Improving Cross-Sales: A Matter of Hill, Will, and Skill

By Kathy Blumenfeld, vice president of CUNA Mutual Group’s Lender Development Program

Coaching is one of the four cornerstones of a healthy credit union sales and service culture. The others are: training, tracking results, and sales and service culture champions who believe in the products and are accountable for results. Note that training and coaching are separate cornerstones—this is important.

Periodic training sessions in product features and sales/service techniques are necessary and extremely valuable. Coaching, however, is a continuous, cooperative process.

When CUNA Mutual Group’s Lender Development Program® professionals work with credit unions that successfully meet sales and service goals, we often see a strong ethic of continual mentoring, support, improvement and accountability. Additionally, we see credit unions with this ethic and culture fulfilling their missions and commitment to protecting and improving the financial lives of their members.

Avoid the “Assumption Zone”

Effective coaching programs start with an objective performance analysis: Identify what employees should be doing, and identify what they’re actually doing. Then identify any barriers to achieving the desired performance.

Focus on facts—avoid the “assumption zone,” where you’re basing your assessment on what appears to be happening rather than the actual causes of a behavior. Start by listing some potential causes of underperformance and discuss them with each employee, so you’re both working from the same playbook.

For each issue that negatively affects an employee’s performance, try to determine whether the barrier relates to one of three things: hill, will or skill.

Hills: Obstacles to Performance

A common obstacle to sales success in credit unions is that lending employees don’t know what’s expected of them. Perhaps goals are not specific enough or communicated well.

An employee may not have the authority or time required to learn about a member’s financial situation, suggest relevant solutions, and close the sale. Employees may need more work space or other resources, such as product information sheets, brochures, or websites.

Once you’ve uncovered obstacles, you can work on eliminating them—or adjusting your expectations.

Will: The Motivation and Desire to Succeed

Ultimately, motivation has to come from within each person. But you can influence employees through consistent, fair rewards and consequences.

Tangible rewards such as money or prizes are obvious motivators—as long as you’re rewarding the correct, well-defined behaviors. It’s also effective to publicly celebrate and privately acknowledge an employee’s efforts.

“Feedforward” is a motivational mentoring tool. In addition to sharing performance results after the fact (feedback), encourage employees to envision how well they’ll do with the proven sales/service techniques you’re teaching. Persuade them to anticipate success and rewards from these actions, and they’re more likely to fulfill that prophecy.

Skill: The Knowledge and Experience to Do the Job Right

If employees don’t know how to cross-sell in general, or don’t know how to present specific products to members so the members can make an informed decision, diagnose the level of each person’s skill deficiency:

  • Are they rusty after not using the skill for a while? A printed job aid (“cheat sheet”) might be the solution.
  • Were they taught the skill but simply aren’t good at it? Practicing with a mentor and feedforward can help.
  • Did they never learn the skill? Start with basic training, then practice with a mentor and feedforward.

Coaching Influences Behavior—As Does Lack of Coaching

Whether managers, supervisors and senior employees intend it or not, they’re influencing their lending staff’s performance every day.

Is that influence positive in your credit union? The answer is likely to be “yes” if you have a coaching program that’s dynamic, specific to each individual and focused on specific behaviors.

Kathy Blumenfeld is the vice president of CUNA Mutual Group’s Lender Development Program. The company is dedicated to protecting credit unions and their members at every lending opportunity. Contact Kathy at 800.356.2644, ext. 665.7737, or

Strategic Link is the NWCUAs wholly-owned service corporation, providing the Associations member credit unions with exclusive high-quality, competitively-priced products and discounted services. Questions? Contact Sales & Marketing Associate Craig Reed: 206.340.4789,

Posted in Business Solutions.