Selling the Sales Environment

Ask 50 bankers to define a bank’s sales culture and chances are you will get 50 different answers. There is not one definition for the phrase; it is a rather fuzzy concept that is often loosely defined as the latest sales fad or initiative. The descriptions will be varied from institution to institution ranging from competitive and intense, to merit-based and rewarding. While banks may not agree on the definition of a sales culture, most would agree that historically, these initiatives have been disappointing at best, yielding little to no success. As a banker, I’d like to propose that we finally drop the ambiguous moniker, culture, and instead shift our focus to more actionable results that will ultimately improve the overall sales environment.

There are three primary sales optimization areas on which organizations should focus their efforts: sales guidance, sales support and sales execution.

  • Sales guidance includes effective communication, alignment and resource allocation of the company’s strategic business plan. Once that plan is established and communicated, the sales environment begins to evolve. Business objectives are identified.  Those objectives will lead to a review of product and sales deployment. Gaps will be identified and resolved, leading to a more focused marketing effort and better territorial coverage. Incentive programs are revised to align sales success and company revenue growth. These cascading enhancements result in the sales team remaining customer-centric and avoiding unproductive work.
  • Sales support is the process of refining operations and leveraging existing data. According to a recent study, improving an institution’s guidance efforts was 3 times more effective than improving the sales support. But with ever-improving computing and business intelligence systems, it is safe to assume the sales support factor has a larger impact today. These efforts include ensuring alignment and effective communications between frontline and back-office operations. Fully leveraging available data has numerous positive impacts including improved targeted marketing efforts, assistance and substance within the institutions’ coaching and performance review cycles, identify high-value customers, and detecting potential deposits at risk.
  • 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 need to research and establish comfort levels with the ever-expanding SaaS cloud solutions. These solutions are adapting quicker than core systems, offering greater access with low or no-code interfaces, expanding sales opportunities, and even provide cost savings as these solutions become more powerful.

To ensure long-term success, banks must focus on actionable deliverables. This requires strategically aligning an institution’s communications, product lines, decisions and business goals. It is critical for this process to be quick and agile, not beholden to a budget process or a required exam item.

The Data Economy Demands Value Part 3

How to build your organization’s data analytic proficiency; Part Three

Data and data analytics are more than just a resource for reporting and decision-making support. Rather than succumbing to the weight of a new business model, financial institutions have an opportunity to create a timely strategy to take part in the global digital ecosystem and uncover the many hidden benefits of centering data and analytics in strategic planning and investment.

For financial institutions that cannot immediately participate in the data economy, there are still opportunities to play a critical role. How will you participate? Take a look at the remaining steps for banks and credit unions to create a competitive strategy now. These steps will provide insight to assess whether new business units, joint ventures, and/or acquisitions will be required.

1. An enterprise approach to using data analytics is key.The tone at the top should drive expectations for data use. Consistent reinforcement from the C-Suite sets the objectives of the cultureData strategies and expectations for data use will need to be communicated and prioritized by the bank’s leaders. Inconsistent, siloed use of data could jeopardize the desired culture.  

2. Personalize marketing and sales efforts. Once you have data in an actionable format, relevant customer information can be used in targeted and personalized interactions – increasing the value of both the interaction as well as the transaction. High-touch sales is a reality using this strategy and sales efforts will become more meaningful when personalized.

3. Train sales personnel on how to use the information once it is provided to them. Supplying sales personnel with multiple reports or turning on a data analytics tool is only one step in the process. Assess your bank’s sales environment and provide training consistent with your culture to ensure the enterprise can be unified to embrace data and understand how to use the information effectively. 

4. If current resources and capabilities are insufficient, partner with a third-party to supplement. The idea is to limit the staffing resources required to meet your data analytical goals. Build a relationship with a provider that understands your organization and strategic ambitions so that the solution is tailored to your unique circumstances and environment. There will be compromises between complexity and accessibility: More complex software may require additional resources and staff to deploy and fully utilize. Pair this partnership with an internal champion and subject-matter expert to create the most bang for your buck.

Community financial institutions cannot afford to remain on the sidelines. As the volume, velocity and variety of data grows daily, the tools needed to manage and master all available data will require more time and investment. If executives understand their needs and the realistic bounds of their organizations’ analytical capabilities, proper planning can move their organization forward to better use the valuable cache of data that is only available to them and fully participate in the growing data economy.  


The Data Economy Demands Value over Volume Part 2

How to build your organization’s data analytic proficiency; Part Two 

In 2019, information as an asset is still in the earliest stages of adoption. However, a financial institution’s ability to compete in the growing data economy will be a primary competitive differentiator in the years to come. In part two of our series, we investigate the methods banks and credit unions can implement now to gain valuable insight using existing customer relationship data and how to position in order to take full advantage of the data-driven digital economy.

