How Business Bankers Can Maximize Relationships With Small Business Owners

At this year’s American Bankers Association Marketing Conference in San Antonio, I attended an informative session moderated by David McGee, President and CEO of Amegy Bank of Texas’ SA Region. It was titled “Understanding the Needs of the Small Business Market: A Panel Discussion.” Thanks to Davidʼs probing questions, we heard insightful and honest responses from these business owners. Read on to see how you, or your bankers, can maximize these relationships and how to get meetings with tough-to-crack small business owners.

Photo of bankers walking by Flickr's Craig Stanfill

1. Relationships are important.

4 of the 5 panelists all worked with a local bank, because they felt that having their banker in close proximity was important to them. One panelist developed a relationship with his banker 25 years ago and followed the banker as he switched banks over 3 times. The one panelist who did not bank locally said he partnered with a global bank because of his need for a large amount of financing. All panelists said they consider their bank to be a very important partner in their business.

2. Face-to-face contact matters most.

All panelists said they want to be in touch with their bank between once a quarter and once a month, face-to-face. Email was acceptable in the cases that the banker found an interesting article to share, but otherwise, phone and face-to-face contact was highly valued. The business owners want to talk about their business with their bankers, and have the bankers identify opportunities early and often. The panelists identified successful bankers as those who provide lots of options.

3. Community involvement indicates roots and stability.

These panelists appreciated that their banks are involved in their communities. One panelist said, “Community involvement was very important in my decision, because that means theyʼre invested in making sure we have a strong and viable community for years to come.” 

4. Pay attention to them.

This might seem obvious, but donʼt take your customers for granted! As their business grows, your competitors want their business even more. As one panelist put it, “If it seems sudden that weʼre switching away from your bank, that means you have been out of touch with us for too long. Itʼs a very time-consuming and complex process to switch banks, so the decision to switch doesnʼt happen overnight.”

5. Make the effort to get to know their business, and they will take the time for a meeting.

While all panelists were happy with their current bank relationships, many of them still meet with competitors on a regular basis to make sure they have a feel for what’s out there in case they want to make a switch. But donʼt expect to get a meeting if you have your assistant call, or if you call without any information. These business owners appreciate a banker who takes the time to get to know their business and industry ahead of the call. One panelist said he would not work with a bank that he didnʼt already have a relationship with. So, be sure to get out in the community for chamber events and volunteer days of service. In those relaxed and informal settings, get them talking about themselves. Many small business owners are passionate about what they do, and will tell their story as often as possible. Most importantly, stay in touch regularly, and donʼt hard sell them. Just letting them know that youʼre available to them in case they need anything will make a lasting impression.

6. “Get to know us, and donʼt desert us in time of need.”

When choosing a bank, the panelists all had a different view of what was important to them: access to capital, pricing and ancillary services. One panelist said he assumed banks of similar size had the same access to capital and ancillary services, so pricing was most important. Another said that access to capital is most important, since thatʼs what they need to grow. Ultimately, it depends on the business model. Some businesses that are labor-focused might not need as much capital, but a lot of cash management services. What matters most is to get to know them, and be there through thick and thin. As one panelist put it, “The easy part is up front. What I want is the confidence that my banker wonʼt desert me in my time of need.”

If you’re a business owner, what do you value in a banker? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo credit: Flickr’s Craig Stanfill

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