CUNA Mutual Redesigns Its Sales Process

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Business Relationship Manager - Product Lifecycle Management, Chevron Corporation

Founded in 1935 by pioneers in the credit union movement, the CUNA Mutual Group is a leading provider of services to credit unions and their customers worldwide. CUNA Mutual offers lending, protection, financial, employee and member solutions through strategic partnerships, technological innovations, and multiple service channels. In 2005, it had assets of $14.6 billion and revenues of $2.64 billion. With approximately 5,500 employees worldwide, the company is headquartered in Madison, WI, and has an office in Iowa, as well as six regional marketing offices. The company’s vision is simple and straightforward: it strives to be the best in serving credit unions and their customers.

As a part of the financial services sector, credit unions and the markets in which they operate are rapidly changing. CUNA Mutual is aggressively responding to those changes and has launched several broad initiatives to strengthen its core competencies. Among the critical elements in the company’s roadmap is what company executives have called foundational initiatives for reshaping CUNA Mutual’s operations. In 2005, a new executive vice president/chief sales officer joined CUNA Mutual. Not surprisingly, his mandate was to bolster sales and revenues, particularly from the major accounts CUNA Mutual served. But, said Peter Gilbertson, a business analyst consultant in CUNA Mutual’s Project Management Office associated with the sales and distribution unit of the company, the chief sales officer wanted more than just increased sales. “He wanted better visibility into the sales process from initial client contact until the sale was closed,” said Gilbertson. “He also wanted better accountability.”

In short, CUNA Mutual needed to develop a sales pipeline. “We didn’t have a good sense of where we were in the funnel – how many sales contacts were initiated; how many proposals we had; how many were closing,” Gilbertson said. “We needed better accountability and better metrics.”

Redesigning the Sales Process

The Project Management Office assigned to the sales operation was given the task of creating the infrastructure for a sales pipeline. To start, however, the team decided it first had to look at the overall sales process. “Our chief sales officer wanted a sales pipeline, better accountability and, of course, to improve sales and revenue. It was the project team that proposed starting the project by designing a new sales process. We said early on that we had to lay the foundation with a good sales process,” said Gilbertson.

So while the size, scope and scrutiny given to the project were fairly typical, the assignment itself was unusual. “Not a lot of companies spend a lot of energy redefining their sales process,” Gilbertson said. “It was a pleasant surprise.”

The project team was led by business- side representatives and made up of project managers and business analyst consultants. It developed strong partnerships with other internal groups, including information technology, human resources, finance, training, marketing and sourcing. As a first step, a small team set out to investigate the company’s current sales processes, as well as identify best practices in the industry. In the beginning, Gilbertson said, “we decided that we would focus on the ‘what’ in the sales process, rather than the ‘whom’ or the ‘how’ of the sales process.”

Working with the company’s sales representatives, the team discovered that earlier, one of CUNA Mutual’s divisions had partnered with Sales Performance International (SPI) for sales training. Led by Keith Eades, author of The Solution-Centric Organization, SPI is a leading sales consulting organization. The training, the project team learned, had been very well-received and it became the starting point for the redesign of the sales process. “We liked their principles and practices, as well as their approach to solution selling,” Gilbertson said. The team then visually tied those principles and practices to a typical customer sales process.

By building on a process that had already been well-received, the team was able to get buy-in from the sales representatives. The team also did extensive research into current industry sales practices, eventually boiling down their research and encapsulating it into a five-step process that could be easily summarized on a single PowerPoint slide (See Figure 1), which they presented to the executive team. “At this point,” Gilbertson said, “it (the sales process) was not coming from us. We could tell them that this was what their sales representatives were saying should be our sales process.”

Over time, information was added to the chart. The steps in the sales process were dubbed the “monopoly cards,” giving them a kind of cachet. Moreover, the project team did an extensive amount of traditional project management work, creating swimlanes and identifying roles and responsibilities. “We created many swimlane charts and verified them with the subject matter experts,” Gilbertson said.

But in presentations to the executives, the team focused on outcomes. “That is how we sold it,” Gilbertson said. “They had presented the objectives and we showed them how those objectives would be achieved. We would show them the metrics they would receive from each phase. And we would show them the verifiable outcomes that sales representatives would have to achieve as they moved down the sales process.”

For the sales representatives, the project team focused on the new tools that would be placed into their hands. “The sales reps said the tools were awesome,” Gilbertson said. “They didn’t know that the tools would eventually feed a pipeline.”

In fact, through the entire process, the project team concentrated on the needs of each of its constituencies. “We kept asking what was in it for the executives. What was in it for the sales reps? What was in it for middle management?” Gilbertson said. The project was never positioned as an exercise in process re-engineering. “We hardly used the process word at all. We used the concepts and the project’s objectives as a whole,” he explained.

