Blueprint to Coaching Success in Banking

The year was 2005.  I’d been involved in sales and sales leadership for several technology companies and had helped found and grow several SaaS companies.  My expertise was helping organizations add method to the madness of sales, but it was mostly focused on emerging and mid-sized companies with an emphasis on technology.

I’d just agreed to take a position running sales for a large, publicly traded commercial bank.  Zions Bank had been my customer in a couple of the companies I helped run and they came to me asking if I was ready to run something on a larger stage...publicly traded, multi-billion, 9 geographies and 6 lines of business.  Zions had a fantastic brand, great leadership and the insight to realize they wanted to build the sales infrastructure and leadership to take them into the next decade. 

I’ll never forget my first sales calls with one of our leaders.  This was one of our rural markets and I was out of town on my Birthday.  This gentleman had been with the Bank for over 35 years.  We met for lunch and the plan was to go on calls the rest of the afternoon as I was in “diagnose” mode. 

As we met, he made it clear that a change in “how we sell things” wasn’t a welcome idea.  As our lunch ended he leaned forward and said “So you want to learn about Banking?”  I nodded my head and told him I was looking forward to it.  He said, “You want to know how you can really help me be more successful?”  Eagerly, I leaned in as well and shared with him that helping him and his team was the whole purpose of my job.

He looked me in the eye and said “I’ll tell you exactly how I can help.  Get your note pad out and write this down:”  I reached for my notebook, opened it up, and got ready for his insights.

He said, “Write this down:  Quit your job here, go back to technology where you belong, and leave us the hell alone.” 

Happy Freaking Birthday.

Every Sales Leader faces daunting challenges.  As bankers, we face additional challenges other sales teams don’t have to deal with.  How we choose to lead our teams will determine how predictable and sustainable our growth will be.  Some of these challenges include:

  • Aptitude: When I work with bankers it isn’t unusual to have people tell me “I went into banking so I wouldn’t have to sell.” Historically, the aptitude of many people that gravitate to banking isn’t centered around the aptitude of sales.  This is why those that do have this aptitude stand out so quickly.  However, having growth at scale requires sales mentality, sales activity, and sales discipline from an entire enterprise, not just the standouts.
  • Role: Banking inherently has role conflict.  There are needs for growth, credit quality/risk management, compliance, and expense control.  These forces often conflict with each other rather than support each other.  Bankers are quick to point to the conflicting forces as bona-fide reasons why growth is slower than had been planned.
  • Regulatory: The regulators continue to make it more and more challenging to fuel ongoing growth and profitability.  The obstacle course bankers are required to navigate to create revenue has never been more complex and prohibitive to growth.
  • Market Perception: Several events have driven question marks into the minds of many business owners and consumers relative to the motives and tactics of Financial Institutions. While most organizations are above the scrutiny, there certainly is a “guilt by association” that has created a new hurdle for all Banking organizations.  This creates an unnecessary but very real challenge every bank and banker must at least consider as they build their go-to-market strategy.
  • Skills: The skills related to sales and sales leadership are very specific.  Many financial institutions have worked to develop customer-centric and consultative sales skills.  My experience has been that few have reached the point of developing world-class coaching skills in the leadership team to help fuel and hone those sales skills in each banker.

A sales leaders’ job is tough enough without these additional challenges unique to Bankers.  With them, it becomes easier to understand why the culture of Sales is challenging to create for a financial institution.  As I started my journey leading a sales banking team, it became very clear to me very quickly that sustained success at scale would only come if we focused our tools and training on the team leaders, not the Bankers.  If we could help transform our managers into coaches, the entire realm of possibilities for the bankers in each team would transform.  We achieved success by focusing on four things to fuel the journey of becoming a world-class sales coach. 

These four drivers are non-negotiables in creating a successful sales leadership system.  Consider each of these as “Immutable Laws” that you violate only at your own risk:

1. Role

I’ve learned there are four levers that almost every leadership strategy falls into:

  • The Aptitudes of the people you hire: their natural gifts and inclinations.
  • The level of Motivation of each team member: their willingness to do whatever it takes to win without cheating.
  • The Skills your team members possess: Each organization has a unique set of products that creates value for their unique set of customers in a very unique way. This requires a very unique skill set for each Banking team in your Financial Institution.
  • The way each team member perceives their Role: What they think their job is and why the Bank actually hired them.

These create the four levers of what I refer to as the “Performance Model.”

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Bankers have arguably more role conflict than production executives in any other industry.  As a result, it is more important than in any other industry to have clear role definition.  This is amplified for leaders in your organization.  How someone perceives their role will drive how they use their most precious resource:  their time.  It also drives the tools they choose to use.  Make the role crystal clear.  Eliminate role conflict by simplifying the role for each team member. 

I recommend conducting a “Role Audit.”  Ask your Bankers think their role is.  At the same time, ask your leaders what the Bankers’ role is.  You’ll be surprised how different these roles will be. Then do a “Use of Time” audit to find out how closely how they spend time matches the activities that support the primary roles. 

Role clarity solves more production challenges than you’d ever imagine.  The wider the gap between the perceived role of your Bankers and your Leaders and the wider the gap in how time is spent vs how it “should” be spent, the easier it is to create production improvements.

