In an industry where conferences almost always include golf games and never Mat Pilates, it’s easy to see the world of commercial finance is a man’s world. I am not complaining about the networking activity lineup. The fact is, there are many more men than women in the group; and—golf course or Pilates studio—if you have the talents, successful business development can be done in any venue. (Though I admit, I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to expense a networking spa day every now and then!)
Despite working in a male-dominated field, I often regard advice from a savvy female when it comes to sharpening the skills necessary for making new business connections and strengthening current partnership. That female is none other than my mother, Jacqueline. Raised in a small town in Louisiana, my mother has always approached every task—from rearing four children to serving as vice president of a retail chain—with integrity, grace and just enough grit where everyone knew she meant business when she made a point. The following is a small sampling of her wit and wisdom along with lessons that can be applied to grow your own business referral base and foster meaningful client relationships.
“The phone works both ways.”
Are you upset that you weren’t asked to be on that annual conference panel you knew would have been a perfect fit for your company? As my mother would point out, you can’t just sit by the phone waiting for it to ring. In business development, you must be proactive. Before conference season begins, call your affiliate associations and find out who is chairing this year’s conference. Contact the conference organizer and ask about the theme, the planned sessions, any opportunities for speaking and how you can help. Better yet, volunteer to moderate a panel or even join the conference committee. Staying active in industry organizations is crucial to business development. Conference appearances are an integral part of making yourself, your company, and your products accessible to potential clients. Not to mention, volunteering for an organization committee or sharing a conference session is a fantastic way to meet others in your field. Even if these connections are not part of your regular customer base, they can lead to business referrals down the road. Additionally, getting involved in an association gives you a unique opportunity to learn the inner workings of the organization. You will gain a better understanding of association decisions, hear of news and events before they are announced to the general group, and help make positive changes that benefit you, your company and the entire membership.
“If you’re going to be a monkey, be a gorilla.”
My mother made it clear, if I was going to make an effort to accomplish anything, then she expected me to give 100%. If business development is your career choice, then you should make yourself an expert in all things applicable. This includes being the number one resource when it comes to your own products—understanding the ins and outs of your company, being aware of the attitudes and expertise of your credit officers, and knowing the best ways to overcome objections and help close your deals. Make efforts to share your knowledge when called upon and actively offer customer training opportunities via conference calls, webinars, and client visits. Because the commercial financing market is a dynamic place, continuing education is vital to staying at the top of your game. Read industry publications to keep abreast of pertinent news and legal issues. Attend educational sessions that your clients may be interested in as well as trainings that develop your own sales and marketing abilities. Being an expert also means keeping up with your competition and understanding what distinguishes your company and products from theirs. Pay attention to others’ advertisements in industry newsletters and read company profiles in conference attendee materials. Devote some networking time to meeting business development representatives from companies that sell similar products to your own. Why is it so important to be an expert at this job? The best way to get first look at a deal is to make yourself a useful resource for your clients. Be a source of good conversation, interesting news and, most importantly, quality referrals. Even if the transaction you’re reviewing isn’t a fit for your company, if you can suggest a few alternate financing sources with your decline, you will see increased opportunities for approvals.
“I don’t care who started it, I’m stopping it.”
If you have ever fought with your brother or sister, then you have probably heard your own mother say this classic line many times, too. In business, people often disagree or make mistakes—it’s a part of being human. In business development, a good rep works to settle arguments and solve problems quickly and effectively. Whether the issue was created by you or someone else involved in the transaction, as the front line representative of your company, take care not to look backward and place blame, but move toward finding a feasible solution. Start by offering a sincere apology for the situation to any offended parties. This doesn’t mean saying it’s your fault (unless it is), but letting everyone know you understand their side of the issue, you are truly sorry we are in this mess and that you will make every effort to fix it. Take time to think through your options. Though most of our transactions are time-sensitive, a hasty, band-aid solution can often create more problems and further delays down the line—exacerbating an already bad situation. The good news is that Financing is fundamentally a win for all parties involved: customers get needed funds, lenders put out money, and referral sources earn commission. You can potentially make everyone happy, but compromise is crucial. Helping others focus on their gains in the overall situation will make the solution feel less negative for everyone. There is also a silver lining to the problem-solving process. When you are honest with your clients about the disagreement or mistake and act with integrity to help correct it, you are doing a great service for your business development. You build genuine trust with your clients (in both directions!) and if you work together to solve the problem, your teamwork in righting a wrong can serve as a strong basis for future transactions together.
“If you want to have a friend, you have to be a friend.”
Every business development professional will tell you that good client relationships are the key to driving business. My mother will tell you that quality relationships are built on mutual trust, cooperation and fun. Work to make real connections with your business associates by focusing on what you have in common outside of financing: children, pets, a hometown, a sports team, etc. Ask questions beyond “How’s business going?” and, most importantly, listen to the answers. Recalling past conversations down the line is a great way to reinforce a meeting and help others remember you. Additionally, pay close attention to name spellings and birthdates. These details define a person from day one, so they are an integral part of getting to know someone. Be sure to log notes in your CRM database and set follow-up reminders whenever you can. Calling someone to say “Happy Birthday!”—instead of “What deals do you have on your desk?”—will guarantee a positive response and could still result in a new transaction for your company. Ideally, your clients want to send you business. While referral fees may pay the bills, they happen on every deal, so they don’t make clients feel particularly special. Reward customers for their efforts by sending personal thank you notes for funded transactions. Additionally, recognizing hard work and highlighting extra efforts your client made to get the deal done will encourage similar actions again in future transactions. Continually create opportunities for your customers to make positive associations with you and your company. Host dinners and social activities or sponsor an industry networking function. Be inclusive whenever your budget permits. While these events offer a good time, remember the goal is to develop business, so you want to make sure to invite as many prospects as possible. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the fact that you actually can mix business with pleasure! The shared memories of a great evening create lasting bonds between colleagues and serve as the seeds for future business growth.
At your desk or at the baseball diamond, business development opportunities are everywhere. Take a tip or two from my mother—a relationship building pro—be proactive, do your best, manage the tough spots and have a great time.
Author: Mae Philpott is the Business Development Director at Maxim Commercial Capital. She has worked in commercial finance sales and marketing for 8+ years. Mae earned her BA from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA in Communications and Psychology, with a minor in Business. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, Ben, and their two children Cabell (4) and Nancy Sage (1).