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Fathers' Day Special: What My Dad Taught Me about Sales


My Dad taught me how to do a lot of things: shoot a layup; tie a Windsor knot; hook a golf ball (well that may have been genetics, not instruction). He also gave me some valuable lessons on sales.

Dad’s sales career spanned 5 decades, split in roughly equal parts. After working in the Credit Department of a bank in Toledo, Ohio while attending law school at night, he jumped at the chance to double his salary as the Credit Manager of a Ford dealership. A few years later he bought his own dealership and moved his growing family to Rochester, New York. It provided a good life for all of us and made his sons minor celebrities in high school because of the number of different cars we got to drive.

I remember few discussions with him about selling cars. He had a number of sales managers, some better than others; the best ones went on to own their own dealerships, recognition perhaps that becoming successful in the car business is about moving the merchandise.

Dad wasn’t always comfortable with the salesmen he hired, a view shared to this day by most adult Americans. He thought some of the sales techniques employed in showrooms to make a quick buck did little to build long-term relationships. (Dad’s suspicions about the character of car salesmen were also confirmed by the local police who apprehended one of his employees prying open the company safe after midnight in the early 1970s.)  

Among the theories about sales leadership that he espoused were two that date from the Ford era:

  1. Sales meetings should be brief. My father banned smoking in sales meetings long before the Surgeon General came out against it. Lighting up just prolonged them unnecessarily. Dad also outlawed chairs. If everybody stood up, he was convinced that the meetings were shorter.
  2. Everybody sells. This didn’t just apply to his own employees or retailers in general. Dad meant that if you were a priest or a lawyer or a teacher you were selling. As a 22 year old prep school teacher, I didn’t buy it. Dad patiently explained the concept of influencing others, but it didn’t resonate with me until years later. (Take heart, you parents reading this: your kids will be impressed by how much smarter you get as they grow older.)

My father’s next career was in insurance. Maybe because at that point I was in the financial services business too, we talked more about selling. For what it’s worth, Dad didn’t hide his disdain for the sales prowess of most bankers he knew—they were just order-takers, he repeatedly said. While bankers just had to know how to pick up the phone, insurance agents had to sell or their families would starve.

Dad truly believed that selling insurance was a noble profession. He enjoyed helping people solve real problems and felt that insurance products did that. What he did was educate people—me included--on their financial choices. I was grateful for the lessons he gave me on variable life insurance, IRAs and other investments.

Here’s a partial list of what I learned watching him sell:

  • Know your stuff. At age 55 and in the space of 13 months, Dad passed all the tests to become a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) and Certified Financial Planner (CFP). He usually dismissed the accomplishment with “that and a dime would get you a cup of coffee.” (Note to Starbucks patrons: Yes, that’s how much a cup of coffee used to cost.) Maybe the CLU/ CFP credentials didn’t mean that much to his clients, but the work he did to get them must have.
  • Prepare well for meetings. Dad always was armed with lots of computer projections, what-ifs dealing with different scenarios, interest rate environments, etc. At the time he probably didn’t know how to turn on a computer but realized that the analyses were valuable so he enlisted the support of younger agents to run them. You knew that he had analyzed your particular situation before the meeting and had come with ideas.
  • Narrow your focus. Dad observed that the most successful agents often developed niches. He was impressed by a young colleague who built his business working exclusively with Kodak employees nearing retirement. Dad targeted business owners who needed advice on retirement. He had a particular interest in the issues facing car dealers and helped a number of his friends and former competitors with business succession strategies.
  • Invest in yourself and your people. For a number of years Dad was responsible for the continuing education of the Equitable agents in his district. He knew sales and product knowledge training was critical. Even at age 75 he enjoyed trying out new ways of presenting things to prospects.
  • Don’t look back. Dad often quoted Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige’s advice to us as we were growing up. (“Don’t look back, somebody might be gainin’ on you.”) As he experienced the ups and downs of selling financial services, he never let a lost piece of business get him down for very long.  Dad knew what was really important in life.  

Thanks, Dad. I’ll be thinking of you on Fathers’ Day.

