How many of us remember as children going door to door in our neighborhoods to sell something, whether it was raffle tickets or cookies or Christmas fruit cakes? Honestly, to this day, I don’t know why any living soul would want a fruit cake, but sure enough, I sold many of them because I had to.
The prevailing memory of those experiences is not what I learned or how I grew from it. What stands out in those memories is the absolute terror that I felt when knocking on those doors and asking strangers to relieve themselves of their precious dollars for something that I was not convinced had any value to them.
Today, in banking, the old adage that “nothing happens until somebody sells something” is still true. That flies completely in the face of an almost scientific fact that a large percentage of humankind thinks of selling as one of the worst (at best) or most terrifying activities one can undertake.
Bank Salespeople: An Legendary Oxymoron
While most people may not admit that it terrifies them openly, just ask a group of people how much they like trying to convince others to give them money … for anything. This is particularly true if a person is asked to sell something that they don’t personally see the value in.
For bank executives and sales and marketing leaders, as we are trying to justify the existence of bricks and mortar facilities, the irrefutable fact remains that we are counting on people to sell who may have chosen banking as a career to avoid selling. Because, we all know, selling in banking is an oxymoron.
The problem today is, since we can’t count on interchange fees, overdraft fees, product ownership fees or even large spreads, we need organic growth (cross-selling). The alternative is that we will most certainly die a slow, unrelenting death.
Some bankers believe that if they have a few sales superstars that they can “ride those horses” to acceptable growth, as long as the rest of their team is focused on administering timely and friendly service. Others have tried to apply cross-selling methodologies and campaigns, sometimes with attached incentives, and have gotten a “lift” in sales or revenue for a short time. Unfortunately, in many cases, top executives or Board of Directors aren’t convinced or invested in the strategy … so eventually … it’s back to ‘business as usual.’
In response, many banks and credit unions have spent many thousands of dollars on software and technology tools and accompanying training only to find that it is the people that must make a sales strategy work, even if the software content and applications are powerful. In the end, we realize that we will succeed or fail based on the combined engagement, energy, passion and focused execution of our whole roster of players.
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Building a Sales Culture in Banking
So, how do we go about building an energetic, passionate and perpetually engaged culture of sales performance? It is not an exact science, and will never work exactly the same from one organization to another, but there are six principles, steps, and actions that are the building blocks of a potentially rich sales culture in a financial institution:
- Analyze Your Organization. Fit people where their talents, experience, knowledge, and adaptability can best impact the critical consumer ‘touch points’ in your business model. Build a small subset of sales engagement practices for each of their roles and product areas, and teach, train and coach informally but perpetually. Measure, recognize and reward growth and improvement. Keep it positive, not punitive. Not pressured, but fun and engaging. Be willing to encourage ideas and to make changes often accordingly.
- Coach Your Leadership. Top management needs to drive collaborative, open, and fun acceptance of the sales activities to bring focus and energy to the company. Walking around, holding brief team and organizational meetings, sharing success stories and creating an “all for one and one for all” mindset for success is required … at a minimum.
- Simplify the Process. Studies have shown that consumers and business owners want to be sold to … when it is done well. Teach the simple principles of needs-based selling to everyone in the organization. Teach all customer-facing personnel that a few simple questions and good listening, followed by offering a needs-based solution is repeatable, effective, and quite simple for virtually anyone to do.
- Celebrate Successes. Don’t be shy about rejoicing and celebrating the victories, growth and improvement. Provide positive reinforcement to everyone. Find ways to provide continual, ‘surprise and delight’ recognition. Recognition should precede competition. Competition comes over time, but if emphasized too early, the true practice of solving problems for customers can get distorted, and results can have a negative long term impact.
- Train And Coach Your Board. Don’t forget to include your board in the training process. Make sure that they are being continually coached. Find ways to engage these key leaders, recognizing them and making them part of success celebrations.
- Exhibit Energy and Passion. All of this must be done and led with energy, passion and conviction. Measure regularly and don’t be afraid to adjust your strategies – combining both employee and customer feedback that is being constantly gathered, measured, and adapted to when deemed necessary.
None of these strategies are easy, but the overall concept is simple. ‘Leading’ institutions that are continually looking to improve, adapt to change and grow will find these thoughts will resonate over time.
‘Following’ institutions, that are slow to adapt or are satisfied with the status quo, will likely continue being frustrated with results in a rapidly changing (and highly competitive) environment. As more organizations embrace a Universal Banker strategy, it will be imperative to dig deep and build a strategy for the long haul that is rich, full and engaging and that will bring improved sales along with an increase in both employee and client retention.