The Banker’s Guide to Effective Preplanning for Prospect Meetings

I’m a planner. I plan for every meeting be it a huge opportunity or a smaller opportunity, a long presentation or a brief presentation, and whether it’s a quick cup of coffee or a deep dive session into a client’s financial details – the one constant for me is that I plan in advance.

It’s not easy to get an appointment with a prospective client and everyone’s time is valuable. So at the very least I feel like I owe it to them to come prepared out of courtesy and respect for their time and busy schedule. A great leader once told me that going into any meeting you need to have a plan, set goals, and have a clear agenda.

So, you got your foot in the door. You researched and identified a prospect. You made a cold call warm, and now you have the appointment scheduled. What are you going to say when you sit down with that prospective client for the first time?

The goal in your preplanning is to answer the following questions about the prospective client:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What does your company do?
  3. What should I know about your industry?

Don’t say “Tell me about your business” 
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I have come to hate this phrase. Although this bland and generic verbiage appears on most of the training materials I have seen in my career as a lender, it does not apply in the world today. We no longer have the luxury of asking this question because we live in a world where that information is almost always at our fingertips. With a few simple steps and anywhere from 15-45 minutes, you can come into a meeting well prepared and ready to add value with a prospect by having a more meaningful conversation.

Let me Google that for you

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Google (or that other search engine if you prefer it) is the starting point. Look up the company and look up the decision maker who you are meeting with. Do the normal “web” searches on Google but also try the “news” searches which can pull up any current news articles on the company. These news articles can share relevant information on recent happenings with the company that can lead you to better understand them. Google searches will also help you to find the company website, sometimes LinkedIn profiles for the company and employees, and lots of other information that might be out there on the web about the company.

Next place to search is public records. I’ve discussed this before but using public records can provide some great insight into the spending behaviors, borrowing behaviors and other matters related to your prospect.

Company websites can provide a wealth of information. I start by reviewing the main page on the website – this is the information that the company feels is most important for people to see first so be sure you check it out! Next, I will look for an “About Us” page or something similar as this will often include information on how the company got started, their mission statement, or who the company principals are. The answers to “tell me about your business” can often be found on the company’s own website.

Finally, I head over to LinkedIn and read about the company and employees. You can almost always find basic information such as the number of employees at a company, location, and mission statements on their LinkedIn page. And by researching the employees’ personal profiles on LinkedIn, you can find out more about how the company hires, their organizational structure, and possibly even some insight into the company’s culture.  Once you have a handle on the company and what they do, the next step is understanding their industry.

To know a client, you need to know the industry

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Having a good understanding of the industry where your prospect does business is key. It helps you to understand the competitive landscape, risks, market size, and industry life cycle – all of which are likely top of mind for the people running the company.

There are several online industry research resources available but the two that I most often have used in my career are IBISWorld and First Research. They provide similar information and include all of the top of mind issues that are noted above plus much more. By reviewing these reports you can develop more relevant and impactful questions to ask during your meeting – this will help to better engage the prospect and to demonstrate to them that you understand their business.

Aside from industry research websites, I always check out my local business journal’s website for any news related to the industry or competitors. Go to the Business Journals website and you will find an option to “Select a City” where you can pick your city or the nearest to you. From there, search for your company or their competitors (you can find competitors in the market with a simple Google search) and see what comes up. Also look up the industry or industry terms and see what you find. This is so important because while the mile high view shared by resources like IBISWorld and First Research can be helpful as a starting point to get some general knowledge of the industry, you ultimately need to understand how your prospect works in their local geography to truly connect with them.

It’s OK to not know everything

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As you do the web research, you may come across terms you are not familiar with. I recall early in my career as a commercial banker going on a call to meet with a glazing contractor. I didn’t know what a glazing contractor was. I didn’t know what glazing was. I thought glaze was the stuff they put on Krispy Kreme donuts to ruin my diet and that is all I knew. I looked it up online and found a Wikipedia article that helped me understand what this company did. So when I went out on that first meeting I had glass on my mind instead of donuts…thanks Wikipedia! And if you can’t find all the answers don’t sweat it. That’s the purpose of the meeting – to ask questions and get to know the prospective client and their business.

Once the preplanning is done, it’s meeting time. Go into that meeting feeling confident because you are well prepared. Build rapport, share your purpose for meeting and goals for the meeting, learn about the prospect, and end with a clear plan of next steps and follow up. Last but also most important – follow through on that plan and do whatever you say you are going to do because nothing kills credibility like poor follow through. Good luck and happy calling!

 

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