The Role is the doorway to the Goal.  Leave no doubt to the Role and your job as a leader is simplified.  So, take the time to create Role Clarity.  It takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

2. Personalize the Process

There are a lot of easy traps to fall into as a Sales Leader, and one of the easiest is to use Business Intelligence reports to try and lead by averages.  Coaching is a precise discipline.  Our job is to help each Banker reach their goal.  To do this, we need to act as a tour guide, not a travel agent.  Too many Leaders act as a travel agent, talking about great places to go that they’ve never been to.  The best leaders take their Bankers places they know personally, and create a personalized plan with the Banker to maximize the likelihood of them reaching their target destination.

Most organizations overengineer the production process.  There are only four metrics that really matter if you want to create a personal plan for each Banker:

  • Number of target opportunities in the Pipeline
  • Average Deal Size
  • Win Rate
  • Length of Sales Cycle

These four metrics create the “Sales Velocity Formula.” With this, you can create very personal work plans for each Banker on your team:

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If a Banker was to improve these four parts of their process by just 10%, they might make the following changes:

  • 10% more new opportunities: 10 opportunities in a pipeline would grow by 1 to 11.
  • 10% more revenue per customer: A $250,000 loan would grow to $275,000.
  • 10% better win rate: a 30%-win rate might grow to 33%.
  • 10% faster: a 90-day sales cycle might shrink to 81 days.

If you do the math, a 10% improvement in each of these would be (1.1 x 1.1 x 1.1) / .9.  If you do the math (do it….) you’ll see that the Banker will improve their production by 48%. 

As a leader, personalize the process.  Help the Banker see a reason to change their activities so they CAN start 10% more.  “Because I said so” is a poor way to lead anyone.  It doesn’t work well with my 10-year-old son, and it works even less effectively with professional Bankers. 

But working the math like this shows a vision of a brighter future…something worth changing for.  You don’t need to track dozens of metrics.  Track these four and intentionally improve them with each Banker.  If you get 10% better in these 4 areas over the course of 2018, you can expect production to grow by about 50% with no new FTE.

3. Create Moments that Matter

After creating a visualization of what “awesome” looks like by personalizing the process, leaders need to set a Coaching Goal.  What activities will they change so they can start down this path?  What skills will they develop so they can achieve next level performance?  Most organizations only create performance plans for underperformers.  The best in the world set Individual Development Plans with each team member, regardless of their performance level.

Coaching Goals are powerful things.  Set correctly, they are 100% up to the individual Banker.  They aren’t dependent on a customer saying “yes.”  The only one that has to say yes is the Banker.  Paint the target with your Bankers and then capitalize on that moment and create “Moments that Matter” by setting coaching goals.

To set powerful coaching goals, create a “Skill to Success” framework:

  • Production is fueled by your Sales Stages
  • Sales Stages are fueled by your Activities
  • Activities are fueled by your Skills
  • Skills are fueled by Resources.

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With a clear understanding of the activities and skills that are part of your specific sales process, you can intentionally change activity levels of key activities at strategic parts of the process. You can also develop skills to help make those activities have higher success rates.

Your Skill-to-Success framework is one of your most important sales enablement tools.  This is the blueprint to helping your leaders create Moments that Matter and drive intentional improvement.

4. Consistency and Cadence

The #1 pitfall for leaders is lack of consistency.  “This too shall pass” or “We’ll see how long this lasts” is not uncommon thinking for a member of a Banking team when a new initiative is introduced.  Consistency is the fastest way to create or lose credibility with your team.

Consistency is seen two very specific ways:

  1. Frequency of Coaching Activities. As a leader, you can have coaching moments every day.  But deal coaching and performance coaching are two different things.   Your Bankers should have a 1:1 once a month at a minimum.  Just like face-to-face visits with customers is arguably the highest-value activity for a Banker, face-to-face 1:1 meetings with the Bankers on your team is possibly the highest value activity you will conduct as a leader.  As soon as these meetings become inconsistent, you send a message to the members of your team that their development is not a priority for you.  These meetings should be non-negotiables and rarely, if ever cancelled.
  2. Coaching “Agenda.” The Banker needs to know what the topics of conversation will be before the meeting ever starts.  Less than 10% of the time will be on the past.  This meeting is about what changes will be made so the Banker will achieve their personalized plan.  90% or more of the time will be on which levers make the most sense to pull, how the Banker will pull those levers, and then a commitment made with their leader on making sure the Banker makes the change.

When you create a cadence of consistency, the Bankers will begin to Self-Assess.  When this happens, the Bankers will start to come to your coaching meetings with very specific things they want to discuss with you.  This allows the leader to provide context to the Banker around ways they can most effectively accomplish their goals.

By committing to these four drivers, Bankers don’t feel coached.  They feel like they collaborate.  That’s when things begin to change fast.

What I thought would be a 3 year stop in Banking turned into a 10 year career highlight.  We took a market-leading financial institution and added sales process, sales infrastructure, and most important, sales coaching.  The result was safe passage through the most challenging economic years in decades, multiple years of record-setting performance, and 15 Stevie awards for Sales and Service Excellence.  Over 70% of those Bankers achieved goal and the Bank had very little turnover.

Coaching is the catalyst for record-setting performance in 2018.  Use this blueprint as a first step in developing your coaching strategy.  If you help your managers accept the role of being the best Sales Coaches in your Bank’s history, your Bankers will produce the best results your Bank has ever seen.

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