Traditional Sales Training…Don’t Your Employees Deserve Better?


“Have you had any sales training?” This was one of the initial questions during my first interview for what eventually began my career in the credit union industry. My answer, “Tons!” By the time I had been offered my first credit union job I had worked two years at a Citibank branch during college and then another two years as a registered representative for two different brokerage firms.

My sales training during those four years took many forms. There was classroom training which consisted of explaining the differences between features and benefits. There were scripts that were designed to help me overcome objections such as what to say when the prospect replied, 6“I need to speak to my wife first.” And there was the impromptu training from the sales manager that sometimes began with “Just sell the (bleep) stock!” That was one of his more professional training moments.

Whether it was the training, my personality, or a combination thereof I had some success at sales. I won a number of sales contests at Citibank, one of them even a regional one among several branches in the Chicagoland area. I got a plaque and even got to attend the big dinner attached to the promotion. I wonder what ever happened to that plaque.

I even had some success in the highly competitive brokerage world when I won a trip with all of the other top young brokers in the firm to a meeting at a resort in Clearwater, FL. Shortly after winning that trip I found myself interviewing. At the age of 23 the stress of quotas and multiple sales managers yelling at me, regardless of how well I was doing, was already getting to me. I made the wise decision that I didn’t want to have an ulcer before my 30th birthday.

Then began my credit union career where I could put my sales skills to good use where management actually did have an appreciation for them. And where I always offered a product or service that was of value to my prospect. My business development prowess earned me two promotions over eight years.

Fast forward to 2001 when I started Bator Training & Consulting where my signature service was cross-sales training to financial institutions. By 2003 I had abandoned that program because I found as a trainer that trying to provide surface-level solutions to deep cultural problems just doesn’t work!

I finally realized that after being a sales-person, then a sales manager, and finally a sales trainer that it wasn’t about building sales skills in individuals. It’s about building a sales process with the entire team. Sure, you can create a few sophomoric sales scripts with your frontline staff but that doesn’t change a poor lead-generation effort by marketing. You can throw incentives at your member-facing employees but that doesn’t help them to align their mindset with the brand of the business. You can even threaten their jobs if they don’t sell – and, yes, I have actually witnessed this in the credit union industry believe it or not – but that doesn’t make people change behavior. It simply speeds up the ubiquitous revolving door for the HR department.

Again, it’s about the sales process. Or better yet the business development process. If you have ever heard me present you probably heard me say how I love “sales” as a noun but I have little affinity for the verb “to sell.” Sales are the lifeblood of any business. However, to sell is a focus on the transaction and not the individual. For example, the first definition on is “to transfer goods to or render services for another in exchange for money; dispose of to a purchaser for a price.” There’s nothing in that statement about fulfilling a need or solving a problem. It’s simply the understanding that a transaction needs to take place. And I don’t think any of us wants to “dispose of” something on to a member.

However, when you use “business” as an adjective in conjunction with the noun “development” you form a phrase with a positive connotation. “The act or process of developing; growth; progress.” Hey, there’s that word process again.

One of the first steps of that process is psychological and that is explaining that the actions of “hard-selling” AND “order-taking” are BOTH negative and inappropriate for the culture of your credit union. Many people have a picture in their heads that selling is an “either-or” activity, i.e. I am either pushing a product or I am an order taker. And that’s simply not true.

7The fact is to not make a member aware of a service that would be of benefit to him or her is, in essence, a disservice. The job may not be to sell but it is to point out how a specific service can legitimately solve a problem. Once people understand that concept and that business development is everyone’s job the task begins to seem less daunting even for some of the most anti-sales MSRs. You know the ones. The ones that say, “I wasn’t hired to be a salesperson.” That may be true but, as one CEO told me once, “Regardless of your job description, every employee has two tasks: member retention and member acquisition.”

The next part of the process ironically is to create the business development process, but not at the strategic planning retreat or a management team meeting. Then it’s just one more directive coming down from the top…one more that staff probably won’t be passionate about and will, at best, go through the motions to adhere to.

As Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. said in his book, Leadership Matters, “People support what they help create.”  I advocate building a cross-functional team to create the process from the ground up. Then it’s their process or their peers’ process and not management’s. Depending upon the size of the credit union I advocate having a five to eight person team to build the business development process from the ground up. The team might look something like this: one teller, one personal banker, one IT professional, one marketing professional, and one finance professional.

You may ask “Why on earth would you want someone from IT or finance on a team to create a business development process?” As with most systems, the process is going to effect most if not all departments in the organization. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have IT and finance on board before there’s a problem in a portion of the business development process that effects either department? Otherwise there will be the ubiquitous argument of IT saying that marketing doesn’t know what it’s doing and marketing saying that finance is the anti-sales department. You want everyone that will be involved at any level to have some buy-in, be on the same page, and resolve obvious problems before they happen.

Here’s an example of a simple process that could be created by the team. Say the credit union is losing business to direct mail pre-approvals like SoFi or local car dealerships. You know that over 80% of the time the credit union could have offered them a better deal but you don’t hear about it until after the member takes the offer and has obtained a loan somewhere else. So the team develops a process such as this:

Marketing develops a campaign with brand messaging such as “Bring those deals you get in the mail into us for a review. We’ll let you know if we can do better or if those other guys really do give you an offer you shouldn’t refuse.” Either way we’ll give you a free gift for coming in to talk to us.

The branch personnel having worked with marketing on the concept are already set up for success. They know exactly what the program is and what to say when a member walks in or calls. They even know what the free gift is. You would be surprised as to how many times it is the “free gift” that is the disconnect between marketing and the branch staff.

IT sets up a program in the system to track the success of the process. They also create an online form for the website for those that want to participate online.

And finance has already provided parameters of what can be offered and what can’t in order to earn the business. This way there are no surprises and frontline staff don’t mistakenly make a promise to the member that can’t be kept by the credit union.

This is a simple but good example. Everyone’s on the same page. Everyone has buy in. Everyone understands the role they play in the process. And, guess what, no one has “to sell.” The branch professionals can be in the business development zone and simply present the facts to the member. You can either help them with a better deal or not. You can also point out when their deal and your offer is an apples to oranges comparison and what the difference means them. Doesn’t that sound better than teaching features and benefits or passing out some surface-level sales scripts? If it doesn’t you can always resort to the training that I had in my early years by telling your frontline staff “Just sell the (bleep)!” and hand them a script to help them to keep the prospect from talking to his or her spouse.

kenneth-batorKen Bator is the author of The Formula for Business Success = B+C+S and the founder of Bator Training & Consulting, Inc. (BTC).  Credit unions hire Ken to create environments where employees actually want to come to work and members want to keep coming back. BTC accomplishes this through a combination of Branding, Culture building, and Strategic planning. This is the unique B+C+S Formula created by Bator and featured in his latest book. To have BTC assist your credit union in creating a differentiating and engaging experience, contact Ken directly at 714-681-2821 or Learn more about BTC’s training and strategic planning sessions at

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