Service By Another Name

A successful sales culture needs to work for the long-term benefit of the member.

Henry, any culture change is like deciding to change your personality; it’s so much more than just how to change. To begin, a lot has to do with your starting culture. If the present culture is to take orders but employees are enthusiasticabout serving members, then there should be a true opportunity to fold sales into that culture. A successful sales culture is really as much about service as it is about sales. Although employees need strong sales skills, a sales culture is driven by a service attitude, namely that selling is proper because the credit union has good products and solutions that benefitand deliver value to members.

Your branch that is already embracing a sales culture will appreciate the change, new support, and attention for doing the right thing. The others will show a mix of responses, as with any change in culture.

Henry, take care with your first message to your staff. Be clear about why this change is important to the members, employees, and the credit union. Generally, people fear change. Help them confront and dispense with those fears. For example, tell themyou are not trying to turn them into pushy salespeople; rather, you want them to be people who look out for member needs. This can begin with a simple, friendly greeting: Hello, how can I help you today? Followed by: How are ourservices working for you; What else can we help you with; or Did you know we offer a great rate auto loan? Staff needs to be comfortable enough with the productsto ask questions and knowledgeable enough to use the member’s response to open the door for more discussion.

Show employees how they are being helpful. For example, if someone complains about a non-sufficient fund fee, the employee can reimburse it, but a better action is to talk with that member about any number of good solutions that will help the member neverpay an NSF fee again. If you let employees know you want them to look out for a member’s long-term benefit, then they are morelikely to understand what the new culture is trying to do. We ask employees to ask members if they know about a particular special. This isn’t being pushy; it’s being helpful. We don’t want members who ignore mailed advertising andother marketing to come back two months later and say, I didn’t know about this. Why didn’t you share this with me?

Henry, you are going to be the torch-bearer. You have to make sure the new culture is spreading through the credit union. You don’t need an iron fist; just be a good coach and a good guide. Be aware that people will be watching what you do and howyou act. They will take their cues from you. Be a champion of the new culture. Of course, there is going to be a lot on your plate, so you might want to appoint someone to concentrate on instilling the new culture in the credit union, who makes certainthe training and coaching are completed. This person, too, needs to lead by example.

We bring together our branch managers and middle managers so they can bounce ideas off one another. I can talk to them as a group about a sales culture, but something extra happens when they gather together by and for themselves. When one really understandsthe importance to the member and what happens within a branch setting, they talk with their peers and solidify the practicality of a sales culture. They help others understandtheir struggles and offer solutions. Managers want to know what has worked recently, so best practices and table talks every month work well.

You are right to be concerned that your older employees might take the longest to change. They might need more positive member response to realize the importance of helping people through selling good products. Selling is just influencing someone to takeaction. We all do that every day. For example, we influence our spouse or children to do something we think they should do. Employees can use that same skill in the workplace.

Watch out for employees who prejudge products and won’t talk about them. Some front-line people might have their own hang-ups that are simply mistaken beliefs. For example, someone might not like credit cards for themselves or their children, butthey shouldn’t presume credit cards are not good for anyone. In fact, a credit card might be very helpful to someone else. Talk your employees through prejudginga product by explaining people have different circumstances. Employees should act as advocates for the members.

Henry, it takes up to 24 months for all employees to fully transition, but you want to see everyone moving forward. And note that you can’t just give out expectations without providing consistent monthly coaching, skills training, and role-playing(all employees need to hear themselves having a sales discussion).

And Henry, if you want to change behaviors, you need to provide incentives, enough to make a difference but not so much that the money becomes more important than thereason for the change. Give considerable thought to who is rewarded for what from the CEO to the newest employee and have individual and team rewards. Money is not the only incentive. We use annual sales and service breakfastsor lunches to recognize our top performers. We have tried variations over the years and find that bringing stars from different offices for a special recognition event has numerous benefits. For one, doing so lets the top performers feed offone other; they build renewed energy to sell even stronger and be role models for the others. Recognize and energize.

Another piece of advice about incentives, Henry: Make awards once a month. More frequent incentives causes too much paperwork; less frequent creates a disconnect between action and reward. It takes a while to identify the right kinds of incentives. Probablyevery credit union needs something a little different to suit its particular circumstances and people.

And last: Track the growth and results, Henry, so you can celebrate the successes with your employees; it brings energy to make the changehappen.

June 3, 2014

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