How to Build Business Banking Relationships in Challenging Times

Chris McGuire
Director of Client Growth and Engagement

As a business development professional, I’ve been challenged to change the way I pursue and connect with prospects. It’s a reality that everyone in sales is facing as COVID-19 continues to completely transform our personal and professional lives.

But as I reflect, change has really been the only constant in my 20+ year sales career. The days of door-to-door prospecting are long gone, having evolved into “dialing for dollar” cold calls, which gave way to email where we all do our best to get to Inbox Zero every day.

Such change brings uneasiness, causing salespeople like myself to ask, “Am I doing the right thing under these new circumstances?” Or, simply, “Is any of this working?”

And because I’ve spent most of my sales career in advertising working closely with financial clients like U.S. Bank, Visa and TD Bank, I can’t help but think about the impact COVID-19 has had on customer acquisition and relationship management in the banking world. Because there’s limited differentiation between products and services from one financial services organization to the next, banks are facing some challenging business acquisition hurdles.

Questions that come to mind: How can commercial bankers connect and create new relationships at this time? Where are customers these days? They’re not at their desks, and existing customers’ offices are closed to non-employees. There are no more in-person networking events, golf outings, conferences or trade shows; companies such as Wells Fargo have even put limits on client gifts and meals in recent months.

Building trust with customers.

Bankers understand that the cornerstone to commercial banking is relationships. And a key component of any relationship is trust. Research has shown that the more touchpoints a banker has with their customer, the more trust is built. The more trust that is built, the more products and services that customer will be open to buying from that banker. Industry research and personal experience tell us that trust can be generated in many ways outside of events and in-office visits:

  • Be responsive to customer inquiries; over-communicate, if necessary. Make sure they know what is going on with their applications, accounts and other things going on at the bank.
  • Don’t let digital tools impede or replace your relationship. Understand how your customer is using your bank’s digital tools and provide support where you can.
  • Look for ways to demonstrate you understand someone’s business. Empathize with their challenges, share examples of companies that are doing something well or content that may assist them in making strategic decisions.
  • Listen to your customer. An eager salesperson can inadvertently interrupt what a client is trying to say or jump to conclusions about what they think a client needs without actually listening. The only way to truly understand their needs is to ask thoughtful questions and let them talk.
  • Use video conferencing tools such as Skype, Google Meet and Zoom to meet with customers or host a virtual event. While people are growing weary of these technologies, it is really helpful to see how customers are responding to what you are saying in real time.
  • Proactively reach out to customers and highlight relief programs your bank is offering (e.g., waived fees, deferred payments). Lean on your marketing partners to provide you with content such as whitepapers and articles that give you a reason to connect by sharing new information.

Fortunately, banks provide vital services for businesses that keep communication open, from flexible lines of credit to help in securing government assistance loans. Identifying opportunities for dialogue and cross-selling will strengthen relationships and opportunities, as will honing more effective call-and-visit strategies. Senior bankers should work with junior bank officers to ensure they are effectively navigating client challenges. Your ability to remain accessible to customers will not go unnoticed, so don’t downplay open communication.

A new perspective on new business.

As for new business, the events and trade shows previously available to us to connect in person are not going to reappear anytime soon. So how do you stay fresh in your prospecting activities from behind a computer screen? Here are some of the ways I’ve been successful:

  • Network for referrals Ask clients who are happy with what you’ve done for them to introduce you to people who may need your services. Don’t forget to return the favor.
  • LinkedIn Use the search functions to target key customers. These features allow you to filter down to companies, titles and geographies. Be active in posting on LinkedIn, providing information or content your customers and prospects are interested in.
  • Work with your marketing team to dial up lead generation marketing campaigns. Arm them with information about your key targets and how you think the bank can solve customer problems.
    • Becoming better integrated with marketing always leads to all-around more successful sales efforts. I suggest establishing a biweekly meeting with your marketing partners to discuss progress on your collective new business initiatives and create strategic plans for subsequent quarters.
    • Ask them if there are any marketing automation tools that you can take advantage of to stay in front of your clients and prospects.
  • Provide information and tools that will help customers better navigate through the COVID crisis. This can include offering insights about how to help manage cash flow or providing guidance on how to take advantage of private and public assistance programs.
  • Participate in local business organizations — Join your local Chamber of Commerce. They can be helpful in opening doors and making introductions, and many have moved their events
    • Join trade associations that your customers are a part of and participate in virtual events, especially virtual networking opportunities.

And so, we continue to ride the transformational wave. I think the one thing I’ve learned in a quarantine-conscious sales environment is that you have to try different strategies and find incremental ways to improve them as you learn what works. As marketers and salespeople, we’ll all find a way to adapt to this “new normal” — and hopefully we’ll stay on our toes to respond to whatever “new normal” comes next.

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Chris McGuire
Director of Client Growth and Engagement