Sadly, Your Employees are Likely “Un-selling” Members

For many credit unions, the struggle to get their employees to reach out to their members and sell is real.  Often when speaking to credit union leadership, they are frustrated with their staff because they won’t take the time to engage their members beyond what they specifically ask for.  And they are stuck in an “Order Taker” mentality.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to sit with an employee to coach them on sales.  Of course this is something I have done numerous times, but this particular experience stands out to me.  I had been invited by the branch manager to come in and provide an outside perspective on sales with her branch because they were struggling.

Before coming out I asked her to share what was happening and what she thought needed to change.  She said that despite continually encouraging her employees at the teller line and new account/loan desk, to offer products and services the member needed, and from her observations they were doing this.  However, even though employees were consistent, sales results were low, even lower than other branches who were not “Focused On Sales” according to her.

It was clear that the sales process was the issue.  As I sat to coach this employee I wanted to specifically see how they conducted a sales discussion, how they uncovered needs, aligned benefits, introduced the product, and created engagement and commitment in the member.

I had scheduled an hour to just sit and listen as he helped members.  I call this “Shadowing” because I simply sit and observe.  I don’t say a word unless asked.  This isn’t time to coach but to learn.  It is something I do every time I work with an employee one-on-one to help them with their sales success, because it gives critical insight when it is time to coach.

While shadowing, the first member to come in needed an auto loan to buy a car from a friend.  They had everything with them and they were ready to finance today.  With instructions to do what he normally does, the employee went through the process of starting an application, getting an initial approval, quoting a loan amount and a payment.  Then, it came time to sell GAP, warranty and payment protection products.  His first question went something like this:

“Sally, our credit union offers GAP insurance incase, you know, you total your car.  It’s only $$$.  You wouldn’t want that… Would you?”

My eyes shot over to the member to see her response.  Her forehead scrunched as if thinking then she said “No, I don’t think that’s something I need”.

After I was finished shadowing this employee, we have an opportunity to discuss what took place.  I asked him if this is how he always sells, by asking if the member wouldn’t want the product, and how successful he felt it was.  He said, it was pretty close to the way he did it and he felt it got results.  I then asked where he learned this approach.  He said, this is what he was told to do.

I wasn’t shocked by this approach; I had seen it before and since.  In fact early in my role of branch sales I was guilty of using it myself.  It’s called the “Un-sell”.  There are different forms of this approach:

“Mr. Member, I have a few products I am required to talk to you about…”

“Ms. Member, here is some information on our checking accounts.  If you are interested give me a call…”

“Mrs. Member, we do offer overdraft protection for your checking account, but you know, it’s whatever you’d like to do…”

If you’ve heard these at your credit union, you have employees that are “Un-selling” your members.  It’s easy to see this isn’t effective, limiting sales to members who either already know about the products and have decided they want them, or members who are quick minded and able to understand the benefits for themselves.

Why do employees use this approach? Let me share a few reasons why this might be happening.

#1 Poor Sales Training

Often, employees are taught to sell in this way.  Sales training is generally not formalized and often is left up to the supervisor or a co-worker they are sent to shadow.  The only formal sales training that is given is usually product knowledge, where the employee takes a few courses online that teach them about the products and services the credit union offers, and shows it’s features and benefits.

With this form of training the employee simply repeats what they have heard from others or to tell the member about the products feature.  They see that this is acceptable from their leaders, maybe they experience a little success, and they are satisfied with that.   Rather than trying to improve, or make selling more exciting and rewarding, they simply continue to do what has always been done.

Also, at the root of a lot of this is fear.  Because the employee has not been properly trained, they have experienced a lot of what they perceive as rejection.  Rejection for anyone hurts, and we try to protect ourselves from being rejected.  The employee who approaches sales in the way illustrated above is simply trying to shield themselves from disappointment and rejection.  By not becoming emotionally invested in the sales process they accomplish this.

When employees do receive formal sales training, which teaches how the sales process works, often they light up, and begin to see the possibilities.  They see what they have been doing wrong and are eager to try something new.  Generally, we find that they are frustrated with the approach they have been taking, and are craving for something that actually works.  With basic sales training, often results begin to change and it ignites the employee’s intrinsic motivation to be great at selling. Check out sales training I offer specifically designed for credit union employees.

#2 No Accountability

We often think of accountability in a negative way but it really shouldn’t be seen in that way.  Accountability is simply the way to form behaviors and help employees see what is truly important in their job function.  Your employees will perform in the areas they are held accountable to.

In the experience I shared above, this branch manager was expecting employees to discuss additional products and services with their members.  She held them accountable by coaching them on the importance of offering all the products.  She likely made it a point in team meetings, and asked about it in their one-on-ones.  She wasn’t holding them accountable for actual sales production.  As a result, the employee I shadowed had done exactly what he was accountable for, talking to the member about GAP.  He didn’t sell it, but in his mind that wasn’t necessary.

Credit unions don’t appropriately hold employees accountable to sales production often because they feel there is a conflict of interest in doing so.  They are a service first rather than sales first organization and specific quotas would cause employees to sell at the expense of the member.  There is truth to this but only when the quotas are tied to the product rather than to the member experience.

When employees are given clear sales expectations and are held accountable to sales success, we see things change.  The expectation is to benefit the member through financial advocacy, understand the member’s true needs, align the right products and services to fill those needs, and help the member commit to a solution and close.  When this is the expectation is it easy to hold the employee accountable.  It is here where sales begin to thrive. I teach more on this in my newly launched online sales training called SalesCU.

#3 Hired for The Wrong Skill-set

A problem I encounter when providing sales training and coaching to credit unions, is they often have employees in sales roles who have the wrong skill-sets and values.

If you have ever read the book “Strengths Finder 2.0” by Tom Rath you learned that each of us has a unique set of strengths or rather talents.  Some of these we were born with while others we developed based on environment and opportunities presented to us.  You also know that each of us also have weaknesses.  The premise of the book and movement is to illustrate that those people who are allowed to focus on and develop their strengths, those individuals who have responsibilities which complement their strengths are happier and much more successful.  This directly applies to sales.

When credit unions hire someone into a sales position, often they are looking for the wrong strengths.  Can you relate with any of these?

  • Because the auditing department continues to harp on accuracy and loan errors, we hire loan officers who are skilled at details and analytics.
  • Because the branch is extremely busy we higher tellers who are process oriented and can generate a lot of work in a short period of time.
  • Because the manager may have some leadership weaknesses, they hire individuals with the complimentary skills to offset their short comings.

The credit union sits back and enjoys great audits, high transaction volumes, and employees who lead themselves, but wonder why getting their employees to sell is such a fight, a struggle and constant challenge?

Hiring individuals with the right sales skill-sets solves most of the headache.  No longer does leadership have to constantly remind employees to sell.  It no longer becomes a struggle to reach goals and expectations.  Leadership focus can switch from sales motivator and babysitter to sales leader and visionary. Schedule a leadership call with Nick to gain insight in how to take the leadership at your credit union to the next level.

Of course as the credit union tackles and overcomes “Un-selling” and replaces it with training, accountability, and employees equipped to sell, new challenges will inevitably arise.  First off, audits will get worse.  Let’s face it true sales people are not strong on paperwork and details.  Second, you may see transaction volumes fall a bit as employees engage members in deeper conversations.  And possibly third, your underwriting team is going to need a few more FTE.  Luckily for the credit union it will have the revenue to invest in technology, new processes and employees so the sales team can focus on what the member really cares about…  Gaining exceptional value from their credit union.

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