The Customer is #1? Really?

  • April 15th, 2014
  • Ty Kiisel

Three things to help put your business loan customers first

A couple weeks back Lendio founder and CEO, Brock Blake, wrote about how he sees the role of the traditional banker changing—and maybe even disappearing. In his Forbes piece of 3/31, he cites a recent conversation with the Vice President of a bank that is very focused on making the small business loan process easier for his customers and more profitable for his bank. You might be surprised by his comments.

“When we really started to have success is when I fired all the traditional ‘bankers’,” he said, “and hired traditional ‘sales’ professionals to replace them.”

Since this article published, I’ve heard from banker friends who argue, “This is nothing new, we adopted a sales model years ago. Charles Green, writing for the Coleman Report, suggested, “My first sales training was in the second year of employment—in 1980. There have been dozens of webinars, classes, and workshops on selling since, as there has been for most of Coleman readers.”

There are early adopters in every industry, including banking. I’d even suggest Blake’s assertion isn’t unlike those of 30 or more years ago who encouraged small business bankers to get on the sales train—it’s just becoming more apparent that there’s a problem with the way bankers approach the small business market. Those who have tenaciously held on to outmoded and ineffective practices need to get on the bandwagon or risk becoming irrelevant.

Blake isn’t the only one talking about this right now. Arun Varadarajan writing for Bank Systems & Technology recently published a piece suggesting Banks Must Embrace a Customer-Centric Model. Varadarajan isn’t calling for the same type of sales model Blake is asking for, but it’s in there (at least in my opinion). Varadarajan is suggesting that the product-centered approach to working with customers is too complicated and frustrating.

We all agree (Blake, Varadarajan, and myself) that change within the industry is inevitable. Varadarajan goes so far as to argue, “In fact, banks have done a poor job of keeping up with evolving customer needs and technology.”

Of course, tighter regulations don’t make it easy for many banks to focus on anything other than governance and compliance, but I’d suggest the following:

  1. Treat the small business loan process like a sales process: That’s what it is. Close the deals you can, nurture the deals you can’t, and help borrowers become better borrowers so you can close the deal tomorrow. Although there are community bankers who do this now, there aren’t enough. Community bankers in particular have a symbiotic relationship with the small business owners within their community. Instead of looking for reasons to say “no,” there are community bankers who exhaust every possible reason to say “yes” first. That’s what great salespeople do.
  2. Give small business owners a reason to have a relationship with the bank: Small banks like to extoll the virtues of the relationships they have within their community, but are those relationships really with the bank? Make sure your loan officers aren’t the only banking relationships your small business loan customers have with your bank. Bank executives need to get out from behind the desk and spend time visiting customers too. Most bankers call it the “Book of Business.” If they aren’t careful, that  Book of Business will likely follow the loan officer when he or she get’s wooed away by one of your competitors. Give your small business loan customers a reason to stay.
  3. Leverage technology that will help you manage the business loan production pipeline: I recently read an article that suggested Microsoft would no longer support XP users. I asked myself, “Who is still using XP?” Then I realized nearly every ATM in the U.S. is using XP. Recent news stories underline the need to be careful with technology adoption, but don’t suggest that we should stop investing in any technology that postdates 2001. There are those who could make the argument that XP is so old nobody would bother to hack it, but why not leverage technology that is successfully and safely used in other industries to manage production, communicate with customers, and empower your newly christened sales people to maximize the value your bank offers to its small business loan customers?

To my friend Charles Green and the others who are already doing these things, that’s why you are some of the best bankers in the industry. To the rest? All aboard!

 

About the Author

  • Ty Kiisel

Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business financing and trends accessible in common sense language devoid of the jargon.

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