Sales training in small and medium-sized banks is always a challenge — not because tellers, personal bankers and managers do not have the capability to sell but because they believe the myth that selling is inherently bad. This antiquated view of “all sales is a used car salesman” has seeped into the culture of most community and regional financial institutions.

In a Harvard Business Review article, journalist Rebecca Knight rightly observes, “At some point in your career, even if you’re not a salesperson, you’re going to have to sell something — whether it’s your idea, your team, or yourself.” She quotes Edinger Consulting Group founder Scott Edinger as saying, “Selling is moving somebody else to action.” If this selling moves clients to better themselves, why wouldn’t anyone want to sell?

Selling products and services that improve the lives of clients aligns perfectly with most banks’ vision, mission and values. What’s more, most bank personnel can develop sales skills. The organizational development opportunity for their employers is the employees’ view of sales and the willingness of financial institutions to hold team members accountable to client betterment (sales) initiatives.

What is the best bank sales training strategy? The answer is simple and, at the same time, difficult. The best bank sales training strategy is simply the one that is applied. There are many sales training programs out there, and many are great. But none of them will be effective unless it is applied.

There are some broad principles that are consistent with most sales training curricula currently on the market. Considering them as you either design your own training or leverage a vendor partner will help you improve your sales training for all bank personnel.

Cultural Considerations

Culture is simply the behaviors and attitudes that are tolerated in an organization. It may be that your organization’s culture is not ready for formal sales training. Gain a broad understanding of your organization’s view of sales. If it has not been a priority for your organization in the past, view sales training as a change management project rather than a training project.

Why is this distinction important? Change management is an inherently long-term, planned event. Moving your organization from a sales-resistant culture to a sales culture can take months or years, not days or weeks.

Sales Origination Strategy

How will you train your team members to find sales? In other words, what prospecting strategies will they use? Employees need to know where they can find new customers, how to identify the unperceived needs of their current customers, and how to identify high-priority opportunities that benefit both the client and the bank. Make sure your sales training includes these skills.

Sales and Service Process

Your training should also include your sales and service “science,” or the sales and service process that you train your team members in. This process is the framework by which you have organized your sales strategy, and it’s what you’ll hold team members accountable to. All sales training has this framework in some shape or form. For example, how do your salespeople move your customer interaction from “origination” to “closed sale”? Train team members in this science; the art of customer conversations will come naturally as they experience success and failure both in the classroom and in the “real world” of your branches.

Performance Goals and Accountability

Your sales training will not produce sales. Your sales training will produce the knowledge and skills to sell something. Tellers, personal bankers and managers must then take action and be held accountable for performance, which is often where sales initiatives fail. Holding team members accountable to “sales goals” is often perceived as a negative goal that should be reserved for large, impersonal financial institutions.

If organizations keep these four concepts in mind when creating sales performance goals, they will always be the same personal, hometown bank they have become known as:

Are the sales goals consistent with the team member’s job? For example, a teller’s performance should be measured primarily by efficiency and customer service and secondarily on sales. On the other hand, a personal banker’s sales goals should carry a bit more weight in his or her overall performance evaluation, and a mortgage banker’s goals should be heavily weighted toward sales goals.

Do not use goals to punish team members. For example, do not increase a team member’s goals only because he or she exceeded them last year.

Manage the sales function, not the person. Understand each team member’s individual skills and willingness to complete sales tasks, and lead him or her appropriately.

Do not dump sales goals on team members. Give ample time to assigning appropriate sales initiatives and goals to branches and team members.

Sales in financial institutions is necessary to make clients’ lives better. Often, simply changing the way we speak can change a culture. Perhaps, in the finance industry, we should call our sales training “client betterment training.” Whatever works in your culture, do it, because whatever sales training happens is the best one for you!