RMA 2022 conference; call preparation

Lessons in Industry Intelligence from the RMA Conference

RMA 2022 conference; call planningOur partnership with the Risk Management Association (RMA) makes for an insightful and time-saving resource for credit and lending professionals. Based on this collaboration, we were especially excited to attend the excellent RMA Commercial Lending and Credit Risk Conference in Irving, Texas.

The conference focused on the industry’s latest best practices and tools that can be used to create and strengthen relationships, add value, and focus on industries that match banks’ credit appetite. Here is a quick rundown of the presentations that most intrigued my passion for Industry Intelligence and bankers’ preparedness.

PREPARING FOR THE CLIENT CALL

One of the first sessions of the conference was about preparing for client calls; naturally, this one piqued my interest. (This topic was the inspiration for the company that would become Vertical IQ.) In this session, speakers from Bremer Bank, Frost Bank, and OakNorth discussed the importance of preparation and the “value add” of gathering the necessary data to understand a client or prospect’s industry.

For instance, you can use such Industry Intelligence to add value by having more tailored conversations. Initiating a conversation with a segue such as, “I see this [fill in the blank industry issue] is happening within your industry. How is that impacting your business?” Or perhaps share a trend by saying, “I have seen other borrowers within your industry taking advantage of this [fill in the blank industry trend]. How could your business benefit from that?”

The key message the presenters emphasized during this session was that nobody wants to have their time wasted, and bankers certainly don’t want to waste their client or prospect’s time. Tapping into Industry Intelligence to more effectively prepare for a call enables you to not just “not waste their time,” it actually allows you to make time spent talking to you entirely worthwhile and even valuable.

STRONG BORROWER COMMUNICATION USING CREDIT ACUMEN

A two-part session focused on the importance of using your knowledge of the credit process in order to create better client communications. Whether you’re a relationship manager, underwriter, portfolio manager, or credit officer, you’ve probably had a client or prospect question nearly every aspect of a loan including structure, pricing, covenants, and more. How do you prepare for these skeptical queries?

In these sessions, speakers from Regions Bank, Alliance Partners, RiverHills Bank, LightBox, and Commerce Bank explained that you must not only build a strong credit acumen to fortify your relationship with current clients and win over the hearts and minds of prospects; you also must work to become a trusted advisor to them and their business. Industry Intelligence can provide you the insider knowledge to attain that trusted advisor status, giving you insights into the ins and outs of that business owner’s industry.

COLLABORATIVE RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT WORKSHOP

This session featured an interesting two-part workshop on how to develop more collaborative relationship management processes. These workshops featured leaders from Fulton Bank, Frost Bank, and Citigroup, who shared ideas on how lenders, relationship managers, portfolio managers, and underwriters can work more effectively internally to strengthen borrower relationships and streamline the approval process and account management.

In addition to emphasizing the importance of having the right team in place and creating a space where people can share ideas and voice concerns, one of the presenters noted the necessity of truly listening to the client in order to understand what problem they are trying to solve.

This is another instance where implementing Industry Intelligence into your processes can be crucial. By asking more customized, industry-specific questions (such as the Call Prep Questions you will find on each Vertical IQ Industry Profile), you will naturally get the client or prospect talking about the unique nuances of their business. With an industry-focused conversation, you are bound to get to the heart of the issues they are facing, allowing you to provide more tailored solutions, win more deals, and retain more business.

Looking ahead

The RMA Commercial Lending and Credit Risk Conference was a fantastic experience for the Vertical IQ team members who attended. We all enjoyed our time in Texas, sharing good times with existing colleagues and meeting new ones.

The conference shined a bright spotlight on the importance of understanding your client or prospect, as well as having a firm grasp on the industries that your bank wants (or doesn’t want) within their credit portfolio…and why. Both of these critical tasks are simplified by tapping into Industry Intelligence.

We can’t wait to see what RMA has planned for their 2023 conference! We’d love to hear from you on the conferences you have been to this year and have found valuable.

Check out some of the other conferences we’ve attended recently!

Image credit: RMA

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icba-live-2022 community banking

A Recap of the 2022 ICBA LIVE Conference in San Antonio

icba-live-2022 community bankingThe Independent Community Bankers of America® (ICBA) is one of the largest and most respected trade organizations in the U.S. for community banks. Its mission is to “create and promote an environment where community banks flourish,” and flourish they did at the 2022 ICBA LIVE conference in San Antonio earlier this month.

Susan Bell, Vertical IQ co-founder and EVP of sales, Paul Hock, our VP of strategic partnerships, and I were excited to be able to attend ICBA LIVE, where we got to meet lots of great people within the community banking world.

