We sat down with the CRO of ROK Financial, Patrick Manning, to discuss how companies can best leverage their reviews in their reputation marketing efforts. ROK Finacial maintains close to a 5-star rating across multiple review platforms. We discussed specific ways the company utilizes their reputation to convert new clients into loyal customers.
*Transcript edited for clarity and length.
Justin: Hello, everyone. I'm Justin Ashby, Head of Product Marketing at Best Company. Today, we're talking to Patrick Manning, who's the CRO of ROK Financial. Patrick, how's it going?
Patrick: I'm doing very well. I appreciate you having us on here today, Justin.
Justin: Okay, perfect. We're talking to Patrick today because reputation marketing has quickly become a large aspect of all general marketing that a company should be doing to really get their brand and name recognition out there. And ROK Financial is honestly one of the best examples that we could think of, on the Best Company side, of a company that's absolutely building their reputation, and also sharing their reputation, and all that encompasses what we call reputation marketing. So, we're excited to be talking to Patrick about what they do. But first Patrick, tell us a little bit about ROK Financial and what you guys do.
Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. So, here at ROK Financial, we offer alternative lending options for small business. Typically, the small business owner would look to their local banking relationship to obtain a line of credit or term loans for their business. But unfortunately, traditional banks decline about 70–80% of small businesses that apply for funding. So, this leaves many small businesses in need of funding for their companies.
We offer alternative options through a private sector. What's different about this is these are not lenders that are in your local community. They're more online-based lenders. So, this is where reputation marketing really comes in big time for our business, because business owners are putting their trust in these companies and applying and sharing personal information over the web. So, what we have found is that by partnering with Best Company — and really putting a major focus on our reputation — we've been able to provide a lot of transparency to borrowers and give them an understanding of what they can expect from working with a company like ROK Financial.
That's basically what we're all about — providing a marketplace, and doing comparative shopping, and basically helping business owners find the best offer for their business to secure funding if they're looking to purchase inventory, or maybe do a remodel, hire employees, whatever it may be that's requiring capital in the business.
We have 75 different lenders on our platform. We stretch across about 6 to 10 different financial products that, basically, we can go and find on behalf of a business owner and ensure that we're bringing them back the best offer that's out there for their business.
Justin: Gotcha. So, that's an interesting dynamic that you're kind of the touch point for the customer. You're offering a lot of different products from a lot of different financial institutions but, really the customer experience comes down to ROK Financial and that's kind of why reputation is so important to you. Would you say that's the case?
Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. You know, any time you get into lending, it all really comes down to risk, right? So, naturally if your local community bank or your local national brand has declined your business for financing, then any time you're gonna continue that shopping, it's going to be on a more high risk platform — because somebody else had said no prior.
And when you get into that type of financing, especially online, you can't walk into a local Chase branch or something of that nature. Right away, one of the first issues that arise at the table is, “Hey, do I trust these people? Do I want to share my banking information and my personal information, my social security number, with somebody that I'm not really aware of who they are?” But as we all know, in order to obtain financing, you're going to have to share this information.
So, we wanted to make sure that we positioned ourselves in a way where we gave that inside look. We put a big focus on ensuring those who are entertaining the idea of applying with us that they can come in the door with a little bit of confidence, and know that they're working with a reputable organization that has access to the best in class products, and can ultimately do what they say they're going to do. And that's a big focus for us — being able to back our word and back what we say we're going to do.
Justin: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Building a reputation is a challenge and you've utilized Best Company perfectly, [and] a few other platforms [like] Google reviews. What's been your strategy there? Do you reach out to every single customer? How have you been able to build up that reputation using reviews?
Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's just engagement with the client base, right? Many people, or many other companies think that they can build a reputation through marketing. You know, “Hey, we're the best in class. We have this. We have that.”
But, you're asking a lot from your customer at that point. You're asking them to put trust in you a blind trust really — just based off of what you said in your marketing. Right? So, we wanted to take it a step further, and we felt like it was serving a dual purpose by really getting down to our customers.
Everybody that we come into contact with, not just those that successfully take funds through us, but — even more importantly at times — those that don't take funding through us. “Why didn't you move forward? What was your experience? Maybe it wasn't the right time for you? Or we couldn't nail down where you were looking for at this time.” But that also says a lot about a company, right? How do they treat you in a time where you don't establish that relationship or you don't get to that ultimate goal of getting funded, right?
So, whether it's somebody who got funded through us, or somebody who just applied with us, we get reviews from everybody. But the biggest part of those reviews [is] to be able to share with the next borrower, and say, “Hey, before you engage with us, take a look at what some people said from the past. Don't take our word for it. Don't apply with me because my marketing said that we can get you the best offer. Read 10, 20, 30 reviews. There's thousands of them about us online. We maintain a five-star rating. Go read some of the reviews and see what others said about us, and what their experience was like, before coming to work with us.”
