I've often said that the coyotes in the wild are far less feared than the people who work at cell phone kiosks at the mall. When we turn every interaction with a potential customer into a tone-deaf, shameless sales pitch, the dynamic becomes one of predator and prey.
Some banks have been known to slip into this kind of dysfunctional sales environment. Others veer too far to the other side by getting squeamish about sales. But there are ways to motivate our teams to make sales without putting them on the attack.
I was reminded of this issue during a recent conversation about sales culture in banking. An old friend of mine had just come out of a meeting in which a few managers "got lit up" (his words) about their production numbers. My friend felt bad for the people in the crosshairs and said he wished I had been in the room to defend them.
"Well, don't assume that I would have automatically defended them," I told my friend. "At the end of the day, those jobs are about production."
I've always stressed that "sales = oxygen." Our organizations cannot survive without them. Moreover, branch managers and their higher-ups will always be judged on their ability to grow their businesses.
In fact, I'd suggest that we do our team members a disservice when we fail to talk about, encourage, support, and reward productive growth in sales cultures. I asked my friend, "Which folks in your bank get promotions or offered new opportunities that may arise?"
"Well... yeah, we promote our producers," my friend chuckled. I told him, "You mean you promote your best sales people and sales managers. It's okay to say it. Sales cultures are not the enemy. Desperate and dysfunctional sales practices are."
It's possible that the "sales" word is part of the reason people feel uncomfortable with the subject. Maybe it just comes with too much baggage for some. They cannot hear the word without calling up the stereotype of a disingenuous and aggressive used-car salesman.
But promoting a sales culture need not mean encouraging overeager branch employees to constantly pounce on unsuspecting customers. It's not an either/or proposition.
The right kind of sales culture and growth mentality can motivate our teams. When we point out to our teams that our best-run branches and most talented bankers tend to be our best salespeople as well, we shine a light on one of the keys to prolonged sales success.
We earn additional business and expand our customer bases by being not just competent but exceptional at our jobs. In an increasingly technology-driven and commoditized industry, bankers must differentiate themselves through personal actions.
Frankly, the best-performing branches and team members have a better product to sell: themselves. They realize a critical part of earning new and additional business is actually asking folks for it.
Our top producers tend to be the folks who go through a box of business cards faster than most. They ask more questions and show more interest in learning about people. They pop in on more small businesses in their markets. They go out of their way to say "hi" and meet folks they do not know yet wherever they may be.
They do all they can to let folks know who they are, where they are, what they do, and that they'd love the opportunity to help them if ever the need arises. Our top producers also tend to treat customers in their branches more like valued guests and the lifeblood of their businesses than as disruptions of their days.
I also stress to bankers that "shaking hands and kissing babies" is hardly an alternative to the multitude of new and old marketing channels that we must pursue to remain competitive today. But the idea that we've somehow reached a point where customers aren't moved or influenced by personal interactions is fallacious.
A sales culture is not our enemy. Not knowing what a healthy one looks like is.
Dave Martin is an executive vice president and chief development officer at Financial Supermarkets Inc., a Market Contractors subsidiary that offers design, construction, consulting and training services for retail banking programs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @instorebank.