Dump Outmoded Sales Training at Banks and Credit Unions – A Wells Fargo Lesson

The unravelling of Wells Fargo’s sales culture is causing ripples throughout the bank and credit union industries. The bad press about their sales practices is alarming some banking execs who fear their organization could be painted with a broad brush. The boards from some of our clients have even asked their CEO to insure their sales training, incentives and other sales practices don’t get them into the same quandary.

wfYou may feel removed from this sales disaster at a goliath bank like Wells, thinking, “We just don’t do heavy cross selling like Wells Fargo.” But assuming you have invested in a sales culture with the conventional cross selling model focused on transactional selling, you may be at risk of losing business from customers who no longer visit your branches and becoming a commodity.

We feel confident in making that statement because in our work with banks and credit unions, we’ve observed that many sales cultures are broken (see our post Do You Have a Broken Sales Culture?), relying on outmoded sales training and practices that date back to the 1980’s and out of step with today’s consumers.

Very often we hear execs say, “We need to get back to our roots.” The good news is there’s a better approach to generating sales revenue that’s more in line with your values of truly helping your customers or members.

If Selling Leads to Revenue, then Sales Training Must Be a Good Thing, Right?

Well, not all sales training. Look, we know you need to generate sales and your staff still needs to cross sell. Cross selling is not inherently bad.  However, the Wells Fargo debacle is the result of a problem that’s been brewing for 20 years or more in both banks and credit unions. Over the years we’ve seen how sales cultures have morphed into a catalog of bad selling habits, ill-conceived incentive programs and sales goals where many financial institutions come dangerously close to antagonizing and even repelling customers and members. At the root of the problem is sales training and incentives designed to focus your staff on getting a product sale now rather than getting to know the member first.

salesThe dilemma of conventional sales training is that many times frontline staff can be so focused on selling a product that they skip the questions that would enable them to get to learn about the customer’s broader needs for a lifetime of business. Instead, they jump on the first cue they hear and ask questions to zero in on a specific product. They then proceed to engage in transactional conversation about products instead of relationship building conversation about the member’s goals, dreams and aspirations. The employee may make a short term sale but neglect to develop a relationship built on trust that leads to multiple sales and organic growth in the future.

That’s what conventional sales training teaches. It focuses on transactional product selling which is very tactical and generates mostly short-term sales from mostly “not so loyal” customers who view you as a commodity. They may or may not seek your advice for more significant, future financial needs. Your bank or credit union agrees to be on a continual treadmill scrounging for the next sale as it becomes Just Another Errand to your customers!

Redefine How Your Bank or Credit Union Generates Sales – Be a Financial Partner, Not a Salesperson

Instead of just trying to sell, sell, sell, banks and credit unions need to do a better job of listening to understand the member’s financial anxieties and dreams, building a trust-based relationship and searching for opportunities to improve members’ financial health. Out of this relationship-building approach, sales will materialize. According to a recent Gallup survey, consumers are clamoring for this kind of help.

stopThis approach requires a new mindset. Rather than asking, “How many products can we sell this person?” staff need to embrace questions like: “What don’t we know about this member?” and “How can we improve the financial well-being of our customers?”

Stop the focus on selling and start engaging, advising and educating. Rather than looking at a member as a short-term transaction, position your bank or credit union as a trusted financial partner in all your customers’ important life events.

Create Advocates That are 20% More Profitable*

The results can be impressive. When members observe their financial health improving, they become loyal advocates and will call you first when significant financial needs come up. This is how you grow organically! (See Financial Wellness – Are You Missing a Growth Opportunity?) To get to this point requires creating a relationship-building and advice-oriented culture instead of a conventional sales culture. Instead of simply pitching products, staff uses relationship-building skills that incorporate cross selling but at a higher level.

Still not convinced? Then consider that financial institutions that don’t reevaluate the way they generate sales revenue may be doomed to relying on decreasing branch traffic and increasingly unprofitable transaction business. A smarter, more strategic approach is to cultivate organic revenue from loyal customers or members who see you as a trusted financial partner.

Does your sales culture need a makeover? To get some additional indication, find out the Ten Symptoms of a Broken Sales Culture in our post Do You Have a Broken Sales Culture?

Thanks for reading our post.

Bob Romano and Barbara Sanfilippo

*IBM Global Business Services Study

Your Thoughts?
We are interested in your feedback. www.HighDefinitionBanking.comWe are interested in your feedback. In the comments section below, please tell us whether you agree or disagree with the ideas in this post. Also, what challenges or questions do you have that we can answer in this post?

Speaking, Consulting and Training Services

If you are considering a consulting and training partner in 2017 to increase sales revenue, we’re happy to have an exploratory call. Visit www.HighDefinitionBanking.com

In addition, Barb is available to speak at your all-staff training day, sales meeting or leadership retreat. Visit her speaking site at www.HighDefPeople.com with demo video.


“Wow, we’ve had speakers before at our Annual Employee Training Day, but Barb’s Dream Big! program was amazing! She got us energized about serving and delighting our customers and building deeper relationships with them. Even better, she showed us how we can take personal responsibility for our own life and job satisfaction and act on our future dreams. Barb is highly engaging, provides take home value and best of all–inspired us to Dream Big! — 1st Summit Bank, PA

“Without question, your excellent Financial Coaching program has done the most to excite, engage and empower our staff to help members achieve financial success and improve their well-being. The interactive tools make it easy for staff to engage members about their goals. In fact, rather than leave with just a product, our Financial Coaches ensure members leave with a plan to get them on track. Plus, our investment advisors are benefiting greatly from the increased referrals.” — Angela Snyder, BayPort Credit Union

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