It was 2010. America was just coming out of the Great Recession. The credit union outbound sales team I was leading had just doubled its sales results for the second time that year. My team and I were confident and optimistic about the future. However, that wasn’t the case just fifteen months prior.The previous year, the sales team had gone through a major restructuring. The manager and half of the sales agents had been let go. While those who remained were relieved to still be employed during this very difficult time, it was bitter sweet relief. Those coworkers who were let go were all good friends and we felt for them and their families.
One of the main reasons the team had been restructured was a steep drop in sales to levels well below what was acceptable.
Sales numbers had fallen nearly 80% from previous highs despite having a talented and experienced staff.
After the restructuring, I was offered the opportunity to lead the team with a very clear expectation to get the sales results back on track and up to previous levels. I was given a mere 6 months in which to accomplish this and fewer outbound sales agents on the phones.
Luckily for me, the foundation for success was in place to reach these goals. Before being let go, the previous manager had invested time developing a new direction and new lead opportunities to meet the changes the recession had brought. In fact, these new lead sources provided the team with more sales opportunities than ever before. The problem was that the approaches which had brought success in the past didn’t work effectively with the new opportunity and the team lacked the direction to change their approach. Faced with what felt at first like an impossible task, I knew we needed to retrain and quickly motivate the team if we were going to hit our six-month deadline. I, with the support of my boss and insight from the outbound team, got right to work creating and implementing a new strategy which ultimately led to a 300% increase in agent production over the next twelve months. This new strategy required some changes, and as they helped our team succeed, I’d like to share them with you.Here are four things we changed as a team, which not only helped us blow past the outbound team’s previous sales levels, but ultimately enabled us to double our performance within a year.
- Clearly Communicate the Expectations
One of the first challenges my boss and I tackled was to establish clear expectations for the team. Clear expectations are critical for the success of any team, but they need to be smart expectations and there must be accountability to those expectations.
My outbound sales team had been given a goal to return sales results back to previous levels within six months. To accomplish this goal, individual agent production would need to increase to twice what it had been. That concerned us. However, as we reviewed past performance and the opportunity the new and improved lead sources provided my boss and I felt confident that each agent was more than capable of reaching the new expectations. The new number became the minimum expectation for the role.
To help clearly communicate the importance of reaching this expectation, a procedure for corrective action was developed for addressing situations when agents were unable to meet the minimum expectations of the position. If agents were unable to meet the threshold three months in a row, or any three months in a six-month timeframe, corrective action would take place including possible termination. However, we did not immediately enforce the corrective action. Agents were given six months to bring their sales production up before these procedures kicked in. And as long as they were progressing towards the new expectation, they were recognized as performing.
2. Establish a Process to Capture the Opportunity
The new lead sources from which the outbound agents would be calling provided a challenge. This new opportunity required a better sales approach in order to achieve the desired level of success.
We had been calling on these lead sources prior to the restructuring of the team with some success. From that success, we were able to develop a sales approach that could best capture the opportunity. The approach we developed was a series of discussion steps in the sales call which effectively led the member to a desired conclusion and ultimately to a commitment to move forward with the next steps in the sales process.
When completed, the staff was trained on the new sales discussion approach and supported with coaching and continuous follow-up. As the outbound team started making calls using the new approach, we realized that there were some adjustments that needed to be made. As these were discovered, we addressed the needed adjustments as a team and developed new best practices upon which the team was then trained and coached. By employing the collective experience of the team, we were able to develop an effective sales approach within a month.
In addition to the sales discussion, we also addressed more effective processes for identifying sales opportunities and improved the closing process for after the member said “Yes.” These practices ensured that we were only calling on the best leads and doing our best to shorten the sales cycle to closing.
