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Training the Next Generation: ABL New Business Development

January 27, 2014, 07:00 AM

In an ever-changing economic landscape, asset-based lenders have long demonstrated the ability to flexibly adapt to new industries and business lines, the impacts of business cycles, and the evolution of the banking industry itself. Key to success in navigating change – while continuing to provide relevant and practical financing in a growing financial segment – is the development of an experienced sales team.

Interestingly, the average age of many of the most talented business development teams in ABL businesses across the country and at every level of market engagement continues to increase. Managers are rightfully concerned about developing the next generation of business development officers. Especially for team members who are new to ABL, sales training requires investing a number of years learning all aspects of the business in addition to sales training. Successful strategies are supported by a long-view of this process – more “real world” experience will drive greater productivity and consistency in winning business.

The Right Stuff

Recruitment is a critical component of developing new sales talent. In an earlier generation, the larger banks maintained credit training programs, attracting the best and the brightest college graduates who committed several years to working in many distinct businesses throughout the bank. This program allowed trainees to experience a variety of business lines, ultimately gravitating to the areas they felt suited their skill-set and career aspirations. By the time they completed the program, the trainees were well-rounded and ready to begin their careers.

Today, many banks are re-tooling credit trainee programs, albeit on a smaller scale. If available, these programs provide a well-developed talent pool from which to choose future business development officers.

Managers should always look to entry- and mid-level areas within their business – credit analysts or the field exam unit – to source new sales talent. As these team members gain in experience and confidence in their competencies, look for certain personal qualities: high energy, persistence, a sense of urgency, an outgoing personality, inquisitiveness, and a desire to connect with new people and situations.

Know Your Product

It is impossible to successfully sell a product with confidence without understanding it. The best ABL sales people started their careers as field examiners, credit analysts, or junior account officers. Even if managers identify sales potential in newer team members, they should plan on starting them in positions that deliver the fundamentals of the business. Years of on-the-job credit training provide invaluable experience. The early training years should include exposure to every facet of the business cycle, from growth companies to workouts. Technical skills are critical – financial and collateral analysis, as well as general legal concepts that include Article 9 and bankruptcy.

Throughout this apprenticeship, future sales people require client-facing opportunities. Whether with clients or referral sources, sales trainees must understand the value of relationship building for the long-term. Managers should stress the importance of integrity in the relationship, particularly of communicating both positive and negative news openly and with full disclosure. They should serve as mentors to their trainees as they provide examples of maintaining relationships, as well as introductions to key industry sources.

Marketing: Cultivating Brand Value

Developing marketing skills requires an understanding of the product offered, the brand represented, and discipline and balance in reaching out to the various deal flow platforms best suited to the particular ABL business. Help new sales talent understand where, in the larger context of the ABL industry, the business directs its efforts – the middle market, mid-corporate or large cap transactions. Communicating brand identification is also important. Working for a money center bank carries a different message than a regional bank or an independent commercial finance company.

For example, regional banks developing middle-market ABL businesses generally invest time and effort into direct and external deal flow channels. Direct calling is the most difficult, but best long-term source of deals available to the business. New sales people should understand the importance of a robust direct call program early in their training. This discipline results in consistent knowledge of deals in the market, and when they might want to refinance. External sources – centers of influence (“COI’s”), referral sources, intermediaries and private equity – are also important in covering the market. Encourage the sales team to attend networking events and to make follow-up calls with potential deal flow sources. Set expectations for the number of calls and call quality monthly. There is a direct correlation between high call volume/quality and robust deal flow. Call with your sales trainees.

In contrast, sales teams in the largest banks most often concentrate on internal businesses for the most effective deal flow. Relationships of trust and brand awareness have already been established with the client, increasing the chances of winning the opportunity. The sale person must focus on delivering a positive experience for both the client and his/her colleague to generate continuing referrals.

Sales: Becoming a Closer

Coaching and hands-on experience help develop the skills necessary to become a closer. There is an objective component to winning a deal – know the competition and use experience gained in competing in other transactions to refine the terms of the deal. Leverage the strengths of your brand against the competition in the sales process in a positive way. Confirm basic negotiation skills – that the result of the negotiation process is a win-win situation for both the lender and the borrower.

The more subjective skills are typically the most difficult to teach – confidence throughout the sales process, positive brand communication and believability. Clearly, delivering the deal you propose supports believability. Although circumstances often do change as the deal evolves, skills such as maintaining open communication and managing the borrower’s expectations are critical. These preserve a level of respect that could be the difference between winning and losing a deal.

Learning to listen while maintaining sales momentum is a key skill. Listening allows a sales person to understand the full request and provide a complete solution. Offering a consultative approach, bringing a broader product set to the opportunity, encourages a deeper relationship that includes more than just the loan transaction.

Cultivating the next generation of ABL sales stars is clearly a long-term project. Real world experience, coaching, and setting expectations throughout the development plan are critical approaches to successfully perpetuating strong brand representation and new business growth. Be prepared to invest time, mentoring and encouragement in developing sales talent. The return over time can be significant.

Kathleen Z. Lepak
Asset Based Lending Business Director, SVP Market Manager | People’s United Business Capital
Kate Lepak has been an asset-based lending professional for her entire 30+ year career, holding sales management and executive positions with Wells Fargo Business Credit, GE Capital and Citigroup. She has completed restructures, turnarounds and startups for the ABL units of these Fortune 500 companies. Kate has also assisted in a capital raise and re-launch of an independent commercial finance company in the Northeast.

Kate currently serves as the ABL Business Director for People’s United Business Capital, managing portfolio, underwriting, and business strategy.

Kate has held Board positions with the Turnaround Management Association and the Commercial Finance Association. Currently, she is a member of the Executive Committee at the CFA. Additionally, she has contributed numerous articles to trade association publications, and has appeared on industry-related panels and speaking engagements. Kate holds a BA degree from the University of Connecticut, and an MA degree from Trinity College in Hartford, CT.
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