Seven Common (But Frequently Overlooked Obstacles to Credit Union Selling

During my time working in credit unions and while on the road, I’ve had the chance to observe –among other things – the way credit unions often unintentionally undermine their selling culture and create unnecessary obstacles on their paths to success. In no particular order, here are seven common obstacles and how to neutralize them:

“I’ll have more time for selling when things slow down.” A common mantra of tellers responsible for initiating sales-focused conversations with members to identify referral opportunities, the argument here is that it’s just been too busy and those conversations will occur when it slows down. This is a common excuse when skill-set development is weak. It can also occur when management freaks out when there is more than one person in line. Make sure tellers understand how to efficiently listen and direct conversations, especially when it’s busy. Make sure expectations are clear: observe, coach and repeat.

“Nothing happens when I do something wrong… or right.” An observer once asked a good MSR, “What happens when you reach your selling goals?” Unfortunately, the answer was “nothing.” The first question was followed by, “What happens when you don’t reach your selling goals?” To this the MSR once again answered “nothing.” The performance of this MSR could be best described as consistent mediocrity. Consistent mediocrity is the result of providing little or no recognition, and no accountability. Expectations need to be clear. Make sure you consistently recognize successes, even small ones. Lack of accountability is a killer. Potential star performers will lose their motivation if you fail to hold poor performers accountable.

“I’m a great multi-tasker, I observe and coach on the fly.” A selling culture is doomed to failure without constant observation and coaching. A good sales coach is every bit as important as a good sales person. In fact, show me one and I will show you the other. Unfortunately, many believe they can multi-task, making quality observations and coaching on the fly while they are getting cash from the vault, opening a new account or training a new person. This behavior does two things: it sends a message to the sales team that observations are not really that important, and behavioral development is limited. Sales managers should schedule regular time for observing that is followed up with feedback, coaching and skill development.  Make sure sales managers clearly understand that observing and coaching is a very high priority.

“With all this talk about needing loans, I feel like we’re being asked to push products.” You’ve promised staff that you will never ask them to push products, but loans are down and you need them now, and that’s leading to resistance. Be careful with your message. Yes, loans are needed, but you’ll generally find more loans by having meaningful conversations to identify specific loan needs than the alternative of talking to everyone about loans whether there is a perceived need or not. Honor all commitments to staff and stay on message; it will create greater trust and increase results.

“I love to process loans, but I’m not comfortable having sales conversations.” The credit union has identified product selling as a primary growth strategy. Unfortunately, some of the people in those positions either lack the skill sets to sell, or they are just too uncomfortable with it. This is a tough one and, unfortunately, it happens too often. The best solution here is when the employee is willing to embrace the change and do their very best. Now, these people may never be your sales stars, but if they are committed they can do an adequate job. Enough to get results and earn the respect of the rest of the team. If they are not willing to give it a real shot, the decision is tough, especially for smaller credit unions who don’t have room for a transfer to a non-selling position. The worst scenario is when, with no effort or results, no change is made. This is a killer to the sales team and a demotivator for sales stars who ask, “Why should I bust my butt when other people don’t have to perform?”

“Do as I say, not as I do.” Credit unions need leaders who walk the talk and inspire others to follow. Leaders and managers that won’t ask the team to do anything they are not willing to do, and that includes selling. Good managers will find opportunities to work with the team and show them what they can do. Poor sales managers don’t lead by example – they press for sales results, but when they are in a position to sell, they suck. Team members take sales goals more seriously and they achieve more when good leaders walk the talk.

“I love my stars…they give me more time to spend with the under-performers.” Some managers spend most of their time coaching and observing the under-performers (those employees who consistently perform well below goal). Consequently, very little time is spent coaching the star performers (those who are consistently at or beyond goal). The sad truth is that it’s unusual for consistently low performers to become stars. The yield for coaching this group is less than the exponential growth possible by spending more time with stars. Maximize overall growth by spending more time developing your stars; the return on your investment will be much greater.

Remember: people don’t buy what we do, they buy why we do it. The first and best sale any of us will ever make is to our sales team. True buy-in can overcome most obstacles and will result in the kind of effort that leads to behavioral changes and growth.