What CEOs Look for in a Bank Sales Leader

Leader of Teamwork Background # Vector


In the first of a series of interviews with CEOs on sales leadership, Ned Miller talks with Scott Page, the President and CEO of CoBiz Bank, a $3.3 billion business bank headquartered in Denver that also has significant operations in Arizona.


Ned Miller: How do you go about identifying sales leaders?

Scott Page: I consider that the most important position within our organization. Coaching starts at the top, and if we want to maintain that coaching and build performance discipline we have to make sure we have the right people in place to coach on a regular, day-to-day basis. We need people who coach the right behaviors.

Ned: Tell me more about the “right behaviors.”

Scott: In our organization, we need people who have the right collaboration skills, good communication skills and a level of grit and determination that allows them to consistently be out front, looking for new business and managing current relationships. Are they self-aware? Are they coachable?

We put all of our new hires and all of our current bankers through a skills assessment that we’ve created within our organization. We know what skills our high performers possess that make them successful year over year, quarter over quarter. When we hire, we hire to that standard. Every new applicant takes a 20 minute skills assessment on line, so that we can compare their performance against the gold standard. We want to know if they have the skills to be successful at CoBiz. And we’ve found that to be correlated almost directly with performance. That’s for new hires. We asked all our current bankers to take the skills assessment test. We’ve created coaching programs for every one of these people. It’s still fairly new—we’ve been doing it since the end of last year–but we’re starting to see results.

But for us to be successful we had to coach the coaches. And each of our sales leaders has to spend an extensive period of time with every one of their bankers, talking through their score cards, talking through their behaviors, discussing the “how tos” they need to be successful in meeting their goals. And then I have a pretty serious conversation with the sales leaders about what their team members need to do differently from a behavioral perspective to hit their goals.

Ned: Is the assessment something that helps you identify somebody who would be a good sales leader?

Scott: Yes, absolutely. I took it as the CEO, all my senior management team took it, and every one of our bankers has taken it. We’re also thinking about doing it for treasury management and some other positions, too. It does help you identify certain skills; communication, collaboration, self-awareness, self- blame, things like that. There are probably a hundred measures to look at.

Sometimes great sales people don’t make great sales leaders. But we’ve identified some traits or skills that allow them to be more effective at communicating and coaching. Persistence is another thing that gets measured. And you put all those in a cauldron and you stir it around and you get a pretty good profile for a successful sales leader.


Ned: Are there some specific things that your top sales leaders do?

Scott: Our top people have the patience to coach the “how tos”; they go on calls and insist on pre-call planning before going on the call. They ask for background data on the prospect or the current client before they’ll go on a call. And when they de-brief after the call they talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. They also communicate clearly what it takes to be successful. You know, it’s too easy for really successful sales people who become coaches just to say, “Well, you just need to make a lot of calls”.


Ned: Or say, ”Just watch how I do it.”

Scott: We know that most bankers really aren’t natural sales people, so having really good coaches who are consistent and can communicate effectively is invaluable. And fortunately, we’ve developed some really good ones here and it’s really helping us.

But we still have a challenge. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that it starts at the top in the organization. In the past I made the mistake of focusing all my coaching on the Relationship Managers. But if it’s not reinforced and supported by their sales leaders, it’s totally ineffective. Because people will do what you expect if you constantly reinforce it. And so, we’re getting much better at reinforcing that, and it’s helping us get much more consistent deposit and loan growth.


Ned: One of your primary responsibilities is to make the sales leaders better. What kinds of things are important to you in terms of developing sales leaders?

Scott: Well, we use you guys a lot!

Ned: Thanks for the plug!

Scott: We have really amped up our coaching at the leadership level. I have to do all the things I expect from them. I also use a lot of data analytics. We’re getting much better dashboard reports and pipeline reports.

There’s no substitute for blocking and tackling but we’ve also brought in someone who has helped me coach my leaders on how to coach to specific behaviors. We’ve done a lot of leadership coaching. We talk a lot about what you have to do to be successful.

And we’ve done what a lot of people hate to do, we’ve done a lot of role playing. And the role playing we’re doing is at the senior level. So, we’ll have one of my senior managers role play coaching his four or five senior regional heads. And then we’ll have our healthcare guy coach the head of Treasury Management. We literally did that for an entire day, trying to focus on the key behavioral questions. What are your short term goals or aspirations? How much do you want to make this year? What could you work on now that would make the biggest difference in your job or in your life? It’s not a quick fix. It takes a long time to go through this coaching. But if you really invest the time it pays off.

If I went to a banker and said, “How much do you want to make this year? “ and he said, “Well, I just want to make my base salary” we’’ve got the wrong guy, right? We pay them a bonus for growth, quality growth. And if they’re content with just their salary, they’ve become a portfolio manager, not a relationship manager. So, we spend a lot of time coaching to the questions. We don’t say to every banker, “You’ve got to make 5 calls a week, and you’ve got to have a certain number of this and a certain number of calls on COI’s.” Those are all really valuable, but if they don’t really understand how to win and how to bring in business, and if our coaches don’t understand their people, and what their hot buttons are, we’re in trouble.


Ned: Do you have a formal leadership development program in your organization?

Scott: We have a leadership development program that we put in place two years ago. It was designed to take people whom we’ve identified to be high potentials within our organization, and we put six through the first year and then this year we’re running 9 people through the program. And out of the 6 people last year, 5 of them moved into sales management roles. We’re trying to develop the next level down. And so, there’s a fair amount of strategic planning that goes through this leadership program, but we do put them through a really intense public speaking course and a certain amount of sales training. We also give them active learning programs where they work together. It isn’t really only to create sales leaders, because we are developing some people who are in our finance and insurance and operations group. But about half of the people in this program are being groomed to be sales leaders.

Ned: Is there anything else you want to comment on?

Scott: We’re viewed as a growth company and we’re also a conservative institution, so we have to grow the old fashioned way by adding relationships. When we re-did the goals this year for sales leaders and for the bankers, we went to incremental revenue as one of the goals. That’s new revenue from existing relationships, and new relationships. That’s because we have to acquire new relationships to meet the goals that our investors expect from us. We can’t just do it by milking current relationships. Plus, there’s a certain amount of attrition that you have to fight all the time anyway.

So we measure the number of new relationships and we measure revenue from new and existing relationships. That’s a mindset change. In that past people would say, “Just get revenue and get loans and deposits any way you can.” Now it’s like, no, no, you need to add some new relationships, lots of new relationships. And I think that has made a difference.

It takes a coach to sit down and be patient, and really go through a pretty in depth behavioral discussion about generating business. Do you make calls in between annual reviews? Or have you blocked out two days a week to generate new business? How are they thinking about it?



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