Most banks building a sales culture need some help.

And naturally, there is no shortage of consultants willing to come to the rescue offering services ranging from branch employee sales training and branch redesign to a full-blown analysis of everything a bank does that relates to the sales and service process.

Companies such as Cohen Brown of Los Angeles, Stern Marketing of Berkeley, Calif., Omega Performance of Sausalito, Calif., and Inseon of Walnut Creek, Calif., have become one-stop shops for banks trying to build a sales culture.

Of course, their fees can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for work that lasts several years. But customers tend to think that the investment is sensible, given the millions of revenue dollars that can be made with an effective sales apparatus.

"It's been well worth it for us,'' says Perry Atwood, the chief sales officer at Brenton Banks in Des Moines.

Since 1996, Mr. Atwood's bank has worked with Cohen Brown, a large sales consulting firm with clients in many industries. The firm is currently working with 13 community banks across the country.

"Many community banks had a misunderstanding that this is for big banks," says Martin Cohen, chief executive officer of Cohen Brown. "They think it costs too much. But the rubber meets the road at each individual branch location. And frankly, the customer doesn't give a damn whether you have one branch of 500 branches. The mistake is for senior managers to think that this sales culture concept is too big for us."

Those interested in what Mr. Cohen charges will have to contact his firm directly. No one in the company would discuss prices. Even Mr. Atwood says that Brenton Bank's contract with the firm prohibited him from discussing the terms of the deal.

A competitor, Greg Armstrong, the president of Inseon, was forthcoming about what his firm charges. For $10,000, Inseon will spend two days at a bank performing an analysis of "where a bank needs to be and how to get there," he says. That initial consultation includes recommendations for further work, which can range from $10,000 to $150,000.

"If a bank wanted to train everybody in the organization on sales and service, that would be on the high end,'' he says. "If they simply want further analysis on a particular product's profitability, that would be more like $10,000."

If this all sounds rather expensive, there is always the sales program of the Independent Community Bankers of America called Expanding Customer Service.

For the current discounted rate of $795 for ICBA members and the regular $2,195 for non-members, a bank will receive a set of instructional materials. The set includes a video, that covers a variety of topics, including how to find opportunities from brief customer interaction and how to make referrals within the bank.

The program is offered to bank employees in six 90-minute training sessions. Each session is taught by a bank official, who acts as the designated trainer and receives instructional manuals.

But Gregory Martinson, the ICBA's director of education, says that the program, while affordable to even the smallest community bank, is no substitute for the kind of ongoing assistance a bank receives from a paid consultant.

"Our program teaches bank employees how to become more sales-focused, but it doesn't mean that they will do it,'' he says.

"In terms of monitoring the program and following up, someone needs to do that. We have heard many instances in which a bank has used our program and then hired people to come and reinforce the lessons.'' ?

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