Financial institutions maintain an abundance of data about every customer and every transaction with millions of data points collected each day. Each one of these banks and credit unions have a rich, and most likely, untapped competitive advantage in their existing customer base. The opportunity to retain and expand relationships that already exist is a source too often left untouched due to the antiquated and siloed systems that result in fragmented customer data.

Customer behavioral insight is fundamental to understanding the flow of money, currency transaction, and suspicious activity reporting; data analytics tools enable bankers to dig deeper into these behaviors to uncover each customer’s needs and how to strategize and customize the focus of sales, marketing and customer retention efforts. With behavioral analysis information available immediately, executives can make timely decisions, sales and marketing can be up-to-date and relevant, and branch staff can deliver an improved customer experience by personalizing conversations, messaging and cross-selling efforts towards products and services customers actually need.

Ultimately, having this information at your fingertips will reinforce face-to-face sales efforts and personalize marketing efforts – especially for those customers who seldom visit a branch office. But without a strategy your bank’s results may not yield optimal results. Below are some of the first things a financial institution can do to tap into its wealth of customer data and build a strong and competitive analytics strategy.

1. Recognize that your bank has a competitive advantage where your existing customer base is concerned.But without a data analytics system in place, your bank will not be able to make the most out of this distinct competitive edge. The best data analytics tools provide multiple visuals with a significant amount of potentially actionable data instantaneously. Self-service data removes reporting roadblocks bankers typically experience when attempting to get the most current information. With a data analytics tool, bankers are no longer hindered by lost time waiting for a report to be written and generated.

2. Evaluate existing systems and report writing tools.  The data you need lives in your core and ancillary systems. The sheer volume of data contained in a bank’s core system is overwhelming and the amount of time it takes to mine the data accurately into a multitude of reports can be very labor intensive. At this stage, determine whether your bank has a viable means for extracting the data and transforming it into meaningful and actionable information

3. Review your bank’s strategic objectives and align the focus of data mining to support these goals. For example, if core deposit growth is a strategic objective, ensure you have the capability to mine data that identifies loan customers who do not have deposit accounts. Similarly, if checking account retention is a goal, you will want to easily identify and track accounts that do not have a direct deposit or are not using ACH, debit card, mobile banking or bill pay services.

Check out the third and final installment of our three-part series that illustrates the remaining steps a financial institution can take to fully participate in and benefit from the digitization of the economy.

The Data Economy Demands Value over Volume Part 1

How to build your organization’s data analytic proficiency; Part One

The challenge facing most community financial institutions is not a lack of data. Banks and credit unions have access to an abundance of information; every day an institution will send millions of data points though expensive networks and applications in order to process, transmit and maintain daily operations. But having this massive volume of data does not automatically correlate to having valuable insights. The value is found in being able to easily turn this cache of data into actionable insights that drive the institution’s ability to serve its community, streamline operations and ultimately, compete with larger institutions and non-bank competitors.

Multi-national institutions are investing in data science teams while simultaneously creating chatbots for their websites, using artificial intelligence to customize user interactions, and applying machine learning to more efficiently complete manual, time-consuming tasks. Smaller financial institutions, by comparison, have found it difficult to move past the basic descriptive data analytics of canned ad hoc reports. These institutions face the ever-present obstacles of already compressed margins coupled with a shortage of resources and available talent to fill the gaps.

But contrary to common belief, the absolute first thing a community bank should do is dive into the deep end of the data pool head-first. Banks must deploy advanced data analytics to maximize the value of information. More insight means better decisions, which translates directly to better service for customers and a better bottom line for the institution.

Planning at this stage is crucial. Banks and credit unions need to have a holistic view of existing processes and outputs, and how current staff manages these functions. Once you know where you are, you’ll have a better idea of where you’re going. Part of the planning process will be to look at the usefulness of building out staff to meet project goals, or outsourcing through a consultant group or third-party software. If a community bank is able to attract, manage and retain a data specialist, then that position should be a part of the executive team so there is complete understanding of the institution’s strategic position and operating environment.

Consumer demand has moved beyond the branch – circumventing one of community financial institution’s core values: human touch and the customer experience. In this modern era, technological gaps become glaring roadblocks. For a community bank or credit union to deliver on the customer service promise, digital transformation using valuable, actionable insight, will be a priority.   

So, the next question is how do we make-up lost ground? Follow along in our series as we illustrate the steps to find value in the rise of the data economy.

Success through selling the sales environment

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 to 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.