margins are) and moving towards a more sustainable, more profitable, "win-win" relationship.
Transcending the fear is especially important in today's volatile markets, adds De Boer. "Clients need trust in this insecure time. Building trust requires a different approach, which is why we've moved to this different way of doing business."