We don’t have to tell you that commercial lending is profitable. You’re probably doing all you can to boost your small business loan revenue, including considering using an automated loan origination platform like Biz2X to streamline your lending process and offer small business customers a more satisfying digital banking user experience. But if you’re focused entirely on small business lending to improve your profitability, you’re missing a part of the picture.

Here’s one of the most common pieces of advice business banking customers receive when they begin shopping for a commercial loan: start with a bank that knows you. For many business customers—particularly those who’ve never applied for a small business loan—that means the bank that provides basic services like business checking accounts, a business credit card, or a debit card. So if you want to increase the number of new accounts you open, cross-selling is an important tactic. Start downstream—you’ll still make money on the deposit accounts you open—and swim your way up. Your new customer acquisition strategy should take into account that, above all, business banking is about relationships.

Building Small Business Relationships Through Digital Transformation

Small business owners are busy people who find themselves pulled in a dozen directions each day.  They want respect and need support from the get-go. And that means being respectful of their time. Their business will go to the bank or credit union that offers them a simple account opening experience. Often, they don’t have time to visit a branch office. For many small business owners, offering digital account opening is the price of entry into their financial world. Financial institutions that provide a digital onboarding experience, KYC protocols, online notifications, and real-time decision-making are more likely to win new business.

How Much Do You Stand to Gain Through Automation?

Compared to other online business titans like Amazon, financial institutions fare poorly when it comes to conversion. Some 85% of customers abandon their purchases of bank services mid-stream. They deem the application process for deposit accounts too cumbersome. Many banks aren’t even aware of how many opportunities they’re losing. Automation of the account opening process can provide banks with critical insights to hone the user experience they offer potential customers. Where in the process do customers abandon their efforts to open new accounts? Is identity verification a stumbling block? Do new customers struggle with uploading documents? The best digital banking platforms capture the data financial institutions need to fine-tune their user experience, eliminate barriers to new account opening, and automate their way to greater profitability.

Remember, competition for business customers is fierce. You’re even competing with Google when it comes to business checking accounts, not to mention the slew of start-up fintech companies that are launching with exceptional speed. The good news is that faith in traditional banks and credit unions remains high. A study by Citigroup found that 87% of customers trust traditional banks more than non-bank financial institutions. Suppose you can offer a digital banking solution with all its perks. In that case, you’re in an excellent position to stave off the hordes of non-bank companies competing for your business customers.

What Do Small Business Owners Want from a Bank?

A 2019 survey conducted by BAI, a non-profit organization dedicated to delivering actionable insights to financial institutions, offers a revealing profile of small business owners’ feelings about banking. The study queried 600 business owners with sales revenue less than $20 million and uncovered several core needs that small business owners feel are not being met by financial institutions today.

BAI found that business customers want to see banks offer an optimized omnichannel experience. They want to enjoy a seamless banking experience across every touchpoint. For banking service marketers, that spells opportunity—the chance to employ omnichannel marketing tactics, of course. For sales professionals, that represents a challenge: how to make every branch visit, phone call, and website log-in consistent for their customers and consistently high quality.

Not surprisingly, business customers look for the lowest possible fees and interest rates. But they’re also seeking a banking partner that understands their needs and provides customizable solutions to suit them. That takes us back to relationships. Does your onboarding experience include making business customers feel they’re being seen and heard for their uniqueness? Digital platforms that enable financial institutions to probe for customers’ hot buttons and pain points can reassure customers that they’re not just a bank balance or a credit score to your organization. Providing experts who can evaluate customers’ needs ranked highly on the business banking customer wish list.

Cross-Sell Your Way to Profitability

Here’s a data point that may surprise you. BAI’s study found that a remarkable 79% of business owners turned to the same financial institution for business banking services as they did for their personal needs. Consider that the first place you might look to parlay your existing commercial business into more commercial business might not be with your business customers.

After a more-than-challenging year in 2020, new business starts have roared back: statistics compiled by Yelp indicate that nearly 150,000 businesses opened their doors in the first three months of 2021. With its record-high unemployment rates, the pandemic transformed many traditionally employed workers into gig workers, who were in turn transformed into entrepreneurs by their experience. That trend is expected to continue. Banks seeking to expand their commercial business base would do well to mine their banking customer lists for new ways to profit and position themselves as a place where would-be small business owners can turn to for support as they consider their economic options.

Bundling Business Banking Services Attracts New Customers

Small business owners want simplicity. They’d somewhat not be troubled by working with multiple financial institutions when one partner would do just as well. Banks that offer several business banking services at the time of account opening encourage customers to consider how their needs may change over time and whether they’ll require other services—including business funding—in the future. Digital banking platforms make it easy for financial institutions to offer commercial credit lines during the business checking account opening process.  In addition, the most robust platforms are compatible with powerful CRM systems that facilitate a wide range of communications across multiple digital touchpoints. They can be customized with automatic triggers for unique, well-timed offers. The data captured by these platforms also allow you to tailor your marketing messages by demographic and other variables.

Leveraging Other Technologies to Boost Business Customer Acquisition

We live in an instant world. Anything that can make conducting business faster for your customers—and you—will be a boon to customer acquisition. Fine-tune your mobile app to make banking on the go smooth and seamless. It’s not just millennials who rely on mobile banking—though, of course, you should have a distinct strategy for attracting that demographic. Make automatic ACH transfers a feature of your business checking accounts to help your business customers make just-in-time payments and manage cash flow.

Finally, be sure you’re leveraging the most critical marketing tools at your disposal. Focus on increasing your visibility in search. Content marketing is an essential part of search engine optimization. What’s more, providing relevant content doesn’t just help customers find you, it keeps them coming back to your site and positions your financial institution as an expert in the field. An expert that understands and cares about the needs of small business customers. And that’s just what business customers are looking for in a business banking relationship.

By Susan Doktor