Early in my career I was what we called an outside salesperson. Today we’d call what I did field sales. I managed a territory in Utah, Wyoming, and parts of Idaho and Nevada. I regularly spent time with 100+ current customers and was expected to “prospect” for new customers at every available opportunity. Today, most of this type of work is done on the phone in many companies because field sales is expensive and today’s technology makes it possible to do a lot of this type of work over the phone.
Over the years I was on the road I learned a few things that might help small business lenders build better relationships with their customers and close more loan deals:
- What was your name? Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” I couldn’t agree more with the legendary Mr. Carnegie, but over the course of my career, I found knowing a customer’s name was just the beginning. Nevertheless, because building lasting relationships were and are important to me, I’m ashamed to say all those years ago I couldn’t remember every name or all the other information they shared with me during our conversations. I tried to keep track of names and other pertinent information in a notebook set aside for that purpose, but if I forgot to bring the notebook along or put off updating a note, data was lost. For my major accounts this wasn’t a problem because I saw them often enough to remember, but smaller accounts I was nurturing to become bigger accounts I didn’t see as often; and details were harder to remember. When everything went well, the fact that I had a notebook to remind me didn’t make me any less sincere, but it did allow me to keep names and faces straight. My customers appreciated that I always seemed to know who they were. The same is true for potential small business loan customers, they expect us to remember their names.
- Now, where were we? Our customers expect us to be on top of things. When they initiate an order or invite us to give them a quote, they expect the next time we reach out to them we will be able to pick up where we left off, deliver on any information we promised, or at the very least know where we are. Technology makes this type of communication easier than it was in those early days for me. There’s almost no excuse not be on top of things. If I were a small business loan customer, I’d want to know the status of my loan every time I spoke with my loan officer. I’d also like to be confident that he or she was delivering on follow-up items and have confidence my deal wasn’t falling through the cracks. My old system of notebooks and folders required me to also have a pretty good memory. It also made it possible for me to sometimes ignore or forget about orders for some customers. Technology makes it possible to be better than ever before at knowing where we are.
- What’s next? I like the idea of having a good handle on where we are. And, although I think I can usually figure out what’s next, I’m willing to take a lesson from airline pilots. There’s a reason they go through a pre-flight checklist every time they embark on a new flight. The checklist makes sure they don’t miss anything. They always know, here’s where we are now, and here’s the next step. It streamlines the process and ensure nothing gets missed. Years ago I had a friend who like to hang-glide. One day, out of the blue, he announced he wasn’t going to do it anymore. He said, every time I go to a launch site, I have to put my glider together. I just know I’m going to forget something one time and fall to my death. There are so many steps to a successful small business loan and so many places for a loan application to fall through the cracks. Why not leverage technology that enables us to identify next steps and confirm they are completed.
The thing I appreciate about the tools that are available today that weren’t when I was a young guy on the road are those that help us keep track of all our customer data in one place—at our fingertips. What’s more, today’s mobile technology allows us to access it almost anywhere.
How do you keep track of your small business loan pipeline?