Technology was a recurring theme of the conference, and ICBA clearly is paying close attention to how technology is changing the banking landscape. Smaller banks often market the benefits of their more personal service, but as ICBA acknowledges, there are also advantages that come with technology and keeping your finger on the pulse with other important trends. For example, using their people plus technology resources, many community banks pulled off the Herculean feat of administering the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and did an amazing job of it.

A learning experience

All of us in the Vertical IQ contingency really enjoyed talking with and learning from the attendees and presenters at ICBA. There were numerous short breakout sessions on the agenda, which were fast-paced, easy to follow, and energetic, as well as some powerful keynotes.

Listening to ICBA president and CEO Rebeca Romero Rainey, it was clear the organization has experienced, capable leadership and a sharp focus on their goals. Rainey clearly articulated that ICBA wants a fair playing field for community banks and their customers.

The organization has been working diligently to ensure legislation that would require financial institutions to report annually to the IRS on account inflows and outflows does not pass. In essence, the proposed law would allow the IRS to access people’s bank account information without a warrant. ICBA’s efforts on this legislation have already generated over half a million messages to Congress from over 150,000 community bankers and their customers opposing the legislation.

A keynote by Mike Walsh, who wrote “The Algorithmic Leader,” discussed how culture needs to be community banks’ operating system, not just technology. He shared the leadership principles that will define community banks in the 21st century:

  1. Think computationally. Harnessing the ability to understand the way a computer processes information allows you to work through a problem when the result is not as expected.
  2. Don’t just work – design work. Ask yourself, “Should we even be doing this? Is there a smarter way?” Then, if needed, design it!
  3. Embrace uncertainty. The world is changing rapidly. Successful organizations will learn to deal with ambiguity.

A hopping tradeshow floor

Dozens of fintechs showcased their solutions, which are far more advanced than even five years ago. And forward-thinking community banks are paying attention and effectively plugging into these tech advancements.

The Vertical IQ crew enjoyed conversations with many of the fintechs at the tradeshow, learning about how they can help serve bank customers effectively. We also spent a lot of time with Vertical IQ partner S&P Global Market Intelligence, which had a very active booth showcasing their Capital IQ Pro and other tools.

One intriguing technology solution that I learned more about at the ICBA tradeshow was Accrue. Accrue is one of 11 companies in ICBA’s current ThinkTECH Accelerator cohort, which essentially serves as a technology startup incubator. Accrue functions much like the popular Salesforce CRM, but it features workflows built specifically for community banks. It’s easy to see how Accrue could be a big part of the future of technology for community banks.

Well-worth the trip

The 2022 ICBA LIVE conference not only met but exceeded my expectations. It was a great location with lots of positive energy and, of course, fantastic TexMex food! But even more important, there were countless conversations between attendees that should lead to new relationships and ideas, or built on existing synergies. I can’t wait for ICBA LIVE 2023 in Honolulu!

The future is bright for community banks!

 

Photo credit: ICBA

 

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For Banks and Bankers: Choosing the Best Industry Niches is Art and Science

pexels-kampus-production-8428053_ banker at laptop choosing a nicheI was honored to be invited to speak during the Jan. 7 Barlow Research Associates First Friday  banking webcast, “Middle Market Banking: Industries to Watch.” The conversation included Donna Arce and Joel Mueller from Barlow, a leader in providing research about how businesses interact with banks in the U.S.

Clients want bankers with industry knowledge

To kick off our conversation, Donna shared a telling Barlow Research survey result about the gap between the importance of a banking account officer being knowledgeable about their client’s industry and account officers’ real-world performance on that front.

From 2013 to 3Q2021, the gap between importance and performance (as rated by middle-market clients) has remained fairly consistent — around 14 to 15 percent. About 72 percent of clients say it is a top priority for their primary bank’s account officer to know their industry, but only about 57 percent say the actual performance of their account officer from their primary bank is superior or above average based on this criterion.

Medium-sized banks (assets of $1 billion to $50 billion) have made the most headway in terms of industry knowledge. Barlow found that the percentage of middle-market banking clients using a medium bank as their primary bank who say their account officer has knowledge about their company’s industry has steadily increased from 58 percent in 2013 to 65 percent in 2021.

Compare those figures to middle-market clients who use a small bank (assets of less than $1 billion) as their primary bank, 72 percent of whom said in 2013 that their account officer’s industry expertise was superior/above average, dipping to 63 percent in 2021. Large banks (assets over $50 billion) have consistently hovered at just over 50 percent of middle-market clients rating their account officer’s knowledge of their industry as above average. 

