Consultative Sales Builds Relationships
By Michael Neill
This article appeared in a past issue of the Credit Union Journal.
Have you ever noticed how the "best 40-inch television available anywhere" is always the one the sales person had on the floor that day? In the "sales-only" culture of retail electronics, the focus is on the particular product that's being pushed at that moment.
Junk mail, telemarketers calling at dinnertime, and used car salesmen all take the sales-only approach, too. They typically push their products with little regard for serving their potential customers' needs. In banks, "sales-only" cultures tend to drive a "product of the month" approach. When customers come in, service reps try to sign them up for that product, whether or not they need it.
If you're like most people, you'd like to forget or avoid most "sales-only" cultures. Fortunately for credit unions, a far better strategy exists. Consider how pleased most of us feel when we can talk with someone about our needs, get good information about the available products and services, and then buy just the right thing. Credit unions that do this kind of consultative selling - that really makes sales and service one and the same - can reap the benefits of growth, increased member satisfaction and a stronger competitive advantage.
Building the Culture
Developing such a sales and service culture means explaining the meaning of sales and service; training staff in consultative selling; setting sales and service standards; measuring members' perceptions of staffers' sales and service efforts, and rewarding staff members who excel. In a nutshell, a sales and service culture is one that serves members' financial problems with a credit union's product and services. The "sales" part of this equation is promoting the credit union's own products and services, while the "service" part is helping members choose products and services that truly meet their needs.
Training is key to sharing this definition with staff, as well as to showing them techniques for selling to and serving members. A mystery shop can be a great training tool. During a mystery shop, credit union staff members go to another financial institution as "customers." Afterwards, they can often better recognize what's working and what's not - in the credit union's own sales and service efforts.
After the initial training, quantifiable sales and service performance standards are set. Then, when member perceptions are measured, staff members who have reached or exceeded these standards can be rewarded.
Barriers to Building
Creating a sales and service culture isn't fast or easy. Some important barriers exist.
For example, some credit union employees have never experienced outstanding sales and service, so it's hard for them to imagine what providing it really means. Often credit unions and their employees define "giving service" as "being friendly." But a friendly member service representative may have no knowledge of the credit union and its offerings, or of how to solve member problems.
Additionally, some credit union employees are loath to be "in sales." Familiar with the "sales-only" cultures described at the start of this article, they emphasize that their interest is in "helping people." During the development of a sales and service culture, credit union employees must embrace the idea that, when sales and service are married, the resulting culture both serves member needs and benefits the credit union.
Finally, managers may have real fears about how to lead under this new sales and service approach. When training is designed, it's important to allay managers' fears by giving them the skills they need to be effective sales coaches.
Setting Credit Unions Apart
These days, credit unions are working hard to make members aware of what makes financial cooperatives different from banks. When members return comment cards with statements like, "I really like your bank," or "The tellers at this bank are really nice," it's clear that there's a gap between the message members are actually receiving.
Part of the problem is that credit unions look a lot like banks. In many cases, they have the same kinds of buildings, the same kinds of teller arrangements, the same kinds of ATMs and the same kinds of loans. Fortunately, credit unions can really make members' experiences with credit unions different from their experience with banks. Unlike credit unions, banks take a very "sales-only" approach to customer service. The more accounts they open the better, regardless of the needs of the customers. When credit unions successfully marry service with sales, members will recognize and prefer the credit union difference.
In the end, a sales and service culture is a real win-win. Members win because they get help choosing quality financial products that are right for them. And, credit unions win because they strengthen relationships with members, see growth in deposits and loans, and effectively demonstrate to members and the public their positive differences from the banks.