I have worked in the credit union industry for nearly twenty-two years. In that time, I have observed and been part of hundreds of different credit union sales teams. Not all of those teams were successful. In fact, many didn’t even view themselves as being in sales. On the other hand, others became wildly successful in their sales efforts.  

Selling is an important part of a credit union’s success. It drives growth and revenue. It builds member loyalty and supports employee satisfaction and longevity. Most importantly, selling creates value for its individual members and the membership as a whole. When selling improves at a credit union, the credit union succeeds in all of these areas.  

Something we teach in our sales training programs is that every credit union has a sales culture or sales model it follows. I have had some credit union executives laugh at this. Their sales culture is so different than what they envision as the ideal that it’s almost undetectable to them. I then explain the four sales approaches. They quickly see that yes, selling is happening, but the approach being used is so ineffective it doesn’t look like selling at all.   

A sales approach is simply the way a team member addresses a member-initiated product or service request. It is also a team member-initiated conversation about a product or service that could benefit the member. The approaches to selling are divided in two primary groups with two sub-categories: first, a sales approach is either reactive or proactive and secondly, it is either transactional or consultative. Allow me to explain both categories. 

A team member’s sales approach may be described as reactive or proactive. A reactive approach is when a team member waits for a member to submit a request before fulfilling it, often exactly as the member requested. A proactive approach is when team members ask questions, look for opportunities to make recommendations, provide additional information, and bring up additional ways the credit union can serve the member.  

A team member’s sales approach may further be described as transactional or consultative. A sales approach that is transactional often focuses more on the product and less on the member’s need. Whereas consultative selling sees the value of a product in what it can do for the member, and the team member focuses more attention on understanding the need than explaining the product.  

By combining the approaches in each of the two categories, we define the four different types of sales approaches. Each of the four sales approaches have a name, and they also have a predictable outcome. The four approaches are: 

  • Reactive – Transactional = Order Taker 
  • Reactive – Consultative = Confusion? 
  • Proactive – Transactional = Product Pusher 
  • Proactive – Consultative = Value Creator 

Let’s look at each and determine what approach your sales team is using to sell.  

The Order Taker 

I have been observing, training, and coaching sales in the credit union industry for nearly twenty-two years. It is my experience that most credit union salespeople are Order Takers. An Order Taker is a salesperson that approaches sales from a reactive-transactional standpoint. I often refer to this as the Kiosk Approach. Why? Because it is the same type of service an individual could get at any kiosk.  

An Order Taker waits for a member to submit the order and then processes it precisely as it is submitted. If a member asks to open a new savings account, she leaves with a savings account. If a member applies for a credit card, the Order Taker team member processes a credit card application. There is very little dialogue outside of the information that must be gathered to fill the member’s order.  

In our Credit Union Sales Intensive Workshop, I share an experience I had while working in a credit union’s outbound call center. One of my responsibilities was to follow-up on all loan applications that were submitted by the member online. After the loan was processed and funded by our lending center, we would call to follow-up with the member, answer any questions, and offer additional products that could benefit the member. This meant that I was reviewing hundreds of loans submitted and processed online each month.  

I often came across members that had just opened a credit card with the credit union. Generally, we would call within two weeks of the funding date. I was frequently shocked to see that by the time I was reaching out, the member had already maxed out his new credit card’s limit. Of course, sometimes the member was transferring his credit card balances from another card, but in other situations I could see the member had used the limit to make a large purchase. Two situations I often saw were the purchase of pianos or a backyard fence.  

At first this would perplex me. I thought to myself, “Why would the loan officer recommend a credit card for purchases like these?” There were better loan options with lower rates and more ideal terms than a credit card. Then I realized, the loan officer wasn’t asking questions. She was simply processing the loan the member requested as quickly as she could. The member, with his limited understanding of finance, was asking for a credit card because that is the only option he knew.  

The Order Taker doesn’t ask a lot of questions because she sees her role as a processor, not as a salesperson who is tasked with providing the best solutions for the member. Because of this, the Order Taker often will put the member in the wrong product or service. She will almost certainly miss recommending other products and services that would add value to the members credit union relationship.  

Confusion? 

“Confusion” isn’t really a title, is it? No, it’s more like a state of being. This sales approach, the combination of being reactive and consultative, is a challenge for both the salesperson and the member.  

Imagine a salesperson who understands that he must ask questions to learn more about what the member is truly needing but then waits for the member to tell him what she wants to do. This is the Confusion sales approach. 

Confusion describes the state of both the member and the salesperson. The member is confused because she is uncertain where the conversation is leading and what her role is in the interaction. The salesperson is confused because he doesn’t understand why he is asking questions and what to do with the responses. He is hoping the member will pick up on hints and submit an order.  

We commonly see new team members or those who have not received effective coaching in this confused state. They are going through the motions but rarely producing results. This is the second most common sales approach I see in the credit union world. Here is a real example of what the confused state looks like.  

I recently shadowed a member service representative that was helping a member renew a term deposit. The MSR asked a few really great questions about what the member valued the most. The team member asked if he was looking for the best rate or a shorter term. He sought to know if the member wanted to break up the term deposit and layer them to maximize both earning potential and funds availability. From this, the member provided some exceptional information that a more aware salesperson would have picked up on, and gleaned more business.  

For example, the member shared that while his credit union didn’t have the best rate, he chose theirs because he liked the convenience and service. He shared that he had multiple term deposits with other financial institutions (likely totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars). He shared that he wasn’t particularly fond his current primarily financial institution where his checking account was currently at. He also mentioned he was getting ready to sell his cabin because he wanted to “find a better fishing spot.”  