If you are a bank (or a banker, for that matter), these survey results are important. They translate into customer satisfaction and loyalty to your bank, as well as relationship-building/deepening. In fact, Barlow found that among clients who say their primary bank account officer is knowledgeable about their industry, just 2 percent said they had plans to change their primary bank. Compare that to those clients who said their account officer is average or underperforms on being knowledgeable about their industry — 12 percent of whom say they plan to change banks.

The right industry niches for your bank

How does a bank gain industry expertise? One effective method is developing niche industries where your bank can gain expertise, credit underwriting efficiency, and marketing traction. 

Among the nation’s top 10 banks, there are some industries that most banks focus upon: commercial real estate, healthcare, and higher ed, for example. But there are a handful of banks that are putting in the work to develop very unique niche expertise: senior care, gaming, and mining, for instance.

By strategically choosing specific niches, these banks are putting in the time, resources, and effort to give the middle-market clients in Barlow’s research exactly what they are saying they want: a banker who understands the ins and outs of their unique industry.

Banks that are interested in pursuing a niche of course need to consider which industries have a need for their products/services, and which industries the bank has an appetite for within their credit portfolio. They also should look at their bank’s geographic footprint and ascertain how many potential clients there are in that niche that fall within the bank’s footprint.

But there are other considerations when choosing a niche for your bank as well. For instance, it’s wise to look at how much competition there is for the banking business of a certain niche. And finally, banks should consider the outlook for growth and risk within a potential niche. Is it an industry that is expanding or contracting in the next  three to five years, and specifically within your bank’s footprint?

Asking better questions yields better results

Bear in mind: You don’t have to work for a bank with a niche focus in order to learn from and take advantage of these middle-market client insights from Barlow.

Any banker calling on businesses can and should take the initiative to prepare for meetings by doing research and getting smart about the client’s or prospect’s industry. Clients are telling us again and again that that is what they want and need from their banker.

When you do your homework using Industry Intelligence, like you’ll find on Vertical IQ, you are able to ask good questions that get the client talking. Business owners love to talk about their company!

But there’s a key caveat: The questions you ask may not necessarily be about the client’s banking needs. Instead, your questions should be designed both to showcase your industry knowledge and draw out information from the client about their unique business: the industry-specific challenges they face, opportunities and trends they could take advantage of, how they compare to their competition, and more.

Armed with these insights, you’ll be able to provide the client with tailored advice and guidance on how to use the products and services your bank offers to finance their growth, mitigate risks, improve efficiency, and more. In short: You can become an indispensable trusted advisor who knows how to help their business thrive.

Bankers should choose their own niches too

As an individual banker, you also can bring the niche expertise concept down to the micro-level by choosing a handful of industries to focus your calling efforts on. But what’s the best way to identify the best four or five niches for you?

As I explain in depth in the Barlow webinar, there are some key indicators to consider as you select niches. Change in year-over-year employment within a sector can be a good indicator of the growth or contraction of the industries within that sector, for example.

There are other various headwinds and tailwinds that can impact a niche’s desirability as well. Some factors you might consider as you select a niche:

  • How is the niche being impacted by higher consumer spending or changes in government spending as a result of the recent $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill?
  • How have recent supply chain issues affected the niche, and what is their outlook for recovering from those challenges?
  • Is the industry being hard-hit by issues like labor shortages and high inflation?
  • Are concerns around COVID-19 impacting the industry? Are there concerns about further shutdowns, for example? Or conversely, has the industry seen an increase in demand as a result of COVID?

(Be sure to check out the full Barlow webcast recording to see more details on how these factors can work to the advantage or disadvantage of specific industries. I also share some specific tips on what banks can do to tap into and showcase their industry expertise!)

Finally, I encourage people to select niches that they personally find interesting. If you think mattress manufacturers are a snooze in more ways than one, that’s not the right industry for you to focus on. You’re going to be putting in a fair amount of time to become an expert on an industry, so it might as well be something you find intriguing to learn about!

>> Click here to purchase and view the full Barlow webcast recording. (Note: This webcast is free of charge to members of any of Barlow Research’s Syndicated Research Programs [Small Business, Middle Market and/or Digital Business Banking].)

Photo credit:  Kampus Productions from Pexels

 

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pexels-fauxels-3184416 _ industry specialist vs. generalist; business meeting, people shaking hands

Become a Specialist in a Generalist’s World by Using Industry Intelligence

pexels-fauxels-3184416 _ industry specialist vs. generalist; business meeting, people shaking handsI’ve long been curious about-industry specialization within the sales process. I don’t mean to sound like those old Norelco shaver commercials, but I like specialization so much, I founded not one but two companies that focus on it!

Industry specialization enables sales and marketing people to be experts on their client’s or prospect’s business, which in turn allows them to provide value-added insights and tailored solutions to that business.

