Sales is the vital link to success for any organization, be it a retail business, an online store, or even a credit union. Without sales, there is no growth in business activity. Without growth, innovation is limited, enhancement to processes is impossible, and staff cannot be developed to better support the changing needs of consumers. The key question, then, is how to be effective in the process of selling the products and services we make available to members?
Effectiveness is being successful in producing a desired or intended result. Sales effectiveness, then, is being successful in getting products and services into the hands of members. There are many ways to sell, such as via indirect channels, business development officers, member service reps, face-to-face, etc. This post will not delve into each of these methods and their use in credit union sales strategy. Rather, we will focus on the organizational structure you need to make sales effective, whatever the channel; that is producing the results defined in your strategic/business plan.
Building The Sales Infrastructure
For a sales environment to be successful, there are four key infrastructure elements that must be present. They are:
- Goals. For sales to be effective, defined goals are a requirement.
- Skills. Your sales team must have the appropriate skills required for selling, as well as managing the sales environment.
- Process. You have to have a process the maps sales from lead origination all the way to closing the deal.
- Tracking. You need a tracking system that identifies where your leads are in the sales process, and how long they sit at each stage of the process.
Just about every credit union has goals. In fact, the NCUA has pretty much mandated that every federally insured credit union have a strategic plan, which if done right will certainly include goals and objectives. The question is this: can the goals in your plan also serve as your sales goals? For example, can a strategic goal of growing membership by 10% also be considered the sales goal for all credit union staff? My answer is, “No.”
Sales goals need to be specific, defined for each channel you plan to utilize for sales. Let’s assume you have an indirect loan program, a functional web site with an automated account application and decisioning, a branch, and a call center. Each of these channels should have their own specific goals, broken down by the types of products you want each channel to sell. Every member touch point is literally a point of sale, and defining your production expectations for each touch point is vitally important to maximizing successful sales.
If you make use of a blanket goal, such as “grow loans by 10%,” how is every person at each member touch point supposed to see how their efforts in communicating with members help the big picture? If, however, you say to your branch staff that they are responsible for half of the 10% growth, that certainly provides them a more manageable point of focus than the much larger goal. Even better is to break down the benchmarks for the products you want them to sell. In your budgeting process, you should have defined the approximate mix of products you want to see. Use that as the basis for channel product goals.
An interesting question here is, “How do you do that for a web site or a kiosk?” It isn’t a person, so how can it be expected to sell? The answer is to engage your website design team (or outsource partner) as the channel sales agent. Give them sales goals too! Don’t just tell them you want hits to the website. Tell them you want a certain number of new loans and that you will judge them by their results just like everyone else. They can then use the goals to define design strategy, and test the success of varying calls to action. As a side note here, I am often amused at seeing websites that get awards on design. There should be a qualification for how well that design works in getting members or potential members to cement the relationship.
On to our next item – skills. The important consideration here is focusing on both the skills required to sell directly to the member and the skills required to manage the sales environment. Lets take each component individually. Skill set requirements for point-of-sale sales efforts run way beyond knowledge of product features and benefits. I often hear executives talk of having to better train staff on products. “If we can only improve our staff’s understanding of our products, then we will sell more” they say. Let’s face it. We’re not selling very complicated services here.
Rather than focus skill development efforts solely on product knowledge, the key is to also train staff on how to better relate to the people to whom they are selling. Well-developed communication skills are much more important than any bit of product knowledge, and this is true no matter what channel you use to sell. If we’re talking front-line staff, do they show that they are actively listening? Do they have the patience to let members finish their thought before trying to jump in with a response? Are they courteous in all circumstances? These efforts all require great skill – and these skills are what you train on.
For other delivery channels, such as the Internet, do the site designers understand the experience you want members to have on the site? Do they understand how and why people make an online purchase decision? Skills in website design/look-and-feel and also in traffic analysis and response are key, and developing such skill is where your skill development efforts should be focused.
As for the skills required for management personnel, focus must be on both coaching capabilities as well as sales pipeline analysis. Coaching is the process of rapid response to an employee’s efforts, positive or negative. A good coach will step in and offer congratulations on a job well done – reinforcing the skill set focus on which the employee was trained. A good coach will also jump in and offer feedback and course corrective tips when the things did not go according to expectations. Note that most efforts at coaching are focused specifically at point-of-sale interactions, which is short-sighted. Coaching involves interaction throughout the process and with every department involved in the sales process – not just at the point-of-sale.
It is in this regard that management skill begins to transcend mere analysis of numbers. Sales management personnel must be able to isolate where in the sales pipeline a success of failure occurred, then coach or counsel the responsible party as appropriate.
Of course skills without a method to deploy them are worthless. That brings us to our third component for effective sales, the importance of process, otherwise known as workflow. There should be no question as to how a member is to go from prospect to a funded applicant for each and every channel. It helps to think of an assembly line when envisioning the sales process. What are the components of sales? How should the workflow be separated? How is the member transferred from one employee to another? Are the transitions seamless? Implicit choreography of the sales effort is critical.
There are many benefits to formalizing a sales process/workflow, including:
- Reduction of the risks associated with turnover;
- Providing a means of continuously improving the lead to closing time associated with member business;
- Developing a better understanding of the effectiveness of marketing efforts.
While some credit unions have a formal, defined sales workflow, many I have come into contact with have a more informal undocumented process. This works well if you never have personnel changes, or if you never want to isolate the root cause of sales success or failure.
This leads us to the final component of effective sales: tracking (i.e., pipeline analysis). If you don’t track, how will you know when you are successful? I suggest tracking every stage of the process workflow we just discussed. How many leads are being generated by marketing? How long does it take for people to get from marketing outreach to a defined lead in the system? How long are people sitting at each stage of the process? How many people fall out of the sales process, and at what stage? What is the quality of the interaction from the member’s perspective?
The results of your tracking should be analyzed on a regular, if not real time, basis. The more in touch with the results of tracking you are, the better your management decisions will be. Such measurements can be used to inform all participants in the sales process, helping them to improve what they do for the betterment of the member relationship and as a catalyst to credit union growth.
While this is a simple list of four elements, few credit unions out of the 7,000+ chartered credit unions include each key element as formally as we have defined. Some have bits and pieces, but not nearly enough have this full structure formalized and woven into the cultural fabric.
Giving people direction, developing their skills, and reinforcing the important points of member interaction through formal processes and tracking can only be a plus if you are trying to grow your credit union. Again, sales is the lifeblood. Order-taking credit unions will only last so long in this competitive world in which we live. Throw the challenging economic environment in, and the low regard many consumers have for the banking system today, and you can see where we cannot leave any part of the consumer loop to chance. We have to be great at tying member expectations and our ability to deliver together, and the structured environment of an effective sales process is the place to make it happen.