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Stop Calling on Small Business Prospects

Jim GallagherYou are wasting your time and your credit union’s money if you spend valuable time calling on small business prospects. I hear you…blasphemy coming from someone that is supposed to be promoting services to small business clients. I will let you in on a secret. During my most productive periods (the last 10 years of a 20 year commercial lending career) I spent very little time making calls on businesses. Yes, I was a slow learner; the important thing is that I eventually wised up.

If you or your supervisor considers your time to be a valuable commodity then calling or visiting prospects in an effort to build a meaningful pipeline is a terribly inefficient use of your time.

Selling Smarter  – The most successful Business-to-Business (B2B) salespeople do not spend a great amount of time on cold calls or calls to end users. Top producing B2B sales professionals establish a network of Centers of Influence (COI’s).

Great examples of effective B2B salespeople can be found at your physician’s office. Spend any time in a waiting room and you might see a pharmaceutical salesperson in action. A drug rep does not go door to door and call on end users of their product, they concentrate on the ultimate COI, the doctor prescribing or suggesting the drug.

The drug rep strategy is fairly straightforward: identify physicians (specialties) with the greatest potential to prescribe a particular drug, make frequent visits, provide technical information on the benefits of a particular drug, bring gifts and ask for business.

I know… you are selling loans, not pharmaceuticals. However, the principle is still the same; identify the COI’s in the commercial loan space and cultivate a relationship with them. Most small business owners will not consider a major equipment or property purchase without first consulting a trusted accounting, legal or commercial real estate advisor. Identify these individuals in your community and develop a marketing plan around building a relationship with them.

How do you identify them? The easiest way is to ask your business clients.  You can also find the information on business tax returns and real estate contracts. Over time you will see a concentration of names. Just as in the medical community, many advisors have specialties.

Problem Solver – Your calls will be most effective if you add some value for the trusted advisor when you call on them. The reason a physician might take time out of their hectic day to talk with a drug rep is simple, they are tasked with solving patient problems all day long. If the drug rep can provide information or a product to help them solve patient problems, then the rep has added value to the visit.

Just like a physician, trusted advisors solve problems and give advice to their clients all day long. Become a source of solutions for the advisor and you will find they become increasingly receptive to your calls. One of my favorite techniques when calling on accounting or real estate firms was to promote whatever loan special we had at the time, particularly if the special was related to owner-occupied real estate mortgages. If the trusted advisor has an attractive option to suggest to their client, then s/he has added value to their client relationship.

It takes time and effort to establish a relationship with a trusted advisor, but once the relationship is formed it can be quite powerful. Many accountants specializing in small business have hundreds of clients. Is it worth it to gain access to hundreds of potential borrowers? I think so too.

Pour some sugar – The reason drug reps come bearing gifts is because it is effective. Look in any doctor’s office break room and you will probably find food, usually sweets compliments of the drug reps. I will never forget asking my insurance agent why she recommended a particular glass replacement service to me. To her credit she was honest, “They are all about the same, but XYZ brings us donuts so we like them.” Everyone likes receiving gifts no matter how small they might be, and should you be in the field where everyone is “about the same,” it can be a little something to set you apart, remain memorable. For example, during some of my most productive years, I had an arrangement with a (client) local specialty bakery. Every week I would pick up 5-10 gift boxes of goodies and distribute them with my loan special on a small flyer attached to the box. The unique goodie box was more memorable and differentiated me from someone else dropping off a box of Dunkin Donuts. The gift box also made it easier for me to get past the office gatekeepers and gain access to the trusted advisors.

Be a hero to your credit union and work smarter than I did for the first 10 years of my career. By concentrating on COIs (those Centers of Influence) and working more efficiently, you can be an integral part of your credit unions loan-to-share ratio solution.

About the Author

Jim GallagherJim Gallagher is the President of Member Business Services. His responsibilities include the delivery of business products and services to credit unions. Business Services offers a wide range of products to assist credit unions in the development and expansion of their member business lending and deposit programs. Prior to joining Southeast, Jim had a successful 20 year career in commercial banking. The majority of his career was spent at Barnett Bank working in various capacities: as a commercial analyst, commercial lender, branch manager and business banker. In his most recent position as V.P. Business Banking Team Leader/Sales Officer with SunTrust Bank he consistently led the company in loan dollar volume and fee income production. In addition to sales, Jim also assisted with training and development of the retail sales force in his region. Jim holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Florida and has successfully completed core credit, commercial lending and retail management studies. He is a frequent guest speaker at regional small business conferences.View all posts by Jim Gallagher →