Indeed, specialization is the name of the game these days across most sales organizations. Your clients and prospects expect you to know them, know their preferences, know their business. But as a salesperson who calls on countless businesses in a wide array of industries, how can you possibly know the ins and outs of each one of them?

Industry specialization for technology sales

I recently was speaking with a Vertical IQ prospect who works for a software technology firm. His company sells to eight different sectors, so he was hired to help them become more specialized in those verticals (financial services, manufacturing, tech, telecom, and a few others).

His mission is essentially to beef up his own industry knowledge, as well as his team’s, so the company can sell to those industries in a more value-added way. In essence, he is selling the same product to each of these eight sectors but with slightly different messaging, features, pricing, and sales processes.

One of the reasons my tech prospect wants Vertical IQ is because he frequently makes presentations to their sales teams and executives. He needs unique industry knowledge so he can discuss the ins and outs of their niches: the size and number of players in the industry, common pain points, demographics, cyclicality, the latest news, and so forth.

Talking with this prospect, his story is a classic example of why and how you need to adapt to the industry you are selling to (i.e., industry specialization) — but also why it can be so challenging when you call on a large number of different niches.

A common sales challenge: Industry knowledge that is too broad to be relevant

So, here’s this tech salesperson’s bottom-line issue — and it’s one we hear again and again from companies we talk to: How do you specialize in “financial services” (or any other sector, for that matter) when there are 20 to 30 different subsectors of financial services (banks, hedge funds, insurance, insurance brokers, insurance underwriters, leasing, venture capitalists, and brokerage firms, just to name a few)? Each of these subsectors within financial services has its own very unique needs, wants, and ways of doing business.

Then add to the challenge: What happens if your product/service grows and you begin selling to more than two or three sectors, but you still want to specialize? That creates the additional dilemma of needing to be both an industry generalist AND an industry specialist — you try to become as much of a specialist as you can even though you’re selling to a dozen industries or more.

A company that is growing fast and selling to multiple industries must get good at educating their sales and marketing teams to understand the unique drivers for these subsectors. But how do you compile sales sheets, playbooks, and marketing materials for each one of these numerous subsectors?

Sometimes a company (like the tech prospect I was talking with) might have eight sectors they sell to, but within these sectors, there are probably 100+ total subsectors. Ideally, you would have materials tailored to every one of those. How on earth do you accomplish that?

The Industry Intelligence solution

I’ve posed a lot of challenges created by companies’ desire to specialize their sales efforts — an objective based on their client’s and prospect’s expectation that they receive advice and products/services tailored to their unique needs. But all of these issues lead back to a common solution: the effective use of Industry Intelligence written from a sales and marketing perspective.

Industry Intelligence provides the ammunition — the data — that makes industry specialization, as well as creating industry-specific sales playbooks and marketing messages, easy. And the Vertical IQ product is constantly evolving to provide even more of these insights.

Compiling all the necessary Industry Intelligence into one easy-to-use platform, Vertical IQ saves the industry specialists, who are developing these industry-focused materials, gobs of time. It also saves the salesperson time when they are calling on numerous niches and need to get smart fast.

If your company recognizes that industry specialization is what today’s buyers expect, but you’re struggling to get up to speed on your clients’ or prospects’ industry, Vertical IQ can help! Contact us today to learn more and get a free demo!

 

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consultant

Give Clients the Benefits of a Consultant Without the Big Price Tag

consultant

More than ever, value-added advice is essential for sales readiness. Given the advent of digital commerce, without this crucial consultancy aspect of the client relationship, a salesperson becomes irrelevant.

Think about it: It used to be that if a prospect needed a service or product, they had to work with a salesperson to learn about that service, determine if it was the right solution for their need, and find out how much it would cost them. Today, if you want to learn the ins and outs of just about anything, you can just type it into the Google search bar and learn more than you ever wanted to know. The internet has replaced the salesperson as information gatekeeper.

You may be thinking: Yikes — If sales professionals are being replaced by the internet, which can provide all of the facts and pricing on a product, what will I do for a living?

The fact is salespeople are not irrelevant because in some ways, the internet has also created a situation where we have too much information, some of which is not reliable. People feel overwhelmed with all of the options out there, so they are looking for guidance from a trustworthy source. As a result, the need for value-added advice is actually greater than ever.

As a sales professional, you must adapt to this new environment (and your client’s and prospect’s needs), which means taking on the role of trusted advisor to them and their business. In essence, you must act as a consultant to their business.

What is the job of a consultant?

We’ve all heard the term “consultant” for decades now, and you likely know the names of some of the big players offering “consulting services” — McKinsey, Deloitte, and so forth. But what exactly does a consultant do? The term is often used in a vague, nebulous sense.

The role of consultant is basically that of problem-solver. They use their experience and expertise to research and analyze a situation and then offer their opinions and recommendations on potential strategies and solutions.

