The Secret To Sales? No Incentives

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SLEEPY EYE, Minn.-SouthPoint FCU ranks at the very top of its peer group for cross selling, and the credit union says it owes that good fortune to not paying employee incentives.

The $216-million CU last year was ranked by Raddon Financial Group in the 100th percentile for cross-sold household index, and in the 98th percentile for household profit. According to CEO Dick Nesvold, giving employees incentives for cross selling only leads to problems down the road.

"We're pretty soft sell; we don't believe in incentive pay because bad things happen when the wrong products get sold for the wrong reasons," the CEO told Credit Union Journal. "We pride ourselves in trying to look for sales opportunities that improve our members' financial lives."

While the credit union does not invest in employee incentive pay, it instead directs money toward detailed and ongoing staff training. "We make sure we give our employees the tools and the product knowledge they need to be excellent cross-sellers. Part of that is service training. We think sales and service training go hand-in-hand. You can't be a good seller of products if you cannot provide good service."

Staff are skilled at mining member data, like credit reports, and also speaking with members to uncover needs. "The conversations our staff have with members get into the details of their financial lives and go a long way toward determining whether the person needs another service," said Nesvold.

SouthPoint is adamant that the front-line team possess excellent product knowledge, and supervisors meet and coach staff biweekly. "They set expectations and follow up and measure success," Nesvold said. "It's pretty individualized—everyone is at a different level so you try to challenge them all, in different ways. I believe coaching sessions are a way to not only communicate expectations but also gain information from employees, so both management and front-line employees grow."

Nesvold said SouthPoint's overall approach of respecting employees, challenging them, and letting them do their job without a great deal of interference motivates and gives staff pride in their job, which makes them highly effective. "Human nature is that we all want to do a good job. It's just a matter of letting employees do their job and getting out of their way."

Learning From Mistakes

Nesvold said that part of getting out of employees' way is not being hard on them for making mistakes. "Sometimes the best mistakes are the ones we make, learn from, and then move on."

Nesvold said the credit union pays a "fair market price" for employee salaries, but said pay is a short-term reward. Employees like working at SouthPoint, evidenced by very little turnover in its 60-employee team. "I realize we spend more time at work than we do at home, and unfortunately I can't change that. But we try to make life here at the credit union as enjoyable and rewarding as possible. Like our approach to serving members, we listen to the needs of our staff and try our best to meet them."

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