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Commercial Lending

Best-In-Class Series, Part Three - Creating Sales Champions

Richard Owens
Jun 14, 2019


There is an art to creating a sales culture within your organization. When done well, you create a cohesive team that transcends the efforts of individuals, where each is motivated by and through the success of the others. In the field of commercial lending, there are some unique challenges when building your team.
It is, after all, a highly regulated world and one that demands analytical problem-solving skills in addition to the ability to effectively communicate messages. While some larger institutions may have the luxury of filling this need with two individuals – a sales function and a credit function – most smaller institutions must look for lenders who can perform selling tasks along with other obligations of the trade, including underwriting, analysis, and portfolio management. 

While the overall challenges can be daunting, the basics are quite simple. There is a four-step process to creating a championship sales organization within your financial institution. 

Step 1: Hire the right people. 

If you ask most lenders what they enjoy about their career, they’ll tell you they love serving their clients. They love calling on businesses and learning about emerging trends in their community. They love interacting with people. This desire is what you’re looking for each time you recruit a new lender. No doubt, you can hire a great salesperson who doesn’t have that desire, but that person will simply burn out after a year or two and go somewhere else. Instead of having a passion to serve, maybe he or she as motivated solely by income or personal gain. As Zig Ziglar famously stated, “Selling is something we do for our clients, not to our clients.” We've written entire articles on lender characteristics, such as Searching for the Magnificent Seven, but you can really boil it down into a few simple questions. Does this individual have a passion for serving the community? Will this individual be persistent in the pursuit of knowledge to feed that passion? Is this individual in this for something more than mere personal gain and career advancement? 

Step 2: Prepare your employees for success. 

I’ve written previously about the Five M’s of success in sales. Once you have completed step one, these come into play. The five M’s are market, mission, message, manage, and modify. This step includes the first three of the five. Market speaks to the issues covered in the second volume of this series, mainly the identification of your target market and the effort to transfer that knowledge to your employees. This leads to your mission, which is at the core of your sales effort. This is the topic we discussed in our recent white paper, The Awesome Power of Why. Mission is what your team should communicate first when talking to potential clients. It conveys your desire to serve their needs and help them to meet the financial challenges of their lives. That mission translates to your overall message to the community, which drives your marketing efforts. 

Download: The Ultimate Selling Strategy

Step 3: Find your employee’s motivation and engage him or her in your mission. 

This step is by far the most challenging. It involves the continued motivation of your team through the long haul. The challenging part is that while everyone on your team may share a common mission and message, they are also individuals. They are each motivated by unique rewards. For some, it may be monetary compensation. Others may thrive on competition. Still others may simply desire the personal interaction with clients and co-workers. It takes time to get to know each member of your team and fulfill their personal motivations. 

Consider the story of the USS Benfold and Commander Michael Abrashoff. This ship is a Burke Class destroyer with 210 enlisted personnel and 71 officers. When Abrashoff took command of the Benfold, it had one of the worst readiness rating in the Navy. But within twelve months, Abrashoff and his crew were awarded the Spokane Trophy, recognition for the ship with the best overall readiness for combat missions and operations. Not only did they have the best readiness rating, they had the highest rate of re-enlistment and lowest turnover in the fleet. As Abrashoff tells in his book, It’s Your Ship, he did this by getting to know each member of this crew. He asked the three simple questions. What do you like best about the Navy? What do you like least? What would you do differently if you were leading this ship? By empowering his crew in this manner, he was able to help them achieve goals they never could have achieved on their own. He also discovered unique motivating factors for each of them. As Abrashoff has said, “I didn’t turn the ship around – my crew did that. What I did was to create an environment where they felt safe, empowered and supported. When you do that, anything is possible.” 

Step 4: Never stop executing Step #2. 

While the third step may the most difficult to execute, the fourth is often the most forgotten. This is where the last two of the Five M’s come into play: manage and modify. Not only is your industry continuing to evolve, your client base is as well. It has been said that the only “constant” in small business is “change.” Over time, the communities you serve will change. The competitive forces impacting your market will change. In short, everything changes. The best leaders help their employees adapt to these changing environments. That is what drives long-term success where others fail. 

By focusing on these four steps, you’ll help to develop a championship sales team within your organization. More importantly, you’ll focus the power of that team to serve your local community. This process is simple, but it is anything but easy. It requires dedication and persistence. But if your true motivation is to serve, then you are already on the path toward success. 


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