10 Commercial Sales Tips From Community Bankers

We just concluded our annual Bank Management Conference at the Ritz-Carlton at Amelia Island.  In our breakout sessions and conversations with attending bankers, one of the hot topics was how community banks can become better sales organizations. We shared our journey and collected some great feedback on ideas and tactics that have worked for other banks. In this article, we share the top 10 ideas that bankers expressed at our conference related to how community banks can become better at building relationships and driving sales.  


Formal Training Program: Many community banks are using internal training managers, or programs offered by state associations. Meanwhile, larger community banks are hiring external specialists to train their lending, deposit and treasury management staff to become more effective salespeople.  The training involves cultural education, product positioning, team building and pipeline management and closing techniques.  Formal training programs run a wide gamut of prices and can be inexpensive or cost over $500k/year for larger banks with more extensive training needs. On average, prices are around the $25k per year range.  Banks over $1B in asset size and those that are adding new sales staff are ideal candidates to benefit from formal onsite or online sales training programs.


Adopting a Customer Relationship Management System: More community banks are starting to use a CRM system.  Some are purchasing expensive and robust systems, but the vast majority are making use of relatively inexpensive standalone software or CRM modules that are part of their core system.  CRM systems allow sales reps to spend more of their time prospecting and manage existing relationships more efficiently.  CRM software is helping community banks automate and centralize marketing and sales, and increase the sales reps’ productivity.  Additionally, a CRM system institutionalizes relationships to enhance customer lifetime value.  Because community banks strive to provide superior level of service, CRM software helps coordinate the interaction with the customers using the communication method they prefer - this helps provide the best possible customer experience.  


Association Prospecting Lists: Banks in large metro areas are actively subscribing to prospect lists.  These database services help lenders identify certain industries in their territory and provide contact information for decision-makers.  Some of the information also identifies when properties were last refinanced and possible opportunities for new lending. While buying prospect lists is not bad, the better move is to join industry associations for the state and leverage the membership list to mine for customers. While a few banks join the state homeowners association or medical association for the state, there is almost zero competition for industries like the state grocers association, optimological associations or chemical manufacturers. All are profitable industries, all are open to meeting banks and all have very little bank competition.


One key takeaway from our discussions was that the data from the lists is best mined and provided by an analyst or the marketing department because the adoption and use rate by lenders is low.  Banks that deliver prospect lists to lenders monthly or quarterly have a higher success rate with this strategy.


Creating Innovative Marketing Material: Community banks are finding success in creating marketing collateral that helps differentiate the bank from competitors.  Many community banks are dividing leave-behind material into two separate forms:  1) cultural marketing collateral, and 2) product marketing collateral.  The cultural marketing material describes why the community bank is a better fit than the national or regional institution for the local business owner.  The product marketing material explains how the community bank can help that specific prospect succeed.


Hosting Community Business Summits: Adding value to community bank customers should be an important goal for every community bank.  One simple way that community banks can create this value is hosting events for prospects and clients and inviting CPAs, lawyers, cybersecurity specialists or economists.  Clients learn about topics that are of interest to them, and specialists feel that they have an opportunity to market themselves to business leaders in their community.


Hunter-Skinner Models: Some community banks are trying either a formal or informal hunter-skinner model.  Community banks realize that they must keep their talent but not every sales rep has the same skill set.  Some reps are better at prospecting, some better at maintaining relationships, and others are better at executing the closing.  Dividing function based on a rep’s aptitude can increase productivity and help job satisfaction.  The hunter-skinner model works well because it creates a symbiotic team.  The model does not need to be formal - older and more experienced reps can be teamed with younger reps who are taught to develop some skills.  One bank had their senior lender act as the hunter (focused on bringing in new accounts) and his two younger protégés work as skinners (focused on expanding existing relationships) as they developed additional skills. 


Movement from Generalists to Specialists: Most bankers are concluding that generalist banking is a road to mediocrity.  For a community bank to succeed and become a top performer, bankers must develop specialized lending expertise.  That specialty can be in a vertical industry or a particular area such as SBA, M&A or succession planning.  To become a trusted adviser and help our clients succeed, lenders must develop knowledge and expertise beyond understanding the local economy and the general lending process.


Host Offsite Breakfast Event: One community banker mentioned that they rent a local diner for breakfast and invite clients and prospects to stop by. Customers prefer a neutral location like a favorite restaurant over a bank office for a visit and who can turn down bacon.  The event is relatively inexpensive and allows bankers to mingle with potential customers over a couple of hours.  More importantly, the informal setting allows customers to reaffirm their affiliation with the bank with other customers, adding to brand loyalty.


Cohabitate Branches with other Professionals: In order to attract more customers into the branch, community banks are inviting other professionals into their space who can add value to borrowers and depositors.  While few banks want to permanently share their workspace with other professionals, some community banks invite CPAs, lawyers and IT managers into their branch on a standing day and time each week.  Commercial customers that come into the branch have access to these professionals for five to ten minutes on a first-come-first-serve basis.


Hire outside the Banking Industry: Community banks are achieving success hiring outside of the banking industry.  The logic is that interpersonal and sales skills are difficult if not impossible to teach but most people can be taught banking.  In today’s tough hiring market, community banks are finding successful candidates in other industries.  Furthermore, hiring outside of banking and within a particular vertical gives the bank a special expertise in that vertical.  Hire a hotel operator for the bank, teach him/her about banking and you have a top-notch hospitality lender.




We do our best learning by asking questions and listening from community banks across the country.  At our annual conference, we asked our attendees questions and paid attention to what they said. Some of the information was a reinforcement of what we heard before and some was new information that challenged our long-held views. We are certain that every bank can benefit from trying just one of the above ideas in order to boost revenue and become that much better of a sales organization.