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A few weeks ago, I found myself standing in a teller line at the branch where I started my credit union career eighteen years ago. As I stood there waiting to be helped, I remembered the good ol’ days when this branch was one of the busiest in the credit union. That day the branch had two tellers working, one at the drive-thru and one in the lobby. And had it not been for a member who had a problem that was taking time to resolve, there probably wouldn’t have been a line.

Foot traffic at credit union branches has been dropping for the last decade and is projected to continue to drop as more members utilize online and mobile options to manage their finances. This drop-in foot traffic represents a decline in employee interaction with members and fewer opportunities for employees to sell. However, that’s not stopping this branch from creating amazing sales numbers.

Despite the drop in traffic at this branch, product and service sales continue to increase. Last year alone, this moderately slow branch closed nearly $10 million in loan recapture sales, $4 million more than the previous year. To put that in perspective, each of the three loan officers at that branch are selling an additional $275,000 in loans per month; which will generate approximately $750,000 in net interest income.

The role of the branch employee and the contact center agent is changing. Like this credit union branch, that role must take on a sales focus and move away from the reactive, order-taker mentality of the previous decades. To accomplish this, credit unions must take advantage of five opportunities to provide and reinforce sales training.

Here are those five critical sales training opportunities with employees to create a fully engaged and highly skilled sales staff at your credit union.

During the Hiring Process:

Okay, so this first opportunity isn’t really a training opportunity, but a discussion about creating an engaged sales team wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t first talk about the importance of hiring the right people.

A few years ago I was hired by a credit union to provide sales training to their branch tellers, loan officers, and branch managers. Over the following months, they experienced a spike in branch employees applying for back office positions or leaving the credit union. In nearly every case the individuals leaving said they didn’t feel it was fair to expect them to sell on top of all the other responsibilities they had.

When preparing to hire for member-facing positions, it is important to remember that their primary role is to sell. Be sure that job descriptions communicate this selling role in the summary as well as the first two to three “tasks and responsibilities” bullets, if not more. Vet candidates by looking for selling experience that is applicable to the position you are hiring for. During the interview, be sure to ask specific questions about successes and struggles in past selling roles, as well as clearly setting the expectation that they are interviewing for a sales position. And finally, hire the candidate who has the behaviors and attitudes that will help them thrive as a sales representative of the credit union.

During Formal Training:

Likely, your credit union has invested a lot of time and resources into formalized training. This would include training for your tellering and call center functions, new accounts and loans, amongst others. Too often these training courses focus almost 100% of their time on operations and processing. If this is the case at your credit union, you are missing a golden opportunity to train a skilled sales staff. In fact, you may be shooting yourself in the foot. 

When an employee is hired for a new position, the training they receive will communicate what you value most. If training is focused solely on operations, such as how to balance, how to process a new account, and how not to get loan audit points, this is what they will focus on in their new position. While these are critical skills that do need to be trained on, formalized training must also include sales.

Actually, sales training is quite easy to integrate into formalized operational training. For example, most new hire training includes product knowledge. Instead of just teaching employees about your products features and benefits, teach them about how those products give your member an advantage by citing a few situations that a member might need that product. Then, when practicing transactions, require the employees to identify a missing product and offer it to the member using a simple script you have provided. Learn more about the sales training offered by SalesCU here.

During new accounts training, employees should be taught how to properly conduct a member interview. There is no way around it, this is 100% pure sales training. The member interview is by far the most critical sales discussion you will have with your member, and it’s probably the first skill that should be covered in this training course. Then, as employees begin to role play, ensure that the scenarios have hidden sales opportunities which the employee is challenged to uncover during the member interview.

Lastly, there are a number of ways you can pack loan training with sales. Beginning with credit reports, train employees to read them and to identify loan recapture opportunities and calculate savings within them. In all practice scenarios you use, there should be at least one recapture opportunity on the credit report which the employee is expected to ask about. That recapture opportunity then becomes their next practice loan application. Additionally, the majority of training for payment protection, GAP, and extended warranty should be focused on how to sell them. 

