In this guest post, Jerry Bazata, a commercial lender in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, talks about the importance of sales readiness. Jerry has been successfully incorporating Industry Intelligence into his sales development processes and pre-call planning for many years, and shares the key things you need to know when going into a client or prospect meeting.

Overcoming the commodity selling trap

men's track race; competition readiness winsToo often, we as commercial lenders fall into the commodity selling trap. We answer the phone, and the first thing the prospect on the other end says is, “I want to buy an asset. What are your rates and terms?” We may feel compelled as lenders to commoditize that conversation by talking about our rates, fees, and structure, but the key question is: How do we change that conversation from a commodity to a value-added discussion?

The first step is not being afraid to say to that person on the other end of the line that you aren’t here to just do a transaction; you are here to build a relationship. I recommend saying to them, ‘I’d love to have a further conversation with you about this asset and your business. Can you give me 15 minutes, and I’ll call you back?’ or set up a time that’s convenient for them.

This approach allows you time to tap into Industry Intelligence. Spend 15 minutes gathering as much information as you can about the caller’s business, their market, their industry, and their sector. Start with using an Industry Intelligence solution. Then, open Google Maps and pull up the street view of the facility. Go on LinkedIn to learn about the caller. Armed with this knowledge when you call them back, you can talk intelligently about their business and their industry. That takes the discussion from that commodity level to the value-add level.

Building trust over the long-haul

Now, let’s think about the next step. You get an invitation to talk face-to-face, either virtually or on-site. What do you know about the trends in the industry, the challenges, their cash flow cycle, what they manufacture, and what their product looks like? Do you have similar clients in the bank’s portfolio that you have a relationship with? What did you do for those clients?

Take, for example, a software company with a subscription model. What are the company risks and mitigating factors? What does the business cycle look like? What capital financing did you provide to a similar client?

I always get the question from the CFO, “What do you know about my business?” When you can showcase what you know, that you have done your research, that makes the CFO feel a level of trust with you — that you understand their business so pricing and structure aren’t the main focus.

Several years ago, I called on a company that made harnesses for large equipment. I sent the company president a letter, and I followed up a few weeks later with an article that I’d found about the harness industries. I then reached out to the company president by phone to say I would like to meet with him to discuss how that article might relate to his business’s challenges.

I didn’t hear anything until a year later when the president of the harness company said he was ready to meet with me. He told me he had retained my information on the corner of his desk for a year, and he’d told himself if his current bank messed up, I’d be the first person he’d call. He said to me, “You showed interest in my business. You knew my industry, and you took the initiative.” So keep in mind that your effort may not pay off right now, but that value puts you at the top of the pile where you will be noticed.

The knowledge to offer informed guidance

I see it often with newer business development people who talk about product but don’t relate that to what they want to do for that business. They are selling the feature, but what’s the benefit of working with them and their organization? You have to communicate that in a prospect or client meeting.

For example, I was working with a graphic arts company that was converting from ink printers to digital technology. Through my Industry Intelligence research, I learned that by switching to this new printing process, the company could reduce their payroll expenses. The old ink printer took three to four employees, but the newer technology took one person.

This knowledge armed me with the insight to say to this client, “I can see why you’re making this capital investment; it will save you payroll so you can reallocate those resources to expand your business.” Their response? “I’ve never had a banker come to me armed with that type of information.” It’s all about how well-prepared you are going into that meeting.

When you have Industry Intelligence sources, it gives you the tools to be knowledgeable so you don’t come in as a commodity transaction, and therefore pricing and structure are not the main focal point. Sure, you’ll still have to battle that — people always want the best deal — but it’s not the sole focus of the conversation. When you come to a company and lead with value, the conversation changes to, “What can I expect in terms of rates and fees in order to get the opportunity to do business with you and your bank?”

Take pricing out of the equation

The bottom line is, if you can structure the request for proposal and set the terms, you’ve most likely won the business. If you can say, ‘This is what I think is the best deal structure based on my knowledge of your industry and other companies I work with in your industry,’ the prospect is going to use that as a template to talk to your competitors. Ultimately, however, they will realize the value of you knowing about their business, and they will want to work with you.

I once was in competition for a client with three other banks. My rate and fee were higher, but because I understood the client’s industry, and shared that I had worked with other companies in his industry, he was willing to pay a little more in order to benefit from my expertise. He wanted to work with our bank, and we locked down a comprehensive lending and deposit relationship including cash management services.

Other applications for Industry Intelligence

Let’s take it beyond just talking to business owners. We are all developing centers of influence [COIs] – attorneys, accountants, et cetera. You can take this same approach with developing COIs. If it’s an accounting firm that focuses on the technology sector, for example, that accountant will feel more comfortable referring you to their clients when you exhibit expertise in their firm’s niche.

It’s also crucial not to work in a vacuum. As sales managers, you need to get your team together to build an Industry Intelligence knowledge bank, which can be shared among the entire team. I’ve gone out on joint calls with other lenders so I can share my industry insight and so I can learn from them. This approach is beneficial to the lender, but it also strengthens the client relationship as a whole.

When you get the client’s financials, for example, the underwriter may not totally understand the industry. In your executive summary submission to underwriting, it helps to share your insights into the industry so they can better understand the industry’s nuance and do a better job with risk analysis. That benefits the client and your organization.

Image credit: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

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