3. Engage and Motivate the Team to Overachieve
It is important to note that we did not make the new minimum expectation our target “goal” for a reason. We felt that if we referred to the minimum expectation as the goal, the outbound agents would see it as the desired level of production or the target they were shooting for each month. We wanted them, rather, to look past the minimum expectations each month and reach for their maximum potential. As a result, our team consistently reached production targets which were 150% or even 200% above the minimum expectation. We taught them to drive for excellence by competing with themselves and their co-workers to help more members than they had during the month prior.
Rather than aiming for the minimum expectation, we established two targets which were well above the set expectations. We called these two targets “Good” and “Great”. If the outbound agent’s production was 150% over of the minimum expectation, we said they were doing a “Good Job,” and at 200% the employee was doing a “Great Job.” These targets gave agents something to shoot for and a visual which displayed what excellence in their position looked like.
Lastly, we established a point system that provided a better measurement of sales results. Each product was assigned a point value. When the agent closed a product, he or she would earn the points associated with that product. For example, selling and closing GPA would earn the agent 15 points and recapturing a $20,000 auto loan would earn the agent 40 points. Points were based on the value added to the member’s relationship and profitability for the credit union.
The points system gamified sales performance and recognized all sales production as contributing to the success of the team. It freed the agents to sell those products and services that delivered the best value to each individual member rather than trying to push a product to simply reach a goal.
With the point system in place, we launched a contest that created exciting competition not only between the agents, but also against their own performance. The competition had a few legs to it and lasted for three months. We used the competition to see if we could reach the six-month goal by the end of the three-month period. Small prizes were awarded to all agents when they reached certain thresholds, such as $5 gift cards or certificates to earn additional paid-time-off.
Furthermore, a prize was awarded to the top point earner at the end of each leg. Lastly, a team dinner was awarded if the team’s combined points met or exceeded the 6-month goal.
With expectations clearly communicated; processes created, trained, and coached to; and motivational systems implemented; the team achieved their goal. By the end of the third month, every agent had exceeded the minimum expectation and a few had approached the “Good Job” status. The greatest win however was the confidence each agent gained to exceed the expectation. Each felt empowered that their individual success was self-determined, and that their potential was defined by how much energy and focus they personally invested.
We were all excited by our accomplishment, however we were not satisfied by simply reaching the minimum expectation. We knew we could help more members, and we were determined to reach the higher targets on a consistent basis. At the end of month three, the team had achieved somewhere around 110% of the minimum. With their new found confidence, the team set a new goal to get the average team performance up to 150% of the minimum in the next 6 months.
After a few months however, it became evident that, while the agents were working hard, they were approaching their capacity to produce more sales. Because much of the sales they were making were loans, they were spending a lot of time processing applications, preparing closing documents, funding, auditing, and subsequently following up on title work. As this was a time-drain and took the agents off the phones, they were unable to continue increasing their sales. Without a solution, we could not reach our goal.
3. Create Scalability
The solution to our dilemma was clear; we needed a way to keep the outbound agents on the phone. I approached my boss with a plan that would allow us to use one of the vacated positions left from the reorganization to hire a processor. The processor would take much of the busy work away from the sales agents and allow them to focus more time on sales producing activities.
Initially, the plan was met with resistance. First, there were plans to refill those positions within the year with outbound agents. Using one for a processor would take an agent off the phone permanently. And second, the school of thought in the credit union, and amongst the senior leaders, was that the entire loan sales process should be owned by the loan officer who made the sale.
After some discussion, and observing our outbound team’s commitment and success, the position was approved.
We immediately filled the position and had our processor start finalizing new loan applications, handling all loan closings and fundings, and taking over title processing along with a few additional administrative responsibilities. The results were almost immediate. Within a few months of the processor being added, the team’s sales reached 200% of expectation, effectively doubling production a second time within one year.
If your credit union has an existing outbound sales team that is not performing, or is looking to add one, be sure that you set clear expectations, provide proven processes, encourage overachievement, and enable higher performance through scalability.
For our outbound sales team, these four practices made all the difference in reaching goals and exceeding the expectations. I am confident they can help your credit union’s team as well.