Four Critical Steps in Building a Successful Sales Culture

In my 28 years of consulting with credit unions and other financial institutions, my experience has taught me that we tend to start with the wrong set of plans. Most credit unions have not created the right foundation to make that conversion to a full service sales culture work.


In my 28 years of consulting with credit unions and other financial institutions, my experience has taught me that we tend to start with the wrong set of plans. Most credit unions have not created the right foundation to make that conversion to a full service sales culture work.

It's easy to create a sales mentality with our Sales & Marketing people, Call Centers, those in our Lending department, and others with an obvious sales or self-promotion responsibility. But how about everyone else?

By the way, this other group represents the majority of our staff! And guess what? We can't honestly say we have a sales culture without them.

The question is, can we convert everyone to a sales culture mentality? That is…whether they are front office or back office? CEO or receptionist? The answer is a resounding YES...WITH A BIG IF!

The ''if'' means IF we set the proper foundation in our sales culture conversion planning process. If not, we are only giving lip service to having a sales culture and our lack of substantial growth in providing members with more of our products and services will quickly and easily become obvious.

Let me share 28 years of experience in what I have found to be the 4 basic principles it takes to create and maintain a successful and measurable conversion to a full service sales culture in a credit union. I have also provided some recommendations I have become familiar with over the years that might save you some time and you might want to consider.

By full service I mean every single staff member is involved and has been trained in the basics of carrying out their individual roles with a sales culture mentality.

FIRST and foremost you need to immediately start assessing and selecting any new staff in four critical sales culture dimensions prior to hiring. (For this, I recommend the PDI from TBS as an addition to your recruiting process. It is easily administered and inexpensive.)

A. A Highly Focused Performance Achievement Drive - This means someone who is more likely to be dependable and responsible on the job by taking personal ownership for what they do. Adhering to the rules. Showing self-control and stability in performing tasks. And taking initiative to doing their job well and assisting others.

B. An Attitude of Customer Service Excellence -They reveal an attitude of being more competent, responsive and courteous with those they interact with. This includes eye contact, smiling, listening and communicating effectively.

C. A Sales & Self-Promotion Mentality-They feel comfortable promoting themselves, their products, services and their company. They like challenges and set high standards and goals for themselves while being a self-starter.

D. A Deep Desire for Tenure with an organization- This instrument predicts the initial staying power of the person being considered.

This Assessment also comes with an action plan to assist the supervisor in coaching the person in the areas where they need additional support and guidance. (I recommend the PDI from TBS as an addition to your recruiting process.)

SECOND, You must have successfully implemented an Internal/External Customer Service program over the past 6 months. It must be consistently and visibly practiced on a daily basis by everyone on staff from the CEO to the part-time receptionist. This is a critical prerequisite.

This should include some type of a Customer Service Satisfaction program. It might include the following as the proper way to practice Customer Service on a daily basis:

  1. GREET them in the proper way.
  2. VALUE the customer so they feel special.
  3. ASK how you can be of help.
  4. LISTEN with full purpose to understand their needs.
  5. HELP them get full satisfaction.
  6. INVITE them to come back and see you again.

Also have a simple but practical way to solve problems, challenges, and opportunities as quickly as possible whether on the telephone or face-to-face.

The steps might be.

  1. UNDERSTAND their specific concerns
  2. IDENTIFY the specific issues at hand
  3. DISCUSS practical options
  4. FIND acceptable solutions.

(I have not seen a better program than the one by IS, Inc. and their program ''The Customer.'' It is the most highly validated customer service program I have been exposed to.)

THIRD. You have to teach your entire staff the proper way to sell and self-promote or it will never be internalized and supported by the ENTIRE staff, which is essential.

YOU ASK….'' How do I do that?''

HERE IS THE ANSWER. There is a fundamental principle that states, ''You teach people to sell the way people want to buy!'' Simple, but profound. The philosophy of this kind of selling is based on strong ethics, values, beliefs and trust and then being driven by personal accountability. What it says to your people is, I don't have to be manipulative, aggressive, demeaning, and driven by what I am going to get out of it in order to have a strong sales culture mentality.

