How Your Staff is Sabotaging Their Sales Efforts

Sales Questioning Gone Wrong in Banks and Credit Unions

Many bankers misuse the questioning skill by not earning the customer’s trust and thus the right to ask the questions. Done skillfully under the right circumstances, “probing questions” can lead to a positive result for both the customer and your bank or credit union.

High Definition BankingHowever, in the initial stages of working with our clients’ staff, we see a good number still have a low comfort level asking about people’s financial situation professing reasons like the old standby, “I feel I’m being too nosey.” More importantly, many customers and members also report feeling uncomfortable or pressured by questions.

So why is it that some interactions go smoothly resulting in more business and others create apprehension resulting in dissatisfaction on both sides?

You Must Earn the Right to Ask Sales Questions

When you already have a trust relationship with a customer or member, asking and answering questions flows more easily for both parties. If it’s a new person or someone you haven’t had much experience with, they must first establish in their mind there is value to answering your questions. Unless a need is crystal clear to them, creating a trust level is a prerequisite before you ask people “needs identifying questions” or they may feel uneasy providing answers. So how do you build trust in a short period of time?

Frankly, unless you are a “master of mingle” or “a queen of schmooze,” you may not be able to accomplish that feat with most people. Building trust usually takes more time and interaction. You might now be thinking, “But staff doesn’t have a lot of time. Our sales training teaches them to recognize cues, verify the need with questions and then sell a product.” That approach works under certain circumstances but asking questions with the intention to merely sell a product, any product, could undermine getting any business.

Why Asking Product-Focused Questions Could Mean a Lost Sale

Many times a Personal Banker or FSR is so focused on a desire to sell a product that they skip the questions that would enable them to get to know the customer or member and their broader needs better. Instead, they zero in on the first cue they hear and a specific product. They then ask questions to confirm whether or not they can justify a member’s need for that product. If the banker’s intuition is right and the customer agrees the product is a good fit, then it’s a win-win. But jumping onto a specific product prematurely, i.e, not understanding the customer’s bigger picture, can sometimes alienate the member, especially if they are not sure they need the product.

High Definition BankingYou see, when you go into the interaction with the sole intention of selling something, rather than doing what’s best for the customer or member, you can subconsciously send that exact message which creates pressure for the prospective buyer. People get a sense you are moving them down a path with your questions. When a customer or member feels they are being led in a specific direction, they back off, possibly giving less than accurate answers and possibly resulting in a lost sale. Just think about a time you felt you were under undue pressure when talking to a salesperson.

On the other hand, when people have a high trust level, they don’t feel pressure. They’re more relaxed and are more inclined to answer questions enabling you to pinpoint needs that can be filled now and in the future. The questioning becomes easier for the Personal Banker or FSR as well. Because the customer is more comfortable answering, the staff person is more comfortable asking. However, a sale may not be had until the next call or meeting. But they may be inclined to purchase more lucrative services in the future because the member or customer relationship is better established and they have a higher level of trust.

A More Effective Approach to Revenue Generation

What you read next will require some of you to add another dimension to your sales training and coaching.

Create in your staff a new mindset. Encourage them to view themselves as problem solvers and financial partners rather than sellers of products and services. Continually coach them to think, “How can I improve this person’s financial well-being? How can I make a difference in their life?” This requires your staff to stop chasing a sale to meet a sales goal. Instead, they need to face the reality of each customer or member interaction. That reality is a customer may not need your products or services at that particular time OR AT ALL. Make it OK to not get a sale but to do what’s best for the customer or member and build more trust.

High Definition BankingAdvise Personal Bankers or FSRs to develop joy from helping others rather than just making money from a sale. Even if you don’t make a sale now, you will have built a trusting member or customer relationship that could very likely generate sales down the road for a long time to come. Instruct them to communicate in every word and deed, “I’m here for you, not for myself.” This attitude will squash any feeling by the member that the sales interaction will be a one-sided win.

Wouldn’t it be great if your people can think about customer or members in this way: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Stop losing sales in the initial conversation because the wrong message is being sent. If your staff has good sales skills, if the member has legitimate needs your products can fill, you will more than likely get more business and organic revenue as well as increased member or customer loyalty over the long term by developing the customer relationship and the trust that comes along with that.

Remember, If someone doesn’t buy how you sell, they won’t buy what you sell.


  1. Use transition statements to smooth the way and then ask open-ended questions that genuinely demonstrate you care about their financial well-being. For example, “Mrs. Scott, many of our members with children about the same ages as yours tell me they’re concerned about the costs of sending their kids to college. I’m curious how you feel about this and what plan you might have in place?”
  2. Focus more on problem solving than selling. Always be thinking, “What don’t I know about this customer or member? What can I ask that will give me an opportunity to truly understand how I can impact their financial well-being?”
  3. Allow the customer or member to take you to the next step rather than you pushing them to it. Allow them to feel they are in control of their buying process, not yours. Again, remember what it feels like to be led down a path.
  4. On phone calls, don’t waste a person’s time by asking weak questions that could have been answered by a five minute browse through their profile in your CRM software. Do your pre-call planning and research to anticipate needs and to create a value-added dialogue.
  5. Take the primary focus off of meeting sales goals and make the primary focus doing what’s best for the customer or member.

Best Regards,
Barbara Sanfilippo and Bob Romano

How To Turn Your Staff Into Trusted Financial Partners

Want to know how to get your staff to start the conversation about personal finances? If you’re concerned about your customers’ or members’ financial well-being and want your staff to become a trusted financial partner, click on Contact Us and check the first box to get information about our financial coaching and advising program, Creating High Definition Customer and Member Experiences™.

Your Thoughts?

Build loyalty in your bank or credit union: www.barbara-sanfilippo.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?

Open Printer-Friendly Page
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInPrint this pageEmail this to someone
Posted in Blog, Customer Relationship Management, Member Relationship Management, Sales Training Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *