I’ve talked to a lot of Vertical IQ customers lately about what meeting with customers looks like in the COVID-19 era. The consensus is that it is a different world than what they are used to. Many people who call on customers and prospects  used to being face-to-face. Being relegated to phone calls and video conferences goes against everything they know!

With phased reopenings beginning in many states across the U.S., what do next steps look like for business meetings with your small to medium-sized business (SMB) customers and prospects? How do advisors effectively engage with SMB owners in this “new normal” environment of social distancing and remote working?

There’s some uncertainty about whether this is a time for advisors and those in sales to be proactive, reactive, or simply empathetic. For example, is now the right time to lead with a new product? When will it be an appropriate time to start prospecting again — both reaching out to warm leads and cold-calling? Maybe the focus should still be on listening and offering an understanding shoulder to lean on?

Sharing is caring

I am not sure there is a definitive answer to any of these questions. But I do know this: Sharing relevant information about a customer’s industry is almost always going to be welcomed and appreciated by an SMB owner. This goes for existing customers as well as prospects, and perhaps especially during a time of great flux like we’re experiencing right now.

The Industry Intelligence found on Vertical IQ makes a great touchpoint piece, shared either by email, snail mail, or, hopefully sooner than later, in person. Here are a few simple ideas for using Industry Intelligence to engage with customers and prospects when you can’t be face-to-face:

  • Print a relevant news article to drop in the mail with your card, then follow-up with a phone call to discuss the topic and how it impacts their business.
  • Share the “Industry Trends” chapter of the Industry Profile for their industry and call to discuss if they are seeing similar trends within their company.
  • Check out the free Vertical IQ COVID-19 webpage to learn about how the pandemic is impacting the SMB owner’s industry. Ask if they are experiencing these same challenges.

With all of these touchpoints, the key, of course, is to get the SMB owner talking. And then be prepared to share how you can help. In good times and bad, tying business challenges and opportunities to your solutions is always a winning formula.  

>> Related: Advising Customers & Prospects Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Help with the financials from afar

Those who advise SMB owners have additional opportunities to help their clients and prospects during volatile times like these: sharing your expertise around budgeting and borrowing. Many (or even most) SMB owners do not have an on-staff CFO, so they are desperately looking for guidance on these topics, perhaps especially right now. 

Bankers and other SMB advisors first need to have a good understanding about the cash flow of their clients’/prospects’ companies. What are their fixed versus variable expenses? What are their current assets and liabilities? You can get an overview of these topics prior to your call by reviewing the “How Firms Operate” chapter of the Industry Profile for your client’s or prospect’s industry.

Having frequent conversations with SMB owners to review their budgets and adjust as necessary can be a key differentiator for you. As a valuable advisor to them and their business, you also can recommend solutions that may be able to help in the long run as business gets back up and running, such as considering various non-PPP loan options.

>> Related: Overcoming Hurdles: How Business Bankers Can Meet Customers Where They Are

Contactless touchpoints

Easing back into calling on customers, and perhaps especially calling on prospects, I think most people will find that things look a little different. Rules around safely reopening necessitate new tactics. But the key during a high-anxiety time like this is to let both existing customers as well as prospects know that you are thinking of them by engaging with them on a regular basis and offering tailored advice.

Going forward, maybe touchpoints become even more frequent than they were in the past — back in the good ol’ days when we were able to visit folks in person. But those touchpoints may need to evolve so that quality isn’t sacrificed. Vertical IQ can help.

Incorporating our Industry Intelligence into your client and prospect communications means you are providing SMB owners with information that is valuable to them and their business. Nothing replaces face-to-face communication, but for the time being, these contactless touchpoints are a great way to nurture new relationships and keep existing ones healthy.