A few months ago, my growing 15-year old son needed some new pants. He had saved up some money and wanted to purchase a few pairs.

We went to the mall and walked into a store we had never been to. As we entered the store, a saleswoman approached us and I readied myself for the all-too-common question we’ve all grown accustomed to:

“Can I help you find something?”

However, that’s not what she said. Instead, the saleswoman said, “I bet you came in looking for pants.”

As I was about to respond with a; “Nope. We are just looking.” I realized she didn’t ask the question that I was expecting. The statement caught me off guard, and in our shopping mode I simply answered, “Yes, we are.”

Without skipping a beat, she asked a few more questions to learn the size and style of pants my son was looking for, picked up three pairs of pants, and had him trying them on in the dressing room.

In less than thirty minutes, she had helped him find a few pairs of pants he loved and checking out at the register. That’s significant because my son is kind of choosey about his clothes.

In spite of my experience as a sales coach and trainer, as well as my extensive exposure to numerous great salespeople, this young saleswoman impressed me. She was comfortable and confident. She knew what she was doing. And she followed some very effective sales processes to win the sale.

As I analyzed the sales experience, I could readily see three major things that she did right. These three things can also be applied by credit union salespeople to consistently sell, and I’d like to share them with you—with a credit union spin of course.

#1: She inserted herself into the buying process

In the credit union world, salespeople often rely on a reaction-based, order-taker approach to sales. That means the salesperson waits for the member to ask for a product before beginning the sales process. Because of this, these salespeople rarely, if ever, sell a product or service for which the member didn’t first ask. They don’t take initiative, and they don’t insert themselves into the buying process.

On the other hand, when a salesperson does attempt to ask for new business, the attempt to insert himself often comes off as “salesie,” “pushy,” and objection-promoting. It goes something like this:

“We have a really great rate on our CD’s right now. Is that something you be interested in?”

While certainly better than not asking at all, this “just ask for the business” approach isn’t reliable or effective. Despite the ineffectiveness of this approach, it’s used all the time. In fact, you have likely heard this approach and maybe even used it a few times yourself. If it’s so ineffectual, why does it get used so much? Here are four reasons:

This is how most people are taught to sell. They are taught to be bold and just ask for the business with this type of phrase.

Salespeople hear this approach being used everywhere and it just feels intuitive (I have something to sell, I should just ask if someone wants it).

The employees have been asked to sell but don’t really understand the product or service, and they don’t know how to have productive sales conversations.

Finally, this approach sometimes actually works.

This approach does sometimes provide results, though inconsistently and rarely. It doesn’t take the salesperson a lot of effort to approach selling in this way so if they have the stomach for all the objections they will receive, and if they are persistent enough to push their way through the objections, the occasional “yeses” perpetuate its use. It also keeps their managers promoting it.

In reality, a great salesperson understands that selling is not a smooth statement with clever and persistent comebacks to overcome objections. She realizes that selling is a process that taps into the natural buying process every person uses to make buying decisions and that an effective sales process elicits very few sales objections.

The saleswoman who helped us find my son’s pants started the sales conversation the right way. She avoided an opening question that would have pushed her out of our buying process. Instead, she asked, “I bet you came in looking for pants.” When we said, “yes,” this was her opening to insert herself into the buying process with us. At that moment, she took ownership of my son’s desire to buy pants, saw herself as the pant-buying expert, and moved him efficiently through the steps to make a buying decision.

The first question or statement a successful salesperson uses in the sales conversation cannot be the one that elicits an objection 95% of the time. Throughout the sales process, any step that generally ends in an objection or a failed commitment needs to be re-thought.

Let’s look at selling a checking account for example. It is not easy to sell a checking account to a member who is already established with another financial institution. Members simply don’t want to go through the hassle and time of switching over their checking accounts. Although this is a universal objection, many salespeople still ask, “Would you be interested in moving over your checking account to our institution?” To which the member replies, “No, I’ve had it there for a while and everything is set up. I think I’m good.”

Instead of asking that question over and over again, an effective salesperson will consider another question that inserts her into the checking account buying/transfer process. A question such as, “Would it be okay to ask you a few questions about your checking account?” will give her permission to do just that as well as provide her the opportunity to educate the member and share benefits before asking for the final commitment.

#2: She engaged us in the buying process

Similar to inserting herself into the buying process, this great saleswoman engaged us in the buying process quickly. Let me explain.

