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7:00pm EDT December 26, 2009

Andrew E. Randall hates the word. It’s short, but still so hard to say.

“Instinctively, if you’re a good salesperson, you don’t want to say no,” says Randall, the president of TriState Capital Bank Ohio — which accounts for eight of TriState Capital Bank’s 90 employees and about $300 million in outstanding loans.

He’s had plenty of opportunities to say it since the Ohio office opened in November 2007. The bank, which is focused strictly on lending and deposits, only serves middle-market business clients.

Even though he has fewer customers than a full-service commercial bank, Randall has learned how to make the most of his niche by driving his focus through the marketplace.

Your focus should be forefront when a potential customer calls. The conversation should start with what you’re looking for before you get around to how you might be able to help the prospective client.

“It’s important to communicate at the beginning, ‘Here’s the types of things we’re looking for and here are things that may not fit,’” Randall says. “You can lead a client to the conclusion by giving them a set of ratios that they need to try to meet if we’re going to do business.”

In addition to reiterating the big picture about what your company does and who it serves, be specific about what you can and can’t do. For Randall, for example, that means outlining typical loan dollar amounts and advance rates he can offer.

With that direct approach, customers will usually see that they don’t meet the requirements or need more flexibility than you offer. Oftentimes, you won’t even have to tell them no because they’ll make the decision themselves.

That not only saves time by weeding out customers you’re not structured to serve, but it also cuts back on the decision-making stress you and the customer would both face while you try to work out a solution.

“A quick no is better than even a quick yes,” Randall says. “If they get a quick no, they can move on.”

A tighter business focus has taught Randall that the relationship doesn’t necessarily have to end there. Instead, turning away customers could be an opportunity for more business later on. Randall bridges that gap by developing partnerships with other complementary niche businesses.

“[It’s] identifying product sets that complement what our clients need that we don’t do, and then laying it out clearly to the provider that we’re not in the business and we’re not going to be in the business,” Randall says.

Identifying those businesses is usually just realizing what potential customers are asking for that you don’t offer. When you start talking with those companies, draw clear lines between what you do and what gaps you want to fill.

“Part of the trust here is that we’re not going to end up in [their] business,” Randall says. “The only way you get over this is by acting the way you said you were going to act. If I say [to the client], ‘Why don’t you get rid of that other bank?’ guess how often I’ll get called after that. It’ll happen just once.”

You’re trying to build your partner’s trust that you won’t infringe on the partner’s services. But, in a way, you’re also preparing the partner to refer other clients to you down the road. The more clearly you can articulate your focus, the better your partner can repeat it when customers ask him or her for help in that area.

“You build great relationships by giving them business and, in turn, having them understand what your business interest is,” Randall says. “And, in turn, they call you back.”

How to reach: TriState Capital Bank Ohio, (216) 575-4001 or www.tristatecapitalbank.com

Accessible service

Andrew E. Randall’s company is different than most in his industry. But those differences don’t matter unless customers can see them.

“You’ve got to distinguish yourself some way that’s recognizable,” says Randall, the president of TriState Capital Bank Ohio. “You’ve got to have some tangible ideas.”

So Randall can’t just promise good service. He has to show it.

It starts with the simple things, like how contact information is listed.

“If you go on our Web site, you’ll see bios. You’ll see cell phone and you’ll see direct-dial numbers on there,” he says. “If you root around in some other banks, it could be a long time before you figure out how to get a phone number.”

Listing all of your numbers doesn’t promise good service. But what customers find on the other end of the phone may.

Randall, for example, always answers his phone when he’s in the office. His assistant’s job is not to answer anyone’s phone unless the person is gone.

After he answers, his next step is scheduling a meeting in person. Even if he later passes the client down to another contact at the company, he sets an important tone by attending the first meeting to greet the client and hear his or her story.

“[Clients] like that,” Randall says. “They met the president, and they have access. They made a connection.”