My Sales Culture Is a Flop, What Now?


Credit unions are in the business of selling mortgages, lines of credit, checking and savings accounts, loans, and the convenience of electronic banking and ATMs. They rely on their people to promote and sell these services to sustain their business.

Many credit unions define a sales culture as simply the act of selling. Define the number of products and services you want to sell, market the opportunity, and tell the team to get to work.

Yet, time and time again I hear credit unions asking why their sales culture isn’t working out. They tell me their sales goals are unmet, their staff is not embracing the idea of cross-sales, their sales tracking is falling behind or has become non-existent, and their revenue is getting negatively impacted. Or even worse, morale is down, and members are starting to look to other institutions to meet their financial needs.

So what went wrong in the sales culture process and how can you get it back on track?

Start with the why

First and foremost, you need to start with the why. Why are you doing this, what are your goals, and what is the motive behind the shift to a sales culture? This begins with knowing your mission statement and making sure the mission is clear. Unclear mission statements have the propensity to create confusion about our jobs and our roles within the credit union. Make your mission statement a focal point that helps purpose with action. When we are working against the mission, what we are doing will fail.

Time is an essential ingredient in tailoring your sales culture. Examine your mission statement and take your time. You can’t afford not to. Write out your mission on a big whiteboard or poster. Ask yourself, is the mission simple? Does your mission statement provide clarity or a direction? Do you see yourself building strategies and tactics to ensure the vision is realized? If the answer is no to any of these questions, start over.

Examine your values

By assigning a degree of importance to your mission, you are communicating its value. Be sure to do the same for your staff. Moving from a transactional environment to developing a culture of sales means affirming your staff’s role. Communicate the mission and ask, “What are some ways that you believe you can help us carry out our mission?” If you’re feeling brave you might ask staff members to report back on what they need from you in order to be successful.

Ask your staff questions such as:

  • Thinking of our mission how do you treat people around you?
  • What products and services do you think communicate our values to members?
  • What does value mean to you?
  • When visiting a business, in what ways do you feel valued? Can you see yourself doing these things to our members?

Once you learn about how staff members see themselves inside of your credit union you become responsible for it together. Capture the top 5-10 value statements and be sure to make them visible and a part of your regular communications.

 Use principles as your compass

Use the seven cooperative principles as the guideposts for your credit union. Cooperatives provide education and training for members and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of the cooperative. Cooperatives also recognize the importance of ensuring the general public and policymakers are informed about the nature, structure, and benefits of cooperatives.

Having meaningful conversations about ways to demonstrate values within each guiding principle is a sure way to strengthen your mission and to build the trust and confidence you will need to strengthen your sales culture.

Develop realistic KPIs

Let’s talk about key performance indicators (KPIs). This is where you must be careful. Communicating KPIs in terms of performance goals and quotas can be dangerous. Staff run and hide when you mention KPIs in a staff meeting. This is why it is important to start with the why. Now that you have developed your mission, values, and set of guiding principles it is time to build the framework for how.

KPIs are more than numbers you report at a board meeting. They enable you to understand the performance of your business so that you can make critical adjustments in your execution to achieve your goals. Knowing and measuring the right KPIs can help achieve results.

Sharing numbers and statistics isn’t the goal. The sharing of information is imperative. By informing staff of the requirements to sustain a healthy business and then sharing information that reflects how well the credit union is doing, you are building a culture where success is shared. By providing information reflective of the data that predicts areas of improvement, you are creating a culture of business development. Using this method, healthy KPIs and information sharing helps you to leverage data and build a thriving sales environment.

Catch them in the act

Affirmation is a key ingredient to any successful organization. Affirmation helps us to be seen, heard, and understood. Sales aside, affirmation is what keeps us motivated to act. It helps us to concentrate on achieving our goals in life and gives us the power to change our thinking and gives us the confidence to continue. It is an essential ingredient to a sales culture and ultimately your success as a credit union.

Expressing affirmation can most certainly be given in words. “Thank you,” “we appreciate you,” and “congratulations” are just a few ways. Recognition is an acknowledgment of a person’s hard work and effort. Recognizing a particular achievement or positive feedback openly communicates your belief in that individual and cements your trust and confidence in them. Recognition with physical rewards, like certificates of achievement or plaques, paired with affirming statements commemorate the experience and remind us of all to be diligent and purposeful.

Celebrating each other is a key part of creating a motivating work environment. A strong culture of praise increases engagement, productivity, and resilience to challenges that arise in every credit union. Don’t wait for the monthly meeting to give praise for meeting milestones measured in KPIs. Catch people in the act of doing some good every day and encourage your staff to do the same. I can’t stress enough the importance of purposeful actions and words that communicate to others “you are valuable and because of you, we are successful.”

A network just like you

Preparing to introduce your sales culture is hard work. Your mission, values, core principles, KPIs, and affirmations are just the beginning. Maintaining your new environment may bring about a new set of challenges. My best advice is to remember you are not alone. Being a credit union means there are thousands of others just like you. Rely on your peers. Become a part of a network that shares experiences and innovative approaches in the area of sales cultures. What do you say? Are you ready to start the conversation?


  • Julie Gessner

    A 17-year veteran of CU*Answers, Julie has dedicated her career to advocating for financial services that benefit credit unions and their members. At CU*Answers, Julie leads business development and marketing initiatives in support of a variety of management service offerings. Julie spends her days working with credit union executives and managers to establish strategies that maximize the opportunity to succeed in both credit union operations and member service.

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