In my years as a branch manager, one of the most crucial tasks that I faced was motivating my frontline team to overcome their unique challenges in referring products and services to customers. Many frontline representatives feel uncomfortable approaching and recommending products to their customers. As a result, countless frontline personnel just do not do it. There are plenty of reasons why an individual may be struggling or just outright refuses to refer products and services to customers. One of the biggest causes is that most financial institutions focus on asking the frontline staff to make a “sale” or to “sell” products to the customers. Based on my years of experience, I cannot tell you how much this scares most frontline branch representatives. The word “sale” conjures up intimidating images of a pushy and sleazy car salesperson forcing a purchase on you. That’s why the word “sale” has become known as the dirty, four-letter word in banking. The vast majority of frontline banking staff have never read a single sales book, let alone attended a professional sales training program. Asking frontline staff to “sell”, when they have little to no training in it, is a very daunting task, to say the least.
I don’t believe using the word “sale” is appropriate in a retail banking environment. A sale, by definition, is the exchange of goods, services, or property for money. However, most of the products and services that a financial institution provides are absolutely free to the customer. For example, online banking products such as e-statements are free, direct deposit is free, debit and ATM cards are free and there are numerous other examples. There is no exchange of money directly from the customer to the financial institution in these cases, so to call this a “sale” is not truly accurate by the word’s very definition. However, a referral, by definition, is to direct someone to a source for help or information. This definition is more fitting for frontline personnel because they provide customers with product information and direct customers to free products they can benefit from.
Other challenges that arise for frontline representatives trying to make a “sale” include: fear of rejection, customers getting annoyed or upset, taking up too much of the customers’ time, lack of product knowledge, limited confidence and training in referring products, etc. However, most of these challenges or obstacles can be overcome and resolved with specialized referral training. For instance, our workshop, ReferralPro™, has helped countless frontline individuals overcome these challenges associated with referring products and services. In fact, employees that once said they could never refer products are now the top performers in their branches. ReferralPro™ participants learn through self-discovery (people tend to believe what they discover for themselves) that they are not “selling” to customers; they are making appropriate recommendations to serve as trusted advisors.
Financial institutions are in the business of helping customers with their banking, and they invest a great deal of money and personnel resources to develop and implement innovative products that are designed to make their customers’ banking experience much easier and more convenient. All frontline representatives need to be expected to recommend these products to existing customers, as well as family, friends and neighbors. If frontline representatives are not promoting specific products and asking customers for their business they are only doing 50-percent of their job, as well as a disservice to both the customer and the financial institution.
If you would like to significantly increase your financial institutions’s referral productivity in the branches, give me a call at 413-345-6700.