2020 has been one of the toughest years for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) in history. Many saw a ray of hope in the U.S. government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). But when SMB owners called their bankers for assistance in applying, far too many were unable to get the support they needed and expected to keep their businesses afloat. In fact, some couldn’t even get their banker on the phone.

A recent American Banker article noted that nearly 30 percent of 441 SMBs surveyed by Greenwich Associates said their opinion of their bank worsened during the PPP application process. In a time when they needed fast action to secure their businesses, many SMBs found their banking representatives unresponsive. 

This was an opportunity for professional bankers to provide real measurable value to clients. Yet, they failed to do so. Sometimes, there may have been a good reason for a lack of response. Perhaps this particular banker had way too many calls to return, for example. Nonetheless, you better believe that there were and are proactive bankers waiting in the wings to swoop in and steal that client.

It’s a different world

In the past, business banking clients typically found and stayed with a bank that could serve their basic needs. Rarely did they take their business elsewhere, even when they were dissatisfied. It was just too complicated to close accounts and pull their business, particularly when their personal and professional accounts were connected or credit lines involved. But times have changed. 

You can compare banking relationships to dating. In the past, dating was a much more formal process. You asked someone to attend a specific event or activity — not to just “hang out.” You showed up to the date on time (ideally prepped with a little chit-chat to charm the parents). You dressed to impress and maybe brought along a nice bouquet of flowers. You acted thoughtfully throughout the evening and followed up with a phone call the following week to ask for a second date. If you both liked one another, you were on your way to “going steady” or becoming a couple. 

Not so much these days. Guys and gals can and will “swipe left” and leave potential partners in the dust without looking back if they don’t meet or exceed expectations immediately. The same is true in the modern banking world.    

Watch out for wandering eyes

Today’s SMBs have an array of banking, financial advisory, and loan options. Rather than business partners or advisors, some SMBs consider banks as vendors. That means banking representatives have to work harder to keep and maintain a customer’s attention and business. If you take too long to respond to a request or fail to be proactive in providing valuable business advice, particularly during difficult times, SMBs will move on to another bank without hesitation. 

While the opportunity to help business clients navigate the PPP initiation process has nearly passed, bankers still have a chance to save those relationships, move current clients forward, and even capture new business. But it requires real commitment, which translates to:

  • Understanding and sharing valuable industry information with your clients to face the changes occurring in their industry, markets, and geographical regions
  • Working hand-in-hand with clients to navigate current and ongoing risks to their business
  • Asking relevant business questions to uncover their biggest concerns — so you can address and hopefully help solve them
  • Examining trends and offering new ideas they can potentially capitalize on now to preserve their business
  • Staying on top of news and regional issues impacting their business 

This is no time to be a generalist. It’s time to be proactive and specific. Sure, the rules and regulations surrounding the PPP and loan forgiveness are complex and changing. That’s all the more reason to reach out to clients and prospects now to see how you can help. 

Everyone is busy and feeling overwhelmed during these turbulent times. It’s your opportunity to maintain and nurture your relationships with SMBs — but you don’t have to start from scratch. 

Follow the lead of Matt Zonno, senior vice president and market manager for Northwest Bank, who says, “Vertical IQ makes the first appointment feel like the third.”

Take five minutes to get up to speed on the issues affecting your clients. That Industry Intelligence will transform connections into meaningful, value-added conversations and provide highly-specific insight on the industry issues that matter most. 

When your SMB customers see that you truly know them and their industry, you’re well on your way to building mutually beneficial relationships that will last.