Enterprise Bank & Trust, which has 28 branch offices in Arizona, Kansas and Missouri, created the Think Tank Survey in 2018 as a way to increase conversations about best business practices and what businesses, organizations and customers can glean from the information and apply it in regards to operations, employee hiring and retention and industry outlook. The Think Tank Survey involves developing a topic and a survey that is sent to Enterprise Bank advisors, corporate clients and partners to learn what issues they are addressing in their strategic plans for 2019; afterward, the responses are compiled in a detailed report and distributed.
Jeff Friesen, Enterprise Bank & Trust president of the Arizona region, said the survey was created from a discussion at a board meeting about pain points and concerns about developing strategic plans that can involve budget, staffing and industry-wide factors.
“It’s an unbelievable and valuable conversation, so the Think Tank was based off the idea of, “How can we take what we’re seeing or experiencing here, and create something that addresses these concerns in a format that more people can benefit from?’
“It aligns with us being more than just a bank, but a true partner,” Friesen continued. “And acknowledging and understanding that we have access to a wide net of knowledge with companies that range from $5 million in revenue to $150 million in revenue, and why shouldn’t we be sharing these things?”
From there, Enterprise Bank began to figure out their strategy and created the Think Tank Survey, in which Enterprise Bank advisors, corporate clients and partners were surveyed to learn of best practices and top concerns when it comes to strategic planning.
All three Enterprise Bank regions are involved in developing the Think Tank, which Friesen said is great because customers in Arizona can see things that may be happening in the Midwest and vice versa. “Sometimes markets tend to follow each other, so you can get ahead of things maybe sooner on certain topics, and not just in one geographic location,” Friesen said. “And it allows us to get a wider breadth of diversity within the industries that we’re talking to—commercial real estate, manufacturing, aerospace, healthcare and veterinary services.”
Friesen said the topic of the Think Tanks originate from what they hear from other board members, customers, and the industry; they also want the topic to be relevant.
“That way, the highest percentage of businesses out there are going to see some value out of what we’re able to provide. For instance, there are accounting changes that are coming down the road, so we’re talking if that could possibly be a think tank,” Friesen said. They also talk to their customers amongst their three regions about the Think Tank to gauge the potential interest in reading the report, and to provide feedback about the topic and insight a detailed report like this can provide.
For example, Friesen said business owners and leaders can learn information through the Think Tank such as the importance of developing a training program to position the company to promote from within and create employee loyalty. He said it also gets people thinking about how other companies are taking care of their employees which can shape their strategy or adjustments moving forward.
He said seeing what other companies are doing through the Think Tank Survey can be more cost-effective than outsourcing to gather research, and people can “learn something that the business owners that we’ve been working with developing this Think Tank can provide a lot of guidance for you. I think sometimes it provides comfort knowing they’re not the only ones facing these problems, so when they have that comfort level I think maybe tackling the issues becomes not so stressful,” Friesen said.
According to their most recent survey of nearly 150 organizations which focused on planning in the midst of political and economic uncertainty, 70 percent are operating with a strategic plan in place. In addition, three key issues emerged that many organizations are addressing in their strategic plans for 2019.
Issue 1: Economy is Robust; Recession Looming?
Per the Think Tank survey:
“With the economy humming, many businesses are experiencing growth. Tax cuts, high consumer confidence and a strong job market have all contributed to an increase in the gross domestic product for the first half of 2018. Many experts predict that the economy will remain strong – at least in the short term. But without question, there are economic and political uncertainties that make strategic planning particularly important for 2019. Trade tensions, midterm elections and the availability of – and competition for – talent are just a few examples of conditions that pose risk to continued economic growth.
Issue 2: Customer Acquisition
The survey also revealed that across all industry segments, obtaining more customers
(55 percent) and operational efficiency (57 percent) are the top two strategic priorities in
2019, followed by talent acquisition, growing current customers and technology
enhancements. With acquiring new customers – and growing existing customers –
ranking high, many companies are looking for ways to boost their competitive
intelligence and harness the power of data and technology to help them grow.
Issue 3: Customer Growth and Retention
63 percent of survey respondents said customer growth is their top priority next year, and 51 percent reported that growing current customers was also a priority.”
In addition, when respondents were asked to rank areas that concerned them the most looking toward 2019, staffing/ talent ranked at the top, with 79 percent of respondents ranking it as one of their top three concerns. Competitive issues such as pricing pressure on labor and suppliers ranked a close second at 68 percent.
It also revealed the most frequently heard strategic planning advice: Keep it simple, make it actionable, keep staff accountable and build in touchpoints to measure progress.
“It gives them insight to an unbelievable amount of knowledge from those industries. And we’re always looking for different topics, so we encourage suggestions,” Friesen said. “So if someone were to read this and reach out for more clarity, we can help point them in the right direction or help pair them with somebody that could provide more background into what they were doing to overcome a certain issue.
“In general, I think the key to it is it gets our customers or typical business owners out there thinking about topics that maybe are not relevant yet today, but will be in the future, and it’s something we’ve seen in other businesses, and it just hasn’t reached your industry or level yet. I think that’s one of the most valuable parts is they’re keeping their finger on the pulse of what’s changing in business.”