Don't Be Good At Sales, Be Excellent Problem-Solvers

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If a credit union-or any financial institution of any size-is going to succeed for the long-term and attract new members in an era of extreme competition, then its personnel must think of themselves as "problem-solvers."

Why? Because nobody buys anything unless they have a problem they think you can solve.

But just "thinking" that way is not enough. The best results on service, sales and cross-promotions are generated when credit union employees are specifically trained, conditioned by practice and measured in their efforts to educate and fully serve their members.

The first order of recognition in any organization wanting to foster a healthy sales culture, however, is this: selling is not about hype, pressure or manipulation. Successful selling is honorable, ethical, and helpful.

The primary focus is combining your knowledge and experience with your member's knowledge of his/her own financial needs to find an acceptable solution. And the emphasis on "acceptable" also can be accompanied by "do-able" and "comfortable." That process is selling in its highest form.

Hiring The Right People

A vibrant sales culture begins with management hiring the right people and fostering a sales-oriented environment. A credit union's executive leadership also must commit to the need for sales training, as well as assuring sufficient resources, qualified trainers, satisfactory settings and adequate training time and funding, if the credit union is to thrive and meet its strategic growth plans.

Smart managers who want to increase sales and revenues will begin by restructuring the environment. They put "back office" work in the back office. They computerize as much data as possible about their member's service, work and product uptake. They provide computerized sales aids and confirm that their (selling) employees are "product knowledgeable."

Only when your employee fully understands how a product works, how it benefits the members and who the probable candidates are for the products and services, do they begin to approach sales readiness,

A "frontline" staffer or employee also must have a sincere desire to help the credit union's member. Good communications skills are a must, and if they don't exist, then that training (and confirmation) comes first. The employee must have the ability to recognize and adapt to various behavioral styles that may be encountered, as well as being able to deploy his/her own persuasive abilities.

Presentation Must Be Genuine

I'm not talking about a spotlight performance here, an extemporaneous pitch that simply mesmerizes the prospect or makes the member's eyes glaze over. The presentation, whether it is done in one breath or one hour, must be genuine. It also must invite give-and-take and recognition by the employee that the member is "getting it."

Training helps with all of these previously mentioned elements-product understanding, prospect recognition and communications skills-except one: SINCERE DESIRE. If that desire does not exist, you might as well go back to rubbing two sticks together to make fire. It's possible a sale can be made, but it is hard work and the lingering blisters create raw attitudes and lower productivity.

Perhaps, a brief divergence is necessary here before continuing, since a "Training Culture" is really the initial touchstone that helps a successful "Sales Culture" germinate and blossom throughout any organization or company.

Curriculum is the heart of all training. To be both effective and efficient, you must decide what you want people to know-by department, by job and by experience level. The tenets of a valid training curriculum should include:

* orientation, to quickly introduce new hires into the credit union's corporate culture.

* job skills, the basics of how to do their job.

* regulations; continuous training in the ever-changing regulatory environment that credit unions now face;

* people skills (customer service, management); communication skills with members and fellow employees;

* sales and product knowledge; listening for sales opportunities, knowledge of the financial institution's available products.

Curriculum can be developed in house or from vendors, but every credit union should put into place a system of testing for content competence. Whether it is a small assets/deposit operation or a mammoth financial enterprise, management should track the training received and the competence levels achieved by each participant to measure his/her progress.

Now back to the sales culture suggestions...

It also is paramount that the employee understands the "sales process" and knows the integral steps in making a sale and how to move through them smoothly with the member or prospect. Those essential steps include:

* A statement on the purpose of the interview or meeting with the prospect/member.

* Developing a good set of questions that help discover the financial need, problem or opportunity.

* A statement between the staff member and the customer to confirm mutual understanding.

* Presentation of a timely, proven solution.

* A mutual agreement to proceed.

* Follow up to assure the product or service is performing adequately and satisfactorily in the view of the member.

Measure Sales Progress

Once again, a valid sales training curriculum should be followed by an effective system to track the instruction received by each participant. The credit union's system should test for competence levels achieved as well as measure the individual's actual sales progress.

Additionally, CUs will find they get higher involvement and better overall results in the sales process when they provide rewards and recognition for employees who embrace and apply what they've learned. "Knowledge is power," and incentive programs are like booster fuel when it comes to fully engaging employees in an emerging or dedicated sales culture.

Dick Kendall is a senior trainer with JMFA. He can be reached at or 800-809-2307.

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