Forge Small Business Relationships: Five Strategies

Engage business owners in robust dialogue around small-business drivers.

October 28, 2010

The banking industry’s turmoil and tighter lending standards are presenting incredible opportunities for credit unions. For instance, small-business owners who previously received loans from banks are finding it difficult today to get the same funding and are turning to credit unions for assistance.

Savvy institutions will seize these opportunities to gain valuable, profitable members from the small-business community. They will gain business owners’ trust and long-term commitment by meeting all their business needs with targeted solutions and the highest quality service.

Any successful small-business owner will tell you that relationships are the key to their success. To form relationships with business owners, credit unions need to demonstrate that they offer significant advantages over banks.

Here are five strategies to help institutions earn the loyalty of small businesses:

1. Understand what they need

It’s not enough for credit union professionals to be knowledgeable about their organizations’ products and services. Small-business owners want to view credit union representatives as experts who can answer all their financial questions.

For example, consider the owner of a small business who previously obtained loans from a particular bank until the lending guidelines became more stringent. While the business owner knew the credit union was an alternative resource for loans, the owner was new to credit unions and wanted to be reassured that the employees are truly professionals who understand the business's goals.

An effective strategy, therefore, is to engage the owner in a robust dialogue around small-business drivers, business cycles, and the company’s specific industry.

In that way, a credit union professional, confident about the institution’s products and services, can learn about the small company’s goals and needs, and add value by meeting them most effectively with the institution’s unique offerings.

2. Take an enterprise approach

This approach is demonstrated when credit union professionals work as partners across all lines of business, allowing the business owner to see the credit union as one entity.

When credit unions use this total team approach in assisting small businesses, owners view the institution as a single, powerful entity assisting them with all their goals, both personal and business.

To do so, employees from all lines of business need to be equipped with the skills to communicate the credit union’s value proposition so the business owner sees that the organization is thinking holistically.

Next: Be true to CU principles

3. Be true to CU principles

Successful credit unions never forget to offer that for which they’re best known: low fees, better rates, and excellent service.

After all, small-business owners look for and expect benefits over and above those they’ve been receiving from banks.

4. Offer relationship pricing

Small-business owners prefer to have their personal accounts at the same institution as their business accounts. Create more benefits for the small-business owner by bundling the credit union’s products and presenting the owner with a total solution of lower fees and better rates.

While taking care of the owner’s initial need is the first step, the institution can add value by offering discounts based on the relationship. Doing so reinforces the message that the credit union wants to work with the owner on both short- and long-term goals, and personal and business needs.

5. Develop professionals to be long-term financial partners

The goal is to be viewed as a trusted adviser to the small business. With that in mind, equip all of the credit union’s professionals (including the branch manager) with the best practices to include reaching out to the small-business owner on an ongoing basis.

This can be accomplished by establishing regular touch points and incorporating periodic reviews. Ignoring this step will hinder the effort to build trust and form true partnerships with business owners.

Begin the commitment at the top, with senior management, so all employees will be involved in learning how to best serve the needs of small-business owners. When the entire credit union demonstrates this level of dedication, the organization will earn the small-business owner’s trust and loyalty—a true measure of success.

Credit unions have much in common with small businesses—both want to reach out to the community and build valuable relationships. Institutions that succeed in partnering with small companies will reap additional benefits, because these members are connected to the community’s consumers, and therefore are some of the best referral sources.

Likewise, small-business owners benefit doubly from their relationship with the credit union because it can help them achieve both personal and business goals.

CINDI CAMPANA is vice president of product development for sales and sales management at Omega Performance Corp., Charlotte, N.C. Contact her at 704-672-1400.