Sales culture is to create a feel-good experience for the customer

Sales of financial products is undergoing massive change. Digitalization, customer centricity, changing customer needs, new competitors are just some of the buzzwords here. Claus Peter Hendricks Senior Manager at zeb, describes in an interview how sales units are changing to be successful in the future.


You are dealing with sales culture – some may wonder what “sales” has to do with “culture”.

Claus Peter Hendricks: The famous German humorist Loriot would have said: don’t bother me with such an irritating question. But it shifts the focus to an important issue: sales has often been, and still is, done from an internal perspective. Like, for example, we have developed a great product. Now it’s up to the sales department to sell it.

Good sales culture puts the customer first. Nothing else. The areas that deal directly with the customer – branches, agencies, sales, after-sales units, etc. – are ranked way behind. If customer centricity is done right, then sales must play a key role in all relevant projects. In many strategy projects, however, customer opinions and sales staff are still not sufficiently integrated. The reason might be a lack of appreciation for sales employees.

What is sales culture made of?

When we talk about good culture, the issue of psychological security is a key success factor. Employees – in sales teams – must feel safe to contribute their own ideas and their own initiatives without running the risk of being punished, even if the idea perhaps wasn’t all that good. In addition, it is important that the sales organization fosters the relationship between the sales staff and the customer. To achieve this, you need the right leadership concepts, management systems, personnel development and the right way of communication. This way, you get to the point where the customer feels truly comfortable and well understood.

Isn’t that simply due to skilled sales staff?

Good sales culture is like an ecosystem developing good sales employees. The Association of German Cooperative Banks and the German Savings Banks Finance Group demonstrate the value of a good sales culture not only in favor of profitability but also of the ability of sales to change. These two associations comprise more than 1,000 credit institutions. Almost all have the same business model, the same IT infrastructure and a similar product range in their respective association. And yet identical sales strategy initiatives achieve very different degrees of success. If you take a closer look, sales culture is often key to implementation success.

Where is leadership heading? And how should team leads currently act?

In the coming years, we will experience a further acceleration of social and technological transformations, for example. As a result, transformational leadership is becoming increasingly important. In other words, team leads who try to trigger the intrinsic motivation of their employees, for example by communicating attractive objectives and ways to achieve them together as a team, by acting as role models and supporting individual development. This is already very different from the past. To put it in simple terms: in the past, team leads were experts and knew everything best. Today, team leads are more likely to take on coaching roles to support their teams in shaping their own path to successful sales. In the past, the focus was on tracking and management accounting or placing, monitoring and checking off orders – today, the focus is rather on offering challenges and support. How can I motivate my employees to become even more involved in a specific topic? How can I challenge them and where do they need support? The role of team leads has undergone a paradigm shift. And at the same time, sometimes it’s still important for team leads to give clear instructions and quickly solve problems of their employees

How does this translate into real life?

A coaching team lead ideally operates within a framework defined with the team. When we talk about successful team development, it usually starts with the team lead and team becoming aware of their shared strengths and resolving any hidden conflicts. This quickly results in a great get-up-and-go spirit where the teams sets itself ambitious targets with clearly defined milestones in terms of a success ladder. This is, of course, a very good framework for the coaching team lead. Money doesn’t nurture ambition.

According to our experience, teams are particularly ambitious when it’s not about money. There is indeed a close correlation of ambition and money, but unfortunately the other way round: people try to set extremely low targets in order to achieve them in any case and thus secure the bonus.

Intrinsically motivated sales teams always set targets that are also in the customer’s best interest. After all, no one sets targets to alienate as many customers as possible. The question is rather how to foster customer satisfaction. What do customers need? What is missing? What can we do better? Such a process makes one’s own targets clear and promotes not only customer centricity but also team spirit. The team lead is responsible for keeping this spirit up.

You are describing the team’s approach, but how does that spirit get into the entire organization?

It helps to have a good vision as well as a clear strategic and cultural objective. In the end, structures have to be changed: management systems, personnel development measures – always with the aim of quickly changing everything for the better. Otherwise, we have the same effect as with a change of coach for a sports team threatened with relegation: one day everyone is celebrating, and the next day, unfortunately, the world looks just as gray as before – it was only a quick fix.

Where does the industry rank on a scale of one to ten with regard to this transformation process?

We have many clients who have come a long way and are perhaps located between eight and nine. Overall, I would rank the industry maybe at five to six. Tendency: it’s getting better because many banks have set the topic on their agendas.

And what’s the problem?

It always comes down to the question: how do we manage to change course on a supertanker at full speed? We have to accept that cultural transformation is tedious. And we also need to lower our expectations. If we can correct the course of the supertanker by only a few degrees at full speed, that may be enough to avoid a collision with the iceberg.

Habits and internal resistance are another problem. Quitting smoking is not something that many people can do overnight. That’s where new habits are needed that become second nature. You have to fight resistance in the organization and create structures as well as a team and team spirit that prevent relapsesTop management support required.

The most important thing for a successful transformation is the commitment of the top management. It takes the foresight and perspective to know that this is a decision that won’t be reflected in the next quarterly figures. And the top management should be willing to invest both into the team leads and the team. This ultimately means: everyone who wants to have a high-quality sales force or a good sales organization will benefit. You have to shift away from intrusive sales tactics.

In a nutshell: what is sales culture?

Sales culture is to create a feel-good experience for the customer. Then it’s a wrap.


Take-aways on sales culture 

  • Good sales culture puts the customer first. Nothing else.
  • The sales perspective should be more involved in culture and strategy projects because sales-specific skills are often insufficiently addressed and the customer interface is underrepresented.
  • A positive sales culture conveys the confidence to tackle one’s own topics, to contribute ideas and to try out new things.
  • Clear targets in sales teams are important, but financial incentives only have limited impact.
  • Focus on positive reinforcement in projects; expectation of self-efficacy fuels project success.
Profilbild Claus Peter Hendricks
„Sales culture is to create a feel-good experience for the customer.“
Claus Peter Hendricks, Senior Manager zeb