KAREN EPPER HOFFMAN_resized
Karen Epper Hoffman Oct 24, 2014

Hiring Bankers Who Can Sell

With banks increasingly underscoring the importance of sales, more institutions are rethinking how they identify, attract, hire and retain the next generation of employees required to handle the expectations and needs of consumers, say panelists at the upcoming BAI Retail Delivery 2014.

“Selling is all about persuading a customer to take the necessary actions to acquire a service that will either provide a desired outcome the customer seeks, or remove some sort of pain-point from the customer,” says Ara Norwood, talent development manager for Kinecta Federal Credit Union of Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Norwood will be joined onstage by Jim Schneider, president of Greenwood Village, Col.-based Schneider Sales Management Inc., in a November 12 session entitled “Hiring Bankers Who Can Sell.”

While Norwood stresses the importance of avoiding a “sell-anything-at-any-cost” mentality, she points out the value of having employees who can ethically and effectively “go into a sales situation with the desire to help the customer meet their needs through our products and services.” However, that there is no exact formula for producing employees who do this and even the notion of best practices in this area can be “alluring but deceptive,” she adds.

“Alluring, because people want to jump on the bandwagon and be associated with whatever is considered ‘best,’ which is often the latest fad. Deceptive because we often fancy ourselves as incapable of improving, of having ‘arrived,’ when, in fact, the current best practices of the day are a far cry of what is possible.”

So, instead of pursuing a sales best practices approach, Norwood and Schneider recommend focusing on the following principles for finding, developing and keeping bankers who can sell:

Prepare well before engaging with prospects. As the saying goes, the failure to prepare is a preparation for failure. Norwood recommends that bankers responsible for hiring have all of their “recruiting ducks in a row” before they ever decide to actually post a job opening. Far too often, she says, organizations post job openings that they are ill-prepared to actually fill, with not enough thought going into the ramifications of actually hiring someone. Ultimately, this leads to financial institutions posting jobs that simply cannot and will not get filled quickly.

Norwood recommends, instead, that hiring managers put some time into writing the details of the job posting “in ways that engage, not bore – try to write in a way that hooks people, that seems less stiff, that seems conversational, that seems engaging.”

Discern between the different kinds of salespeople. About 10 years ago, Schneider and his team conducted a study of selling in the financial industry in which they reviewed 110 different job titles at more than 50 different institutions with “strong sales cultures.” All those jobs essentially collapsed down into seven basic roles, five basic selling positions and two supervisory roles, says Schneider, who recommends that banks consider what kind of sales role they need to fill and assess prospects based on their competencies and abilities to fill these roles.

The seven basic sales roles are: service selling, like a teller; consultative selling, like a personal banker; engagement selling, an approach similar to a universal banker; competitive selling, where employees earn commissions, as in mortgages; complex selling, which typically has a long sales cycle, like commercial lending; frontline sales supervisor, who oversees tellers and personal bankers; and finally, sales manager, which involved more widespread and long-term planning. “Banks often hire good people and hope the best ones rise to the top,” Schneider says, “But they should look more at hiring for a specific job role.”

Know what to look for in the screening process. Having a clear idea of the criteria you are looking for in the résumés you screen is essential, according to Norwood. Recruiters and hiring managers must know in advance what items should translate into instant disqualification. “Even more importantly, have an objective system in place for evaluating résumés, assigning points based on the characteristics that matter most, which is a good method of maintaining impartiality,” she says.

A big mistake financial firms often make, says Schneider, is relying on unstructured interviews—where 10 people may each interview a candidate for 20 to 30 minutes “on the fly.” Not having a structured assessment process based on the job role the bank is trying to fill often results in a “very low success rate,” he says. Financial institutions should employ multiple assessment tools when screening job prospects – not just look for people who are outgoing because they are assumed to be a good fit for sales in general.

Go beyond the usual in interviews. Conducting effective interviews, according to Norwood, is “where the rubber meets the road.” Before an interview, hiring managers should prepare the general areas they intend to explore with the candidate, as well as some very specific questions. In particular, they should ask behavioral questions that get at the precise times and places and circumstances in which the candidate has actually done the things you hope they can do. Further, she recommends getting the candidate to relax and be at ease, in order to get the most natural responses.

At Kinecta, interviewing managers have been trained to ask questions that are both behavioral-based (“Tell me about a time when you…”) and situation-based (“Let’s say XYZ happens, what would you do?”). But, more importantly, Norwood says, it’s critical to listen effectively to what the candidate says and does not say.

Always be seeking and recruiting talent. Many banks and credit unions typically don’t actively recruit employees until they have an open job to fill. A better approach, Schneider says, is for sales managers to be constantly recruiting people so that, when positions become open, they have a “pipeline of good prospects.”

Norwood suggests hiring managers make it a point of telling everyone they run into that they are looking for a candidate with whatever characteristics they deem important or necessary to sales. “A list of contacts can prove to be extremely valuable to the hiring manager. Wise hiring managers will leverage their own influence with their contacts in order to greatly expand their reach.”

Ms. Hoffman is a contributing writer to BAI Banking Strategies based in Ansbach, Germany.

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