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There is a crisis of trust between small companies and their big business suppliers. 74% of small businesses don’t believe that the banks, tech and utility companies that seek their custom care in the least bit about their business.

And the gap in understanding isn’t getting any narrower; in a recent survey of corporate CEOS 80% confidently believed their companies offered excellent service. Only 8% of their customers agreed.

[pullquote]Those who seek a sustainable relationship with fast-paced small businesses need to demonstrate that they understand their business and care about it[/pullquote]

This is a crisis for all large corporates. Whether in banking, accountancy or technology, the small business market represents the key area for growth globally. There are 5.2 million ‘SMEs’ in the UK alone.  Big companies who want a share of that market need to act fast to transform how they approach the market.

“We made a decision to invest in the people, not the product,” says the head of a UK Challenger Bank. “In recruiting relationship managers we looked for people who were good listeners and were patient, who were willing to understand the needs of the business. We attribute our 700% growth to the relationship approach not the products or the price”.

[pullquote]Does a whole generation of relationship managers simply not care?[/pullquote]

Yet most UK Banks don’t seem to have really got the message. In interviewing mid market CEOs positive stories of banking relationships are rare. As one CEO explained “we recently acquired a business and needed new banking facilities. We interviewed a few banks. I was shocked. Only one stood out; they came at it from a different angle. They weren’t interested in where we were now. They were interested in where are you going? What’s our next move?”

In other words, they took the trouble to understand the business and demonstrated that they cared.

And it’s not just a problem confined to banking. Another CEO was blunt in his exasperation with all his corporate relationships. “Here’s what I don’t understand about big corporates. The first thing I would do with MY client is to actually understand their business!”

So, what’s the problem?  Does a whole generation of relationship managers simply not care? It hardy seems likely. Instead, in our experience, it’s simply down to how corporates train and reward their people. To turn this around requires a radical rethink of how their people understand small companies. The alternative is to watch as ‘challenger’ businesses that understand this steal this lucrative market for good.

Put simply, those who seek a sustainable relationship with fast-paced small businesses need to demonstrate that they understand their business and care about it. And that requires two distinct, and currently generally poorly developed, skill sets.

[pullquote]CEOs of fast-paced businesses crave thought-provoking conversations, perspective and real challenge.[/pullquote]

The first is a range of human intelligence, listening and coaching skills. Rapport is not good enough. To be effective, client-facing teams must have the skills and emotional intelligence to step into the client’s shoes. As one CEO said “The best relationships are when the advisors are solely looking at things through my eyes.”

Secondly, the relationship manager or salesperson needs a much more holistic and strategic set of business intelligence skills. Without those he or she offers little value and will probably default to a product conversation. CEOs “hate dealing with companies who are trying to sell a product”.

In fast-paced businesses, CEOs don’t care about products and propositions and are not much impressed with ‘rapport’. What they crave are thought-provoking conversations, perspective and real challenge. That is what creates the greatest value. As once CEO put it  “good relationships challenge my thinking. You’re never going to get anywhere if you don’t challenge your client”.

And that takes the kind of broad business knowledge and confidence totally lacking in most corporate ‘sales’ people.

So, what’s the answer? Recruit MBA students? Send all of your people back to college? Not really. Quite apart from the cost, most MBA and business programmes don’t address the reality and experience of running a real private business. What is needed is a business education programme designed by entrepreneurs and delivered by entrepreneurs; a programme that teaches corporate managers how to engage with business owners emotionally and how to offer real business challenge and perspective.

Frustrated by their experience of corporate relationship management a group of entrepreneurs set out to design and deliver just such a programme. And the results have been remarkable. In research on 600 global banking relationship managers who had experienced just a two day programme (with on line learning support), 93% had uncovered significant new business from existing customers simply by asking the right questions.

In an age when barriers to entry have never been lower and challenger businesses are rampant, 74% of customers feeling their suppliers don’t understand or care about them is unsustainable. We’d love to show you how some simple human intelligence and business education can turn this around for your business and transform the effectiveness of your sales and client teams in the SME market. Do please get in touch.