As Part of the “First 90 Days”:

This training opportunity would build off of the sales training your employees would have received during formalized training courses. When an employee starts in a new position, they will develop critical behaviors in the first 90 days that will become habit and difficult to change. For many credit unions, this time is focused on ensuring their employees are operationally sound and understand all of the processes to balance and have clean audits. In fact, many credit unions I have worked with tell me they don’t start holding employees accountable to a sales expectation until they have been on the job for 6 months. 

To train a high performing sales team, selling must be a primary focus during the onboarding processes. New employees in transaction roles should continue to receive support and coaching to sell along with learning how to operate the system, balance, answer a wide variety of questions, and process transactions quickly. Employees opening new accounts should be coached on the skills of conducting an effective member interview, along with how to process an application without errors and prevent fraud. And new lenders should continue to receive coaching on recapturing loans, selling protection products, and so forth.

Along with this continued coaching, employees should have sales expectations that will help them stretch and prepare them to meet their goals when their onboarding period has ended.

As a Sales Team:

Managers of any sales team should be holding regular team sales meetings. Generally, managers will hold a team meeting on a weekly basis. Much of the time, these meetings are held to discuss changes to products and services, adjustments to processes, team issues that need to be discussed, and so forth. At the very least, a team sales meeting should be held monthly.

The team sales meeting is an opportunity for more than just sales training. It is a great opportunity to celebrate success and recognize employees who have exceeded sales expectations. It’s an opportunity for employees to ask questions and share sales experiences with one another. And it’s an opportunity for employees to practice and improve sales skills and processes in a safe environment. Check out this article for more tips on motivating employees.

To help sales managers accomplish each of these goals for their team sales meetings, they should break up the time into four parts.

  • Part one is to recognize team members, follow-up on the previous month’s sales commitments, and have an open discussion about sales success on the team.
  • Part two should be focused on a specific sales training topic.
  • Part three should be dedicated to applying and practicing what was just trained on.
  • Part four should be given to the manager to set expectations and gain commitments from the team on how they will apply the new training over the next month.

The team sales meeting is a great opportunity to develop leadership within the team. Actually, the only part of the team sales meeting that should be directed by the manger is part 4 when making commitments. Each of the other parts should be led by a team member and rotated on a monthly basis. This is a great way to identify employees who will make a good fit for future leadership positions. 

With Individual Coaching:

Finally, on a monthly basis, sales leaders should be spending one-on-one time with each member of the team to provide sales training and coaching. This one-on-one time should be split between three separate coaching sessions.  Check out my article “What is Sales Coaching.”

The first coaching session should be focused on the employee’s individual development plan. This can include non-sales topics; however, the majority of the time should be focused on sales. The time should be spent on a sales skill the employee feels he needs to improve. The leader should provide some training where needed and spend the remainder of the time looking at examples and practicing. 

Next, sales leaders should schedule time to shadow the employee in order to observe the employee applying what he has been working to improve. The shadowing sessions should be focused on the skill being worked on and identifying where the employee has made improvement. The employee needs to know that his sales leader is not there to identify other things he needs to work on. 

Finally, the third coaching session should happen directly or soon after the shadowing session to discuss how the employee felt he did and in what areas he feels he needs further support and coaching. The leader should primarily ask questions and listen, holding off on directly sharing any personal observations.   

In closing, the decline of member interaction in the branch and contact center does not mean the demise of the member facing employee, rather it signals a critical change that must happen. Employee training must move away from reinforcing the roles of ‘processor’ and ‘order-taker’ and adopt the training of highly skilled sales professionals. As credit unions focus on sales, employees will provide a more engaging experience for the member, provide more value to the member, and ensure their credit union continues to grow and thrive.

Reach out for a consultation here.