There is a growing need in the financial services industry for a robust sales culture. That isn’t to say that there needs to be a hard sales approach, or even a “sales first” mentality towards member service. However, credit unions do need to transform their front lines away from the tired and harmful “Order Taker” approach to member service to a “Value Creator” sales and service focus that delivers consistent sales results.

Selling in the Credit Union Way

There is no doubt, selling means different things to different people. Our past experiences with sales roles and with salespeople will largely affect what selling means to us and how we feel about it. Ask any person on the street what they think about selling and most will likely say something negative. Ask them to be a salesperson and they’ll probably run away. It is this negative opinion about selling that causes frontline sales staff to avoid it or go about it in ineffective ways. It also keeps leaders from creating and holding their teams accountable to specific sales expectations.

Most of what people think or know about selling is completely wrong. Much of the way sales is approached in retail settings is also wrong. Selling must be a positive experience for both the salesperson and the member because selling is simply the process of building awareness and helping individuals make the best decision for themselves. This is selling in the credit union way.

For example, one of our credit union clients just finished our Loan Recapture Sales Workshop. In this workshop this credit union’s leaders and loan officers learned how to identify loan recapture opportunities, use our simple recapture calculator, and then make the sale by showing the member the value of refinancing.

In a follow-up coaching call with this credit union a manager shared how she helped one member consolidate her $18,000 in credit card debt and save roughly $12,000 in interest. The manager said that this wasn’t something she would have looked at or know how to sell prior to the training. That training, and this managers commitment to apply it in her service approach resulted in an incredible member experience, and exceptional value provided to this member.

In other examples, we find that a credit union’s sale of GAP, extended warranty, and payment protection products increase noticeably after going through our Assurance Products Sales Workshop. Why? It isn’t because they become better at tricking or convincing the member to purchase the products. No, it’s because employees learn how to present the products so the member makes an informed decision based on the value the products deliver and not the price.

Selling in the credit union way is selling that looks and feels like exceptional service. And that is the goal. If a credit union isn’t selling, they really are not creating value for their members.

Establishing a Healthy Culture of Selling

The formula for establishing a sales culture is the same as any other important initiative. It requires four interrelated components executed effectively in the following order:

  1. Set and communicate clear expectations
  2. Deliver competent training
  3. Provide consistent developmental coaching
  4. Create meaningful accountability

Component #1

Senior leadership must set clear expectations and communicate them clearly and often.

There are various ways that leadership can communicate expectations. Certainly, one way is to directly communicate them in a team meeting. Other ways that expectations can be communicated are through the goals that are set, the vision the credit union is striving to reach, the stories that are told of exceptional member service, and those things for which team members are recognized and rewarded.

These expectations should be communicated from the top down. This means that buy-in for sales expectations should start with the board, then flow through the executive team to senior leaders, then to front-line leaders, front-line team members, and ultimately be demonstrated during interactions with the membership. Any gap or break in this flow of communication will result in the expectations being missed.

Where the vision and expectations have not been clearly communicated, team members will be confused. That confusion often manifests itself with each unit independently deciding what is important and directing their efforts to achieve their own goal. However, when expectations have been clearly communicated there will be less confusion, fewer independent interpretations, and more questions. The type of questions that lead to more clarity and pointed effort.

Component #2

Training must be provided at all levels of the organization to equip team members with the processes and skills needed to reach the expectations. Training must be specific to the expectations and must include more than just simple, soft skills or awareness training. It must provide training around well-thought-out processes and hard, tangible skills to create the desired output. Each level of leadership must understand their role in meeting the credit union’s expectations and have the skills to achieve them.

From a sales perspective, training must include processes and skills for both the leadership team and the front-line staff. It may also include training for the training department to be enabled to build a sales training program or become certified to deliver an existing training program.

Without training, expectations feel burdensome and lead to anxiety and worry. However, with training, sales teams will move forward with confidence and added, growing competence to deliver on the expectations that have been communicated.

Just like the credit card example cited above. The credit union had communicated it wanted it’s employees to be more intentional in their lending efforts, to find more loan opportunities, and provide more value to its membership through lending. Once training was provided, the manager and her team were able to immediately apply the skills and processes to sell the balance transfer opportunity to this member, and many more members, creating more loan opportunities directly accomplishing the expectation.

Component #3

While training is an essential component here, by itself isn’t sufficient for team members to meet the expectations communicated to them. As team members apply the training they have received, they will need additional coaching to create consistent results. Training delivers the mindset, processes, and skills to the team, but it does not ensure continuous improvement and development, or consistent application.

Ongoing coaching must be part of the sales culture you wish to develop. Coaching provides team members the opportunity to refine and improve the processes and skills they learned in training. It also gives the coach a chance to measure the mindset and commitment level of the team member being coached.

Coaching is a continuous process of observation, planning, executing, and follow-up. Well coached employees that have the support of a consistent and effective coach, will see faster improvement, higher levels of commitment, and increased levels of performance over those employees who are not coached.

