When you say the word “sell” in a financial institution staff meeting, it’s usually about as well received as the person who shows up to a football game wearing the “other” team’s jersey.

There’s a good reason for that. Hard-core selling doesn’t work at financial institutions.

For years we’ve been hearing about the need for credit unions and banks to establish sales cultures, but what does that really mean? Are we supposed to coerce members and customers to sign up for products and services they don’t want or need in order to meet a sales quota? Should we overlook what is best for them to increase our bottom line? Do we hire the used car salesmen of the 70s and 80s for this new culture? Absolutely not. That is the old selling mindset, and it doesn’t work in 2013.

More than ever, today’s consumers want to know you care about them. They have access to information 24/7 and are savvy decision makers in the buying process. They don’t want you to push them into a decision. They want you to build on the knowledge they already have. They want advice and guidance. That means engaging in conversation with them and knowing that sales won’t always be closed on the first try. In fact, your front line people should think less of closing a sale and more about opening a conversation to new possibilities and new relationships. That is when the sale will come – when members and customers learn to trust you and open up to you.

Selling your financial institution as the right choice for consumers is really not about sales at all. It’s about animating your brand. Your employees do this every time they engage and connect with a customer or member. This is such a big part of the selling process that many companies are now replacing sales training with branding and engagement training. They are teaching their employees to engage and connect and really care about the needs of their members and customers. They are providing experiences which bring their brand to life and help establish lifelong relationships with consumers and their financial institutions. That is what selling is – educating the member or customer, offering him or her tangible benefits and communicating the value of your financial institution to each consumer.

You can find a lot more information on selling vs. engaging by reading the current issue of my monthly e-newsletter.  Learn the perspectives of several experts in the field and see how one credit union doubled its loan goal by making simple changes in its branding behavior.