A series of mergers and acquisitions at Associated Bank united numerous cultures under a single brand, but left functional silos within its commercial banking sales unit, according to Eric Andringa, SVP and commercial banking business manager for the Green Bay, Wis.-based subsidiary of Associated Banc-Corp. "Everything was very compartmentalized," he says, explaining that this limited cross-sales potential and reduced knowledge transfer effectiveness.
In late 2008, Andringa says, Chicago-based enterprise sales enablement vendor SAVO Group chanced to call on an Associated ($22 billion in total assets) executive, touching off a series of informal exchanges. The tipping point for Associated followed a period of accelerated growth that netted the bank some exceptional new talent in late 2009. "But the new hires came in speaking their own language," Andringa relates.
Shortly afterwards, in January 2010, Associated formed a cross-functional business and IT team to evaluate the SaaS-based SAVO collaboration environment. During the extensive due-diligence period, Andringa reports, SAVO effectively sealed the deal when it coincidentally launched a new "Tribal Knowledge" feature that automatically routes user questions to the appropriate internal subject matter expert.
After officially partnering with SAVO in February 2011, Associated immediately began building a custom branded environment, which it dubbed SalesExchange. "Our guiding principles were: Keep it simple, and stay focused on sales," notes Michelle Wilhelmi, project coordinator at Associated. "If an idea required more than a couple of clicks, or we couldn't clearly identify a sales benefit, we didn't include it."
Spreading the Wealth
News of the unified repository, Andringa notes, caught the attention of other Associated departments. Consequently, staying focused became the primary implementation challenge. "To meet this challenge we built out separate areas [for non-sales information]," he explains. "Then we included easy links from the sales environment to those areas."
When the first rollout phase of SalesExchange went live in early June 2011 it contained sales documents, value-added articles, best practices and regional success stories, according to Wilhelmi. "For phase one of the launch we focused on the viewing aspect of SalesExchange," she comments. "To encourage adoption we posted new information regularly and promoted the tool with email notifications and webinars."
Then, during July 2011, Associated began a second phase, introducing forum tools and kick-starting discussions. "We posted general 'how-to' questions on SalesExchange, such as identifying specific markets or working with a certain type of customer," Wilhelmi recounts. "When a sales representative would answer, bank leadership would immediately acknowledge the contribution and, where appropriate, add their own tips or observations. This demonstrated the commitment of leadership to the environment."
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The final rollout phase occurred in August and September 2011. "We conducted classes on how to use the tools baked into SAVO to customize bank-supplied sales documents in various formats, like [Adobe] PDF, [Microsoft] PowerPoint and [Microsoft] Excel," says Wilhelmi. "This not only provided users with access to customized documents, but also added a compliance layer."
Meanwhile, usage exploded. "In the first 45 days there were more than 15,000 collaborative actions," Andringa says. "Sales presentations that once took a day to create were done in an hour and more cohesive with our brand."
Today, collaborations average about 17,000 per month, and the organizational benefits are profound, Andringa reports. "For example, our cross-selling results in the first quarter of this year are up double digits over last year," he observes. "Our wealth management, retail and insurance groups are participating, which boosts referrals and cross-sells between different business lines."
Andringa says the environment's build-out will continue. Associated intends to refine the tools it uses most, establish sales affinity groups, promote mentoring and leverage untapped functionality within the solution. "SAVO has been really critical to helping us tear down the whole silo mentality," he emphasizes.
CASE STUDY SNAPSHOT
Institution: Associated Bank (a subsidiary of Associated Banc-Corp; Green Bay, Wis.)
Assets: $22 billion
Business Challenge: Reduce cultural and functional silos by establishing a unified, collaborative sales environment
Solution: The SAVO enterprise sales enablement suite from SAVO Group (Chicago)