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.

 

Image credit: The Coach Space, Pexels

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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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two businessmen talking, bankers as advisors

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 smiling woman at computer

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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Here at Vertical IQ, we are passionate about helping our customers understand industry-specific cash flow and cash management issues. Cash flow is a concern for nearly every small to medium-sized business (SMB). Evening out payables and receivables, ensuring you have enough cash on hand, but not TOO much liquidity — it’s a balancing act that can leave many SMB owners stressed and confused.

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Relationships Still Matter in Business Banking

Barlow Research Associates is probably the most well-known, and certainly the most accomplished, banking research company, especially with regard to gathering insights on how businesses view their banks.

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