Do You Really Need A Sales Culture?

I delivered a presentation on Sense-and-Respond Marketing at Marquis Software’s User Conference last week (thanks to @mbartoo). A very well run event with a great group of very engaged attendees (as is usually the case with creditunionistas and community bankers).

In a session on CRM, someone (can’t remember if it was the speaker or an attendee) said:

“You need a sales culture for CRM to work.”

There was plenty of agreement with this statement, with little — no, make that NO — dispute from the group.

My take: The statement is backwards. It’s a lot more likely that you need CRM to create a sales culture — if you even need a sales culture at all.

Installing A Sales Culture?

A lot has been written about sales cultures — especially in the context of credit unions. There’s even a site called creditunionsalesculture.com run by a consulting firm. No offense to the firm, but there are a few things on the site that really put me off. Example: Constant reference to “installing” a sales culture in a credit union. Ugh. You install a washing machine or a refrigerator — you don’t install a sales culture.

There’s another reference to a survey which found that 75% of fast-growing credit unions had “installed” a sales culture, leading the authors of the study to conclude that “”if you do not have a service selling culture — get one.” OK, boss, I’ll get right on it.

How Do You Develop A Sales Culture?

The problem with a lot of the discussion regarding a sales culture is that little of the discussion revolves around what it is, and too much of the discussion are assertions that it’s what credit unions need. How can you know you need it if you don’t what it is? How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

One of the best articles I’ve seen on what a sales culture is a now 9 year-old piece on creditunions.com titled Four Critical Steps in Building a Successful Sales Culture. The steps include: 1) Assessing and selecting any new staff in four critical sales culture dimensions prior to hiring; 2) Implementing an internal/external customer service program; 3) teaching the entire staff the proper way to sell and self-promote; and 4) Coaching everyone.

The CRM Chicken-And-Egg

The Four Critical Steps are spot on, but I have to ask: If you successfully did those four things, would business performance improve?

I can’t conclude that the answer is definitively yes. Without data about your customers’ or members’ preferences, needs, goals/objectives, etc. the Four Steps, in and of themselves, won’t guarantee success.

Without a process that tracks, monitors, measures, and enforces when sales discussions are conducted with customers/members, the Four Steps, in and of themselves, won’t guarantee success.

That’s what CRM does (or at least should do) — provide the data and process to help ensure that a sales culture is successful.

Do You Really Need A Sales Culture?

But there’s still a more fundamental question that needs to be addressed: Is a sales culture really a prerequisite to success? There are some who might argue that the answer is no.

Mark Arnold, in a blog post from 2011, interviewed sales training expert Tim Wackel, who had this to say:

“Quit trying to sell. The less you worry about the sell the more you’ll sell. Quit acting like a seller and act like a buyer—the world will pay more attention to you if you do. Don’t communicate ‘I’m here to sell you something.’ Instead listen with them, dialogue with them and help them.”

Sounds like the antithesis of a sales culture to me.

Or listen to this from Gene Blishen (@tinfoiling), commenting on the Filene Research Institute site:

“Larger credit unions have moved to a sales culture. The staff needs to make the sales benchmarks set by the management. The culture of service, though voiced admirably, is mostly just lip service. You can’t have both. So to maximize growth that conditions many aspects of the business the sales culture is the choice. I remember speaking with a retiring CEO and asked him if he could do anything over again what would it be. He said he would have never introduced a sales culture, it destroyed his CU. They are big now but at what price?”

Yes, at what price? And, for what benefit?

There will always be studies where someone identifies the “high performers” and finds that 75% of them say they have a sales culture. But what we should be asking is how did the other 25% achieve high-performing status without one? And could the 75% who achieved high-performing status without having put the time and effort into developing a sales culture?

What Many Credit Unions Need

It would be foolish to recommend that one size fits all, and that every credit union needs this or needs that. A sales culture may be exactly what some credit unions need. And what I’m going to propose might not be the right thing for all credit unions, either. But I do think it is appropriate for a lot of them.

What credit unions need is this: An advice/guidance culture.

An advice/guidance culture is one in which the organization is driven to provide the right advice, guidance, help, recommendations, instruction, persuasion, dissuasion, suggestion, prescription, counsel, and caution to its customers or members.

This change in focus (from sales to advice/guidance) does a few things:

1. Broadens the focus beyond human interactions. The problem with a sales culture is that is predominantly centered around human-to-human interactions. Which are in decline, as you well know, and are likely to continue to decline in number. But advice/guidance can be provided in any channel. And employees of your organization will have an easier time figuring out how to provide advice/guidance in online and mobile channels.

2. Takes the focus off individual employee skills or capabilities. I hate to have to admit this, but I’m a terrible salesperson. I don’t enjoy selling, and am very happy if I can get one of my colleagues to do the selling for me. On the other hand, I love talking about what I do, and how I can help my clients. Wait, isn’t that selling?

3. Better aligns with the organizational mission. Which of the following two statements is closest to your organization’s mission? Is it a) To sell  the most products to our customers or members. Or b) To best serve our customers’ or members’ financial services needs. You said b), didn’t you? OK, now which kind of culture is best aligned with that mission? A sales culture or an advice/guidance culture? That’s what I thought.

Bottom line: It’s time to retire the notion that credit unions (or any financial institution, for that matter) needs a sales culture to succeed.

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