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Good Ideas, Unintended Results

By Mary Beth Nelsen


An exercise at a recent seminar on strengthening sales cultures generated a fascinating conversation about a sales initiative and its failed execution. The disconnect impacted most of the bankers in the group. The exercise required the class to evaluate approaches for handling telephone requests for CD rate information. The bankers detailed the approach they expected their staffs to follow. Everyone designed an approach that supported the initiative to offer a higher CD rate, coupled with the primary checking account. Their approach included the sale of associated services that would generate fee income and strengthen the relationship, including direct deposit, overdraft protection, automatic payments, and transfers and online banking.
The bankers placed calls to branches and call centers of community, state and national banks and credit unions and recorded the results. Without exception, the callers were told about the special CD rate, which only required them to open a checking account that they “never had to use.” One bank representative went so far as to label the checking account a “shell” account. Regardless of the language, the message was the same: we’ll happily pay you a higher rate on the CD; all you have to do is open a token checking account.
Expensive money for a “shell” checking account! Although dismayed, the bankers weren’t surprised. They were experiencing much the same thing at their own banks. Instead of the customer’s primary checking account, the majority of their CD promotion initiatives were resulting in “throwaway” checking accounts. With luck, the accounts would be closed before they incurred significance maintenance costs. Additionally, their customers were unhappy at being forced to open excessive checking accounts just to get a higher CD rate.
Rather than discovering opportunities to get CD customers to transfer their primary checking accounts, the bankers just worked around the checking account requirements. Apparently, somebody didn’t get the memo. Good idea, unintended results. What went wrong?
Product promotions, product packaging, relationship-building across product lines, selling in service situations and maximizing referrals all provide opportunities to attract and grow profitable customer relationships. The disconnect between these sales initiatives and their successful execution is closed when the banker, at the point of service, has the ability to implement the initiative. This can be assured by paying attention to four primary factors.
Clearly communicate the objectives and the roles: In the CD example, the intention of the promotion was not clearly communicated all the way to the level of execution. Like a game of Telephone, messages can get garbled as they go through organizational channels. Important information gets deleted or distorted. A good way to ensure the message is clear is to engage the journalistic W’s: who, what, when, where, why and how. Who is this product designed for? What are the objectives? What are our measurements of success? What’s my role? When is it appropriate? Where can I get support? Why are we doing this? How do the bank, the banker and the customer benefit?
Ensure necessary skills are in place: Each initiative may require a different or enhanced application of foundation sales skills. For example, a commercial lender with excellent sales skills may require enhanced skills to cross-sell retail relationships. An operationally competent teller may need help developing referral skills. A call center representative who successfully handles service calls needs additional skills to transform routine calls into relationship-building opportunities.
Training is important in developing required skills, but it won’t result in behavioral change alone. That requires a complete behavioral change system and a realistic expectation of the time it will take. Nobody has ever mastered anything in two days.
Hold everyone accountable: Consider conducting service and sales skills audits. In an industry whose native language is quantifiable measurements and audits, it’s amazing how difficult it seems to be to hold people accountable for so-called “soft” skills. While the procedures for handling a teller with a $1,000 difference are crystal-clear, too often there is no comparable procedure for the CSR who declines to use sales skills and, as a result, gets only a $500 free checking account out of a potential $50,000 relationship. That’s a $49,500 difference! Why invest in training and coaching if you’re not going to require adherence to clearly defined service and sales standards?
Coach like crazy: When a team succeeds, everyone, including the coach, gets credit. When it fails, the coach gets the blame. Coaching is a process and is essential to sustained behavioral change. Effective coaching requires consistent and effective role modeling, continuous skills assessment, skills reinforcement and effective feedback.
By paying attention to these primary factors, you can ensure that your initiatives are executed according to plan, with successful results.

Mary Beth Nelsen is senior vice president for Fairmont, a company that helps financial institutions improve profitability though increased sales and improved service quality. Nelsen can be reached by phone at (203) 732-3065 or via e-mail at

Posted on Thursday, November 01, 2007 (Archive on Thursday, November 01, 2007)
Posted by Scott  Contributed by Scott


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