We want those working with us choosing us because they believe that we're going to do right by them. And because they believe that we really are best in class. We felt the best way to get that message across was to hear from our customers directly.
Then the second side of it, why we put such a big focus on it is because it's really allowed us to fine tune our process. We understand that we're obviously not the best thing since sliced bread. We're normal people like everybody else. We have a ton of room for improvement, it's why we show up here every day.
We felt like, if we're gonna work on things, let's work on the things that our customers want us to work on. So, we've taken a ton of feedback through these reviews. We've implemented changes in our process to make it faster, simpler, and easier to apply with us. It's not only been rewarding to us and [allowed] us to become a better team from engaging with our clients, but it's also allowed others to have a little bit of confidence before they apply with us, sharing their information, and just knowing that they're in good hands and we're gonna get them taken care of. I think that's important.
Justin: Yeah, mentioning that feedback loop is huge, right? So, I'm glad you did. You did mention saying [to potential customers], “Hey, don't take our word for it.” Could you talk a little bit, Patrick, about what types of roles and people [in ROK Financial] are saying those things like, “Don't take our word for it. Go check us out on BestCompany.com.” What individuals are referencing your reputation in that way?
Patrick: Yeah. I mean, it's a wide variety of our team here. It could be those in our marketing department that are on our front lines, and are answering our phones, and are engaging with those that are enquiring with us. People who are saying, “Hey, I'm getting ready to apply.” And [our people] are very much speaking on it. “Happy to have you and love to work with you. But before we get started, did you check out our reviews? Do you understand the type of organization you're working [with]? Do you know what else is out there?”
Justin: That's great.
Patrick: One of the first things we train our staff to do when somebody applies with us is to ask them, “Have you applied anywhere else?” We very much encourage them to go see what else is out there. We have that much confidence in our reputation and what we bring to the table, because we do our own competitive analysis. I know what's out there in the market and I know what people are paying attention to. Unfortunately, a lot of the times, it's the wrong things. They're not paying attention to what their customers are saying. They're not paying attention to the experience that they're providing to their borrower base. That's where we’re completely different.
We lead from the front. We want to really know what our customers are saying, what that feedback is and how we can get better. So, whether it's our team on the front lines, answering the phones, telling you, “Hey, before you even move forward with us, go look at our reviews, go look at others. Just so you know what's out there.” Because again, we don't sell our products, we educate you on what we have access to. We inform you on what's out there, we help you identify the best offer for your business. But then from there, you're very much in the driver's seat.
If you agree with that or not — if you think, “Okay, they did a good job. This is a great offer,” then great! Let's work together. We're happy to do that. But, if you feel otherwise, then by all means — we always say you're steering the ship here. You know, we're happy that you're trusting us. We're going to do our job and find you the best offer. But, at that point it's up to you to confidently feel like, “Hey, this is best for us.”
We definitely push back a little bit and say, “Hey, go see what else is out there,” [even] if it's a member of our partnership division. Not everyone that we work with is directly a business owner. One of the biggest divisions of our company is our partnership division and that's other business bankers, it's people in SBA lending, accountants, CPAs, business consultants that are referring their customer base to us. So, when we're establishing those partnerships, we’re telling them the same thing, “Hey, don't take our word for it, go look at our reviews. You're getting ready to refer your book of clients to us. You should know what we're about, and you should know what else is out there.”
There is nothing more important than the reviews from our clients. Because it literally starts the engine on signing up new partners, working with new business owners, how we learn and critique and improve our internal processes. Everything starts and ends at the review. That's the biggest push in our company, hearing from our customer base and sharing that feedback on your platform and other platforms.
These are organic reviews and real-time feedback, and there's no controlling it. If somebody wants to give negative feedback, this is the internet. It's 2021. There's no preventing that if somebody wants to say something negative about you. Trust me. They're gonna get it online. So, we're very, very proud of the fact (if you can't tell) that we have thousands of reviews online, and we maintain a five-star rating in a day and age where it's so easy to put somebody down. We still maintain a five-star rating. We hold that very close to [our] chest.
Justin: That's perfect. Now, Patrick, I'm going to share with you some of the stuff that we've noticed you're sharing on LinkedIn. We know your customers have noticed. I think it’d be really great just to hear some comments on a post like this. Because a lot of our customers have figured out unique ways to utilize their reputation — to market their reputation, right? We're talking about reputation marketing.
Now, this one — if you can see it — “Thanks for your reviews!” You reached 100 [reviews]. You utilized one of Best Company's badges and you put it [in this post]. Talk to us a little bit about the meaning of reaching this threshold of getting 100 positive reviews on Best Company.
