There are reports of strange occurrences at community banks across the country.

We're hearing about tellers who actually engage customers in friendly banter designed to unearth hidden product needs.

There are a few banks that have even turned their branches into cozy places to drink coffee, check a stock quote, and learn about the bank's latest financial offerings.

Some bankers are even leaving recordings on their voice mail that pitch a product of the month.

As our cover story suggests, community banks are beginning to alter the way they do business so that the act of selling becomes an all-consuming passion.

The adoption of a "sales culture'' -- as the consultants have dubbed this type of behavior -- is a little too important to be written off as a corporate fad. Banks are finding that a sales culture can translate to more product sales per customer. And equity analysts view the creation of a sales culture as critical for any bank interested in robust growth and continued independence for years to come.

In "Sales Culture: A Survival Strategy," we hear from bankers who have spent years building sales cultures at their institutions. Hopefully, you'll come away with some tips that you can apply to your bank.

A key component of selling is advertising. In "Taking on Big Invaders With Ads That Sting," we discuss how some community bankers are dispensing with small town courtliness and launching ad campaigns that take on large banks for long customer lines, excessive dependence on technology, and impersonal service. Read the article and decide for yourself whether this style of advertising makes sense for your bank.

Ironically, while many community banks are exploiting large banks for their use of technology, some are finding that they can't succeed without creating call centers -- an enduring symbol of bigness in banks. But as our story -- "Call Centers No Longer a Luxury" -- points out, a call center done right can actually improve the quality of customer service.

I'd like your suggestions on how we can improve this six-month-old publication. Call me at 212-803-8416 or e-mail me at john.kimelman

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