Is Your Sales Process Losing You Members?
Sales must be the most misunderstood function in financial services. As a result, in most cases, sales underperforms. Enter the pushy salesperson. The pushy salesperson, is 100% focused on the month end result, doesn’t have a process, and puts their own needs ahead of the customer.
It would be easy to let the salesperson shoulder all the blame, but let's be fair! They are often hostages to the sales culture of their employer. Many are under enormous pressure to meet monthly targets. In some cases, failure might even cost them their job.
Sales is about helping someone solve a problem and get the best result possible. If you really believe you can help someone it's a great feeling.
What many companies fail to realise is that this month’s sales were mostly the result of the work that was done six months ago. Every product has a sales cycle. It’s when you try and compress that cycle that you run into trouble. Here’s why…
Sales is a Process
Sales sits in the middle of marketing on the left and the product on the right. It’s a crucial link in the value chain. When I use the word sales, I’m talking about the function. As a credit union you may not have a department called sales, but you do have folk whose job it is to take leads and turn them into buyers of your products. At least part of their job is sales.
The traditional role of the sales function is to convert as many “qualified leads” as possible into revenue. Notice the word qualified. You only want to sell to people who will genuinely benefit from your product. Selling to people who won’t benefit from your product is called miss selling. A lead is anyone who inquires after your product or service.
Sales, like most parts of business, is a process, and process itself is one of the 4 P’s of business.
In reality, a process is just a recipe for creating a desired outcome. Know a great recipe for Key Lime Pie? It’s hard to make one without a recipe. It’s even harder to improve it. Too sweet? Add less sugar. But you need to know much sugar you added in the first place. That’s the other value of process. It allows you to measure what you are doing and identify areas for improvement.
A process is just a recipe for creating a desired outcome.
It Sounds Odd But...
The weird thing about sales processes is that the more steps in the process, the higher the conversion rate. That sounds counterintuitive. Surely more steps means more work for the customer and more friction for them?
Remember the pushy salesperson? They want to get you through the process as fast as possible. But how do you feel when they try and push you before you are ready to make the next step? You, as a member, are only ready to take the next step when you see the value in doing so. The bigger the step, the greater the leap of faith on your part. That’s why smaller steps result in higher conversion rates.
Imagine trying to cross a stream using a series of stepping stones. If the stones are too far apart it’s more of a risk for you to make the jump. It’s easier and safer to stay where you are. You also need a reason to get to the other side of the stream. You might feel just fine where you are or maybe a competitor has offered you an easier route.
The 3 Principles of Sales Process Design
When designing or reviewing your sales process, you will find these three principles helpful :
Put yourself in their shoes and feel their emotions in each and every step
Smaller steps are better than bigger steps because it requires less of a leap of faith for your members
Adding value at each step gives the customer a reason for making the next step
The Anatomy of a Sales Process
The sales process describes the series of steps used to convert leads into customers. Let’s use a real example to make this more useful.
The nature of the process will obviously depend on the product being sold and who you are selling to. Some processes are more complex than others. Mortgage products are complex for example because the house buying process is long and convoluted. Auto loans can get tricky because you don’t have control over the car dealership. The deposit process is (or at least should be) more straightforward. Just to keep this article manageable, let’s use an unsecured consumer loan as an example.
What I describe below is in high-level terms and focused on a manual process. In reality, your sales process will have many more steps.
If you have a well-developed digital process remember to provide, what I call, “communication pressure valves” - an avenue for members to communicate with you at every step in the process in case they want immediate help in advancing to the next step. You will find more on this towards the end of Why Member Service Isn’t Member Experience.
The loan sales process normally starts at the point where you receive a “lead”. A lead is just another word for someone that expresses an interest in what you have to sell. Leads may reach you from a number of different sources (or channels), and it’s obviously a good idea to record where your leads are coming from so that you understand what is working and what isn’t.
It’s worth reading my article 21 Ways Credit Unions Can Connect with Members for an understanding of the major sources of leads. If you are struggling to generate leads then you have a marketing problem.
What often happens when a lead comes in, is that the salesperson will jump in and start selling. Why? Because humans like quick results. We are impatient. The lead, however, is in defensive mode. They’ve heard many promises before and been let down. They feel wary. That’s entirely understandable - financial services doesn’t have the best reputation amongst consumers!
So what do we do? Remember the three principles of sales processes: Feel what they are feeling, take small steps and add value at each step.
We do the work so that the member doesn't have to
Someone new to loans or someone that hasn't taken out a loan with you before won't be familiar with how it works. Explain how the process works from application, to cash in their account. Break it down into the key steps so that it’s easy to understand. Remember that, for a great member experience, we do the work so that the member doesn't have to.
For example, sending them a hard-to-read document requires them to invest more time and brain power to understand it. They have a million other things to think about in their life. Let them use their mental energy elsewhere by reducing their cognitive workload. If you offer them an easy path ahead to cross the stream, they are more likely to move ahead with you.
Ask them if they have any questions? Answer every question they have openly and honestly. Once they are satisfied, then ask if they would like a quote.
If they say "no", then ask why (nicely - it’s not an interrogation!). Answer any additional questions they may have. If they aren’t ready yet then let them know there’s no rush, you’ll be waiting for them when they decide to move forward or if any further questions crop up. If you have their permission to contact them, consider sending them useful bits of information in the interim. This keeps you “top of mind”, and, if your information is genuinely helpful, it also adds value.
