The Power of Persistence

In college, most fraternities and sororities tend to headline some of their most successful members:  CEOs, athletes, celebrities, great scientists and presidents.  It was during my freshman year that I became acquainted with Calvin Coolidge, the only US President who came out of my fraternity.  Coolidge is not as well-known as many other Presidents.  He was known as a man of few words.  One time, at a party, a lady guest bet the President that she could make him say more than three words.  Coolidge calmly replied, “You lose!” and walked away.

When Coolidge spoke, his words were very pithy.  It is his comment on persistence that has made an impact on my life.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.  The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and will always solve all the problems of the human race.”

The wise commercial or agricultural lender knows that persistence is very important in the sales process.  True, it is good to have some easy deals that can be done quickly, but the real “golden members” often take months and years to cultivate.  These are not transactions, but long-term relationships with people who own and run the businesses.  These people are the same as you and I, in that we all have hopes, dreams, ideas and things that will keep us up at night.  We all aspire to do great things beyond ourselves, for that is how we are made.

After being on both sides of the credit union/banking fence, I think that the relationship building aspect comes easier to the credit union folks.  I may be wrong on this, but I feel the credit union culture is more focused on people and relationships than profits and bottom lines.  Relationships take time to build, sometimes years, but the outcome can be rewarding.

When I was banking in Missouri, one of the clients I was handed had a $500K loan with our bank and was a large developer.  The client had a small group of financial savvy individuals he would work with on large condominium projects.  My first strategy was not to ask for more business, but to learn more about them and their company.  I grew to know all the players and their families over several years of meetings, lunches and site visits.  When I left that bank, we had over $12MM of various projects and term notes that we financed for them.

My longest persistence story came when I was in Colorado.  About a year after I began banking there, I was introduced to a small company that was growing rapidly.  They were in a segment of the construction industry that did not experience the economic slowdown and was the recipient of large sums of Federal, State and bond funding.  I met and began to get to know the CFO and one of the owners. 

I spent time with them and learned about their industry, their company and developed a relationship with them personally.  After a couple of years, we closed a large construction crane lease of over $1MM.  We still had no deposit accounts nor did we have their main lending relationship.  My strategy was to continue to get to know them.  I made office visits, had lunch and breakfast appointments and took them to sporting events.  Around 4 ½ years into the relationship building, the main partner completed a large job in Missouri and Australia and moved back to Colorado.  We opened personal accounts and closed on a mortgage and equity line for his new house.  We also began to discuss moving the main source of financing to my bank. 

Eventually, after 5 years of developing a relationship, we established a relationship with over $15MM of loans and another $20MM of deposits.  It was one of the largest new deals our bank did that year.  This was done with a combination of genuine interest in the people and the company, willingness to invest time with them (even sometimes investing your time for the long haul instead of the quick easy deal that comes in the door), and persistence.  The commercial and agricultural sales cycle is sometimes quite long.  But if you are persistent, it is rewarding.