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BirdsEye View

selling in financial services

 As cross-sell expanded as the mantra of customer retention in financial services, and as fixed costs climbed to new heights, selling became a critical element to the success of financial services companies everywhere.  Many are talking the talk, but execution still falters.

A central reason for the widespread failure to execute is the search for a “silver bullet” solution.  However, effectively installing a sales culture in financial services is a comprehensive process that goes way beyond training.  The process is comprised of the following elements:

  1.  Strategic and cultural context.

Sales management can only reach the people in the field when they understand the reasons for the drive to more sales, and the ethics of the process.   Banks attract people who don’t want to live the stigma of the “used car salesperson.”  They want to be professional, and many are interested in the service component of the job.  Understanding through senior management communication the value added that sales create to customers, Shareholders and team members is key to success. 

    • Obtaining executive management’s unwavering support and hands-on involvement. Any major initiative depends upon the clear and focused support of senior management.  None is more fragile, however, than sales management.  A firm mandate to execute the process, coupled with ON-GOING senior management involvement in monitoring, acknowledging, recognizing and reinforcing the process is essential.
    • Clear mission and vision and well-articulated values system. Sales can become counter-productive if anchored in the wrong strategic and cultural context.  A clear mission and vision provide the context for the daily decisions each salesperson makes.  Values such as “do the right thing” will ensure that the process will not degenerate into a sales drive without regard to customer need.  Values do make a loud statement.  For example, FedEx empowered its people to do whatever it takes to deliver packages by the motto “We rent helicopters.”  That motto focused attention on what was MOST important:  delivering the package because it absolutely, positively had to be there.  Banks can use similar clarity in their value systems to drive behavior and focus attention on the right kind of sales. 
  1. Gearing up for success.
    • Clarity of role definition of key positions and assessment of staffing mix to appropriately reflect market potential and role definition. Appropriate staffing levels are important to facilitate execution.  Typically, banks are understaffed in their sales force (bankers), yet occasionally overstaffed in their transaction processors (tellers).  Examining staffing levels against benchmarks such as number of households per banker (if it exceeds 1200, you have more opportunity than the banker can handle) or number of sales per banker (5 is a good point of departure) will help you assess where your sales force is regarding opportunity and productivity.  Similar benchmarks are available for the teller line for both transactions and closed referrals.  Based upon this evaluation, staffing needs to be modified to effectively capture the market opportunity.  In addition, the role should be defined to include responsibility for sales at each point of customer contact, ensuring that EVERYONE who connects with customers understands that sales are a part of their job, because the ultimate service is when ALL customers’ needs are met through proactive selling.
    • Key behaviors by position. Specify for each position (teller, banker, operations supervisor, small business lender, trust officer etc.) a handful of behaviors or activities they are expected to perform each week as an integral part of their job.  These behaviors, if tracked and reinforced, will ensure that every salesperson on the team makes their goals and whatever level of incentives they target for themselves

      It is important to realize, however, that goaling key behaviors, and even teaching and training for their execution, will not get the job done.  Constant, never-ending tracking, feedback and coaching are needed to achieve consistent success.  All people, including the natural-born salespeople, need reinforcement and coaching in order to maximize their potential.  Setting behavior goals is the roadmap to their success, but coaching on execution and continuous feedback are the fuel that makes the person MOST effective.
    • Training. Selling is an activity most of us do not feel comfortable with.  While we understand product features and benefits, it is still hard for us to articulate them in front of a customer or prospect.  The words simply don’t flow.  That’s where training comes in.  Good sales training is designed to help employees feel competent (if not comfortable) in engaging customers in open-ended sales conversations.  If we ask our people o become world-class in sales, we should also give them the very best training to become most skilled at the sales process.  Effective training program deal with the “how” and not just the “what.”  They spell out what needs to be done to get results, and reduce the anxiety many employees feel when they think of selling.

The next article will address the importance of goaling and measurement in achieving breakthrough results in needs-based selling.