Nevertheless, the result was a new and more rigorous sales process. “We put into place a whole new culture and atmosphere built around the sales process,” Gilbertson said. The new sales process served as the foundation for the rest of the project.

Technology Selection

As the team moved towards completing the definition of the sales process, it began to explore its technology options. “We had a firm gate review with the executives signing off on the process and the roles and responsibilities as we were getting down to the final three or four vendors (in the selection process),” Gilbertson said. The project team had developed the necessary granular information needed to determine the requirements for a tool.

To make the technology selection, the project team partnered with the internal sourcing group, which led the request for information and the request for proposal efforts. During the vendor selection, CUNA Mutual gave vendors the blueprint of their new sales process and created detailed mock scenarios and asked them to walk through the scenarios. “We really wanted software that would enable our processes,” Gilbertson said.

In the final analysis, several vendors demonstrated technology that seemed suitable. The winning vendor, Salesnet, however, had created a “war room” in which CUNA Mutual’s processes were all displayed. “They had our processes up on the wall and they showed us how easy it was to configure their tool with our  processes,” Gilbertson remarked. Salesnet was also subjected to stringent due diligence in terms of security, cost, integration and other areas of concern.

Interestingly, Salesnet’s sales force automation tool is a hosted solution. At the time, moving to a hosted solution was a difficult decision. “It was a cultural change for CUNA Mutual to go this path,” Gilbertson said. “It was a change to go from a build solution to more of a buy solution.”

But the development timeline made possible by going with the “buy” alternative made the choice very compelling. It took a relatively small team only six weeks to configure the Salesnet tool to reflect CUNA Mutual’s sales process and to integrate it into the overall infrastructure. “The key word is configure,” Gilbertson said. “It was not customizing or writing code. We were adding radio buttons and yes/no options.” The team felt if the tool could be configured without the need for a lot of manual, code-driven updates, the entire business could be more nimble.

The Rollout

For the rollout, the executive sponsors chose a sales team responsible for larger accounts. “Though it was smaller in number, the executives felt that it would have a larger impact,” Gilbertson said. The first phase of the rollout was aligned with the company’s sales summit, an annual training event.

After the executive sponsors kicked off the training, both an internal training team from CUNA Mutual and a training team from Sales Performance International conducted training sessions. “The training was equally as important as designing the process and selecting the vendor,” Gilbertson said. “It was important to get buy-in for the training and the rollout. Without that, the project would not be successful.”

Using a professional training team from outside the company was a key to the success of the project. “They energized the sales force,” Gilbertson observed. “They added credibility to the sales process and confidence that it would work. It was not just the same old story.”

Following the initial rollout, the plan is to introduce the new process and technology to the remaining sales groups. “There will be minor tweaks for the other groups, but 80 to 90 percent of the tool will be reused,” Gilbertson said.

Lessons Learned

The success of the project can be measured in many different ways. From the project team’s point of view, the project was delivered on time and on budget. Moreover, CUNA Mutual now has a sales pipeline and metrics to measure sales activities.

Moreover, the sales representatives have reacted favorably to the new tools at their disposal. “We are continually getting feedback from them,” Gilbertson said. And, finally, there is the bottom line. Overall sales performance is influenced by many factors, making it difficult to attribute sales increases or decreases to one specific variable. But the new process clearly provides increased visibility and accountability into the sales activity. Better information leads to better management and, ultimately, better results.

Several factors were critical to the success of this project. First, noted Gilbertson, the project had strong support from senior management. “You have to speak in the way that executives see the world – goals, objectives and the bottom line,” he said. “You have to use the tools and methods in everybody’s tool box to achieve your objectives.” Deliverables have to be understandable by the target audience.

Second, he said, the process must be defined first. “The roles and technology have to be built off the process,” Gilbertson said. “The right way to do it is to build a process, enable it with technology, and then build roles and responsibilities around the process.” That approach, he said, helps ensure an output that meets the objectives.

Third, the process design should be simple. “A new process is worth nothing on paper,” he noted. It needs tools and metrics, and staff to implement it. It is up to the project team to communicate the process in a way that the objectives can be achieved.

Fourth, Gilbertson said, “Start small. Even though the process, technology and principles will apply to the entire sales force, we started small so we would have a manageable start.”

For a major process redesign to succeed, the team must continually focus on the objectives, as well as have a rock-solid methodology. “First and formost, you must meet the objectives, but second in importance is showing how you got there,” Gilbertson remarked.

The chief sales officer wanted better visibility and accountability into the sales process.
The team developed a five-step sales process that was easy to summarize.
The redesigned sales process was the foundation for the project.
A new sales culture and atmosphere emerged.


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