In an effort to drive revenue, banks continue to place inordinate time and attention on improving sales culture. Experience shows this effort often ends up fruitless and yields disappointing results. Wells Fargo’s toxic sales culture mentality and the phantom account scandal represent a textbook case of the consequences financial institutions can face.

For starters, definitions of “sales culture” are fuzzy and diverse: often loosely tied to the latest sales fad or initiative. Generally, it connotes a philosophy that dictates the sales process and how you sell your products Descriptions will vary across institutions: from competitive and intense to merit-based and rewarding. Financial institutions can make a healthy change by dropping the ambiguous moniker “culture” when discussing sales efforts.

Instead, why not focus on actionable results that improve the sales environment?

A guide to sales guidance and support

Superior sales organizations are just that: organizations with multiple layers that drive success. Ignore or minimize those layers in your overall sales effort and you will miss massive opportunities.  Even worse, some executives stay silent even as they privately acknowledge their less-than-optimal sales efforts. They may believe a top-notch sales team costs too much; dismiss current operations as insufficient for top talent, or avoid the subject altogether due to memories of wasted dollars and staff upheaval. They may already possess a sales team that understands how to sell products and generate revenue but find everything else lacking, beginning with management’s vision and communication. A great salesperson can hide a few shortcomings but can only go so far. Besides, if a salesperson is that good then they won’t sit still in a stale organization.

You can make major improvements in a sales environment without ever shuffling the sales staff.  And if those sales optimizations prove successful, then your organization becomes a destination for talent rather than a place to escape. Organizations must focus their efforts on two primary sales optimization areas: sales guidance and sales support.

Sales guidance includes effective communication, alignment, and resource allocation vis-a-vis the company’s strategic business plan. Once established and communicated, the plan allows the sales environment to evolve and identify business objectives. These should lead to a review of product and sales deployment that pinpoints and resolves gaps. You will emerge with a focused marketing effort and better territorial coverage. While you’re at it, resolve incentive programs to align sales success and company revenue growth. These cascading enhancements ensure that the sales team remains customer-centric and avoids unproductive work.

Communication, front and back

Sales support calls financial institutions to refine operations and leverage existing data. As computing and business intelligence systems continuously improve, we can safely assume the sales support factor creates a larger impact today. This means we must ensure alignment and effective communications between frontline and back-office operations. Fully leveraging available data leads to numerous positive impacts that:

  • improve targeted marketing efforts
  • create substance within the institution’s coaching and performance review cycles
  • identify high-value customers, and
  • detect potential deposits at risk.

Improving strategic guidance and organizational support includes all the aforementioned positive attributes but a few items bear highlighting. First, sales execution is paramount. As customer behaviors evolve and expectations increase, IT budgets need to focus on improving information system flexibility. Risk and IT managers must research and establish comfort levels with the ever-expanding software as a service (SaaS) cloud solutions. These solutions adapt quicker than core systems, offer greater access with low or no-code interfaces, expand sales opportunities, and will even provide cost savings as these solutions become more powerful.

Data analytics programs are becoming more prevalent as organizations need to deal with effects from big data. As with the sales environment, coordination of an organization’s data efforts is imperative to avoid duplicate efforts, miscommunications, and unnecessary frustrations.

When properly planned and organized, an analytics program will significantly enhance sales support efforts. Banks can create single data sources via data warehouses, which boost data integrity and trust. Data enrichment results in better sales metrics and incentive plans and holds sales staff accountable for leading indicators rather than historical numbers. Better metrics also provide more valuable coaching moments and a greater ability to instill stated philosophies.

Parting thoughts: Decisive decisions, agile action

Review your strategic planning process with a focus on actionable deliverables and decisions planned for maximum alignment regarding the institution’s goals, communications, and product lines. It is critical for this process to be quick and agile: not beholden to a budget process or required exam item.

Banks should empower talented salespeople. They are unique, valuable, and can lead the sales efforts from a coaching and mentorship aspect. But executives know from experience that talented salespeople are in short supply. More opportunities exist and at a much cheaper cost to improve sales by improving the people and processes. Trying to recruit a full staff of terrific salespeople won’t address and tackle the larger issues.

Thus in at least one sense, the industry may need to make a 180-degree turn. A sales culture is one thing. But only the nurturance that comes via guidance and support can create a cultured sales team.