When we last left him, Ernie the Entrepreneur was despondent. He had high hopes for adding at least one new producer to his practice, only to discover a sad truth: It's not easy to find a good employee, let alone a productive salesperson. Ernie's intentions were good, his reasoning was sound and his heart was in the right place. But, like many salespeople-turned-businesspeople, he made the three most common mistakes that often plague independent producers when they try to add to their sales team.
Mistake No. 1 -- Mirror, mirror, on the wall...
Independent businessmen like Ernie are busy. They don't have time to consider the many nuances involved in finding the right person for their office. Instead, they quickly make a mental checklist of the skill sets they need their sub-producer to possess -- a list, coincidentally enough, that sounds a lot like them about 10 years ago. If Ernie is from Nashville and has been in the business for 20 years, he looks for someone from Tennessee with 10 years experience; if he went to Georgia Tech and played football, he looks for another SEC athlete. And if he could find any candidates that also served in the military, well, heck, that wouldn't be so bad either.
Then, Ernie tells someone (probably his assistant) to set up initial screening calls and interviews with this select group of candidates, this veritable cadre of Ernie clones. The meetings go smoothly. After a couple of weeks, the sub-producer is chosen. Ernie breathes a sigh of relief and congratulates himself on a job well done.
It's not uncommon for successful entrepreneurs like Ernie to make this mistake. They are effective partially because of their self-confidence and positive self-image. Subconsciously, their reasoning is this: "If the guy is like me, how can he go wrong?" Those attributes he valued, however, were not the ones that led to his own success. There are more reliable ways to screen for drive, discipline and deference -- the three D's that are so important in hiring a salesperson.
Mistake No. 2 -- But, first, are you experienced?
Yes, experience matters. Ernie's sub-producer should have proper licenses and a reviewable track record in the business. He doesn't have the time to bring a complete novice into the practice and show him the ropes. That does not mean, however, that the 15-year candidate is a better fit than the five-year candidate; in fact, the candidate with more experience could be considerably worse.
Pressed for time, entrepreneurs like Ernie often value the candidate with longer tenure, and they do so at their own peril. Strong sales candidates with that amount of experience are typically not readily available or willing to become employees. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are rare. When a candidate is heavy on experience but light on big production or compensation, that is a serious red flag -- more troubling, in some ways, than the candidate with three years experience or less. Why has that experienced candidate been seemingly content with a middling salary and an average income level?
There are many dangers in reading a resume and making snap judgments based solely on what's written. To make a truly informed decision, a good hiring manager must know how to read between the lines.
Mistake No. 3 -- Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match
Let's say Ernie, our fictional entrepreneur, has not had any luck developing a relationship with a CPA in his area. He sets out to find a match, and hires a CPA who says he wants to sell. Or, he would like more women as clients, so he limits his search to women. Or perhaps Ernie wants his sub-producer to handle the high-end cases -- those in the affluent areas of his market he hasn't been effective in engaging -- so he focuses on an individual with that network of contacts.
To search and hire based on these considerations can be fine, assuming they are only subsidiary factors, and not Ernie's primary focus. But entrepreneurs are often enamored with finding an exact match for the market they want to penetrate, and look for a person with indigenous ties to that target market, often at the expense of important skill sets and character requirements. The results can be underwhelming and costly, as the practice Ernie has worked a lifetime to build begins to veer into unchartered territory, areas in which it has not been traditionally effective. Simply adding someone to the team with some background in the target market guarantees nothing, and can create a new set of unforeseen servicing and branding challenges. Remember the point we made in part one: Don't hire someone for their Rolodex!
The best idea may be to find a candidate with complimentary skill sets, rather than a supposed complimentary market focus. For example, if you don't write a lot of life insurance, look for someone that does; if you're not as comfortable with alternative securities products, find someone that is. This is a less misleading and more reliable approach, and generally allows for a wider candidate pool to choose from.
Attitude before aptitude: The three Ds
When adding a new producer to your office, don't succumb to the mistakes we've covered. Instead, focus as much as you can, and look for a verifiable track record, on these three crucial characteristics:
Drive -- Does the candidate have a history of completing every project they start, or do they eagerly throw themselves into new initiatives, only to let them languish during the execution phase? Your new producer should be able to tell you, in detail, how they brought sales initiatives and prospect meetings to completion. A good producer will describe their thought process in sensible, clear, and convincing terms -- and you'll sense an inner drive and desire behind their responses. Their drive will be evident in virtually everything they have done. Don't forget to probe into other, seemingly unrelated, accomplishments in their background. A pattern of success will emerge from the strong candidate.
Discipline -- Virtually every great producer has this trait in common. Their lives have been infused with self-discipline. No one has ever had to push them to focus on the necessary, valuable activities that lead to sales. Here, it is especially important to read between the lines of the candidate's resumé. Did they make sales happen through a series of self-directed, disciplined actions, or were they the fortunate benefactors of an efficient system at their company? Did they build their own book of business or inherit it? How much discipline was involved in other jobs or pursuits in their background? If you can get satisfactory answers to these questions you may have an excellent candidate.
Deference -- Self-confidence is fine, even necessary, in a producer. The best producers, however, attribute much of their success to luck, even as they work tirelessly to make it happen. They are humble, respectful and grateful to their colleagues, clients and mentors. They feel blessed to have had the opportunity to serve. Their background reflects a dedication to others, not just themselves. This quality, this characteristic of deference, is as important as any other.
Building leverage -- Finding a colleague, not an employee
It would be terrific to find a sub-producer that has these three D's, wouldn't it? In most cases, the biggest reason producers like Ernie don't find the "3-D" producer is that they're looking for an employee. In fact, you'll discover that when you change your mindset to one of finding a colleague instead of an employee, another world of possibilities will emerge in your search.
To start with, most 3-D producers aren't looking to be a sub-producer -- in other words, a subordinate second-stringer. True 3-D's won't bother to read any ad you place for a "sub-producer." The best potential candidates aren't looking for a job; they're looking for a real career opportunity.
Law firms and accountancy firms have long recruited for future partners, literally or figuratively, depending upon their business structure. They bring in terrific raw material- talent that is often young and inexperienced and evaluate that talent pool for a possible colleague on a fairly defined, if flexible, path. In the meantime, they leverage themselves for additional revenue and cash flow. You should consider a similar approach.
Even when you find the right person, this process still takes considerable time and effort. If your thought is to bring a sub-producer on board and then sit back and watch the production roll in, think again. The right person must be someone you would trust with your clients. You'll need to spend time mentoring them and seeing, up close and personal, if your three D's are the real deal. You also will need to take the time to see if the fit is right and decide whether your prospective colleague's skills and training are commensurate with yours. Effort and frank analysis at every step in the process, while not always easy, will pay dividends later. You'll either make the right potential colleague better, or you'll soon discover that the person you have isn't right. Remember, you're not looking for an employee any more, you're looking for someone with whom to trust your clients and your reputation. The process requires consistent coaching, constant feedback and regular review. Many producers underestimate the effort and the time commitment necessary.
Finally, any producer you bring in also needs to have an agreed-upon path to follow. How will you provide support? How will you measure their success along that continuum? How will their pay be allocated, and how will it increase over time? What, exactly, is the path to true "colleague" status?
If you can answer these questions, you may be on your way to building a lasting, multi-faceted entity with the potential to become a truly saleable business. And that, dear readers, is true leverage.
*For further information, or to contact this author, please leave a comment and your e-mail address in the forum below.