How to Build a Selling Culture


Adapt your strategy and use sales training to support rather than interfere with creating a selling culture.

By Mike Fisher

At a recent conference for training professionals in the banking industry, I had the opportunity to share some best practices and lessons learned for creating a selling culture. I also heard about some of the push-back learning and development professionals can face when they’re putting together training strategies to support that selling culture.

Here are three of the common challenges we discussed.

  1. Selling is a “bad word.” This is a common reaction, not just in banking but in other industries as well, particularly when the staff views their job as service-oriented. “Sales” conjures up all the bad experiences people have had dealing with pushy salespeople and their aggressive or manipulative tactics to get you to buy their products or services.
  2. We don’t want to mess up the relationship. Strong customer relationships are central to a community bank’s mission, just as they are in other professional service businesses. It’s only natural for employees to be concerned about potentially damaging the relationships they’ve carefully nurtured over many months or years, particularly if they already have a negative view of selling.
  3. We don’t want to lose who we are as we grow or merge with a larger entity. Because the development of a selling culture is often part of an overall growth strategy or a merger and acquisition where two cultures are integrated, smaller or community-centered organizations may worry that their identity will be lost in the process. When a new sales culture is dictated from on high, there will be even more skepticism about what that means and the implications.

Overcoming the Barriers to Building a Selling Culture

These are all very real challenges. And here’s one more: Sales training initiatives often compound the problems.

Think about it: If someone views selling as something you do to the customers—pushing products, applying a few clever techniques and following a script to get them to buy—then sales training focused primarily in these areas is only going to reinforce that view.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do sales training. But you might need to rethink your approach. Let’s look at how you can adapt your strategy and use training to support rather than interfere with a sales culture.

  1. Redefine sales: What if your team didn’t have all that negative baggage about sales. What if they viewed the role of selling as uncovering and fulfilling customer needs? Consider how their motivations and mindsets might change if sales was defined as a way to create value for the customer.

Here’s an example: Suppose a customer owns a small business, and through a series of questions, the associate learns that money is tight when it’s time to cover payroll and monthly bills. Based on that discussion, the associate makes some suggestions that lead the customer to take a small business line of credit to help ease that pressure. The customer has peace of mind, and the employee helped solve a problem. Both leave the exchange feeling good about it.

This is a much different view of selling, more aligned with how the associate probably views service. When you provide training that supports the view that sales and service go hand in hand, you’ll start to defuse those initial negative reactions people have.

  1. Build confidence through logic and emotion: Most sales training focuses on the logical—things like product knowledge, processes, and selling skills and techniques. But we have to start focusing on the emotional components as well. Plenty of people know intellectually what they need to do to be successful and still fail. What people believe about what they can do is usually consistent with what they’ll achieve. (For more, check out this two-minute video on skill vs. will.)

Related to this is the fact that success leads to confidence. If we take rejection personally, it becomes “failure” in our minds and eventually we’ll give up. Your sales training needs to provide people with the tools to succeed, and it needs to change mindsets about what it means when a sale doesn’t happen. When they go into it with an attitude of, I’m looking to uncover a need, not, I have to sell this product, their confidence won’t take a huge hit if they don’t make the sale. They’ll realize that the need simply wasn’t there.

  1. Discover the culture together: Finally, a selling culture can’t be built in silos. To get buy-in, you have to facilitate the discussion, not dictate the answers. We recommend bringing everyone together—mixing together groups from different branches, regions and organizations—and allowing them to discover and define what that selling culture is. Let them help design questions they feel comfortable asking.

Make this the first step in your training initiative. Because when you facilitate discussion about what the culture should be and allow people to be part of the process, they’ll already be on board when they get to the training.

Creating a selling culture is an important step in helping your team get on the same page and improve sales performance across the board. Take the time to think about whether your sales training is supporting the selling culture you want to build.

And here’s something else to keep in mind: Banks, like many industries, are always doing product training (a new credit card launch, a deluxe checking, etc.)—and sales training gets pushed back. Consider starting here first, and it might just be the multiplier of success with those products.


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