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Are You a Business Developer or a Relationship Manager?

Business Developer or Relationship Manager

Are you a business developer or a relationship manager? That is a question every business banker should ask him or herself. Why? Because there is confusion about what these two roles do within a community bank or credit union. We’ve seen various titles for this job such as commercial lenders, commercial bankers, business bankers, business banking officers, and others. However, the actual role performed by individuals in those roles is different based on the person’s sales skills, experience, and personality.

There may be many business bankers or commercial lenders, but few are “rain makers” – those who are out there selling every day and bringing in the net-new business. I propose there are two different roles: The sales roles and the relationship manager role. And there may be a team arrangement that works better than the one your institution currently has in place.

Let me explain. Community financial institutions share the following challenges regarding the sales role in their organizations (especially in rural areas):

The challenges community banks and credit unions encounter:

  • Many commercial lenders/bankers, business bankers, business development officers (whatever their titles), are not producing net-new deals every month. They are the highest paid staff in the organization and are paid to bring new business into the bank. Yet they are not going out to sell. Instead, they are “order takers” and prefer to stay in the branch waiting for businesses to come out of nowhere. These same employees are excellent lenders and relationship managers.
  • Because it is very difficult to attract and retain talent in rural areas and small towns, community banks and credit unions feel stuck with the business bankers they have. It’s a catch 22! If they let go of the current talent, it may take several months to rehire that position. If they keep the current bankers, the lack of net-new sales remains.
  • There is no sales culture. In fact, many bankers are either terrified or at least against the four-letter-word: “sell.” The non-sales culture must change. But not to the extent of certain large institutions where some abused the system and took advantage of customers. There is a balanced approach for community banks and credit unions that is appropriate and well received by customers.
  • But the biggest challenge we’re seeing is with family-owned banks. The ownership does not want to or does not know how to keep the bankers accountable. There have never been consequences for not bringing new business to the bank.

Below are three ways to address this important issue at your institution:

Establish Accountability

Measure the sales team by using incentive compensation plans with goals and performance reviews to assess results. In fact, one of the questions that leadership should ask bankers in these positions is: Are you a business developer or a relationship manager? Do you believe you are in the right role based on your sales skills, experience, and personality? Below is a grouping example of incentive bonus compensation plans for the various areas of the institution:

  1. Senior and executive leadership
  2. Business sales staff (business bankers, commercial lenders, commercial bankers, business development officers are all the same role: sales)
  3. Relationship Managers. Maybe it’s time to think of a separate plan for relationship managers who don’t sell but take care of the customers well. They can have their own goals or be part of the team approach incentive compensation.
  4. Retail sales staff
  5. Support staff

Incentive Compensation Bonus Plans need to have an organization-wide goal, then branch goals, team goals (for a sales team approach) and lastly, individual goals. It is also wise to include a subjective piece that includes the employee’s behavior and team relations.

Use a Sales Team Approach

We’ve seen the team approach work very well for some institutions. Each team has one rain maker who is always out on calls and bringing in net-new business. They don’t underwrite their own loans, and some don’t keep a portfolio. Their role is purely sales. The in-house relationship manager becomes the ongoing “maintainer” of  relationships with the ability to cross-sell other services. This team has one credit analyst to work with both the rain maker and the relationship manager. Separately, loan operations and loan documentation support this team in the entire lending process.

Establish a Balanced Sales Culture

Selling is not bad. In fact, without sales, companies would not exist. Each institution must find the right approach to their sales culture. Employees at all levels should be trained to identify customers’ needs and match them with a banking product. Or at the minimum, refer the customer to the right person in the institution. When you approach sales as simply meeting your customers’ banking and financial needs, there is no shame. It is fulfilling when you see the results of how you helped each business flourish because of your banking services.


There is no perfect answer for each community bank or credit union to address the issue of bankers not selling. But there should always be accountability in place to ensure all employees perform their role. If you are in the role of business banker or commercial lender, ask yourself this question: Are you a business developer or a relationship manager? It is okay to be one or the other based on what you enjoy most and do best. But ensure you are in the right role as that will bring success to both you and your institution.

Looking for ideas to expand your Treasury Management reach to new business customers? Look into the TMClarity Framework, our comprehensive and transformative training and Treasury Management business management system that leads to greater sales success, higher margins, and increased customer retention in a competitive marketplace.

Books by Marcia Malzahn