The recent high-profile bank scandals have compelled many institutions to assure their customers, regulators and investors that that their culture is not a recipe for wrongdoing.
Just days after the great nationwide sales-culture discussion was thrust upon us, a senior manager friend of mine shared that he had been immediately asked by his board for a comprehensive presentation to validate that the bank was not guilty of any type of sales malpractice. It was a time-and-resource challenge, but he understood why his board made the review his new top priority.
Since then, I have yet to communicate with a single bank over the past month not conducting a similar review. Every institution has either completed, or is in the process of completing, some form of audit of their sales practices.
Despite the headaches and tension that can arise from such projects, some folks have kept their sense of humor. Another manager friend kidded that he was not happy with the findings in their evaluations. He quipped, "Our problem is not an overzealous sales culture. … Our sales culture is apparently so soft … you wouldn't even know it's there."
That statement was a joke. However, I suggested (and my friend agreed) that there are aspects of the statement that aren't very funny. Healthy organisms, whether they are plant, animal or business, have a growth bias.
In the business world, evidence of a "growth bias" is found in the presence of a healthy, proactive sales culture. If some now wince at the mere mention of "sales culture," I would remind them that Apple has a sales culture. So do Google and Amazon and anyone's favorite restaurant or corner coffee shop.
The most admired churches and charities typically have their own type of growth (sales) cultures, as well. Growth is good. Growth is needed to survive. As odd as it sounds, there seem to be many among us who need to be reminded of that rather basic tenet.
That's why having the focus of our entire organizations suddenly shifted to our cultures isn't a bad thing.
Yes, it is frustrating for the incredible majority of folks who have done absolutely nothing inappropriate to feel they are now presumed guilty of improprieties. Nobody looks forward to an audit even when a team's work is as clean as a whistle.
However, this industry-wide wake-up call gives us clear opportunities to remind our teams what we want and expect our cultures to be. In too many cases, organizations' leaders don't do a sufficiently consistent job reassessing and reinforcing company values. Employees at all levels come and go. The people in leadership positions change. Personalities and individual agendas often work their way into our organizations. These are simply facts of life in operating an organization of any size.
Without clear and regular reinforcement of who you are, what you are, and what you stand for, the facts in the field may come to not reflect the nicely-framed mission and values statements at headquarters. Cultures evolve or erode over time.
Sales cultures may look a bit different from bank to bank, but I'd suggest the healthier and more productive ones are based on continued efforts to simply increase conversations with customers. I have preached to bankers for years that good things happen when we talk to, not at, customers.
We create far healthier sales and service environments when we get customers talking about the things that are personally important to them. I have joked with groups about applying advice from the Dalai Lama in their sales cultures. He is credited with the quote, "When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new."
Many of the most productive salespeople in our industry will tell you their "sales conversations" with customers — both in and away from a branch — in no way resemble the fast-talking stereotype many have of salespeople. Frankly, they uncover more customer needs than others because they simply speak to more customers than their competitors do. They uncover and address the legitimate needs of existing and potential customers — of which there are plenty.
The increased scrutiny on how bank products and services are sold makes the make-a-friend-earn-a-customer sales model more suitable than ever.
Dave Martin is the founder of the retail bank performance company bankmechanics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.