You have likely bought pants before. Unless you know exactly what you are looking for, the buying process for pants goes something like this:

  • Look at the different options and styles
  • Find the right size
  • Try on pants until you find the perfect pair
  • Choose the color and style you are looking for
  • Make the purchase

This may seem simple, and it is. Buying is one of the easiest things we do. Selling is simply the opposite side of buying. When this is understood, selling becomes much easier.

Our saleswoman believed we needed help to buy pants because we did not know how to get exactly what we wanted quickly. She engaged my son in an effective buying process and helped him find exactly want he wanted quickly and naturally.

This principle is also true in the credit union industry. Great credit union salespeople know their products and services well, and they know how to help their members navigate the different options to find the best solutions to the member’s needs. They engage their members in the buying process.

For example, too often members apply for a credit card because they believe it’s the only way to consolidate their other credit card debt, or they believe it’s the best method to make a large purchase. In an order-taker environment, the member gets the credit card. However, a great salesperson will engage the member in the buying process by asking questions, uncovering his true need, identifying other methods of consolidating the debt, and delivering a solution that solves the true need with the best rate and term available. Many times this solution will be one the member would never have considered on his own.

When selling a checking account, a great salesperson will engage the member in the buying process by asking questions that identify what he values most in a checking account. She will ask the member to provide information and take action, carefully walking him through the process of moving the checking account over step-by-step.

When the member is engaged in the buying process, he becomes invested in the process and it is easier for the salesperson to move through each step to get to closing.

#3: Leaving unnecessary details out of the conversation

The final “great thing” this saleswoman did was leaving out unnecessary details. For example, she never discussed the price of the pants. The price was marked on the pants and she assumed my son and I knew what we would pay for the pants if we decided to buy. It wasn’t necessary for her to try and convince us that the pants were worth the price.

Why is this significant? Had she brought up the price, this could have become an objection point. A great salesperson does not elicit objections. She understands how to use the process to address objections, but more importantly, to avoid objections.

For example, in the credit union industry, assurance products (GAP, Extended Warranty, and Debt Protection) often elicit a price objection from the member. The objection comes up because the salesperson waits to discuss these products and their prices untill the very end of the process after the member has already planned on the lower principle and interest payment.

A great salesperson understands that if she wants to consistently sell assurance products, she must build the value of the products and prepare the member for their prices throughout the sales process.

An Opportunity For Improvement: Cross-sell, cross-sell, cross-sell

I would not be a very great sales coach and trainer if I didn’t see an opportunity for improvement.

We have already pointed out the amazing things this saleswoman did to help my son buy a few pairs of pants. However, she could have also  cross-sold him other clothes that he likely would have wanted to buy. My son walked out that day with pants, but he could have also used a few shirts and maybe even a pair of shoes to complete his look and made him really feel good about it.

This is often the case with member accounts. The credit union frequently falls short in properly cross-selling.

Credit unions should have a goal of reaching that primary financial relationship with every member. While every credit union has their own definition of what a Primary Financial Relationship (PFI) is and looks like, a true PFI should include at least the Three Key Core Products and the ancillary products and services associated with them.

The Three Key Core Products are as follows:

  • Savings Account (with an actual savings balance)
  • Checking Account
  • Credit Card

Ninety-five percent of Americans have savings and checking accounts, and seventy-five percent have a credit card. If a member doesn’t have all three of those products with the credit union, there is a high likelihood he has them elsewhere. Which means he has his primary savings, transaction accounts, and/or credit card relationship with another institution.

Just like my son would not walk around with just pants on, members would not be without the “Three Key Core Products.” So it just makes good business sense to assure that they have those accounts at your institution rather than elsewhere.


Selling is actually quite simple when it is approached properly. For a salesperson to sell more and do it naturally, she needs to insert herself into the natural buying processes of the product or service. Simply asking the member, “Is that something you’d be interested in,” is often insufficient. She also needs to engage the member in the buying process, walking him through each step efficiently and intentionally.

Additionally, she needs to avoid eliciting sales objections. This happens by bringing up unnecessary discussions and by not preparing the member throughout the buying process for predictable objections.  And finally, she should remember that the member often needs other products and services in order to complete his financial relationship and solve other needs, wants, and dreams.

When a salesperson approaches selling in this natural and engaging way, they will sell more and create exceptional value in the members’ lives because of it.

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