Invest in your own personal development or your team’s by signing up for one of our upcoming prospecting webinars:

July 16 Getting in the Door with Prospects

August 13 The First 3 Calls on a Prospect

Recent articles:

How to Build a Business Network: Six Tips for Relationship Managers

Are Your Board Members Bringing in the Right New Business?






Are Your Board Members Referring Enough Business?


It’s clear from our work with regional and community banks over the last 20 years that for board members to be successful at business development, they need direction and guidance from Executive Management.  It usually starts with the CEO’s commitment to engaging board members and holding them accountable. As one senior manager put it, “If the CEO doesn’t makes it a priority and hold them accountable, it won’t be effective. “

Others in the bank’s executive ranks can drive the routines that will make a director business development initiative a success. But while CEOs can delegate this task, they still need to stay on top of what’s happening.

Here are some of the critical elements in an effective plan:

1. Directors need to be clear what types of business the bank is seeking:  While some directors are familiar with the bank’s sales strategy, others are fuzzy about which business opportunities different lines of business are pursuing.  Involving them early on in developing the annual sales plan provides an excellent opportunity to review the bank’s target markets, top clients and prospects, competitive strengths and weaknesses, and relationship-building strategies with prominent CPA and Law Firms.  As one banker remarked recently, “It's important to make sure that they understand what you are looking for or you’ll get junk.”

2. Board members need to know how they can assist: If they are unsure of what specific things they can do, board members will probably do nothing.  Some bankers are reluctant to ask for help, which only exacerbates the problem.

Think about how they can assist you and your team. Do you need somebody with expertise in a particular industry? Are you interested in getting an introduction to a leader in the local business community? Would testimonials from board members open doors?

3. Your directors need to get to know your front-line people: Whether you assign RMs to specific board members or encourage individual RMs to build relationships with a number of directors is usually the CEO’s call. But unless your directors know, like and trust the key players on your sales teams, it’s hard to imagine that you’ll get many referrals.

I recently asked a group of commercial bankers, branch managers and private bankers to rate their relationships with regional board members. Some of the bankers had great rapport with certain individuals. But most acknowledged that they could do a better job getting to know other directors. (To assess your current relationship with a director, go to Rate Your Relationships.)

To read the full article with the other recommendations, go to Are Your Board Members Bringing in the Right Business?

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Lve Webinar Alert:

July 16 Getting in the Door with Prospects

August 13 The First 3 Calls on a Prospect





Learning How to Network: 5 Coaching Pointers for Sales Managers


How do you learn how to play golf? You can watch the Golf Channel. You can read instructional books ghost-written for top professionals. You can take lessons where they’ll videotape your swing and compare it to the swings of touring pros

The correct answer is that you learn to play golf by playing. All the other stuff can help, but only if it’s followed by rounds of golf.

What does that have to do with learning how to network? And, more significantly, what does it mean for Sales Managers?

You can make a strong case for talking about the importance of networking in your sales meetings. You can encourage people to read books and articles on networking. You can even send people to courses on how to become a better networker.

All these things can help. But none can replace actually going to networking events and trying to apply the concepts. It’s just like golf: you can take a lesson but if you don’t practice what you’ve learned you’ll forget it.

Most of my clients have figured out that the first time people try a new skill or technique it will feel awkward. So, unless somebody encourages them to try it again, there’s a real possibility that they won’t.  So that’s one way that Sales Managers add value.

There are obviously other things that Sales Managers do to improve the likelihood that their Relationship Managers will get better at networking:

  • Get people to go to the right events. What might be right for Jill may not be the best use of Jack’s time,
  • Make sure that people have a plan for each networking event. Maybe it’s a list of customers to talk to. Perhaps the goal is to connect with a particular prospect. Having clear objectives matters. 
  • Follow-up immediately afterward to see what your people got out of the event. Be curious about whom they talked to.
  • Go to some events with them and observe how they operate. You’ll probably have some more things to talk about when you debrief the session.
  • Ask people periodically whether the events they’re attending regularly are providing an appropriate ROI.

You don’t have to be a great networker yourself. But if you believe being active and visible at community and trade association events is important, you have to walk the talk.  

Upcoming webinars: Getting in the Door with Prospects on July 16 and The First 3 Calls on a Prospect on August 13. Go to to register or call Susan Lersch at 610-296-477 for more details.


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