The ABC's of The ABQ's: Review How Your CU Sells

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During a recent seminar, the speaker made a comment that was very profound and right on the money. He said that no matter how good a sales person you think you are or have been, you never really "sold" anything. The truth is the person bought but you didn't sell.

In every sale that is closed the buyer came to the conclusion to buy. The salesperson (or member service rep or loan officer or SEG representative) only assisted in this process by acting as a consultative agent in reviewing all the options and helping the buyer make the decision based on sound facts. Either that or the salesperson used unethical tactics to coerce the individual to buy. It would be nice to say that the latter never happens but unfortunately it does.

Given that, the old acronym of ABC-Always Be Closing-doesn't fit anymore in today's society. Truth is we as ethical salespeople don't close anybody. They close themselves once they have the proper information and guidance from the salesperson. Therefore, a better mantra for today's selling environment is ABQ-Always Be Qualifying.

In the action of consultative selling we need to continually qualify our members/ prospects to ensure that our products and services will meet their needs. As sales managers, it is important to foster an ABQ attitude in our staff.

A focus on closing can create several problems including:

* Anxiety on the part of the sales rep.

* Asking for the order too soon in the sales process.

* A feeling on the part of the member that they are being sold rather than assisted.

* A member who doesn't truly understand the capabilities of the product or service.

A concentration on qualifying puts the focus on the member rather than on making the sale, and it's that type of focus that gets us to the sale and the desired result we want. Under this philosophy, your credit union's staffers don't close the sale but earn the right to ask for the order once they have performed the proper consultative actions such as:

* Performing proper pre-call planning (if applicable).

* Proving to the prospect that the pre-call planning was done and verifying that the data and the assumptions are correct.

* Asking the member or potential SEG detailed questions to fill in the gaps of information from the pre-call planning.

* Using the information gathered to this point to develop a picture of the possible problems and needs of the member.

* Pointing out the benefits of the product or service and determining with the client if it will alleviate a problem and/or fulfill a need.

If both the credit union rep and the member agree that a particular product or service has a high propensity to fulfill the needs discussed, then and only then has the salesperson earned the right to ask for the business.

The process detailed above can seem rather simplistic for certain business-to-business transactions with lengthy sales cycles or rather complex for many retail sales situations. However, the essence of the process and intent are the same in practically all sales situations, including the credit union to the member or prospective member. Once salespeople are focused on the process of qualifying the prospect, they are truly focused on the member. They then have the mindset of earning the right to ask for the business, rather than being focused on closing due to a quota or a managers' prodding.

Before this mindset and process becomes second nature to your CU's staff, managers need to set the tone by promoting this attitude in their staff. Here are some tips on how to do that:

* Focus not only on results but also on reps performing the proper activities such as number of sales calls or referrals, number of leads generated, and frequency of follow-up. Remember that closing is just another step in the process and is only successful if all of the prior steps have been completed correctly.

* When a rep has hit a slump, examine the process. Sometimes it's necessary to go back to basics even with the most experienced of salespeople.

* Engage in role-play activities with your staff on a continual basis. It's a lot easier on the rep to make a mistake in practice than it is in real life. Practice conversations with members or prospective SEGs in the office. Concentrate on the qualifying portion of the activity more than asking for the order. Make sure they are using base information as conversation points to develop probing questions and uncover needs.

Understanding that we never actually close a sale is not a defeatist attitude but an empowering situation. It allows us to truly concentrate on the needs and issues of our prospects and present them with the necessary information so they can close themselves.

Ken Bator is president of Bator Training & Consulting, Inc. Mr. Bator can be reached at P.O. Box 4844, Naperville, IL 60567; at 630-854-6380, or at kbator

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