Talk Story with John Dean of Central Pacific Bank

CEO, Central Pacific Bank

Dean, Hawaii Business’ 2012 CEO of the Year, has also been named Hawaii’s Salesperson of the Year for 2013 by the Honolulu Chapter of Sales & Marketing Executives International. He spoke with HB publisher David Tumilowicz.

Some people are surprised that you are SMEI’s Salesperson of the Year. They don’t think of you as a salesperson.

In my career, I came up through the sales side. I think that’s important. I was an account officer in Houston in commercial lending and started out with no book of business. Then, within 2 ½ years, I had commitments of a quarter billion (dollars) and outstandings of 120 million. So, I think, when people say, “He doesn’t seem like a salesperson,” they have a different connotation for the word sales. What I mean by that is the hard sell, the pushy, but, if you’re in the business of building relationships, and that’s what our business is in financial service, it’s not a hard sell.

What is the secret to sales?

Are you a good listener? Are you really listening? To build a relationship and be successful you’ve got to be a good listener. It’s more important to listen and you listen through questions. It’s not just sitting there. You’ve got to drive it and you do talk but it’s asking them what their needs are. It’s questioning them. It’s making suggestions. You’re successful if most of your time is questioning and most of your client’s time is answering.

It’s extraordinary to go from zero to $250 million in the first two years of your career. What made you different?

I redefined the market. I looked at my portfolio and I said, “What else can I do?” Texas and the Southwest were booming and there was enormous pressure on the utility industry. They were looking to grow quickly and they were looking for capital. There was a type of financing called ineligible bankers’ acceptances. I didn’t invent it, but I got to understand how it worked and I asked permission to call on all the electric utility companies in Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and they said, “Sure. Nobody calls on them.” It’s like this story: One guy says, “There’s no interest, nobody wears shoes,” and the other sales guy says, “There’s enormous opportunity, nobody wears shoes.” It was a wonderful run while it lasted.

What advice do you have for sales managers?

Understand your market. Understand your product. Understand your people in terms of what their drivers are. Philosophically, I’m looking for people who are more relationship driven. Assuming that, my advice is to make sure that salespeople have signed up in terms of the values, the philosophy and the beliefs of that company. That you win by building relationships and that we have a good product, a good service and you follow up. Oftentimes people think the deal’s done and I can go on to something else. But then they find out that they’re losing business as fast as they’re bringing new business in because they’re not attentive.

What drives salespeople to take a hard-sell approach?

If it’s a quick sell – one time and I’m on to somebody else – there’s no need for a relationship. I’ll never see you again and people do what’s effective and some people can be very aggressive and forceful and hit numbers. … They’re not really caring if the client is happy thereafter. And whenever your compensation is strictly tied to sales, it’s hard. I can’t speak to other industries, but, for ours, the most successful account officers are those who build relationships. We celebrated the 40-year anniversary of someone here and his clients love him. We need to make sure it isn’t sales-driven-only for that account officer, that it’s relationship-driven and that we recognize and reward people appropriately.

What is the impact of technology on sales?

Technology has taken some of the humanness out of sales. I can go on the Web and order and study and analyze and acquire. For salespeople to be really successful over time, they will have to know more about the product and what the client needs, because now the competition isn’t just another store with similar products, it’s the Web. That is going to be a real tough one. Some industries and some companies will not survive. …

But technology should also empower salespeople. Customer-relationship management, CRM, is very important and it’s a tool and software that’s only as good as the information you put into it. If the account officer doesn’t use it, it’s of no value, it’s a waste. It’s getting people to understand the power of that technology, because it’s not just data in, it’s being able to pull data from the marketplace and it’s also being able to pull products that that client has elsewhere in the bank and to look at a full relationship. So when I call on you, that should be a much better experience for the client because technology is empowering me to have a better understanding of where you’re at and what your existing and future needs might be.

You object to the label of “turnaround guy.”

I’m opposed to that label, because it’s one thing to turn something around, but it’s also an equal challenge to grow over time. So we did raise the capital, we saved the bank and turned it around, but now we have eight quarters of profitability. I think that’s an equal challenge and the team has done a good job. I’d like to be remembered as not just turning it around.

What’s the role of emotion in sales?

If I believe in what I’m doing and I’m passionate about it and you trust me, I think it’s powerful. I love people to be passionate, but not pushy or suffocating. How do you feel in my presence? If you don’t feel too good in my presence, I don’t care how good the product is.

Does the boss need to go out and sell something once in a while?

I do it all the time, because, if I’m not willing to do it, how can I ask? The organization exists in a large measure because of the salespeople. No revenues, no jobs. Sometimes, I think, organizations forget that.

You’ve sat on the other side of the desk as a venture capitalist. What’s the biggest mistake that entrepreneurs make when pitching their ideas?

I may love the idea, but the most important thing is watching the interaction of the team and how they communicate, because, ultimately, if you’re going to win, you’ve got to come together as a team.

You were in the Peace Corps. Did you learn anything about sales there?

What I learned in the Peace Corps was not about sales, but what I learned about is to step outside of myself and look at who John is, and what impact John is having on other people. The reason is because I went to Samoa and the culture was so different that I was just blown apart. I was frustrated. And I couldn’t understand it. Where it’s tatou, I would never say “Could I borrow your pen?” I’d say, “Could you pass me our pen?” If we were having a beer and you had bought it, I’d say. “Pass me ours.” So it’s a very different “we” philosophy. It’s the purest form of communism I’ve ever seen. It was so different for this kid from Detroit, Mich., getting dumped in Letogo, western Samoa. You have to start saying, “What am I doing wrong? What did I say?” But you (also) start looking at who you are. Once you get a sense of yourself and then you say, “Now I’ve got to understand the other person.” To me, sales is knowing yourself and knowing the product, knowing the market and knowing what your customer’s needs are. If I can understand who you are and what your drivers are, and I know who I am and I can get you to feel good in my presence, I’ve got a much better probability of being successful in the sales process.

Categories: Leadership