Today's banks need sales cultures more than ever. As technology expands every bank's potential service areas, the question of which banks compete in your markets is moot. It can be argued that all banks, in one way or another, now compete in your markets. It's never been more important to know customers (and potential customers) and have them know you.
What banks need to keep in mind is that most have the wrong idea about what sales cultures look like. The very term "sales culture" still seems to evoke images of used-car lots and pushy salesmen.
But healthy and productive sales cultures are nothing like that. And the most productive ones extend beyond the walls of the branches we call our home bases.
As banks form their sales culture strategies, they should take a piece of advice from Eleanor Roosevelt. "You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do," she once said. While she was talking about individuals, I've long held that this thought has business relevance as well.
Bankers know that their businesses and careers rely on customers choosing them to provide the financial services they need. So it's a fair bet that at any point during a busy banker's day, he is either working to keep an existing customer happy or thinking about ways to attract new customers. Customers are top of mind.
I tell bankers that we have that in common with customers. We spend all day thinking about them and they spend all day thinking about themselves as well.
That's not a slight on customers. We all have these things called "lives" that require our attention. And for the most part, the things in our lives that consistently work well don't require much focus.
That is the category most banks find themselves in. I kid bankers, "Congratulations! Your companies are so competent at what they do that most folks go entire months without thinking about you at all."
Some people in the industry believe that banks and bank services are generally well-known to the general public. They aren't.
Many in the industry also believe that since they've been doing a seamless job in delivering services to their customers, customers will think of their banks immediately when they need another product or service. They probably won't.
That's not because bankers are bad at their jobs. They're probably pretty exceptional at it. Customers just have things besides banks on their minds. And that doesn't exactly work to our advantage.
That said, the answer to customers' lack of awareness is not for bankers to turn all face-to-face interactions into information dumps. Forcing folks to listen to sales spiels won't achieve much.
In fact, that is usually the surest way to kill any opportunity for relationship-building discussions.
Along those lines, consider another relevant quote from former British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. "Talk to a man about himself and he will listen for hours," he said.
I've long preached this simple rule of thumb to banks looking to improve their sales cultures. The more friendly conversations bankers have, the more business they uncover and create.
Anything bankers can do to create more conversations is a good thing. Any practices bankers have that get in the way of friendly conversations are bad.
That shouldn't be any kind of newsflash. And yet many organizations appear unaware of this piece of common sense.
When bank managers express concerns about sales numbers, I ask bankers, "Did you meet anyone new today or learn something you didn't know about an existing customer at or away from the branch?"
If they hesitate, I proceed, "Did you ask anyone about their kids or pets or jobs or hobbies? Anyone tell you about their vacation or how they feel today?"
Too many employees cannot answer these questions affirmatively.
Some folks push back and state that those kinds of conversations are not "sales conversations." I then ask half-jokingly, "Well, how's that strategy of just talking about the bank working for you?"
People show interest in people who show interest in them. They gravitate to people and places that make them feel important and appreciated.
When bankers establish themselves as the kind of people who will talk freely with customers about the most important things in their lives their kids, pets, jobs, hobbies and more they become the kind of people customers will turn to when other important things like finances come up.
Sales cultures are not the necessary evil of bankers' jobs. Sales cultures will increasingly be one of the main reasons bankers' jobs still exist. Those who best understand how healthy ones work will be around for a while.
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.