Maybe a business needs an objective expert to provide guidance on cashflow process improvements. Perhaps a company is looking to expand their business and needs help analyzing the best way to go about achieving that growth. An experienced consultant can offer the insights a business needs in order to succeed — however they define that “success.”

Bringing in a consultant can be a savvy business decision, though it usually comes with a hefty price tag. Businesses must weigh the cost versus the long-term benefit that the consultant can provide to their company.

Become your client’s go-to, cost-effective consultant

Today’s effective sales professionals have figured out that businesses crave the sort of informed, unbiased guidance a consultant can offer. It’s incredibly valuable to a client or prospect if a salesperson can provide this type of “consultation” to them and their company, and even better if there is no additional charge for the advice!

But how can someone in sales — especially a person who works with a large client mix — possibly have time to learn about all of the different industries they call on to the point that they could tell a business owner (who may have been in business for decades) something they don’t already know? How can a sales generalist become a consultant to all of their different clients? Industry Intelligence is the secret to your consulting success.

By using Industry Intelligence to familiarize yourself with a client’s or prospect’s niche prior to each sales call, you arm yourself with the very insights that a consultant would bring to the table:

  • Incorporating the latest industry trends into your presentations and communications
  • Engaging in conversations about common pitfalls and strategies to avoid them
  • Sharing financial benchmarks to quantify how the client stacks up to their competitors
  • Passing along recent industry news articles along with your insights on how the client can apply the information to their unique business

You can even take your consulting services a step further by reviewing local economic data to identify potential growth opportunities or areas where trouble may be on the horizon.

With this knowledge, you can offer your clients and prospects custom solutions and the trusted guidance they need in order to thrive. It’s the very same service as a high-priced consultant, but the client gets it free of charge when they work with you.

An irreplaceable, value-added advisor

Worried that the internet will make your sales role obsolete? Fear not. There are some things a computer will never deliver. When you do your pre-call planning using Industry Intelligence, you transform your role from dime-a-dozen product-pusher to irreplaceable value-added business consultant.

And what’s more, clients will quickly recognize that the industry-focused insights you bring to the table are worth a premium, enabling you to compete on your merits instead of on pricing alone. A computer certainly can’t do that!

Let’s get started! Request a Vertical IQ demo today.

 

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Global Perspective

Why Should a Small Business Go Global?

Global PerspectiveIf there is one business lesson learned from the pandemic it is that — for better or worse, in sickness and in health — the global economy is interconnected. With supply chains put to their toughest test since World War II, who would have guessed that toilet paper and hand sanitizer would become such hot commodities?

Despite the economic woes of the past year, the interconnectedness of the world’s businesses can also be an asset — one that more and more small businesses are looking to tap for expansion and growth opportunities. While new challenges like foreign currency fluctuations can arise, entering the international arena enables small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to hedge their bets against potential downturns in the U.S. market and significantly improves their overall growth potential.

Growing international markets

For American small businesses looking to dip their toe in the global market, the most obvious countries for expansion are Canada, Mexico, the U.K./European Union, and Japan. These regions have well-established relationships with U.S.-based companies, adequate infrastructure, and many English-speakers. But there also are other fast-growing, less competitive markets that businesses might want to consider.

For example, according to The Brookings Institution, seven African countries — the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania — will soon be home to half of the continent’s population. Income levels also are rising among all socioeconomic groups across Africa, with 43 percent of Africans now considered middle or upper class. With this rising standard of living comes increasing demand for goods and services making certain parts of that continent ripe for introduction of new companies and their products.

Taking steps toward global expansion

For small and medium-sized businesses hoping to expand their footprint outside of the U.S., there are a few basic steps that they should follow.

  1. Prepare an international business plan to evaluate your readiness and set goals.
  2. Conduct foreign market research and identify prospective countries for expansion.
  3. Evaluate and choose the best international distribution methods for your product: opening company-owned foreign subsidiaries, working with on-the-ground representatives and distributors, and/or setting up joint ventures.
  4. Determine prices, negotiate deals, and see to the legal issues surrounding exporting.
  5. Consider and be prepared to address any cultural, social, regulatory, or economic differences between the U.S. and the foreign country.
  6. Explore government and private sources of financing, and determine how you will ensure you get paid for your goods or services.
  7. Be certain you package and label your goods to adhere to any foreign regulations.

Boost your international expertise

Expanding a business to the global market requires a well-thought-out strategy. Expert advice and global insights are also key to success. As someone who advises various businesses, the more you know about your client’s industry, including transnational considerations, the better you can help them navigate potential international expansion or global impacts to their supply chains.

