Several years ago, while I was working as a credit union outbound call center manager, I was asked to lead a series of sales training workshops as part of a loan officer refresher course. The purpose of the refresher course was to retrain employees on the most important aspects of their roles as loan officers.  

Most of this two-day course was focused on topics such as compliance, title processing, loan audits, product knowledge, and so forth; things I considered important but rather routine and, quite honestly, a little boring.  

For my part of the training, I wanted to make it meaningful, impactful, and engaging. I wanted the loan officers to walk away feeling empowered with a new understanding of why they should sell to their members and how to do it effectively. I posed this statement to begin the training: “As credit union employees, we must focus on selling opportunities.” 

I then asked them to tell me what they felt it meant. Most of the answers I received went something like this: “It means we should always be looking for opportunities to sell products and services to our members.” I told them they were absolutely correct, but to read it again because there is also another meaning.  

As I watched, facial expressions turned from confused to inquisitive and finally to enlightened. It usually only took a few moments before someone would shout out with excitement, “It also means we should focus on selling the opportunity our products and services give to our members.” 

Selling is an important part of what we do for our members. When teaching sales to our employees, they need to know how to identify sales opportunities, or rather when a member needs a new or different product or service. They also need to understand that selling in the credit union way focuses heavily on the opportunity our products and services provide our members, not the other way around.   

Selling opportunities—what to sell 

The first concept employees usually need to know when learning how to properly sell in the credit union way is how to identify when a member has a need for a new or better product or service. Having employees who can quickly and accurately identify a product or service need, in different situations and settings, will elevate our credit union’s sales success.  

Employees should be equipped with the ability to identify their member’s needs when opening a new account, new product, and/or a new service. But more importantly, they should have the tools to identify the member’s needs during a routine member interaction. Here are three skills they should have to help them with that.   

Product Mapping: Every member has an account profile. Basically, the account profile is the core and ancillary products and services your employees see when they pull up a member’s account. The account profile is the extent of your member’s relationship with the credit union and represents both the opportunity as well as the limitation you have to serve your member’s needs.   

For example, if your member has a basic savings account and an active checking account with ancillary products such as a debit card, direct deposit, and bill pay, you have the opportunity to serve her checking and savings needs; however, you are limited to only those needs unless you can sell additional products.   

Product mapping is the process of assessing the member’s account profile and identifying the next best product or service to offer the member. The goal in this strategy is to identify what is missing from the relationship and to offer the next best product or service that will fill a member’s need.  

In our example above, the employee may have noticed that the member is signed up for and using the credit union’s mobile app but has never deposited a check using remote deposit. This may be the next best sales opportunity. The employee should also be looking for the three key core products, which are savings, checking, and a credit card. In this example, the member does not have your credit union’s credit card, which would also represent a next best sales opportunity.   

Life Events: Life events represent a significant opportunity for employees to identify new or upgraded product or service needs that members have. This would include significant events such as the birth of a child, going to college, marriage, divorce, and retirement.  It could also include events such as a new job, loss of a job, and buying a new home. 

One of the best things you can do with employees when teaching them to see life events as opportunities to sell is to write down a life event such as marriage, then have the employees discuss all the possible financial needs the member will have as they prepare for and get married and the product or service they can offer to fill that need. Here is an example of what typically comes up in my training courses when we discuss marriage: 

  • Signature loan: The member may need a loan to pay for wedding expenses such as the reception, a ring, and a honeymoon.  
  • New joint member: The new spouse will need to be added to the member’s account. 
  • New loans: The new spouse may have loans we can refinance when being adding to the account. 
  • Life insurance: With a new spouse, the member’s life insurance should be reassessed to ensure it is sufficient. 

Strategic Questions: Regardless of how and for what purpose the member is engaging the credit union, employees should be inquisitive. They should know how to ask questions to identify member needs but also do it in a way that is natural and doesn’t make the member feel like they are being interrogated or that the employee is just being nosey.  Strategic questioning provides the employee the opportunity to identify many of the sales needs your members have, especially those that generally go unidentified through other sales approaches.   

A great example of strategic questioning was shared with me by a regional branch manager who works for one of my credit union clients. It was a Friday afternoon and one of her tellers was helping a member with a routine check deposit. The conversation went something like this: 

Teller: “Do you have any plans for the weekend?”  

Member: “Yes, I am starting a huge backyard project.” 

Teller: “That sounds expensive. What are you doing?” 

Member: “Yeah, we are putting in all new landscaping, building a deck, and a patio cover.”  

Teller: “That will be nice, though, when it’s done. So, I am curious. How have you planned to fund this major project?” 

Member: “Well, we were planning to mostly use some savings we have, but the rest we’ll probably put on the credit card.” 

Teller: “Have you considered a home equity loan by chance? We can probably get you a line of credit for more than you need, at a much lower rate than your credit card, which means you can hold onto your savings and pay a lot less interest in the long run.” 

Member: “No, I hadn’t thought about that…” 

Of course, there are many other ways to identify sales opportunities such as transaction history, credit reports, and simply watching what the member brings in with her. Stay tuned for future articles and more on these sales topics.

Selling opportunities—how to sell it 

At the beginning of all my training courses I ask the class to share how a member typically responds when they sell her a product or service. Most of the time, the class participants share that they hear, “I’m not Interested.” I then ask, “Who would like to know how to avoid getting this response in the future?” Of course, they all raise their hands. 

I then ask, “Tell me how you usually sell your credit union’s credit card.”  They say something that sounds like this: “We offer a really great credit card with a rate as low as 10.99%. Is this something you’d be interested in?” 

This gives me the opportunity to explain how and why this approach doesn’t work.  

First, this approach does not afford time to identify whether the member has a need for a credit card; the employee is simply responding to the fact that the member doesn’t have a credit card with the credit union and assumes the member wants one.   

Second, this approach assumes that the member is interested in your credit card’s interest rate and uses that as the foundation for the sales pitch. Rate is a feature and features don’t sell. 

Third, this approach does not illustrate why the member would be interested. There is no benefit set forth and as a result, the member doesn’t see the opportunity she could be missing out on by not taking advantage of the credit card.   

Fourth, this approach asks the member to make a final buying decision before she has the information needed to make that decision. Without the information she needs to make the decision to buy, her only response is to say, “No.”  

Selling in this way is better than not selling at all. Even a broken approach works every now and then. The only time this approach works though is when the member can see the benefit on their own and the opportunity they will capture by opening the product.  For most members, however, the employee needs to be the one to point out the opportunity and the benefit. 

Employees must be taught to start a sales conversation by asking questions. Specifically, they should be asking questions to understand the needs the member has and to align the right product or service to that need. When they understand a member’s need, they will know what benefit the member is looking for and can then sell the opportunity the product or service provides.   

Had the employee asked the right questions, he would have learned that the member in the example above might be saying “no” because she never carries a balance on her card and so she never pays interest. When the employee touts a rate of 10.99%, it simply doesn’t interest the member. Even if the member’s current credit card has a rate of 25%, it doesn’t matter to her, and the employee will never make the sale. 

Now, with the right questions, the employee may learn that the member uses her credit card but pays it off each month to earn rewards points.  If the credit union offers a rewards credit card, the employee now has an opportunity to share a possible benefit with the member.   

Sales is a critical component to your credit union’s success.  Without sales, your credit union does not have the ability to create revenue and serve your members. It’s critical to teach and coach employees to focus on selling opportunities, which of course means teaching them to effectively find opportunities to sell and to sell the opportunities your products and services offer your members. With these two skills, your employees will see a much higher success rate and your credit union’s sales will skyrocket.