John Gardner isn't your typical bank executive.
Even though Mr. Gardner carries the title of vice president and sales manager at Provident Savings Bank, Jersey City, he doesn't oversee a brokerage or any other department.
Rather, the sole job of this 47-year-old marketing maven is to move among many departments, instilling a sales culture throughout the bank.
The move five years ago to bring in Mr. Gardner, a banking novice who was previously a salesman at a cash register manufacturer, has brought kudos from industry observers.
Kenneth Kehrer, a bank consultant in Princeton, N.J., said the $1.7 billion-asset bank is doing a better job than most of its competitors at empowering its staff of platform employees to cross-sell mutual funds and annuities with traditional banking services.
"Putting Gardner in this position is a forerunner to the day when investments are finally considered a legitimate banking product instead of a nontraditional product," said Mr. Kehrer.
The banking company has a staff of six brokers dedicated to selling mutual funds and annuities to bank customers. But Provident also has a staff of 17 branch managers and platform personnel who are licensed to sell funds and annuities.
Mr. Gardner has been sharpening the sales skills of branch managers and platform personnel.
To make training videos, Mr. Gardner set up a small, high-tech television studio inside the bank's headquarters, complete with microphones, TV monitors, and videocassette recorders.
In one case, he taped a broker making calls to clients whose certificates of deposits were maturing. On the tape, the broker made 13 calls, stopping after each one to face the camera and discuss the successes and failures of his sales approach.
A month ago, Mr. Gardner began implementing a software program that he and a team of employees designed to make selling mutual funds and annuities more efficient.
The program takes the broker and the customer through a series of steps to gather a customer's financial data and determine his net worth in a half-hour.
"For Merrill Lynch a program like this is old stuff, but if you went to banks you wouldn't see much of it," Mr. Gardner said.
Banks are increasingly competing with brokerage firms and other companies that offer similar services, so employing good salespeople to cross-sell all of a bank's services is critical.
But consultants insist that many banks have been sluggish in developing among branch managers and platform staff an ethos instinctive among salespeople.
Mr. Gardner has also instituted sales goals in each department. And he circulates to employees an eight-page quarterly newsletter called "The Sales Perspective," which includes articles offering suggestions about sales techniques and about branches that exceed or fall short of their sales goals.
Bank executives tried to get their staff to think like salespeople long before they hired Mr. Gardner, but "we weren't doing it so well," said Paul Pantozzi, Provident's president and chief executive.
So, executives put an advertisement in The New York Times soliciting resumes. Mr. Gardner's resume beat out 400 others with banking experience.
"We felt the sales manager didn't need to know about the banking environment, but we needed someone who knew about setting and implementing sales goals, and developing training programs," Mr. Pantozzi said.