Wells Fargo Just Set the Sales Profession Back 20 Years

by Chris Young - The Rainmaker

"I would do anything for love, but I won't do that..."

As a young entrepreneur I loved to hustle. I delivered newspapers, babysat, mowed lawns and painted houses. Are_salespeople_born_or_made.jpg

I never, ever called myself a salesman. If someone asked me what I did, I used the task to describe what I did.

It really wasn't cool to be a salesman back then. In fact, the mental imagery I had in my head regarding the sales profession at the time was of a pushy, arrogant, scheming used car salesman.

Movies like Glengarry Glenn Ross (1992), Used Cars (1980) and Boiler Room (2000) embodied the general mindset about sales at the time. 


Today, the sales profession is viewed as much more...  well, professional.

The sales profession has come a long, long ways in the last ten to twenty years. The reputation of the overall sales profession is becoming more and more like a consultant.

That is until Wells Fargo recently hit the press. 


Wells Fargo settles over "aggressive sales tactics".

It appears that Wells Fargo pressured employees of its retail bank to commit fraudulent acts such as opening customer accounts without their approval. Apparently thousands of employees secretly created accounts customers didn't request in order to meet sales goals.  

Recently, Wells Fargo settled for $185 million plus $5 million in customer remediation. From Wells Fargo's press release

Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., a subsidiary of Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE:WFC), reached agreements with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney, regarding allegations that some of its retail customers received products and services they did not request.

The amount of the settlements, which Wells Fargo had fully accrued for at June 30, 2016, totaled $185 million, plus $5 million in customer remediation.

To be fair, I have had many favorable dealings with Wells Fargo. In defense of Wells Fargo, it appears they have been attempting to correct the source of the problem. In fact, it would seem they are going to definitively solve the likely source of the issue - Wells Fargo is eliminating product sales goals for retail bankers.


Why are we being so easy on Wells Fargo?

Naturally man pundits in the sales world are weighing in on this matter.  Colleen Francis wrote an absolutely brilliant piece I wish I had written.

She argued, 

"Let’s call a spade a spade. What Wells Fargo did was illegal. They used private customer information to create bogus accounts, forged signatures and authorized charges that customers were not made aware of.  I, for one, am sick of the media and the banks pussy-footing around with their language describing what happened."

This is not who salespeople are supposed to be today.  


Blame the culture of Wells Fargo, not their salespeople.

Salespeople are going to do what management incents and ultimately allows them to do.

If impossible sales goals are set and oversight is reduced, conduct of this nature is practically inevitable. 


Salespeople operate within the boundaries set by their sales management. There is evidence Wells Fargo warned workers against sham accounts. The conduct of some salespeople does not appear to have been a surprise to Wells Fargo.

Management seemingly had awareness these sales practices were occurring. Wells Fargo even terminated some 5300 salespeople for secretly opening unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts.

Despite management's efforts, it seems Wells Fargo did not effectively stop these sales practices from continuing.

Let's not blame the salespeople. The blame must be put solidly where it belongs. Richard Cordary of The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau perhaps best characterizes where the blame best lies, "Wells Fargo built an incentive-compensation program that made it possible for its employees to pursue underhanded sales practices.”

I agree. Companies large and small must consider the behavioral ramifications of their incentive and compensation system. 


The profession of sales has come too far.

Wells Fargo will definitely become a case study others will learn from and hopefully there won't be recurrences of this size in the future.

The profession of sales has come too far to allow this to recur. 

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