Finding and Mentoring Sales Leaders


In this week’s blog Steve Ward, President of Centennial Bank and Trust in Denver, Colorado, talks about what’s involved in identifying bank sales leaders, the challenges facing producing sales managers, and what Senior Management can do to help new sales leaders succeed.  

Ned Miller: I would be interested in is your perspective on identifying good sales leaders for different banking roles. 

Steve Ward: The first step is finding a person who wants to lead.  I know that’s easier said than done.  But it’s got to be somebody who wants to help people achieve their results, and knowing that it’s about the other person, and not themselves.  When it comes to a sales leader, it’s got to be someone who has had past successes in sales.  I would dive deeper into that to find out if how they approach sales is similar to your bank’s approach.  You can have success in sales by lowering price on a regular basis, but that ultimately doesn’t achieve the profitability that you want so you’ve got to make sure the person shares your philosophy and can accomplish what you and your organization want to have happen. 

Ned: There are some people who are really good sales people, who have a hard time making a transition to a sales management role.  What have you seen in your banking career?

Steve: Many people who are successful in sales automatically think they should be promoted to management and be the sales leader.  Using a sports analogy, it’s the same as saying “Well, he was a great wide receiver, he’ll be a great coach.”  And they’re poor coaches for various reasons: they’re not good communicators; they’re worried about their individual record, as opposed to helping develop their team.  When you’re contemplating making a successful banker the sales leader, recognize that there’s work involved and a lot of mentoring and coaching required.  You have to ask:  Why do you want this position? 

Are you willing to let other people have the success?  It’s easy for you as the successful sales person to just do it yourself.  That is usually the wrong thing to do—you have to help your team members do it and let them get the glory and all the accolades.  That will help build their confidence and position them for success in the future. You also have to see how they interact with their teammates currently.  A lot of successful sales people are independent and that’s okay.  But, will they be able to make the switch to developing and supporting the team, taking a second seat if you will and putting the current sales person in the first seat? 

Ned: What have you seen with people on the commercial side, who are promoted into a sales management position and are still asked to manage their own accounts–what we call producing sales managers?

Steve: That’s a difficult position to be in because your priorities are going to be in conflict.  Are you going to take care of your clients? They’re saying to themselves, “I’ve got to get this done, I’ve got these sales goals.  Oh!  I’ve got Julie over here who needs help with this deal, I’ve got to mentor her, I’ve got to do this, this, and this.”  Most people gravitate to their clients and their own book of business.  People development takes a back seat. 

Now, producing sales managers can be very beneficial in one regard.  You can use it as a developmental practice for your sales team.  If a junior RM helps me with my book, in addition to his own book, and takes care of my clients, I can develop and mentor him and over time they can become the junior RM’s relationships.  But a producing sales leader’s book of business cannot be that big.  They can’t have a $100 million loan portfolio and be an effective sales leader. 

Ned: A number of my clients are trying to diversify their revenue streams by moving away from commercial real estate toward more C&I business.  Is there a difference in leading a real estate team versus a C&I team? 

Steve: I don’t know if there’s a big difference.  There is certainly a difference in focus, and a difference in sales cycle.  In both segments you’re going to identify those companies in the market place that you want to do business with.  Then, you’re going to develop your calling strategies and you’re going to work those prospects until they become customers.

Ned: I was talking to a pretty talented banker who I’ve known for awhile who’s being asked to grow his C&I portfolio, who said, “I know what I’m doing, but the CEO of the bank wants it now.”  It’s almost as if the CEO thinks he could turn a spigot on. 

Steve: It’s just a longer sales process, because if you’re in the C&I world, you’re focusing on the holistic approach of loans, deposits, treasury management, etc. Commercial real estate is more credit-centric than C&I.

Ned: Once you’ve got somebody in place, what kinds of things do you think a bank CEO ought to be doing to try to develop the skills of a first-line sales leader?

Steve: It’s the same things that you should be doing to help develop commercial bankers.  It’s having the standard one-on-one meetings with them about what the expectations are and where you can help them. It’s about knocking down any barriers to their success.  It would be periodically attending their sales meetings, not to run them, but to just observe and then set time aside to provide coaching, as to what can be improved. It’s important to go on joint calls with the sales leader and the RM, watch the whole interaction and then afterwards debrief with the sales leader, coaching him on how he interacted with the banker. 

Ned:   The other thing that we encourage is to have people occasionally sit in on coaching sessions that sales leaders are having with their bankers.

Steve: I would agree. When we do our relationship reviews, I sit in on those with the team leaders and the bankers.  It’s a great way to watch them interact with the bankers as they develop strategies.  I am usually an active participant in it, but a lot of times it is just reinforcing exactly what the team leader is saying.


If you’re looking for a speaker for a sales conference in 2017, call Susan Lersch at 610-296-4773 or email her at Buck Bierly and Ned Miller can also work with you to provide day or half-day workshops for your teams on a variety of topics.


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