Can a CEO Be a Sales Manager Too?

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Can a CEO be a sales manager too?

Peter S. Damon, president and CEO, Bank of Newport, R.I., wears a second hat at his institution: sales manager.

Damon decided to take on the additional duties 18 months ago, when the $320-million bank was rolling out a "sales culture" at its eight branches.

He finds the experience rewarding. "It's a very good way of getting to know your personnel better and learning much more about customers," he says. "You are more attuned to what's going on at the bank. You get a lot of feedback you would not otherwise hear."

Selling is not an entirely new experience for Damon. Prior to getting into banking 20 years ago, he sold pharmaceuticals. His strongest sales experience came while serving as a commercial lending officer for a regional bank.

"I made cold calls all the time," recalls Damon. "You learn that your results are a direct result of the number of cold calls you make. And you overcome the fear of going out and making a call."

The job also taught Damon the importance of building account relationships. "You are highly conscious of their profitability," Damon explains. Bottom-line results. Bank of Newport's sales effort focuses primarily on retail services. The bank is growing, though not rapidly. But, more significantly, in the face of heavy competition it has been able to maintain market share. For example, it dominates deposit share among commercial banks in its markets. Damon indicates that the bank is also dominant in residential loans. "Our market share is around 12% to 13%," says Damon. "Our next major competitor probably has half that." But there's some history here.

Intense competition from other financial services companies led to the development of a sales culture and to Damon's new position.

The bank had long been dedicated to quality service, explains Damon, but didn't seek out customers. It waited for them to walk into the bank.

"However, over the past five or six years," Damon continues, "we were losing market share due to increased competition from commissioned sales people who sell brokerage services." These competitors don't wait for people to come in the door, says Damon.

There was more to worry about besides the brokers. The bank was also experiencing more competition from big regional banks that had acquired Rhode Island institutions.

"In many cases, the offices those big banks acquired in our operating areas were formerly sleepy competitors," says Damon. "They are now pro-active competitors. They brought in experienced salespersons, who called on our customers. Some of the people making the calls were high-powered, good-looking persons, with lots of answers. That really woke us up in a hurry." Sales program details. Stronger competition led Bank of Newport to build a sales organization. Two-and-a-half years ago, it hired a sales and motivational firm--Ritter Co., Boston.

"Everybody in the bank was exposed to sales training," says Damon. The training included advice on dealing with customers.

"Employees were told to rise--if seated--when a customer approached and to look the customer in the eye," Damon recalls. They were told to address a customer by name, if they can. If they can't, they were told to ask what their name is and remember it, and when customers leave, employees were told to address them by name.

"It doesn't sound like much," says Damon. "But if you see what current practice is at many other banks, those are big improvements." Sales manager needed. About a year after the transition to the new sales environment began, the consultant told the bank that it would need a sales manager to continue to run the sales program.

Management reviewed the capabilities of several candidates in the bank, but no one quite fit, says Damon. At about the time the bank was considering hiring an outsider, the person from the training department who had been handling the program resigned. …