I’m sure you recall the famous line from the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire, “You had me at ‘hello,’’’ muttered by Jerry’s wife, Dorothy, during a passionate discussion. I must admit that, as a business owner, I felt a lot like that when my banker asked me about corrugated box prices during a meeting. He wasn’t an “industry expert,” but he hit on a hot button topic for me. And he earned another meeting.
Industry expertise in banking
So, what exactly are we trying to achieve as bankers by gaining this type of industry expertise?
As generalists, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to become an industry expert, but you can present yourself as knowledgeable and as someone who has taken the time to try to learn something of value about a client’s industry niche. By doing so, you can better apply your expertise in finance to their business situation.
I get it; I have been on both sides of the desk: After working for 16 years as a banker, I went on to own my own consumer product repackaging business. I never expected my banker to be an expert in my niche industry. However, I did applaud the small handful of bankers who had made the extra effort to learn about my industry outside of what I shared with them. I felt like we had a connection – like Dorothy did with Jerry McGuire. For those savvy bankers, I would open the proverbial doors to my business and "invest" my time in future conversations with them.
4 incremental stages of connecting with a client or prospect
Here are four specific ways these well-prepared bankers impressed me, ranked by importance in terms of relationship-building and progressing to the point of earning another appointment with me:
1) LinkedIn research
"I saw you went to George Mason University."
So, you read my LinkedIn bio. Nothing too impressive, but a good first step.
2) Company website research
"I was looking at your website, and I noticed on your product page that you sell…"
Okay, you took the time to review my website – not bad – your credibility is building.
3) News articles
"I was doing some research on your industry, and I came across this article that I thought you might find interesting." [Hands me a relevant news article about something going on in my industry]
This banker is obviously prepared and conscientious. So what if the article doesn’t perfectly apply to my company–you obviously took the time to uncover a way to add value.
4) Industry research
"I see the price of corrugated products has risen by over 19 percent over the last 12 months. How has that affected your margins?"
Just like in Jerry Maguire, you had me at "corrugated products." Mention anything like this to me…use a key industry term…ask a meaningful, well-thought out question that applies to my business, and I will happily talk with you for hours about what we do. Seriously: Think about this industry-specific question versus the standard banker ice-breaker, "So, how's business?" To a business owner, it’s like comparing filet mignon to ground chuck!
A small time investment with a big return
All relationships require effort if they are going to flourish. So, here’s a simple, but highly effective approach to nurturing those client and prospect connections: Spend a little time and do at least one of the above things to prepare for each business call. (Though I’d encourage you to do all four!)
The real question is: How can you afford not to invest that time? Jerry got his wife back... you want a chance to win a prospect’s banking business!