If they say "yes" then you’re ready to move onto the next step.
The purpose of the quote phase is for them to assess whether the cost outweighs the benefit. Share the quote in a clear and understandable format so that it is easily understood.
Only ask for the information that is absolutely necessary for the quote. “Nice to haves” are not absolutely necessary. If you have digitized some of your process, you may already have given an estimate via an online tool such as a loan repayment calculator. I appreciate that a quote will probably be more accurate, but really what the member cares about is understanding whether they can afford the repayments.
Once they have the quote, ask if they have any questions or need anything clarifying. Remind them of the process and ask if they are ready to apply for the loan. As before, if they say "no" then ask why. Answer any additional questions they may have. If they aren’t ready yet then let them know there’s no rush, you’ll be waiting for them when they decide to move forward or if any further questions crop up. Again, if you have their permission to contact them, it may be helpful to send them related information in the interim
If they are ready to apply for the loan, help them gather the required information. Again, only ask for information that is absolutely necessary for the application. Quite how much information is required is always hotly debated within credit unions. Put yourself in their shoes and be really tough questioning what is the absolute minimum. The more you require, the more work you are making your applicant do.
Look for areas you can do the work for them, for example:
Which elements of the required information can you obtain for them?
Can you pre-fill any forms for them for them to subsequently confirm?
Can you walk them through the application process and explain any parts that are unclear so that they dont have to spend time wading through the explanatory notes?
How often do you get given an empty pdf form that you are asked to print out, fill out, sign, scan and return? That’s a lot of work! If you ask someone to fill in information you already have, you are saying “I don’t value your time and I am not hungry for your business”.
The bigger the hurdle, the fewer the number of people that will choose to jump over it. Remind the applicant what to expect after the application goes in.
Legacy systems are often cited as a reason for clunky application processes, but these days you can bolt-on a slick App experience without waiting until you replace your core banking system.
Glasgow-based CU Apps is one such provider that specializes in helping credit unions provide a slick frond-end experience. Their portfolio is a great example of what can be achieved even by the smallest credit unions.
Remember the first principle - Put yourself in the applicant’s shoes? As soon as you apply for a loan, worry starts to set in. Did they get my application? How long will it take? What’s taking them so long? What if they say “no”?
In order to counteract these concerns, keep them informed. If the approval process normally takes two minutes, make sure you contact them after two minutes. If it normally takes an hour, be sure to contact them after an hour. If it’s a more complex process like a business loan, then keep them informed every day. Explain what’s going on in the background. While people like instant responses, they will bear with a longer process if you told them upfront how long it would take, and you keep them in the loop.
Once the loan is approved, congratulate them! Share the experience and reinforce the joy! If it’s not approved, then share the reasons with them and suggest what they might need to do to get the loan across the line. Offer resources to help them do that. Check in with them in a few days to see how they are getting on and if they need any additional help.
Do you think that happens at a big bank or even a FinTech firm? No. Here’s an opportunity to offer a superior experience and stand out in a crowd marketplace.
Many might think the sale is over at this point, but this is where the work really begins. The sale isn’t over until the customer gets the result they want. In the case of an auto loan that means driving home in their newly acquired vehicle. A loan is a means to an end. Nobody actually wants a loan! They want what they can acquire with it.
The sale isn’t over until the customer gets the result they want
Note that the product experience isn’t over until the loan has been repaid. This might be some years in the future!
Now they need to sign the loan documentation. Ever seen a beautiful, easy to understand loan agreement? Me neither. Even figuring out where to sign can be a struggle. It doesn’t have to be that way no matter what the lawyers tell you! If you have an e-signature process, if not, then hopefully you are working towards that as a matter of priority.
In the interim, consider offering to take the loan agreement road to their home or place of work. You don't have to do it in every case and not everybody will accept, but they will appreciate the offer.
Where’s the Money?
Great so it’s signed and official. Now a mix of emotions. Relief at having completed the loan process, but also anxiety. They are now on the hook for a lot of money, and when will the money be in my account? If the money is meant to be there tomorrow, will you check or wait for them to complain if it doesn't arrive on time? Problems do happen, and when they do, you want to find out before the customer complains.
It Ain't Over Til Its Over
So they receive the money on time. Job done! Nope. It ain't over til it's over! How long is the loan for? What about the repayments? Has it been set up properly on the system? Are you going to check or wait for there to be an issue?
Here is a list of common issues you want to avoid:
Charged fees or interest you didn't expect
Struggling to meet loan repayments
Problem with the payoff process at the end of the loan
Received unsolicited financial product or insurance offers after taking out a loan with you
Problem with additional add-on products or services like insurance
Pulling credit report without consent
Inaccurate credit reporting
Not receiving advertised or promotional terms
Finally, Sales Doesn’t Feel Like Sales
The traditional view of sales is a salesperson attempting to persuade someone to buy something. You may have heard phrases like always be closing (ABC) which implies a hunter/prey relationship.
Great sales isn’t about focusing on a close. It’s about helping someone solve a problem and get the best result possible. This is where credit unions have a huge opportunity to differentiate themselves from the short-termism that can surface at big banks and venture capital-funded FinTechs.
By utilizing both technology and the human touch, you can design a sales process that will enable you to thrive in the age of FinTech.