For example, a number of years ago, I managed an exceptional salesman on one of my credit union outbound call center teams. I hired him specifically because of his background and experience in outbound sales prospecting. And true to his experience he was an exceptional prospector. In his first few weeks he had started over $2 million in loan recapture opportunities. However, despite this prospecting success, he had closed none of those loans.

As I worked with him, I came to realize that he had never been part of the closing steps in the sales process. He had been trained on the steps to closing but he was struggling. As his coaching I reviewed his processes, observed his sales conversations, discussed with him what he felt was lacking. Ultimately, we discovered together what he was missing and what he needed additional guidance on and practice with.

Over a short period of time, his closing skillset started to improve. Combined with his prospecting ability, this team member became one of the highest producing outbound agents I ever had the pleasure of working with.

If sales excellence is what your credit union is seeking, it must make continuous coaching a part of the clear expectations.

Component #4

Finally, healthy sales cultures provide a welcoming accountability environment. Accountability is the process of a team member reporting back on how they have applied their time, efforts, and the training and coaching they have received, to meet the expectations of the position.

Accountability is the complement to expectations. We have already established that expectations flow downward in an organization. They are communicated by the board to the Executive team, and through the organization to the front line. As expectations are acted upon, they create results which need to be reported back on. This reporting back is called accountability.

Accountability, therefore, flows upward through the organization. Upward, meaning it starts with the front line and moves it way to first level management, then to managers of mangers, to the senior leadership team and ultimately through the executive team to the board. Each team member in the organization should be given the chance and opportunity to report their performance.

Accountability should be natural, implied, and never forceful. Accountability should also be rewarding. This can happen when team members are being supported with clear expectations, competent training, and consistent developmental coaching. If accountability feels forced, it is likely because something is wrong in one of the other three components.

For example, it is common for there to be a lot of resistance when a credit union rolls out new sales expectations to their team. The resistance most often comes from the sales managers as they begin to feel the weight of the expectations, they are now being asked to be accountable too. The reason for this is because expectations come first, followed by training, coaching, and then accountability.

Sales managers who have not received training and coaching will see the expectations and not understand how to fulfill them. That doesn’t feel fair, and it could also feel threatening. It makes sense. However, as the manager is trained and coached, and takes the initiative to apply it, improvement begins to happen. Similar again to the credit card example shared above, that manager then becomes excited to report back on the improvements and increase in performance of the team.

Example

Here is a simple example of how all four components can be applied.

A credit union is looking to improve loan penetration and growth amongst its existing membership. Amongst other things such as improving funding rations and promoting loan products with new members, the senior leadership team has also decided that they must improve the credit union’s loan recapture efforts (the process of identifying loans current members have with other financial institutions and refinancing them at the credit union).

An expectation is set and communicated through middle management and ultimately to the front line to increase loan recapture efforts. Perhaps, even loan recapture goals are set for the organization and each individual team.

To support this, middle management calls on the training team to provide loan recapture training to all member-facing staff members. This training includes how to identify loan recapture opportunities through various ways. It also teaches team members how to start effective loan recapture conversations, ask questions to engage the member to gather important information, show the benefits and advantages, get the recapture application or referral started, and close the business. Additionally, coaches are provided with training on how to support and develop their team members’ loan recapture skills.

As team members begin applying these new skills and processes in their member interactions, coaches shadow loan recapture conversations and provide feedback. They create practice opportunities in coaching one-on-ones by reviewing all credit pulls and routine transactions and go through the entire sales process, including role-playing.

Each team member is given the loan recapture expectations and goals to strive for. As team members work with their coach to improve and develop their loan recapture skills, they continue to report back on the progress they are making. This includes sharing sales numbers, discussing the successes and challenges, and seeking feedback from their coach on a regular basis. The employee remains coachable and open to constructive criticism when the coach sees that expectations are not being met as well as tips or suggestions when the coach sees where the team member can achieve higher performance levels.

Conclusion

I often work with credit unions that have struggled to establish a healthy culture of selling. Inevitably, the struggle they experience has been due to not clearly communicating the expectations of their sales culture. They have not established effective sales and leadership coaching training. Coaching has not been happening on a regular basis or has not been supported by clear processes and effective skill development. And finally, accountability to the sales expectations has been non-existent.

If you find your credit union in a similar position or just starting to discuss how to establish a healthy culture of selling, these four components should provide the framework to build a clear strategic plan. With a strategic plan in hand, your credit union should be well on its way to implementing a strong and effective sales culture.

SalesCU is a credit union-specific sales training company dedicated to bringing a proactive sales approach to every credit union. SalesCU accomplishes this by providing sales consulting and training to enhance branch sales, contact center sales, outbound sales, and lending center sales. The goal of SalesCU is to empower credit unions to cultivate primary financial relationships with their members. Engage Nick Brown directly at 801-860-5807 and nick@salescu.com . Ask about his credit union specific workshops and online sales training, featured at www.salescu.com.