As the old saying goes, “It’s all about being local”—whether in politics or community banking. I was reminded of this when my neighbor John ran for office in our little suburban Austin town of Dripping Springs, Texas.
Our local justice of the peace retired and in Texas that’s the lowest level local judge. This set off a scramble with a large field of candidates. And I admit when John told me he’d run, I thought it was a lost cause.
Not that he wasn’t qualified. But he’d never run for office and faced more politically active, well-known opponents. He’d need to survive a party primary, a runoff and then the general election.
Here’s the thing. He won. Handily. It wasn’t even close.
And when I thought about how he did it, I was struck by an analogy to what community banks must do.
Dripping Springs sits in a growing part of Austin and has become a mecca for banks looking to expand. Wells Fargo is long established. Chase just opened its second office. Charles Schwab arrived a few years ago. It seems every community bank and credit union has figured out this is a good place to be.
But realistically there isn’t room for everyone to capture their “fair share.” And larger institutions have a built-in advantage thanks to name awareness, marketing and product array.
Nor is our situation unique. Most community banks face this when they have a relatively small share of distribution and marketing voice.
What should they do? Take these lessons from John.
Listen first, talk later.
John kicked things off by going door to door in our neighborhood. When he told my wife and me about his bid, he spent more than an hour asking us about our experience in the community. He listened. He described his background and aspirations, but handled it as much more of a friendly chat to refine and test his talking points with a friendly audience.
To his surprise, he learned most people didn’t have a clue what a justice of the peace really did. Folks knew they could perform marriages. They didn’t know this was the judge your teenage children could face in traffic court.
In many ways your bank—or local branch—may encounter this. Everyone has impressions, good or bad, of what your largest competitors stand for. But what do they know about you? And can you describe your capabilities in a way that’s relevant to the needs of their family or business?
BAI Banking Outlook findings show that customers regard, as one of their top five priorities, “transforming branches for better in-person experience with experts to help achieve financial goals.”
Make it relevant.
While other candidates shared their positions on national issues, John focused on his volunteering at local schools and how it helped kids stay out of trouble so they’d never end up in his court. He wasn’t running for U.S. senator, after all.
In the same way, your prospective customers want to know how you can meet their personal needs. In the end, that matters more than Chase’s edge in capabilities. If you can’t articulate relevancy, your clients will fail to grasp how you stand apart from your competitors. They may conclude: Why not go with whoever is bigger or has lower fees?
Create a referral network.
Bankers commonly network through the chamber of commerce, or call on CPAs, attorneys or other professionals for referrals. While certainly worthwhile, these efforts lack personal connection: They communicate, “You have customers and I hope you’ll refer some to me.”
You can bolster your networking by leveraging what you and your prospects have in common. A retired Navy man, John discovered many of the people he met had military connections. He turned this into something personal, and yard signs soon popped up: “Military Veterans for John.”
Maybe your connection is the school or church you’ve attend or sports team you support. Use LinkedIn, Facebook searches, personal knowledge or observe office photos and displays. Google News alerts will notify you of relevant content to share with your network. Provide something that isn’t sales related and they’ll want to maintain contact. Then you can later ask, “Whom else do you know that I should network with?”
Burn shoe leather.
One of my early bosses gave an annual Shoe Leather Award—a new pair of footwear—to whoever produced the most contacts and new business.
Fewer people walk into branches now, which means we must manage time wisely to get out of the office and call on people. John was not as well-known as other candidates, just as you and your bank may not boast the profile of your larger competitors. But smaller organizations can hustle—and in fact be quicker and more agile.
John simply contacted more people. You may lack the marketing budget or media coverage to create the awareness you’d like. But often organizations with greater capabilities take these advantages for granted. Don’t sweat what you don’t have. Use the tools you can to outmaneuver the competition.
Create a team.
John used friends who excelled, if you will, with Excel spreadsheets and pulling voter data, or had time to post signs in public areas.
You already have a team in your branch—use them, not only for their skills but also to create bandwidth that improves overall capabilities. Maybe a young teller can search the internet. You know they have time on their hands Wednesday afternoons (always a slow period). They don’t have your product knowledge but can still help.
Know the data.
Candidates can gather public data on all registered voters, party affiliations and voting history. They can then strategize to reach loyalists, improve turnout or register potential voters.
You have similar tools available. To reach veterinarians, for example, you can obtain or build lists of all those in your trade area and approximate size, number of employees, own vs. rent, etc.
Yes, it would be nice if marketing supplied a list—or if you had better, more integrated CRM tools. Don’t let that hold you back. Everything you need to succeed—and win—is in your grasp. Just ask John Burns, newly elected Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, Hayes County, Texas.
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David Kerstein is president of Austin, Tex.-based Peak Performance Consulting Group, which specializes in community and retail banking strategies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.