That’s why Vertical IQ has launched Global Perspective, its most recent enhancement to the company’s cornerstone Industry Intelligence product, the Industry Profile. Each Global Perspective Industry Profile chapter offers users critical information about industries with a large international presence and includes:

  • A list of major global companies impacting the industry
  • Insight into worldwide demand through import/export trends over the past several years
  • A breakdown of total imports and exports between the U.S. and other countries

The chapter will be included for industries such as manufacturing and wholesale, and will help advisors and sales professionals discuss global impacts within a business owner’s industry and explore their potential for global expansion. You can learn more about Global Perspective by viewing the recent press release about the launch.

We look forward to hearing your feedback about this highly anticipated new Vertical IQ enhancement!

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webinar recap

Webinar Recap: Banking Strategies & Trends to Win, Grow & Retain More Business


webinar recapIn the first can’t-miss session of our Vertical IQ Spring 2021 Banking Webinar Series, 2021 Banking Strategies and Trends to Win, Grow and Retain More Business, I was honored to moderate a panel of incredibly knowledgeable experts covering a range of hot topics in business banking. The panel included three authorities in their fields: banking sales expert Jack Hubbard, digital marketing guru Brynne Tillman, and SVP of retail banking at Hancock Whitney, Robert Sims. Their insight was high-impact, practical, and ready-to-leverage immediately in your day-to-day activities.

As I recently blogged about, Barlow Research shows that bankers are rarely small to medium-sized business (SMB) owners’ go-to when it comes to soliciting business advice. During the panel discussion, we explored ways bankers can establish stronger relationships with their SMB customers to improve their standing on this front. We also discussed how they can offer the type of trusted advice that an SMB owner will appreciate, ensuring the banker is associated with value in that customer’s mind.

All of this, of course, is directly tied to a banker’s overall sales success. And using Industry Intelligence effectively can help you achieve go-to status with your business banking clients.

Bankers biggest challenges in 2021

Our panel first discussed the top challenges business bankers are facing in this “new normal” of sales and relationship management during a pandemic. The reality is that many of the changes that have occurred as a result of the pandemic — working remotely and virtual meetings, for example — will likely become permanent even after COVID-19 is under control. Bankers, and indeed all sales professionals, need to find ways to not only accept this “next normal” but embrace it and thrive in it.

For instance, traditionally, business development has included hitting the pavement: shaking hands at in-person networking events, handing out business cards at trade events, etc. These things are mostly off the table right now, so sales professionals must find new avenues for building their book of business that can be done remotely.

Social media and other must-have tools

One good option to adapt to what Jack Hubbard referred to as not the “next normal” but the “forever normal” is using social media effectively. Brynne Tillman shared that LinkedIn is her top pick for virtual networking but noted that, while those interactions are virtual, they still need to be personal. Brynne reminded us that “there is still a human being on the other side of that message.”

Additionally, Robert Sims and Jack both noted that bank leaders need to equip their teams with the right tools to succeed in this new selling environment. Hardware (like at-home printers, better lighting for video meetings, etc.), software, and training are now must-haves for sales professionals conducting business remotely.

Robert added that it’s important for banks to remember to “play in their space … there are certain industry segments that you serve better than others.” While banks need to serve the community/marketplace they are in, it is also wise strategically for banks to narrow their focus to those niches where they are most successful.

Nurturing relationships while juggling PPP

PPP has caused a lot of bankers to take their eyes off the ball when it comes to both prospecting and nurturing existing relationships. Continuing to reach out to customers simply can’t be put on the backburner. So, while PPP has put more on bankers’ plates in many cases, there are quick and simple ways to use Industry Intelligence to continue with your business development outreach tactics.

Jack shared that one bank he works with sends out the Vertical IQ Economic Update to their top business banking clients on a regular basis, along with a personal email note from their banker. It’s an easy touchpoint, but it is truly valuable information from an SMB owner’s perspective.

Another bank sends emails to three different prospects each day, which includes something of value such as a whitepaper or pertinent news article. “You have to continue to add value,” Jack reminded us, “because if you don’t, your best clients are the best prospect for your competitor.”

Innovative social media outreach

Brynne recommended taking stock of your existing contacts, noting those you haven’t been in touch with recently, and using it as an opportunity to re-engage and identify new opportunities. Remember also to discuss “what they care about, not what you want to tell them,” she said — not bank products, interest rates, and so on. “We have to build relationships around what matters to them … what your client cares about.” And that will of course depend on what industry they are in.

She also suggested identifying key influencers — such as the president of a local association — who are effectively attracting your target customers via social media. “Listen” to (i.e., read) what people are saying in response to that influencer, but the key is to chime in only to ask a salient question or share relevant information — not to hock a banking or credit product.

