Over the last few years, I have had the great pleasure of working with many amazing credit unions. More importantly, I have been able to work with many great people who have spent their careers advancing the credit union movement. They see the same vision that I see, that we, as credit unions, can work to help our members create a positive financial experience.
When working with credit unions, our goal at SalesCU is to give clear direction on what sales really is and how to approach sales in the credit union way. There is still a lot of misunderstanding about sales though. And while many credit unions see the importance of sales in the success of the organization, many still struggle to foster a successful sales culture.
The credit unions who have cultures with a successful sales focus have not gotten there by accident; nor have they simply gotten lucky. To become a sales focused organization credit unions must do a few things very well. First, they must successfully adjust the mindset of what constitutes exceptional service and the role the credit union plays in their members’ lives. Second, they need to provide exceptional training that effectively blends both operational and sales training needs so employees have a clear understanding of what their job is. And lastly, credit union leadership, at all levels, should continuously support the sales mindset and skills with the right actions, messages, and expectations.
In past articles, I have written on each of these points. They are all important and cannot be overlooked or set to the side. Arguably though, the most important aspect has to be coaching.
Before leaving my credit union job, I managed an outbound call center. We had great success selling to our members. I would get calls all of the time from credit union leaders at other financial institutions that were trying to get their team to be more proactive in their sales approach. Without fail, the one question they would always ask is, “How do we get past the order taker mentality?” or similarly, “How do we get our employees to sell?” I get asked the same question today and the answer is still the same: coaching.
Coaching is a critical element in any organization’s sales initiative. Without it, selling just doesn’t happen consistently or effectively. Given its crucial role, one would expect it to be among the top priorities of credit union leaders. Sadly, it isn’t.
In a recent survey we conducted at SalesCU, we asked credit union leaders from across the country about their sales coaching efforts. I was surprised by the results. A vast majority of respondents, ninety-two percent, said that coaching is not happening or is ineffective at their credit union. There were various reasons given by respondents for this lack of coaching. They are:
- A misunderstanding of what success is
- A lack of coaching skills
- Poor time management
It’s on these points that I’d like to share a little more insight. And to help illustrate and hopefully provide more depth to each of these points, I’d like to address them by using scenarios. I think you will likely recognize these scenarios and possibly see a few of them happening currently at your credit union.
What Is Success?
Laurie has been with the credit union for over ten years. She has the reputation of being a master of the credit union’s processes, systems, products, and procedures. As a teller, she led the branch in transactions and was rarely out of balance. As a loan officer, she was the “go-to” person for questions and excelled in processing difficult member requests and resolving problems. Her loan audits were always clean and her title work was always up-to-date.
Because she did so well in these branch positions for nearly eight years, when Laurie’s manager retired, she was the clear choice to take his role.
Today, Laurie’s branch is a model for accuracy and speed and her team leads the credit union in nearly every efficiency category. However, when sales expectations were rolled out last year, Laurie’s branch did not respond well. They have failed to reach these additional expectations consistently and no improvement has been detected. When sales training has been provided to her team, it appears to make little to no impact.
Laurie and her branch’s inadequacy in sales have become a serious concern for senior leadership. They wonder how Laurie’s branch can be so exceptional in many areas, but struggles to embrace sales success.
The answer to this quandary is actually quite simple. Laurie has implemented the same skillset and values in her branch management position that brought her success and promotions as a member-facing employee but failed to expand her skillset to include proficiency in sales and the ability to coach her team to sell.
This common obstacle is one of the most difficult for credit union leaders to overcome. The vast majority of credit unions encounter this challenge as they introduce sales into their culture. Like Laurie, the bulk of branch and contact center managers have not had the benefit of developing sales skills up to this point in their credit union careers. In noting this common deficiency, it is not surprising that senior leaders get skepticism and pushback from their managers when they insist that selling is a critical part of current and future success.
To address this shortcoming, many credit unions have looked outside of their organization to hire talented managers trained in a sales focused culture. This can be effective at quickly bringing a sales mindset and skillset into the credit union. However, this doesn’t always have to be the case. For Laurie, senior leaders must be consistent, helpful, and empathetic while also setting clear expectations and timelines.
Laurie is a valuable member of the team who contributes at a high level. With time, coaching, and the right leadership she will likely become invaluable in coaching her team to sales success. If Laurie doesn’t embrace the necessary sales mentality, it may be advisable to strategically align her skills to a position in another area of the credit union where she can still be a significant asset.