Patrick: Absolutely. Number one, [we] just want[ed] to promote the fact that this is through Best Company, which is a very reputable platform. This is a platform that is not something where you could pay for a reputation. A lot of the time Best Company is contacting our clients for us, going directly to the source and getting the feedback. We definitely wanted to promote the fact, number one, that this just isn't just any old 100 reviews, but it's 100 reviews on a platform that takes this feedback from clients very seriously across many different verticals. You guys aren't just working with us, you're working with businesses in all sorts of industries.
Then, this is pointing out [that] 100 reviews is an important milestone. Like I mentioned, all together across all platforms we have over a few thousand, but on this platform specifically, this was a great milestone to reach. It's something that we celebrated. This isn't just a LinkedIn post to generate interest. This is something that me and my team, we stop and we appreciate one another for achieving this milestone. We may just huddle around and [have] just a quick round of applause and a quick thank you. We may even have a glass of champagne to this on a friday afternoon, and really congratulate everybody here in the company because it's a team effort. We don't take this lightly.
We're big believers in celebrating all successes in the business because, a lot of the times when it comes to business, you spend more time at the company than you do with your own family. And, you know, not all moments are our highs, right? There's lows as well. So it's important to stop and smell the roses, and appreciate all the different milestones that we accomplished as a team. A hundred reviews where our customers tell us, “Hey, you're doing a good job,” that means a lot to us. And it's a credit right back to the team here. They deserve to be acknowledged. That's kind of what's behind this post here.
Justin: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I've noticed you guys are even creating videos—we aren't able to show right here. But it's great that you are taking some branding, you're putting reviews, you're putting the Best Company badges as well on things. I was gonna reference one here. Patrick, this one's actually from James Webster, who's your CEO. It wasn't even your ROK Financial business post.
A lot of companies think all the reputation marketing stays within the brand, when actually you have a number of brand advocates that are your employees. So, I wanted to share this and get your thoughts, Patrick, on the CEO actually sharing you guys had earned the “Best of the Best” badge on Best Company. You shared some feedback from a business owner, Katie. Just talk to me a little bit about how your employees can really be brand advocates and [participate in] reputation marketing as well.
Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. Number one, leadership [and] topdown engagement is very high here. James, our CEO, takes the reviews more seriously than anybody. He's constantly promoting the engagement with our client base, hearing from our client base. James has even taken it a step further and has a series that he does, where he goes out and visits business owners that work with us. It's all about them, it's nothing to do with us. It's not, “Hey, how is your process with us?” It's an opportunity for him to go and meet these business owners and spotlight their businesses, their story, and how they made the run at their success.
Whether it's the CEO or employee number 100, it doesn't matter. Everyone is locked in and feels the same way about the reviews and the importance of the reviews. So, that's definitely huge for us, as far as how employees can be brand advocates as well. We had made a decision about 15 months ago that it was going to take an army to accomplish the goals that we wanted to accomplish. It's not about one person here. This isn't about one individual promoting themselves and making it more about them. This is a team atmosphere, a team approach every step of the way. And that even goes to the [pride] behind the brand, getting the word out there, sharing your feedback, and sharing our experience.
We want everybody in the company taking a hand in that and getting out there and posting videos, because the truth is, when you work with our company, you're not just working with one person. We don't want a spokesperson. We don't want, “If you work with this company, this guy is great. I see him in all of their marketing.” Because the truth of the matter is, when it's one person always in the marketing, you're not always gonna speak to that one person. That one person is not a representation of the entire organization.
So when we talk about full-on transparency, it starts at the front line. We want you to get to know everybody right out of the gate. So why not start with the marketing? Let's promote everybody here in the company. We're not hiding anybody. Everyone here is best in class, has been in this business for a long time, is trained, and is here to provide real information, real valuable education on business finance. We want you to get to know the team, because on any given day, you don't know who you're gonna reach on the phone. So, we want you to see, first and foremost, this is us. It's not just one person telling you everything is sunshine and rainbows. We want you to hear from every individual on the team and know that we're all like minded. We all share the same goals and the same mission, and we're pulling the rope in the same direction.
Justin: Yeah, Patrick, I'm glad you showed that. We've had a number of companies mention that as well. Kind of those big announcements of, “Hey, we just hit 100 reviews” that goes out to their sales teams. We have companies that have huge sales forces out in the field doing door-to-door things like that. And we find out that they're sharing emails from their executives and from their leadership team with customers saying, “Hey, we, we just found out we reached this many reviews on Best Company, or whatever platform, where we're above this average rating.”
It's great to get the whole company involved. And obviously where one person is just managing the reputation for a company, it gets really hard. But when everyone kind of comes together and is really bought into that process, I think you do build the reputation up. And then you can share that reputation and actually use it as a part of your marketing customer acquisition, just building that trust. I think it's great.
Patrick, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for talking to us. I know a number of the [our] viewers are going to be companies looking to leverage themselves more on Best Company. I think you've helped explain that a little bit and just how you guys are doing so well with that. So, we appreciate your time and thank you for joining us.
Patrick: Thank you, appreciate it.