This is also a great opportunity to mention (but not yet share) a timely, industry-focused news article from Vertical IQ. Brynne reminded us, once you’ve engaged in an online conversation with someone in that influencer’s forum about the topic of the article, only then should you ask if your target would like you to send them the link to the article. Always ask permission to share information; you’ll get a higher engagement rate with this technique of adding value without pushing product.

Ultimately, using social media effectively is about personal interactions and building trust. As Jack said, “spray and pray doesn’t work in any kind of … trust-based situation,” and Brynne wisely noted, “Slow down your outreach to speed up your outcome.”

Dealing with email overload

Another problem is of course that everyone is inundated with emails and social media messages right now, so how do you break through the clutter and get your customer’s or prospect’s attention? “Number one is good networking,” said Robert. By identifying target industries, you can focus your efforts on LinkedIn to look for existing contacts who can connect you to your target prospects.

When someone that prospect already knows reaches out and can vouch for you, or when you can reach out and tell that prospect that your mutual connection suggested contacting them, it will elevate that prospect’s trust in you. It will also encourage them to prioritize your communications to them.

Ongoing opportunities to shine

During this time when bankers often can’t be face to face with their clients and prospects, there are still a number of ways to keep them engaged. As Robert pointed out, by identifying your institution’s strengths with particular niches, you can determine who your target market is and focus your efforts there. Use a good data source to identify who the prospects are in that vertical, and then use the techniques shared by Brynne and Jack to network with those targets.

Our three panelists showed that with support from leadership, proper training, and execution accountability, bankers can still win new business and nurture existing relationships even when you’re separated by a computer screen. Give these techniques a try and see how your book of business can grow!

>> You can learn many more practical tips and tricks about using social media and centers of influence in your virtual networking and business development by watching our entire panel discussion here.

>> Learn more about our other upcoming free webinars that are part of the Spring 2021 Banking Webinar Series!

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Why Aren’t Bankers Viewed as Advisors by Their SMB Clients?


two businessmen talking, bankers as advisorsFew businesses have made it through the past year completely unscathed. Whether it was a sudden drop in revenue, new safety regulations, or issues with payables, nearly every business owner had some sort of challenge to mitigate.

Barlow Research Associates found that more than 8 out of 10 small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) sought advice in the past year as they navigated the uncharted waters created by the pandemic. Barlow asked a panel of these SMBs specifically who they reached out to for business guidance during the past year’s events, and I have to tell you: It wasn’t a great showing for bankers.

For small businesses, bankers ranked behind accountants, other business owners, lawyers, Google, and business consultants, tying for fifth place with friends/family members. For middle market businesses, bankers ranked behind accountants and lawyers, and they tied with business consultants.

So, why aren’t bankers ranking higher among SMBs when it comes to their go-to for business advice? How can bankers improve their standing? Panelists said their banker could offer more personalized service and nurture the relationship with proactive outreach sharing their knowledge about the business owner’s company and industry.

Now that we know what SMB owners think their bankers are not doing, let’s examine ways that bankers can give their customers what they want — more personalized, proactive service and stronger relationships.

Become a more proactive business banker

To discuss how bankers can be more personalized and proactive with their clients, let me share my own story as an SMB owner. My business, Vertical IQ, doesn’t borrow money, but we do maintain a sizable operating account. That alone should be profitable for our bank, yet our banker rarely comes to me with ideas on how to make our business more successful. Even if those suggestions were subtle and only saved us, say, a few grand, it would still go a long way for our SMB.

Here are three simple ways that business bankers can offer a more personal and proactive experience when working with their SMB clients.

1. Consultative conversations: What if our banker came to us to share what other business owners are doing to thrive during the pandemic. Just a conversation. How far would that go? I can tell you as a business owner, it would make a real impression on me.

And having been a banker myself, I know that one of bankers’ most important assets is that they are dialed into so many businesses that they have a unique depth and breadth of knowledge. They have so many comparisons they can share with other business owners.

2. Sharing financials: Doing things like offering to share financial spreads is another easy way our banker could be more personalized and proactive in their client contacts. Even as a business owner, I don’t have easy access to all of our financial details. It would be valuable to have trends by year to see how our business is changing and evolving over time.

3. Regular, personalized touchpoints: Why not stay in touch with us digitally? It’s fast, pandemic-friendly, and low- or no-cost to a banker, but it would go a long way in building trust and loyalty from a business owner’s perspective. Maybe reach out three or four times a year to offer information on my industry such as a timely news article. It’s a simple touchpoint, but it shows my banker is thinking about me and my business and cares — and it reminds me that they will be there when we need money in the next few years.

