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Small Business Transitions
What is the journey of selling a small business and is it an opportunity for banks to gain new wealth management clients?


A NE regional bank

Project outputs:  

Qualitative research insights
Ideation workshop
Concepts with storyboards


Naishi Jain, Researcher

My roles:  

Service Designer


Presentation Designer

A regional bank wanted to uncover opportunities with small business owners during and after the sale of their business. They hired our team to do a qualitative research study with 20 small business owners, followed by an internal ideation session to develop concepts based on the findings. The result was two storyboarded concepts that the bank then took into a prototyping and evaluation phase.

Talking to Small Business Owners​

In 1:1 interviews hosted on Zoom, we spoke to 20 small business owners across the U.S. who had recently sold a business. We worked with a recruiting firm to find participants and focused on people who had sold a business in the last year from a mix of business revenue brackets.


Our research methodology focused on two key questions:

  1. What was the process and experience of selling a business, including the subsequent management of any funds gained from the sale?

  2. What service opportunities existed with this audience that the bank could leverage to generate new value streams?

We wanted to hear detailed accounts of each person's unique experience, with businesses ranging from a car wash to a luxury yacht dealership. We also wanted a chance to generate ideas with participants — what kinds of support or services did they wish they had at the time? 

After the interviews, we analyzed complete transcripts of every interview through a rigorous coding process that allowed us to uncover patterns and insights. I led the effort to turn these insights into a cohesive story that we shared with the client in our ideation workshop as a foundation for service concepts.

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What We Learned​

We learned that small business owners often got stuck in a loop of indecision before deciding on the sale. There were not only financial and business decisions to consider, but also very personal reflections on the shift in identity that would come with selling the businesses they built. Another pain point was the handoff of the business to the new owner. Often this process was confusing at best, or actually contentious at worst. 

Critically, although the bank was eager to capitalize on the sale by offering wealth management services, we found that this offering came far too late — customers started building wealth management relationships early in their business-building journey and continued to invest with their long-term trusted partners.  

Ideating Service Concepts with the Client​

The client was eager to have help translating the customer journey into service concepts. To facilitate this, we hosted a day-long virtual ideation workshop with about 25 bank employees from different parts of the business, hoping to bridge silos and build stronger concepts upon varied perspectives. The workshop began with a readout of the research findings and some discussion, followed by breakout sessions for ideation around specific pain points gathered from the research. The breakout groups then shared their ideas with the whole group and we went through a voting and prioritization exercise to narrow down to the highest impact ideas.

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Sharing Storyboard Prototypes​

The final presentation shared the research, workshop results, and built out storyboards for two different concepts to help the stakeholders gain a vision for each idea. Each concept was further developed using insights from the customer interviews, combined with business learnings from earlier stakeholder interviews. The end result was a robust documentation of user needs and prototype concepts that the bank then took internally through an evaluation process.

Reflections and Learnings

After the project, my co-researcher and I had a rigorous retro where we not only called out pain points in our process, but took time to develop new processes that we could implement on the next project. Our key takeaways were:

  • Reworking the analysis and synthesis process — we got lost in coding and spend too much time on this part of the process, which put us behind for developing the workshop. We clarified and improved our process, which paid off on the next research study.

  • Tradeoffs with Miro — we used Miro for everything, from data synthesis to building our final presentation. While it made collaboration easy, there were clear pain points in managing the sheer number of lines of data as well as design limitations for the final paper.

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