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BirdsEye View

selling in financial services

 Managing the sales process

Executing an effective sales process calls for intense management.  Ask yourself: “Are my people performing better because I’m around?  How do I contribute to their success?”  Your team should be better off because of your guidance and coaching, and your presence should be enhancing their results.

  • A formal feedback process. Too many of us take the time needed to reprimand people, but do not indulge in praise.  Many fear that frequent praise might yield performance decline, as people think they’re doing well and therefore can afford to slack off.  In truth, the situation is opposite. When people get praise, they like it so well that it motivates them to do more good things to get more praise.  It sounds simple, but it is true.

    Being good at providing feedback, both positive and constructive, is important to maximizing the effectiveness of any sales process.  You, the manager, must make the time to provide feedback.  Consider this a non-negotiable “to do” and budget time in your day to call your starts and congratulate them, write notes to great performers and figure out how to help the strugglers.

  • Oversight and observation process. Providing feedback is critical, but where the rubber really meets the road is during observations.  The best coaches in sports watch their players in action, then provide immediate feedback on what worked, what didn’t and how they can get even better. That’s what good coaches do.  An effective sales manager must make the time to watch their people during the sales process and provide instant feedback on performance and tips on improvement.

    Some managers are reluctant to provide active coaching because they’re not comfortable themselves in the sales process.  It’s OK to learn together with your team and to acknowledge what you don’t know.  Your people will respect you even more for that.  What isn’t OK is to let them do their best without active management oversight and guidance.

  •  CommunicationSelling in financial services is a misunderstood activity.  Many employees feel it’s not what they were hired for, an activity that is designed to create value to shareholders at the customers’ expense.  They worry that they’re being asked to do something unethical that is not in the best interest of their customers, and therefore buck the sales process at every point.

    In reality, the sales process is designed to maximize value for three constituencies at the same time:  customers, team members and shareholders.  Communicating this intent and being clear on the ethics of the process is important to effectively growing sales and customer relationships.  Once your people understand why you’re asking them to explore further customer needs and fulfill them, why the goaling process had tightened up, etc., they will do the right thing by you and the shareholders.  Ultimately, all any ethical financial institution wants their folks to do is do the right thing. The issue is in interpreting what the right thing is.  Our employees often think that responding to customer’s requests for product efficiently is the right thing to do. They don’t see how, by so doing, we short-change the customers by not informing them of the full range of options available to them as we address their financial needs.  We let the customer make that decision, but they don’t know our product line and the financial world as well as we do.  Thus, by being 100% responsive to customers, we may not be giving them best service even though we’re totally responsive to their requests.


    This philosophy, and the ethics of needs-based selling, are at the foundation of the process, and need to be communicated clearly and repeatedly by management to all team members.
  • Reward and recognition. Incentives and other forms of recognition are an integral part of composing a successful sales process.  Incentives are amazingly effective in directing behavior, but they are also as effective in creating unintended behavior, as employees figure out the most efficient way to achieve the incentives (which may not include the behavior you were looking for).  In other words, beware what you incent for, for you will get it!

    Incentives need to be clear and simple.  If they are to be used as a motivational tool, they must be simple enough that each employee can figure out at any point what else do they need to do in order to get paid.  If your incentives don’t work that way, they’re too complex and function primarily as a reward tool and less as a motivational tool.


    In addition to incentives, we should not forget the recognition and fun dimensions.  The very best salespeople are motivated by recognition at least as much as by the money. Often, even the money serves often as a yardstick measurement for success, and not just as a financial reward.  Finding the most opportunities to recognize people and creating occasions to have fun as winners are two highly effective ways to create team spirit and touch your performance stars where it matters.  As bankers, we’re too focused on the numbers and not as good at the “fun” part.  It needs to be built into the sales process as the glue that connects people together and provides the all-important recognition they crave.
  • People selectionUltimately, hiring the right people is the first and last step of the sales process.  Hiring people who have a natural proclivity to needs-based selling makes the job much easier and improves both employee and customer retention in the process.  There are firms that specialize in employee selection who can help you improve the initial selection process to get the kind of person you want.  They focus on the personality attributes rather than the technical skills.  You can teach a good salesperson to be a banker, but the opposite is not always true.  Getting it right in the first place, even before training, is an important contributor to success.

  This series was designed to show that effective selling in financial services takes more than just a training program.  It takes concerted effort and intense management involvement, consistency of purpose of clarity of measurement.  It is not easy to execute, which is why so many of us are still struggling with the concept, but, once achieved, it bears huge dividends for both present and future for shareholders, customers and team members.  It’s definitely worth it!