Many aspects of life are beginning the return to normal. In a number of ways, we can see light at the end of the tunnel. We look forward to the days when we can do things the ways that we had before, prior to COVID-19. But we are also asking: Should everything go back to the way that it was?
What if things we did before the shut-down were broken or, at the very least, long in the tooth? What changes should survive from our virus-mandated shutdown? The Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT) has been asking this question over the past year, which has led the organization to ponder some fundamental weaknesses in the ways that bankers and vendors connect.
In May, IBAT will continue a program borne from the necessity of COVID, but which bears the promise of a new, better “normal.” Bankers Digest sat down with IBAT President and CEO Christopher Williston to discuss the association’s upcoming VendorConnect program, May 18, 20, 25 and 26. We wanted his insights regarding the weaknesses in banker/vendor connections and why he believes that IBAT’s VendorConnect is the solution that bankers and vendors never knew they always needed.
BANKERS DIGEST: Christopher, with the return to live events on the horizon, why continue to deliver a “virtual” program to connect bankers and vendors?
WILLISTON: Fantastic question—and let me be the first to concede that I am with everyone else in being officially “over” virtual meetings. The past year has been difficult for all of us and there is nothing I look forward to more than being back in person. One of the reasons I believe that virtual events were so tiresome is that they took a “real world” experience and tried to recreate it in a virtual environment. They were cheap imitations of things that we like. Or, in the case of exhibit halls being replaced with virtual exhibits, they were cheap imitations of something we didn’t really like that much to begin with. Honestly, who wanted to click through a virtual exhibit hall and click on a virtual booth to “chat” with a sales representative? Not me! Virtual gave us a chance to create something new, and that is what we did with VendorConnect.
BANKERS DIGEST: What is new about VendorConnect? What makes it different and not just a “cheap imitation” of an exhibit hall?
WILLISTON: VendorConnect is something that bankers and vendors have not experienced before. It is a technology-enabled connection tool that allows bankers to meet with vendors for a set period of time to learn about the products and services in the space for which the banker is currently looking for a solution.
When vendors sign up for VendorConnect, they must specify which products and services they offer. When bankers sign up, they specify which products and services they are in the market for. Then the platform helps match bankers and vendors that should reasonably be paired for a meeting. There is no browsing or stumbling into a virtual booth hoping to find something that you want to learn about. VendorConnect provides the means by which bankers can have focused interactions with relevant vendors.
BANKERS DIGEST: Tell us a little bit more about how it works?
WILLISTON: As I mentioned before, it’s all about how bankers fill out their profiles. You specify which types of vendors you want to meet with. Then, you tell our system when you will be available to take meetings during the VendorConnect program. We have four full days of VendorConnect scheduled for April. Bankers can pick and choose which hours during those four days they would be willing to take appointments. Then, relevant vendors request meetings with bankers. Bankers can request meetings with certain vendors as well. Once all the invitations are issued and accepted/rejected, the platform automatically schedules the banker and vendor for a face-to-face virtual meeting at a time when they’re both available. There is no back-and-forth on scheduling—the VendorConnect platform takes care of it all.
BANKERS DIGEST: What are the benefits of using the VendorConnect platform to have meetings?
WILLISTON: VendorConnect is, in my view, all about giving the banker the power to take back control of the purchasing process with vendors. There are two things that bankers hate. They hate cold calls from vendors, and they hate having to sit through a full demo from a vendor to find out if a product might be a good fit for their bank. With VendorConnect, you know you are meeting with vendors that fit the product category you’re buying in. And you are only committing to a 20-minute meeting with the vendor. You have enough time to get high-level information on a vendor to find out if you want to learn more.
Finally, I think that vendors have an advantage as well. When they participate in a trade show, they’re often counting on the one or two people who attend from a bank to take a business card back to the relevant “buyer” at the bank. That is a tremendous gamble that, I imagine, doesn’t pay off very often. With VendorConnect, the vendor has the ability to meet with the appropriate buyer from the bank.
BANKERS DIGEST: When is VendorConnect, who can participate and what does it cost?
WILLISTON: IBAT is hosting its first of two VendorConnect events May 18, 20, 25 and 26. These four dates provide bankers with maximum flexibility to set their availability for meeting times on any or all of the days of VendorConnect. VendorConnect is open to bankers in any state. There is no charge for bankers to attend. Bankers can register at ibat.org/vendorconnect.
IBAT has shared this concept with community banking organizations across the country. In addition to attending IBAT’s program, I highly suggest you reach out to your community banking association and see if they plan to host a VendorConnect for your state.