The MSR had a great conversation with the member. He asked great questions. He uncovered great information. He did nothing with it. In the end, he simply renewed the term deposit at the exact same term and gain no additional business. He missed out on truly creating value for this member, making recommendations, and asking the member to take the next step to bring over more deposits, his checking account, and potentially a mortgage for the cabin.  

After the member left, I asked the MSR how he felt the conversation went. He told me he thought it went as well as it could have, but there wasn’t really much to offer the member. Confusion often leads to frustration. 

The Product Pusher 

When meeting with a credit union for the first time, I always make the inquiry, “Tell me about your salespeople.” In response I often hear, “We have some real high performers, but most of our team members are just taking orders.” 

When I hear “high performers,” I have come to learn what they are really saying is, “we have some exceptional team members who are consistent at pushing products.”  

A product pusher is the combination of a proactive seller with a transactional service mindset. Basically, the employee offers products and services to the member but then waits for the member to say yes, choose in, or think about it.  

The Product Pusher approach isn’t always bad, in fact, it’s better than the Order Taker and Confusion? approaches. At the very the least, the employee is educating the membership about the products and services the credit union offers, albeit in a very ineffective way. And sometimes it works, which leads salespeople and leaders to believe that’s how it’s done. There are a lot of sales training programs out there that actually teach product pushing, emphasizing above all else to “just ask for the business.” 

Product pushing is just guesswork though. Often product pushers sell what I call, “The Product of the Month.” Meaning, they have been told to push credit cards because of a promotion. Thus every member gets the same pitch with the same, “Is that something you’d be interested in?” question. There is no doubt you have heard this at your credit union and in other parts of your life.  

For example, the other day I was at the drive thru of one of my favorite fast-food restaurants. After ordering my meal, the employee asked, “Would you like to add a coke for just a dollar?” I didn’t even hear a hint of disappointment in her voice when I said, “no thank you.”  

Like Confusion?, product pushing describes both the salesperson’s and member’s experiences. From the salesperson’s perspective, he is simply going through the motions of offering a product because he has been told that’s what he is supposed to do. He feels it is a push to get the product out there in order to see if the member is interested. From the member’s perspective, she feels the products are being pushed on her, often eliciting a defensive “no” response.  

Product Pushers focus mostly on the product’s features. Sometimes Product Pushers even discuss the benefits of a product or service. At first glance, many people agree that this is what selling is. Yes, it is a type of selling; but the problem is, product pushers don’t focus much attention on the member’s needs. People don’t really care about features and benefits, unless it solves a need, want, or dream they have. At SalesCU we call this “Selling the advantage.” Every now and then, the product pusher makes a sale, but more times than not, the sales pitch in a “no.”  

The Value Creator 

The pinnacle sales approach is the Value Creator. A Value Creator approaches selling proactively and from a consultative service mindset. That means she is actively looking for products and services to offer the member, engaging him in a conversation to learn about his unique needs, and sharing how the product could uniquely fit those needs. 

As with the other three sales approaches, the Value Creator name is descriptive of both the member’s and the salesperson’s experience. The member feels valued because the salesperson is offering products and services that benefit his life and provide unique advantages over his current situation. Those advantages will help him save time or money, make more money, or deliver greater levels of financial security. In essence, the offered product or services moves the member closer to his financial goals.  

Value is created for the salesperson because she is solving real problems and providing solutions to real needs. The salesperson gets a lot more “yeses,” achieves a feeling of accomplishment, and often receives incentives for her efforts. She also creates value for the credit union and the membership.  

The Value Creator adjusts the application of her sales skills to match the type of interaction she is having with the member. Value Creators sell in every type of conversation regardless of whether it is over the phone, online, via email, or in person. A value creator can sell to members, businesses, and organizations.  

Value creating is actually not a formalized sales approach, rather, it is a mindset. Salespeople who see themselves as Value Creators approach selling from the perspective of helping, serving, and partnering with their members.  

As a Boy Scout, I had a scout master that coached us in achieving a new mindset. I remember our Scout Master, at the end of a week-long camp, sitting all the boys down and asking, “Now, how can we leave this place better than when we came?” We each chimed in with at least one idea. It was amazing what stood out to us when we shifted our perspective to see a new goal. 

We can instill the same concept into our salespeople as we remind them to ask themselves with every interaction: 

“What do I see or know and can share today that will add value to this member’s financial life?” 

When you look at it from that perspective, it is easy to see that everyone can be a value creator.  

Selling is an important component of the success of a credit union. Credit unions that do it well enjoy consistent and balanced growth, more loyal members, and happier team members. However, using the right sales approach is essential. Understanding the approach you and your salespeople use to sell is a great starting point for improvement. Knowing why you fall into one category or another provides the guidance on how to fix it.  

With this understanding, the way forward becomes simple. Credit union sales and service team members need to be less reactive and more proactive. They need to be less transactional and more consultative. Training needs to focus less on the policies and procedures and focus more time and attention on the relationship and service vision. Coaching needs to focus less on audits and problems and more on employee development and refining value-adding behaviors. And finally, what we recognize and celebrate in the credit union needs to focus less on the business coming in and more on the business team members are bringing in.  

When a credit union can achieve this, it is well on its way to becoming a value creating organization.  

Join our mailing list

Join our mailing list to receive articles, training videos and be the first to know of up coming events

You have Successfully Subscribed!