In the realm of sales, Deepak Kukreja has declared a brand new hunting season—literally.
As director of client segment strategy client connection and innovation at CIBC (the Toronto-based Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, with a U.S. commercial bank subsidiary in Chicago), Kukreja spearheaded a successful remote sales program. And spearhead would be the right word, as the effort hinged creating a consultancy role called “sales hunter.”
Of course, the effort was not without a market-driven impetus. Shifting terra firma in banking, and branch contraction in particular, spurred CIBC to re-evaluate its traditional sales methods. Thanks to Kukreja, CIBC has realized robust returns by plunging into the alternative sales approach.
Kukreja will share his sales insights in his presentation “Spotlight: CIBC Remote Sales Force” at BAI Beacon 2018 in Orlando, Florida. In an interview with BAI he touches on the case study of a pilot program CIBC launched to create the mobile investment consultant role. Designed for client engagement and growth, the initiative sheds the branch-based sales model for direct client engagement, accommodating their preferred time and location.
BAI: Your two-year launch in Canada resulted in rapid acceleration in net sales and business operating ahead of plan. What are some key takeaways you learned over the course of your project?
Deepak Kukreja: Most banks are investing in digital capacity or network transformation. People forget “the middle”; the role of alternative distribution channels can often be overlooked as banks aim to change and adapt to the market.
BAI: How did you discover and define “the middle”?
Kukreja: We discovered untapped investment sales opportunities in mutual funds in what we define as the “core” market. The target audience has significant external assets. Our research reported 35 percent of Canadian households have mutual funds—26 percent of their financial wealth. A certain segment of CIBC clients are underpenetrated relative to the industry. We determined this could be addressed with a program that targets clients that would not otherwise be proactively contacted.
BAI: What does the sales hunter do and what attracts them to CIBC?
Kukreja: He or she is mobile and meets clients on their terms, where and when it suits them. Light financial/retirement planning happens through the discovery process. There’s a high volume of prospecting calls to set up appointments. As for what attracts them, we created a model wherein the Mobile Investment Consultants had flexibility in working like a business manager wherein they could decide the hours they work, decide how to manage their leads and do community business development. They also had significant earnings potential due to the variable cost model that was piloted.
BAI: What have you identified as the major factors as the market changes and how did that frame your thinking?
Kukreja: There are three fundamental shifts in the market. We identified demographics, technology and consumer preferences. So we had a very structured way of approaching things. What’s the operating model? It’s easy to do short-term. Most people talk about mitigation, but what are the risks of success? How do you ensure retention? It’s actually an economic question.
BAI: Did you rely on any external sources to help your project?
Kukreja: No, it was all in-house. We piloted in 2015 and did a national rollout towards end of 2016. I was associated with this initiative right from the beginning as business lead. Securing executive support, allowing time for ramping up and goal-setting were among the best practices.
BAI: How did you approach goal setting for the project, especially given its lack of precedent?
Kukreja: We had different goals each week. The consultant was going to evolve. If you stay with your first week’s goal, you’re underselling. The goals kept increasing. We looked for quick wins to build momentum. And we worked with a minimum variable product, rather than the “big bang” approach most companies use. We said, “Let’s get this out in the market.”
BAI: Millennials are always part of the conversation when it comes to demographics. Did you find anything new to report in your research?
Kukreja: We found that while 85 percent of millennials use online banking for their transactions, they also value human relationships, with 78 percent saying they have faith in human advisors. Other CBIC clients liked the discovery process and appreciated the value of mobility.
BAI: How do you foresee the future of the sales hunter?
Kukreja: We’ve identified three stages: learning in the first year, performing in the second year and mastery in the third. The sales hunter will evolve from someone who relies on branch referrals to someone who attracts new clients and will operate at 100 percent productivity. And we’re working on consolidating what we’ve learned and refining the operating model—so we’re learning, too.
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Anne Brennan is a business writer whose credits include the Chicago Tribune, Crain's Chicago Business, TheFiscalTimes.com and MSN.
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