Back Together Again

In 2011, Linda Hartley returned to CIBC to realign and refocus a disjointed sales force, and three short years later the team is thriving

Although Linda Hartley started her career with CIBC, the fifth-largest bank in Canada, she left the organization for a few years to expand her experience in the global community, working with cash-management-solution sales teams around the world. In 2011, however, CIBC asked her to return for a specific purpose: Hartley was to use her two decades in the cash-management business to unite a decentralized sales team, strengthening its vision and culture to ultimately grow and deepen its relationships with clients.

Three years later, the business has seen significant improvement and has outpaced industry norms, including a six-point increase in its sales team’s overall employee-satisfaction rates over the course of the first year alone. Here, Hartley discusses how she’s contributed to this success and what she sees coming for her national sales team.

“I came to CIBC ready for a new challenge. My mandate as vice president of national sales is to drive profitable growth and enhance our client experience. My responsibility sits with the cash-management and trade-finance sales teams, where we provide complex, working capital solutions to our business communities.

I inherited a very capable national sales team with lots of experience. The average tenure is about 20 years. The team had been decentralized, reporting into regional groups, and it had recently been brought back to a centralized team when I took over the leadership. Unifying them was a good start to rebuilding the business unit as one of specialists instead of a more broad support group. The team was strong at meeting clients’ needs and had a good reputation, which is a great foundation. However, we realized a need to strengthen our presence in the market to deepen relationships and earn new business.

OUTSIDE THE OFFICE

Hartley’s career has taken her all across Canada, and she likes to stay connected to the communities she has visited. She does that by combining two of her passions: adventure and philanthropy. An avid distance cyclist, Hartley often rides on tours of up to 400 kilometres to raise money for children’s cancer causes. Recently, she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with a team from Canadian Blood Services to help raise funds for a stem cell bank in Canada. Hartley is also the president of TMAC Toronto, an association that brings networking and thought leadership to those in the finance profession.

After touring the country and speaking to my colleagues in sales—as well as our partners—I knew that empowering them and lowering barriers would lead to success. They needed to be able to get closer to clients, and they needed to have obstacles removed. In talking to the team, I was able to understand their need for role clarity and what tools they really needed to perform.

I redesigned the sales structure to align to our client segments, thereby matching our people’s expertise with the right markets, which introduced role clarity and addressed client complexity in a bank that serves over 11 million clients. I also introduced job levels within the team to give [staff members] advancement opportunities based on their development. We now have four sales tiers that divide by level of experience and allow for rewards and promotion. Employees who advance serve more sophisticated clients as their skills and compensation increase.

Many processes were encumbering the sales team, so I worked with other units within our organization to take on some of these areas. Collaboration within business units is key to a well-rounded and client-centric approach.

Lastly, we were operating without a mission statement for our sales team. It was important to me that everyone was aligned on what we do, why, and what our focus is for our business. My team leads and I worked on a statement together, and we are proud of our results. I had the mission statement printed on posters, and they are on the walls in all our offices across Canada.

It’s been approximately three years since we took these steps, and our team is gaining a lot of momentum with our business partners and our clients. We have shifted from a product approach to a relationship-centric approach. We improved our sales model to deepen the understanding of our clients’ needs, demonstrating where they have gaps that they may not have recognized. We are taking the time to provide impactful solutions. This has led to repeat and improved referral business as we increase our visibility and credibility. To tie it all together, through the use of a recently implemented [customer-relationship management] platform, the team is able to capture all the details of our clients and their interactions with the bank. We know when we’ve last seen our clients and are current on our pipeline.

We are working hard to strengthen our culture in line with CIBC’s overall strategies. I make it a point to interview all potential hires because fit is crucial. Culture isn’t a one-time activity; it’s an ongoing responsibility. If my team leads are coaching and motivating in the right way, then the culture within our team will be intact, regardless of what may be going on around us. Consistency is important, and we hold quarterly town halls to communicate, organize, and recognize individuals.

As we move into 2014, we’ll continue with a focus on client relationships and strong sales management. The course is set. However, we need to be mindful and nimble to make change to stay current with market demands.”

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THE BOTTOM LINE

Job title
VP of national sales

Industry
Cash management and trade finance

Years in the business
20+

Where did you start your career?
CIBC.

Describe yourself in three words
Present, dynamic, networker.

Advice to those just starting in finance
To be successful in a client-facing business, you have to want to get out in front of people, having conversations and listening. Work on internal and external projects to gain visibility and diverse experiences.