Recently, I stumbled across an old CNN article published in March 1999. The title of the article read, “Are we headed for a global Y2K crisis?”. I felt almost nostalgic as I skimmed through the article remembering how concerned we all were that our computers were going to make us relive the entire 20th century.

Of course, nearly two decades later, this crisis almost seems laughable in comparison to the major advances and adoption of technology in our society. As we face a new year, the question isn’t, “Will our technology destroy us”, but rather,

“What opportunities will a change in technology bring this year?” and “Can we keep up?”

This explosion of technology in the financial services industry has made accessing accounts much easier and much more convenient for members and customers. While this is good for your financial institution, it is also an opportunity for other financial institutions. I often teach in my sales training courses that it is now easier for a consumer or member to do business with a small financial institution on the other side of the world than it is to come into a branch or call into a contact center. This accessibility means that as an institution you are no longer competing against the banks and credit unions down the road, but virtually every financial institution in the world. If you are not keeping up, you are being left behind.

In September, I had the opportunity to attend the CUNA Technology Council Conference. As part of the events, CUNA sponsored a speed round, where the tech sponsors were given 5 minutes to showcase their new products and software with the hope of being voted “Best at Show”. There were two speed round sessions. I think it was about halfway through the second round when it dawned on me that the majority of solutions being presented were not there to replace the employee and automate the banking experience, but rather to assist the employee in serving and capturing their account holder’s business more effectively.

With this awareness, and as a sales trainer, I naturally began looking at the solutions differently. I began listening to the presentation with the following question in mind:

“How effective will this solution be if the employee using it isn’t trained and skilled in identifying sales opportunities, in starting sales conversations, in asking questions to identify what their account holder values most, in understanding why members and customers buy, and in getting sales commitments?”

I quickly realized that the answer to my question was that these innovations are absolutely ineffective without such training. I began to feel a sense of urgency. Financial institutions need sales training today more than ever before, not just to serve their account holders’ needs better, but also to keep up with the technology coming down the pipeline. So why are tech companies developing solutions to support the salesperson, rather than trying to replace them?

According to a study performed by Accenture Strategy reported that while consumers are progressively moving to digital channels to manage their finances, they still want human interaction. The study showed that 83 percent of survey participants responded that they “prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve customer service issues and get advice.” Additionally, 65 percent of those surveyed indicated that “in-store service is the best channel for getting a tailored experience” and 46 percent said they are more willing to be sold new or upgraded products in face-to-face interaction.

Technology developers are creating solutions which still involve human interaction, rather than an automated one, to create opportunities for a tailored experience, to deliver advice and to ensure sales continue to happen. Without proper training, your team will continue to miss these opportunities to expand and deepen account relationships and provide exceptional value to your account holders.

So does your financial institution have a sales training program? Is it focused on developing and maintaining a value driven sales culture? And is this a priority in 2019? If not, why?

Your financial institution likely has a highly qualified executive team to lead the organization. You presumably have a proficient IT staff keeping the financial institution operating. And doubtless, you have proficient employees running your marketing, deposit operations, card products, lending, auditing, compliance, electronic funds, accounting, call center operations, and fraud prevention departments. Likely, many of the employees in these positions have several years of schooling, specialized training, or advanced certifications to perform their jobs. Skilled employees at all levels and in all positions are essential.

With the understanding that sales are the lifeblood of any financial institution, wouldn’t it be wise to also have a highly trained sales team bringing in additional business which all other positions in your credit union or bank depend? After all, the saying, “Nothing happens until someone sells something”, is just as applicable for you as it is for any other business.

So, if a highly skilled sales team is critical at your financial institution, what can be done about it? Here are steps you will need to take in order to accomplish this sooner rather than later.

It Will Require an Investment

Leaders must allocate budgets and provide the resources needed to build and support an ongoing sales initiative. Too often, spending on sales is overlooked in favor of spending on new systems, buildings, and other projects. While these areas are certainly important, there is a great need for investment in sales. After all, doesn’t the effectiveness of your sales initiatives create the funds to support these other initiatives?

Investing in sales is not cheap, and you should not look for the cheapest option. If your financial institution has struggled with sales up to this point, you likely do not have the expertise in-house to create a sales training and coaching program which will deliver results. You will likely need to bring in an expert with a program already established, and that is going to require an investment equal to the results you want it to deliver.

Sales training is always going to be much more expensive than any other training simply because it can be tied directly back to a positive ROI. Great sales training should result in a significant increase in revenue and larger budgets for all other projects moving forward. Bottom line, the investment is worth it. Even if the investment is 5 or even 6 figures, great sales training will pay for itself many times over.

It Will Require Hiring Differently

Leaders will have to hire employees with an aptitude and desire for selling. For most credit unions and banks, this will mean a shift in hiring, selecting “prospecting-minded” candidates over more “process-minded” candidates. It also means looking for candidates with the mindset and behaviors to become great salespeople. 

It Will Require Training

Leaders will need to provide those employees with effective sales training that will help them succeed. This training will include a focus on developing a positive sales mindset and attitude as well as helping the employees to see how selling creates value in the member’s life. Also, it will need to include delivering the skills which employees will need to be able to sell and the processes that will empower them to be successful.

Related article “What Can Sales Training Do for Your Credit Union?”

It Will Require Coaching

Leaders need to ensure that those employees have the support of coaching and continual development from managers and supervisors. This may require providing sales leadership training, which also directly addresses attitude, skills, and processes, as well as alters the way in which managers and supervisors are promoted and hired.

Related article “What is Sales Coaching.”

It Will Require Senior Leaders to Be United and Committed

Leaders will need to be united in their efforts to make certain that the sales initiative moves forward despite pushback which is almost guaranteed to come. This means working with employees who are struggling with making the change in their service approach. It means listening to a member or customer complain who may not appreciate an employee who has “asked additional questions” and “asked for their business”. This means being patient as employees learn how to work in a sales environment. And it means communicating a unified message at all levels despite what some may say or think.

As you follow these steps and establish an outstanding sales training program, you will cultivate a team that isn’t afraid to promote and sell your products and services, a team that is up to the challenge of making the most of every innovation that comes its way, and a team that will supply your financial institution with the lifeblood it needs to thrive.

Surprisingly, people still demand human interaction with their financial institution, whether they choose to engage them by visiting a branch, through the contact center, or online. With this knowledge, technology companies are developing solutions which focus on aiding the employees rather than replacing them. However, without trained staff who are highly skilled in selling, these tools will be ineffective. Because of this, you must help your financial institution focus on developing your sales staff through training and coaching. And in order to guarantee their success, you will need to allocate the resources necessary to support your financial institution’s ongoing sales initiative. With a team equipped to make the most of these technological advances, there’s no telling the heights your financial institution may reach!