The sales process has gotten a lot of attention in the banking industry in recent years and is cited over and over as a key to retail profitability.

The fundamentals of the process are widely known and understood. Then why isn't every financial institution world-class in sales by now?

There are myriad reasons. But before getting to them, let's recall four fundamental steps in sales:

Knowledge. People are uncomfortable selling what they don't understand.

They need a reasonable amount of product knowledge even if they are just referring a customer to a specialist.

Questioning and profiling. Effective, relationship-oriented sales must start with identification of customer needs. A good salesperson must be able to identify them through probing and open-ended questions.

Analysis. Once the salesperson has a comprehensive picture of the customer's financial behavior, assets, and goals, analysis is required to find the solutions.

That means the salesperson must have the skills and product knowledge to come up with the custom-tailored package that the customer requires.

Presentation. If it is not effectively presented, the proposition will not be sold, even if it and the underlying analysis are perfect.

A good salesperson must be able to communicate to the customer clearly and simply.

Effectiveness in these areas requires a methodical sales program supported by good training.

But sales may still lag if salespeople set their sights too low, failing to consider all of a customer's financial holdings and needs.

Also, bankers expert in only a subset of what the bank offers will have a hard time addressing more than a portion of those needs.

One solution is product packages. They bring attention to a broader range of services.

And the further we get from "one size fits all," the better off we will be as an industry.

It is the role of the sales manager to shape packages and find other means to offer customers more than one standard "flavor," thereby improving salespeople's skills and results.

A package that includes five or six items or options encourages the salesperson to get beyond narrow thinking. It provides a simple, workable benchmark from which to begin a dialogue with the customer.

Understanding and using the four fundamental sales steps is a beginning.

Supporting these steps with packages can help overcome sales-force limitations while offering comprehensive solutions to customer needs. Ms. Bird, an executive vice president at Wells Fargo Bank, is based in Sacramento, Calif.

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