Build better relationships

Providing personalized, proactive interactions, such as using the three tips above, is closely tied to building stronger relationships. When bankers build their client relationships on trust and mutual respect, they will naturally fall into the role of trusted advisor to their clients.

Again, as a business owner as well as a former banker, I have some firsthand experience with ways bankers can help deepen their relationships and achieve that “trusted advisor” status that they are striving for. Here are three ideas:

1. Listening: In his book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie notes that one of the most effective ways to connect with people isn’t by asking general questions but by asking specific ones. By asking your SMB client probing, insightful questions about their industry, and actively listening to their responses, you will build rapport and trust. You also will boost their likelihood of reaching out to you for business advice when they need it.

2. Share your network: Bankers tend to cross paths with a lot of different people. Why not use all of those connections to your SMB clients’ benefit?

When I was a fledgling banker, I went on a sales call with an experienced banker focused on business development. During a prospect meeting, he did something I’ll never forget: He asked the owner of a specialty chemical company to share the top five companies they’d like to do business with. My colleague, who had built an extensive network over the years, said, “Let me see if I can help you get their business.” I can’t think of many ways to boost your clients’ loyalty to you and your bank than if you can help them win new clients of their own.

3. Connecting centers of influence: Along a similar vein, bankers know a lot of other professionals. Another way to build clients’ trust and dedication is to connect them with the best accountant or the best lawyer you know. After all, having the best extended team in place can have a major impact on the success of their business too.

And don’t forget to share the best tools you know of too — QuickBooks, for instance. Sharing knowledge and advice like this can simplify their lives and help their business succeed, solidifying your relationship with them.

You can beat the odds

If you’re a banker or a bank leader, that research by Barlow was probably pretty jarring — I know it was for me. But another statistic in that study was even tougher to swallow: Only 1 out of 10 of the SMB panelists said they thought their banker could become someone they would ask for business advice. Yikes. That suggests that bankers have a lot of ground to make up.

But by using these suggestions on ways to be more personalized and proactive with their outreach, and build stronger relationships, I am confident bankers can indeed become one of their clients’ most trusted sources of advice.

 

Image credit: Mediensturmer, Unsplash

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Readiness Wins in 2021

Happy New Year, and welcome to 2021! While 2020 served up more than its share of challenges (to say the least), 2021 now stands before us. 

Like many, I believe a new year is the perfect time to reflect and reset. Even after a tough year, New Year’s resolutions are more popular than ever. Nearly 75 percent of Americans are committing to learning something new, making a lifestyle change, or setting a personal goal to better themselves in 2021. 

On the personal side, most people resolve to focus on their health, self-improvement, finances, and family. I even have a few personal resolutions myself, including improving my diet….I eat way too much junk food!

Resolutions are also vital on the business front. They provide a real opportunity to take stock of what you learned in 2020 and make changes to do and be better in the year ahead. So, where should you start if you want to improve sales and marketing results in the coming year? If you haven’t already identified and set your professional resolutions for 2021, I have a suggestion: Always Be Ready.

Forget your ABCs...Instead adopt ABR

If you’re in sales, you’ve likely heard and may even live by the ABC Rule: Always Be Closing. Forget that. Seriously. It’s an outdated approach that stops you from listening to customers and serving as a trusted advisor to prospects and clients. If you’re only focused on closing a deal, you have no idea what’s keeping potential and current customers up at night. You’re going to miss opportunities to connect and build enduring relationships with them. 

In 2021, let’s replace the ABC Rule with the ABR Rule: Always Be Ready. What I mean by that is to always be ready to listen and understand your customer's business challenges and unlock the value in every interaction. If you do this, closings will take care of themselves. 

Enacting real change

Resolving to make changes and following through are clearly different. Even with the best intentions, you won’t experience true transformation without the right tools. The one-dimensional contact info and clunky business data served up by traditional sales intelligence tools isn’t going to cut it in 2021. If you want to go further – to achieve excellence this year and into the future -- you’re going to need more. That means arming yourself with actionable, convenient, and focused Industry Intelligence designed to be shared with business owners. 

Today’s business world is more competitive and fast-paced than ever. No one has enough time to answer all their emails let alone try to understand all the intricacies of a potential customer’s business and industry on their own. That’s why Industry Intelligence is a must-have in 2021. 

With Industry Intelligence from Vertical IQ, you’re always ready to ask the right questions, drive the right conversations, and land long-term loyal customers. Before every meeting in 2021, ask yourself: Are you ready? If you’re using Industry Intelligence from Vertical IQ, the answer is always going to be YES – and Readiness Wins.

I’m excited about the year ahead, and Vertical IQ stands ready to deliver everything you need for a more productive and profitable 2021. Please click around our brand-new website; it’s packed with information and new resources to power your sales and marketing success in 2021 and beyond.

 


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