Turning branch visits into sales

When customer loyalty is tenuous, as it is today in banking, selling is especially challenging and requires more sophisticated approaches involving both management and sales staff. Yet, in our interactions with hundreds of banks across North America, we have noticed that many don’t provide their branch sales staff with the appropriate coaching, support and tools to achieve high performing sales objectives.

This problem isn’t isolated to banks. According to a survey of more than 1,000 sales professionals by leadership and sales training firm Achieve Global, the most successful sales professionals work in organizations that provide coaching, as opposed to traditional training alone; offer sales/service support from non-sales roles; and effectively leverage metrics/dashboards and other technologies. Other important criteria are clear company objectives, fair treatment, use of sales force automation and meeting operational/reporting requirements.

Here are some recommendations relating to the first three criteria cited in the study: advanced training, which includes coaching and mentoring, sales support and using technology effectively and on the customer’s behalf. To this list we are also adding accountability and reward, a pair of emphases that have recognized value in any sales program.

Advanced training. Many traditional training programs tend to focus less on customers and more on products or services. Even in situations where traditional training addresses customer psychographics and other intangibles, it is often a “learning by rote” event. Sales personnel may learn the facts and the logic behind the customer and his or her behavior, but they don’t integrate that information into their own thought processes. Taking that additional step generally involves ongoing coaching from a more skilled, experienced sales person to reinforce the effort.

Coaching and mentoring can take many forms, from one-on-one role playing to collaborative selling or observation of the mentor in action. The point is for the sales trainee to hear, see and absorb the process not only of asking for a sale, but also of building a relationship with the customer as their trusted advisor by effectively exploring and acting upon their unique needs.

Once a bank has paired a sales trainee with a more seasoned co-worker, it is also important to establish a mechanism for evaluating both individuals’ progress. For the trainee, it would likely come through a sales accountability and reward program, as we discuss below. For the mentor, it might involve a different type of incentive, one that is tied to the performance of his or her pupil.

Leveraging technology at all levels. In today’s tech-centric market, many banks recognize the need to spend money and effort on outward facing technologies such as mobile apps and cyber security. However, for a fruitful, customer-focused sales experience to prevail, management should also address the use of technology inside the branch.

As the Achieve Global survey noted, effective use of metrics and dashboards is a leading component of sales success. Banks that have business intelligence platforms in place should use or build dashboards that give sales associates as much insight into customers and their needs and activities as possible. Those that do not have this capability should give serious thought to adding it to their list of priorities.

Some of these metrics are deceptively simple to uncover and collect, including: customer lobby visits, requests for information on services and products, even ATM usage. These metrics all provide data that builds customer profiles and helps sales associates address their needs.

Another area where technology is valuable is in effective scheduling. We have identified two primary types of scheduling that are beneficial to the sales process. Both can be achieved through dedicated technologies that analyze or record lobby traffic and provide key performance indicators and recommendations based upon that information.

The first type is personnel scheduling to align with identified high sales periods. Top performing sales personnel should be scheduled effectively during these timeframes. And, if they also double as tellers or other line personnel, sufficient staff should be present to ensure that these top performers are not pulled away from sales activities. Additionally, effective scheduling should include creating a “schedule” for sales support activities, including time for activities such as putting together sales packets, that line personnel can accomplish during lull periods.

The second type is appointment scheduling to facilitate customer interaction. In order to ensure the best possible customer experience, account holders and prospects should have the option of setting appointments in advance (via mobile device or computer) so they don’t have to wait when they arrive at the branch.

Customers who arrive without appointments should have an opportunity within the branch to schedule an appointment for a later date, if they cannot be helped right away. Any type of technology that supports appointment scheduling should also include alerts and reminders for both the customer and the sales associate.

Buttressing the effort. The third pillar of our sales framework is support for the sales team. In tightly scheduled branches with a limited personnel roster, it may not be possible to have dedicated support staff. However, with appropriate scheduling as described above, branch management can identify idle time within the schedules of other team members and direct them to use that for sales support.

This could encompass numerous activities, from restocking of lobby brochure racks and preparation of product mail to outbound calls for appointment setting. According to a 2010 study on Optimizing Sales Effectiveness by management consulting firm Accenture, sales personnel spend 58% of their time on activities other than selling. Having some support for auxiliary activities allows sales pros to focus on what they do best.

Establishing accountability and reward. As a final component of a customer centric sales framework, accountability and incentivization cannot be dismissed. Sales personnel should have accountability, not only for their sales metric, but also for meeting customer service-based objectives to which they commit, such as building customer loyalty through proper follow-up and engaging dialogue. In a climate where customer loyalty is on the line, banks cannot afford any other approach.

In terms of rewards, there are myriad opportunities to reinforce positive behavior. These should extend to the entire pre-sale, sale and post-sale process we described earlier. Metrics to incentivize might include gaining new customers and obtaining sales referrals from existing account holders. Rewards also do not need to stop at sales associates. Everyone should be eligible to earn rewards for meeting “loyalty builder” performance goals.

Ms. Deen is chief operating officer of Alpharetta, Ga.-based Financial Management Solutions, Inc. (FMSI), which provides financial institutions with business intelligence and performance management systems for efficient branch staff scheduling and lobby management. She can be reached at [email protected].