Guest Blog Post by Bobby Martin
As a calling officer, you’ve already noticed that many of your business customers are a little offbeat, maybe even a little crazy. Having been a bank calling officer for seven years and a wacko-entrepreneur for 15 years, I can shed some light on how to relate to those crazy business owners—and maybe win more of their business.
I experienced some wild meetings with entrepreneurs as a banker. Once, when heading to a meeting with an entrepreneur to get some paperwork signed, I got a call to meet him at his recently renovated house. For the next two hours, he sipped vodka, told jokes and gave me a tour of the house with his much younger girlfriend.
“You’ll need to come back sometime and hang out with us in the hot tub. But Bobby, no one wears clothes in my hot tub. So, Bobby Martin, we’ll find out how bad you really are.” (In case you're wondering, I didn't take him up on his offer.)
While writing The Hockey Stick Principles, a book about how good ideas become successful companies, I’ve learned a lot about entrepreneurs’ unique personalities. Manfred E.R. Kets de Vries, a clinical professor of leadership at INSEAD, one of the world’s finest business schools, is the author, co-author, or editor of more than 30 books and 300 papers on the psychology of entrepreneurship.
In “The Entrepreneurial Personality: A Person at the Crossroads,” he writes that, “Economists have always looked at entrepreneurs with a great deal of ambivalence. The often-unpredictable, irrational actions of entrepreneurs do not fit the economists’ rational, logical schemes; they tend to disturb the implicit harmony of their models.”
It’s true. Entrepreneurs often are unpredictable. You can either roll your eyes at their odd personalities, or try to relate to them. The hot-tub loving CEO was one of the savviest businessmen I’ve ever met. He once borrowed $1 million from my bank to buy a machine, and paid the bank back six months later using the cash the machine generated. No, it wasn't a printing press–although for the next 10 years, his machine was like an ATM, generating millions for his company.
Here are some suggestions on how to become a great banker of entrepreneurs:
1. Give them your time: If an entrepreneur likes you, they’ll waste your time. That’s a compliment to you, so you should roll with it. They’ll tell you their startup stories, vent about the banking system or the economy, provide you a tour of their house and hot tub, take you fishing, or walk you through their newest business idea. Most entrepreneurs are interesting people, so enjoy this time.
2. But never take their time: Most entrepreneurs aren’t interested in small talk or what your bank is up to. If you’re not listening or learning about them or their business (or doing something they consider fun), you’re probably boring them. (Translation: Don’t regale them with 20-minute stories about your kid’s latest soccer game.)
3. Never BS an entrepreneur: If you are about to tell an entrepreneur what he doesn’t want to hear, just tell the truth. Don’t try to tip-toe around the facts or sugar coat the message.
4. Meet your business customers on their turf: For the most part, don’t ask an entrepreneur to meet at your branch office unless it’s truly a necessity or it's a great place to spend time. (Hint: Outside of a few Starbucks-inspired branches, most aren’t.) Meet anywhere else. Entrepreneurs often appreciate cool settings.
5. Try to help the entrepreneur’s business: I once went on a call with Jim McColl, son of former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl. Jim asked my prospect, “Who are the top five companies you don’t do business with that you’d like to do business with? And how can I help you get those customers?" My prospect was impressed. Always, always, always ask entrepreneurs how you can help them.
6. Have big picture meetings: Try to meet with entrepreneurs at least twice a year to “talk big picture.” Ask them about their vision. Examples: Where do you think your company will be in five years? 10 years?
7. Do constant checks on workflow processes: Entrepreneurs are often control freaks. If you’re working through a loan application succinctly explain to them how the process could work best and ask them, “Does this process work for you? Is there a better way to go about it?”
8. Dress like a venture capitalist: I think bankers wearing suits while I’m wearing a golf shirt is strange. Unless your CEO is going to go into cardiac arrest if you’re out of uniform, think business casual.
9. Pick their brains: Ask lots of questions—like a detective. Listen very carefully to their answers. Try to learn about things they enjoy. Help them think through their business and personal challenges.
10.Be yourself : Never compromise your ethics, or what you stand for. If you don’t drink, be honest and tell them why you don’t want to go out carousing. 95% of entrepreneurs will love your confidence.
I hope some of these ideas will improve your efforts at building lasting, profitable relationships with wackos like me.
Bobby Martin is the founder of The Hockey Stick Principles, a research project to figure out how good ideas become successful firms. He is also president and co-founder of Vertical IQ, a leading provider of sales research insight for banks. Martin also co-founded and served as president of First Research, a leader in sales intelligence.
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