By Andrew Ribbins, Group Sales Director and Michael Beer, Regional Director
As a young Finance Company Rep in the 80s, I thought I was the bees-knees, whizzing around in my Ford Fiesta 1.1L, thrashing every one of its 50 horses as I went from one call to another. Planning my route using my collection of A to Z’s. Every couple of hours or so I would have to look out for a red telephone box to call into the office to pick up messages and let my manager know what I was doing.
My day on the road was measured by Radio 1’s schedule. Mike Read for the breakfast show on the way to work. Once out on the road, having escaped the office, it would be The Golden Hour with Simon Bates, with the obligatory stop at 11am to listen to Our Tune. The Bit In The Middle, lunch with Gary Davies, always, without fail smoky bacon crisps, a Mars Bar and a can of Coke. Steve Wright in the afternoon with Sid the Manager and Mr Angry! Finally, Bruno Brookes!
I was pretty well organised. I’d plan my day with the use of my Rolodex (a rotating file device used to store my business contacts) and a bit of research working through the “Yellow Pages”, before heading off to canvass businesses, walking round industrial estates, collecting, and leaving business cards in the hope of generating asset finance leads.
Regardless of the weather, full business suit and always a tie worn. It could be roasting hot, but the jacket never came off.
That was the accepted and generally successful way of building your customer base. There were plenty of refusals, but more than enough positive responses to make it worthwhile.
Once in front of the prospect, handwritten notes were taken, hard copies of accounts requested, and bank details extracted in order for us to request a bank reference.
With a fair wind and the co-operation of the customers bank, a standard deal would be approved in three days. Invoices requested from the supplier could take a few days to arrive. These had to be manually prepared and then sent in the post. Once received, the finance documents were prepared by hand before being driven to the customer for signing. They got to keep the carbon copy, whilst the original was retained by the finance company against which a cheque was raised to settle the suppliers invoice. This of course was also sent via the post. From start to finish a seven day turn around was standard.
Fast forward 40 years and we can complete the whole process in a single day. The evolution of technology has been hockey stick shaped with the developments in the last 12 months being astonishing. Key to its success, is using it to support the human interactions and decision making – speeding up the process but not getting in the way of building long term relationships.
Michael Beer – Evolution vs Revolution?
All of these advances have paved the way for the sales person 2.0.
My first job out on the road was not in sales – it was as a white van man, collecting and delivering carpet and vinyl flooring across the north of England one summer. I didn’t use an A to Z but I had google map print out directions for each job – I had my plan. It was Chris Moyles on the Radio, and I could call in to let my boss know where I was. The diet however had evolved very little from Andy’s crisps and mars bar!
Fast forward to my career in Sales pre-Covid, it still entails days out on the road, co-ordinating my meetings within the areas I am visiting, trying to make the most of my day. I use Bluetooth to play telephone tennis with contacts and clients, speaking to as many people as I can as I drive between meetings, with podcasts on in between. Satnav will direct me the quickest way between meetings, helping me navigate motorway traffic. My car isn’t just my transport and entertainment, it’s my means of communication and efficiency too – my office on wheels.
For me the key to success is still about building meaningful relationships and a big part of my day is talking to people, whether that’s a broker or business owner. Technology has enabled me to quickly look up any business via their website or companies house, letting me dedicate the time I have with them face to face to understanding more about them, their ambitions, and challenges.
Speed of response is crucial and following meetings with people, moving to the next stage and requesting information be provided – via email initially – is how we can move quickly. This has evolved furthermore recently, with plugin access to accounting systems, using Open Banking and ID verification through an app – making the client’s application as seamless and as quick as possible. For our brokers, accessing our portals to get information or applications across to us immediately enables quick progression whilst I’m on the road.
In a Covid world, we’ve adjusted again – remote meetings through Zoom/Teams, remote surveys by intermediaries on our behalf, using IT capability and technology as best we can. We can e-sign documents remotely and we can scan and email documents on our phones to give our operations team what they need to get deals completed.
Post-Covid I believe a combination of both will deliver the best service – utilising technology as it evolves to speed up the processes to payout, but still getting back out on the road to meet my brokers and business owners to build relationships and understand their requirements for funding.
Who knows what’s next and how much further technology could go? Looking back at 40 years in the world of business funding, what we are sure of is that building relationships has remained a constant. We still make human decisions, and still take the time to understand businesses and their owners but with the support of technology advancements we can adapt by providing quicker access to the right funding at the right time.