Growing a sales culture
By Michael Neill
This article appeared in a past issue of the Credit Union Management Magazine.
Perhaps you've heard one of your member service representatives say something like this:
"If you're interested in opening a checking account, we have three available. The first requires a $500 minimum balance, has a 2.5% interest rate (compounded daily), a per-check charge of 25 cents, but no charge for the first 500 checks ordered. Would you like to hear about the other two accounts?"
If this sounds familiar, it might be time to develop a new, member-focused sales and service culture at your credit union. With a consultative approach, sales and service become one and the same. Using this strategy, your credit union can more effectively develop long-term, multi-account relationships with members.
For example, instead of rattling off checking account rates and fees, a credit union employee would ask members about their checking habits. They'd pose the questions, "How many checks do you write each month?" and, "Is earning interest on your checking account important to you?"
Next, they'd recommend the account most suited to members' needs, along with other compatible products.
And, finally, to ensure good long-term relationships, the representative would positively manage members' post-purchase feelings by following up with them.
Sometimes it's tricky to know how to get from less-than-ideal to first-rate member sales and service. It has to start with a commitment from managers and then spread throughout the entire credit union. Managers need to learn how to develop and support a flourishing sales and service culture; front-line staffers need new and deeper consultative sales knowledge and an understanding of what outstanding service really is.
I think of sales and service training in three stages:
- Growing sales and service coaches. When I work with credit unions developing sales and service cultures, I spend the first three hours of training with managers. We define what a sales culture is and discuss the kind of behavior managers must model and encourage.
Together we define sales culture as the policies, systems, and behaviors that focus the entire organization on maximizing every member's relationship with the credit union. Positive behaviors are perpetuated because the changes are culturally developed within the organization, unlike what happens with one-shot sales training that doesn't ensure the application of the skills that are taught. The cultural approach truly encourages members to keep as many of their accounts as possible at the credit union.
Before heading into all-staff training, I emphasize to managers the need to model the kind of top-notch sales and service behavior that front-line staffers can emulate.
- Sales and service skill building. Once the pump is primed with leaders, it's time to work with the front-line staffers, teaching them how to build their skills based on their own sales experiences.
In general, this training explains:
- Why people resist selling;
- How to gain members' confidence by providing outstanding service;
- How to recommend the right product;
- How to build long-term relationships through cross-selling.
Even if credit union employees have never "sold" before, they've been in many sales situations as customers. While few employees will have worked with an effective salesperson, helping them understand their buying experiences can help them perform better when selling to and serving members.
For example, when people go out to shop, they sometimes use a "buyer system" to thwart sales. In my training sessions, I encourage employees to consider their own habits. Do they shop around or believe in thinking it over? Although employees' buying systems might be different from members', employees who study their own systems often gain a better understanding of what's going on with members who aren't ready to commit to a particular credit union product.
Another good way to teach front-line employees about sales and service is by sending them on mystery shopping trips to other financial institutions. When they do this, they often experience the kinds of frustrations their own members sometimes face. When they recognize that the confusing, difficult salesperson at the other institution could be themselves, they open their minds to new ideas.
Front line staffers also need strategies for getting to know their credit union's products better. The main reason people don't sell is a lack of product knowledge. In other words, people don't sell what they don't know. Employees also need guidance on how to get over their fear of rejection.
A good method for dealing with both of these issues is to develop a product manual that truly facilitates selling. A binder of product brochures just isn't enough. This product manual should provide and answer the kinds of questions member service representatives should ask members before recommending the best product.
In addition, front-line people need to understand that the sale begins when the paperwork is signed. Managing members' post-purchase feelings is key to effective selling. Ideally, representatives would help members feel confident about their decision to open a particular credit union account.
At The Southern Federal Credit Union, Fayetteville, Ga., we developed a simple but effective strategy. Our employees called members 30 days after they opened a new account and asked them how it was working for them. Members were overwhelmed that we would call. "Everything's fine, but I'm so impressed that you called," they would often say.
Every once in a while, when the caller found a member who had experienced a problem, this proactive approach diminished the impact of the mistake. Follow-up like this reassures members they made a good decision when they opened their credit union account.
After the initial training, offer a follow-up session with sales employees. At the session, employees rate themselves on how they're progressing in their efforts to become better sales and service representatives. They often share what's working and what's not and get feedback from their peers on what to do next.
- Developing an organizational sales and service culture. The next critical step is for senior managers to talk about how to support the sales culture that's developing. Supporting the sales culture means measuring what's happening and rewarding the positives.
Consider the effectiveness of each measurement and reward system within the scope of the entire culture. All incentives should be team-based to build unity and teamwork. If incentives for opening a new account are individually based, one representative might say to another, "You stole my member."
If your credit union is shifting to a sales and service culture, it might be necessary to make sure new employees are assertive and self-confident.
In sessions with managers, I always emphasize: "You are the leaders. You set the tone. Your employees' performance and commitment will never exceed your own."
Cultural shifts take time, and developing the desired culture at your credit union could take a couple of years. If you're committed to it and you're getting other managers on board with the idea, you're starting off on the right foot.