The concept is simple. Only by getting to know your customers and their needs- and believing that you can meet those needs -will you ever really enjoy relationships with customers built on trust. Then and only then, will you bring more value to your customers than you receive in any kind of reward or payment. Whether this is measured by increased membership or greater use of your products and services, you will begin to reap the rewards of a true selling culture. (The finest sales culture training program I have seen is Integrity Selling for the 21st Century. The revised textbook to this program is just being released this week and the publishers are promoting it as the best book on selling in the past 50 years).

FOUR. Everyone needs a coach…even the CEO. Coaching is everything in sports, but in business it seems to be sadly lacking. How do we know? Look at the statistics. Recently a national survey of medium size organizations concluded that less than 35% of our employees are actively engaged in what they have been hired to do. In plain words this means, ''I only do as much as I have to in order to keep my job.'' That's scary. That statistic is backed up by another 15-year study recently released by the Gallup organization. It said the #1 reason people leave their job is not due to wages, benefits, training, career path or distance from the job…IT'S BECAUSE THEY DON'T GET ALONG WITH THEIR IMMEDIATE SUPERVISOR!!!! One major reason is, ''They don't coach me to better performance in my job!!!''

Coaching is a skill that every leader, manager and supervisor must learn. Coaching is all about inspiring, encouraging, and challenging people to do their best. This means having the skills to encourage your people to do good work, correcting poor performance and using good judgment and caring about each member of your team. Guess what? You can't create and maintain a sales culture without your leaders, managers and supervisors practicing basic practical coaching skills every single day. (The most practical and easy to learn program I have experienced is ''The Practical Coach'' created by Media Partners. Its concepts are simple, practical and they work)

The organizations I am familiar with that are using this program indicate a tremendous acceptance by all staff in its approach. Over my 28 years, some of the organizations I visit on a regular basis do not have these fundamentals in place and I see their struggle to become a sales culture. How do I know? When I visit the organization, I just listen to the front line people, call center staff, loan officers, collection personnel, back office people, as well as management and supervisory personnel. It's obvious who is struggling and who is not.

I am not intending to be critical or judgmental in my observations. Instead I am just stating reality and telling it like it is. As a consultant, that's what I get paid to do.

In my observations, we are just not spending adequate training dollars on our staff to create the type of culture we want and need. Technology seems to be the meal of the day. As one person put it, ''There is no business; there are only people serving people.''

Many organizations have all the outward paraphernalia and media for touting their sales culture, but that does not tell the whole story. The real world scenario reveals that the majority of staff are still struggling with the sales culture concept and the credit union is not receiving the expected results. Sometimes we aren't willing to admit it to ourselves or others. It's like the epitaph I once saw on a headstone that read, ''I TOLD YOU I DIDN'T FEEL WELL!''

What I am trying to say is if you want to validate what I am saying just initiate a confidential staff survey and ask them if everybody on staff is practicing the sales culture principles? You might also measure the ratio between the dollars you've invested trying to get a sales culture and the results you are getting. Whether it is a lot of money or a little money that in and of itself could be the problem. A lot of or a lack of will not insure success or failure.

Sometimes the answers we seek to these perplexing problems don't seem to get answered because no one is willing to ask the right questions. If we do not create and maintain the 4 foundational blocks described above, we will most likely struggle in managing a sales culture in our credit unions.

I am the first to admit that it is challenging to do. But the potential rewards are worth all the pain, grumbling, whining, blaming, discomfort and procrastination that comes with the staff learning and internalizing these new behaviors. But trust me. Try it. I know you will be glad you did!

This article was written by Dick Wilson, Sr. VP of the Consulting Div. of NITC, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

For more information on how you can contact the above recommended organizations or to request a copy of the soon to be released book, ''Integrity Selling for the 21st Century,'' please call 1-800-238-6844 or send an e-mail to If you would like to receive a free copy of our newsletter, ''The Credit Union Consultant,'' please e-mail your request.



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June 23, 2003


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    Wanda Grillo
  • good points. I liked the article
  • Timely for where we are. Thank you.
  • Good article. Thanks for all the references.
  • very good article
  • This is very true.
  • This was an excellent article and I know when our members keep coming back to us this program is working.
  • Finally, an article with as much substance as headlines.
  • Anyone who has seriously studied sales and service culture would already understand these steps.
  • Anyone know who or how to contact TBS regarding this PDI system? Please let me know as I am interested in pursuing this. Call me 714-885-7402 Cathy
  • We are currently experiencing these same things. I highlighted certain pertinent items and shared them with our CEO. Thanks.