John was hired from a big bank a few years ago as a loan officer. John’s background in finance and sales allowed him to transition well into his position. Despite the lack of formal sales training by the credit union, and very little coaching from his manager, he almost instantly led sales in his branch and consistently topped the credit union in sales performance. His charisma earned him many workplace friends and he was well liked.
When a branch manager position opened across town, John,applied and was offered the role. This branch had a history of failing to reach its sales goals. The regional manager was hopeful that John’s great personality and enthusiasm for sales alone would be able to “turn the branch around.”
Unfortunately, after just six months, John’s employees began to complain about his leadership style and the regional manager learned that John was looking at job postings.
When she approached John about this in their monthly discussion, John admitted that he just wasn’t happy in his new management role. He declared that his team was not coachable and didn’t appreciate all the time and effort he’d spent trying to help them to sell more effectively. He recognized there was a problem but he attributed it to “just not being good at leadership.” And he felt he needed to get back into a sales position.
John’s story is not uncommon. Many top individual contributors find it difficult to transition into a leadership role. The skills that made John successful as a member-facing employee are very different than the skills necessary to be an effective leader.
Success as a manager and leader of people is reliant on the ability to inspire others and create meaningful accountability. John likely failed because he focused on hard skills rather than addressing the mindsets and behaviors contributing to the branch’s poor sales success. He failed to inspire and simply directed.
While this credit union sought to fill the position with an individual skilled in sales, they failed to consider or provide adequate leadership training. Additionally, as a coach of coaches, his regional manager should have been closely involved in John’s development and coaching efforts. There should have been careful monitoring of the team’s response to John’s leadership until competency was observed. Had his regional manager taken time to do this the results may have been quite different.
Time Application of Managers
Tamara is a regional branch manager. In addition to the branch she directly manages, she also oversees two other locations which are within fifty miles of her home office.
Before her promotion, Tamara ran a highly efficient branch that she always felt was understaffed. In order to keep members happy, she spent a lot of time on the teller line, opening loans and new accounts, and managing the day-to-day branch operations. When someone would quit or take time for vacation, Tamara always felt the pressure to cover the deficit herself.
Now, as a regional branch manager, Tamara schedules time at each of her locations based on staffing needs and is generally there when a branch manager is out or a loan officer is off. She is still often found processing transactions and funding applications. Her branch managers also spend a lot of time as producers.
Tamara’s branches are all struggling to meet their sales goals despite having skilled salespeople on her team. When approached about this, Tamara is quick to point out staffing issues and the amount of foot traffic in the branches. However, branch transaction numbers are actually quite average if not on the low side. Her vice president has observed many instances when employees are sitting idle at their work stations with nothing to do.
In this situation, Tamara, who was an excellent individual contributor, has brought those same values to her roles as a manager and now manager of managers. She is essentially a glorified, highly-paid floater. Certainly, she is a leader, but she is filling her day with time-consuming, non-leader-essential duties and sending the wrong message to her team.
Tamara must be challenged to refocus her values as a leader. Her primary responsibility as a leader of leaders is to develop her managers and support them in developing their teams. Unless this happens, her teams will never become capable of doing the work Tamara is stepping in to do. These branches are not suffering from being under-staffed, but rather under-developed.
Instead, Tamara must be encouraged to coach her managers in developing their teams and to delegate any task not essential to her position. This will free up some of her time which she will be able to use in further coaching her managers and their teams. She will need training and coaching to help her develop her coaching skills. Specifically, she should be asked to spend more one-on-one time with her branch employees developing their sales skills, and with her managers to help them become better coaches as well.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, one of the most eye-opening findings we gathered from our recent survey was how much credit unions struggle with the consistency and effectiveness in their sales coaching efforts. This is a concern. Sales coaching is arguably the most important element in building and sustaining a successful sales initiative.
In the given scenarios, we presented three common leadership situations that often impact sales coaching efforts. We illustrated that struggles in coaching can be caused when leaders don’t see sales as a vital part of success, when leaders lack coaching skills, and when leaders mismanage time leaving no room for coaching to take place. By specifically addressing these and other possible scenarios that may exist, credit union leaders can put their team on the path of coaching success and strong sales initiatives.
SalesCU is a credit union-specific, sales training company dedicated to bring a proactive sales approach to every credit union. SalesCU accomplishes this by providing sales consulting and training to enhance branch sales, contact center sales, outbound sales, and lending center sales. The goal of SalesCU is to empower credit unions to cultivate primary financial relationships with their members. Engage Nick Brown directly at 801-860-5807 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask about his credit union specific workshops and online sales training.