Recent changes in the wholesale bank operating environment have caused a troubling side effect: Deterioration in the marketing effectiveness of organizations that use relationship managers.

Many factors have contributed to this decline, including increased competition, internal cost containment pressures, rapid advances in technology, shortening of products' life and development cycles, changing work force dynamics, and an ever-increasing array of products.

In addition, many relationship managers and other contact personnel have become overburdened to the point of paralysis. There has been little reduction in the time-consuming demands of adhering to cumbersome credit and administrative processes.

Some companies have attempted to "reengineer" the entire relationship management structure. The goal is a productive and effective marketing organization with clearly defined responsibilities and relationships for all participants in the delivery chain. Though some of these approaches are promising, the missing element in most of these solutions is effective management of the vast quantities of information used by bankers.

Clearly, traditional paper-based information management and training methodologies cannot meet this challenge. One proven means of addressing some of these issues is adopting electronic performance support - or "coaching" - systems.

Coaching systems employ various electronic methods to provide employees with immediate access to the information and support tools needed to meet high level performance standards. Simply converting product and procedure manuals and traditional training programs on-line in their current form is not the solution.

Critical information must first be reorganized so that information is presented in a way that mirrors users' needs and parallels a thought process occurring within a job function or task.

A well-designed coaching system:

* Is available whenever needed.

* Fits requirements of different skill and experience levels.

* Ensures outcomes of consistent quality.

* Reduces time away from the job for training.

* Allows users to emphasize skill knowledge rather than memorized facts.

* Provides various tools to enhance decision making.

* Is easily updated and therefore contains information that is always up-to-date.

* Encourages continuous learning through organization feedback.

A coaching system can include all of the technical and procedural information on a bank's products, such as cash management, capital markets, international trade, trust, private banking, and credit products, and even credit policy and procedures. With proper planning, these modules can be tied to each other and to other internal information management or process initiation systems and data bases.

One of the greatest challenges in any information system is how to deal with the varying requirements of diverse constituencies.

A new relationship manager may need to work through a simple decision tree to learn what basic product is applicable to a client's needs.

Or, an inexperienced private banker may need very current information on a recent tax ruling that will affect a major proposal being made that afternoon.

A well-designed coaching system can meet both requirements with relative ease, and with little or no intervention by a technical product expert. However, even if relationship managers and other contact personnel take the time to attend training sessions, retention of complex technical information is very poor. Unless that information is used soon - within 45 days - it will not be remembered by even the best relationship managers.

The organization then teaches its people how to use the coaching system, pledges to keep technical and competitive information up to date, and completely eliminates paper-based training tools and product material. Classroom time is kept to an absolute minimum.

The organization gains immensely in productivity through the improvement in training effectiveness and through cost savings - by reducing the amount of lost sales time and eliminating the need for paper-based information sources that often are not used.

The list of benefits from a properly designed and implemented coaching system include:

* A well-trained and totally current contact staff with little variability in quality between the most and least experienced members.

* A more productive and efficient product management staff freed from the distractions of personally supporting overwhelmed contact personnel.

* Widespread and consistent understanding of pricing, product features, competitive issues, best practice sales, and qualification tools.

* Consistent and accurate customer service, product implementation, and administrative procedures.

Mr. Caldwell, a former CoreStates Financial Corp. executive, is a marketing and management consultant. Mr. Zolper is a managing director at Sterling Resources Inc., Paramus, N.J.

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