Sales and leadership training

Arbejdernes Landsbank

Making the most popular bank in Denmark even better

Across industries and sectors, a lot of time and resources are wasted on sales training activities that have little or no impact on the business. But not at Arbejdernes Landsbank (AL). The New value meeting project is an example of how sales and leadership training across 71 branches delivered real value to the business. Simply because the training was customised and conceived as a process rather than an isolated event.

Stepping up on financial guidance

For seven consecutive years, AL has ranked as the Danes’ preferred bank in Voxmeter’s annual sector surveys1. To remain a strong player in the Danish banking market, AL conducted an extensive internal analysis to discover what the bank needed to do to stay competitive in the private customer segment.

Among the issues uncovered was the need to step up on sales.

Executive Head of Business Ulrik Stærmose explains: “In our meetings with private customers, we have focused on offering financial advice. When it comes to reaching out to customers to tell them about our products and offering clear recommendations, we’ve held back. Not because we didn’t want to do business with them, but because we didn’t want to come across as pushy or aggressive.”

With this approach, the opportunity to create more value for the bank as well as the customers was bypassed. To stimulate a more proactive behaviour among its branch managers and advisers, AL defined a new format for its value meetings with customers. “By telling customers about our products and offering clear and qualified recommendations, our advisers would be providing the kind of complete financial guidance we want to be known for,” says Susanne Bechsgaard, Executive Head of Business at AL. “Always needs-related, never aggressive. With this type of selling, we believe we can generate more value for our customers – and ultimately for AL.”

Our customers are really happy to receive a call from us. And grateful that we point out products that would be relevant to them. Their response to our proactive behaviour has been a motivating factor which has helped drive the implementation.

Jonas Thomsen, Deputy Manager, AL

To support this new approach, Implement was invited to co-create and facilitate sales and leadership training to AL’s 71 branch managers and around 300 advisers.

Effective training has a before, a during and an after

At Implement we believe that the outcome of training depends less on the training event itself, than on the preparation that takes place before and the activities that follow to anchor the training.

“In our experience, integrating the before and after element is critical to the success of any training module,” explains Rene Birk Jensen, Partner and Head of Sales Excellence at Implement.

“By involving key stakeholders across the organisation in the design of the training, you get the input you need to ensure relevance and ownership. By following up on the training with planned implementation activities – along with metrics for tracking progress – you make sure that it translates into new ways of working that deliver value to the business.”

Co-creation of customised tools

Working closely with AL’s HR and Business Development teams, Implement developed a customised toolbox with four key sales and leadership tools (see figure below). Most of these tools served a dual purpose. The advisers would use them to train their sales skills. The branch managers would use them to coach their staff and to stimulate knowledge sharing in their teams. In this way, the tools established a shared language among advisers and managers.

Effective learning through hands-on training

The two-day training modules were based on a high-involvement concept. Role plays on specific customer cases and peer-to-peer feedback in small groups meant that advisers and managers alike got to open the toolbox and try out the new tools for themselves.

Right from the very first meeting, Implement had a clear understanding of who we were, what we wanted to achieve, and what it would take to get there. Another tremendous strength has been the fact that the project has been in the hands of the same consultants all the way through.

Susanne Bechsgaard, Executive Head of Business, AL

AL had appointed five internal trainers – who were either advisers or managers themselves – to assist with the training alongside Implement’s consultants. In this way, internal banking know-how complemented external sales excellence expertise, lending a high level of relevance and credibility to the training.

The training modules were launched in four waves with manager and adviser groups running alongside each other. This successive approach to roll-out allowed AL to track the impact of the sales training, integrate insights and make necessary adjustments along the way.

Driving change through visual leadership

When it comes to changing the behaviour of a team, the local manager is the one who leads the way. This typically involves spending more time with the team – as a group and on a one-onone basis – to provide the support and guidance they need to adapt to new ways of working.

In AL’s case, face time with the team took place during weekly team meetings where managers used the performance visualisation board to set the agenda for discussions. “By creating a forum where the team gets to discuss the current status of things and learn from each other, the manager creates a dynamic and inspiring learning environment – which makes the transition to new ways of working much easier,” explains Sarah Vinnes, Head of Development, HR.

The regular team meetings were supplemented by one-on-one coaching sessions where managers would provide individual feedback to help each member of staff become more proficient in delivering complete financial guidance. Given that the role of coach was fairly new to most managers, AL supplemented HR support with a buddy scheme, pairing up managers from different branches so they could share insights and support each other through the implementation of the new concept.

Leading through coaching and feedback has opened new perspectives. I’ve discovered qualities about each member of my staff that I had not been aware of. The insights I’ve gained by following them before, during and after their value meetings with customers have allowed me to make the right adjustments to the way we do things in our branch.

Jesper Stærmose, Branch Manager, AL

Documenting progress

AL did a baseline measurement before all the sales and leadership training started – and followed up with status measurements six months after the final group had finished the training. The findings showed that behaviour was changing in the branches – and the business was beginning to see the results.

“The combination of our new customer segmentation model and a more proactive approach in the value meeting is having an effect,” says Jesper Nielsen, Head of Strategy & Business Development. “Our figures show that earnings from private customers with more funds to invest – or so-called priority customers – are on the increase. And according to customer satisfaction surveys and NPS, this is happening without compromising our level of service to any of our other customer groups.”

Throughout the project, AL has managed to raise their NPS score from 34 to an impressive 38. With the industry standard averaging around -10, this puts AL as the highest scoring bank in the industry. A remarkable achievement considering the cultural transformation that the project represents.

Implement developed a deep understanding of our business, which lent great credibility to the sales training. What was equally impressive was the way they introduced leadership as a key part of the sales training. Without that dimension, the training would not have had as much impact.

Sarah Vinnes, Head of Development, HR, AL

Delivering impact

Introducing a more proactive sales culture in an organisation is not a quick fix. For AL it has been – and still is – a cultural journey for front-line staff and the bank as a whole. “It reflects 20 per cent new tools and 80 per cent change of behaviour. That’s why we no longer talk about it as a project but a process,” says Sarah Vinnes.

As Senior Consultant at Implement Kim Dahlberg reflects, the success of sales training is not measured by the smiles on people’s faces when they leave the course. “We measure success by what happens when people return to their desks – and what’s happened six months or a year later. And we believe that’s what executive management teams and HR departments should focus on too – to make sure that the training they invest in delivers on strategic targets.”

We’re already seeing results. In our branch, value meetings have increased by 200 per cent. And NPS scores are high. The new framework has made my staff more confident – both in their dealings with customers and with their colleagues. Now it’s okay to share your success stories with the team. And that’s incredibly motivating for everyone

Jesper Stærmose, Branch Manager, AL

The formula for effective sales and leadership training

Careful planning

HR involves key stakeholders, from top management to the front line, in designing the training – to capture know-how and ensure relevance and ownership.

Customised and tool-based training

The sales training is customised to meet the operational sales challenges of frontline staff and the strategic goals of the organisation. Moreover, the sales tools are company-specific – to establish a ‘shared language’ internally.

Closely monitored implementation

The sales training is part of a carefully planned implementation, where managers lead the way locally and progress is measured and evaluated to keep up momentum and deliver real change.

Top management focus

Top management plays an active role in all key phases – from planning over training to implementation. Their presence is motivating and sends a clear signal to the organisation that the sales training is not ‘flavour of the month’.

This is a shortened version of the case. Download the extended version to get the complete insight.


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