Author Archives | John

How to Recruit, Hire and Train Agents

How to Recruit, Hire and Train Agents

At the Agent Summit earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to do a presentation on how to recruit, hire and train agents.

My message focused on the importance of identifying your specific need, using the available arenas to find candidates, and crafting a pay plan that would match the behavior we were seeking.

What the presentation did not do, however, was focus on the importance of ensuring the candidates were qualified and had the requisite skills to perform the job they were selected for.

As I move through the latter stages of my sales and management career, one of my regrets is that I did not develop a formal, process-based recruiting program sooner. For years, we were able to fall into good hires who assumed their roles quickly and stayed for long periods of time.

Entering the millennium decade, it slowly became more difficult to find the right people for the right jobs and we began to make mistakes with regards to matching up roles with skills. We were hiring people emotionally as opposed to scientifically.

Last year I developed a formal, process-based system that would ensure we were hiring candidates that possessed the personality traits and skills that we were looking for.

We identified three missing links:

First, we needed a personality testing profile that would match the requirements of the position with the value system of the applicant. After researching the market, we selected a testing tool that was based on the specific position we were screening for. As opposed to “one size fits all,” we developed assessments for individual jobs and trained each of our channel managers to read and interpret the results. We are now able to get a reliable match measurement early in the process.

Second, we developed targeted interview questions that would quickly assess how a candidate might behave in typical workplace situations. The questions were also developed in conjunction with the testing tool and designed to provide confirmation of certain answers and traits.

And finally, the “secret sauce”: A successful field rep needs a variety of skills to be effective. Some are more important than others, but the ones we highly value are:

  1. Needs awareness assessment
  2. Sales presentation
  3. Sales meeting
  4. PowerPoint
  5. Excel
  6. Word

We decided that there would be no better way to measure these skills than to require the applicant to demonstrate them.

Our recruiting process now starts with job websites. We provide detail on the position, identify ourselves, and disclose compensation. We screen the applicants coming in on the site(s) and select candidates who fit our paper profile.

The initial interview takes place after the applicant has completed the personality assessment. During this interview, we ask targeted questions, and only the channel manager and the HR manager are present.

If we are impressed with the candidate, we schedule a second interview with potential peers and slightly modified questions. If we all agree that the candidate is acceptable, we bring them in for a final “test.”

Over a two-hour period, the candidate will role-play through a prepared needs awareness assessment based on the product or service that they are currently selling or have sold. We do something similar for the sales presentation. The role-play sales meeting will provide product, service or targeted sales training.

In all cases, we provide the candidate with instructions to prepare ahead of time.

The Microsoft application testing on PowerPoint, Excel and Word is designed to ensure the candidate has the requisite skills to do the job. We do not want to be training on basic technology tools that a successful candidate should arrive with. Each of the Microsoft exercises is based on a specific set of ingredients that we ask for and provide in a written format.

The goal is to identify candidates that have the desired behavior as well as the skills to execute the tasks at hand. We are early in the process, but we are confident that we are on a far more reliable track than we were a year ago.

Posted in Training0 Comments

The More Things Change …

The More Things Change …

I’m a firm believer in that old cliché, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Over four decades of sales and management, I have seen remarkable advances in the technology that we use to move information around between customers, prospects and providers. Those changes have dramatically impacted the speed of communication which, in turn, has only increased the importance of process and accountability.

The pace of business today has been completely transformed from just a decade ago, let alone 20 or 30 years back.

Economies of scale still matter and the big can still beat the small, but more and more I am witnessing the fast beating the slow and the smartest beating the smart.

The rules have changed in many areas of our competitive arena and they will continue to.

The principles of sales however, have not. The process of thorough fact finding to identify needs and problems that can be solved with provider solutions has not been replaced by computers, it has simply been accelerated. The importance of follow-up in the sales process has not been replaced by a computer, it has been elevated. The value of fulfillment on deliverables has not been replaced, it has increased. The importance of response time has not been reduced, it has been shortened. And the value of closing the sale by addressing every objection is timeless.

So, let’s look back and take a look at a few examples of how “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Looking back to the ’70s, when I started my sales career, I can remember pulling up to a pay phone and making calls from my window for an hour. There were no cell phones, so our daily sales activity included the time we spent calling a message service and returning calls. Suddenly, the cell phone appeared on the scene. We could now call from the car and, Presto! Another hour of productive time.

Unfortunately, our competitors soon had a cell phone too, and the advantage was gone. What did not change, however, was the process of deciding who to call and how to call. If we avoided returning that call to an irate customer before the cell phone, we still did it with the cell phone. If we avoided that follow-up sales call before the cell phone, we still had call reluctance with the cell phone. Cell phones made some of us more efficient but once we all had one, only those that followed disciplined processes took advantage of the tool.

At about the same time, the fax machine came along. We were one of the first to get one at a price of something like $3,000 (ouch!) and I remember how excited we were to use it. We soon learned that hardly any of the dealers or suppliers also had a fax machine so we couldn’t use it until everyone caught up. But once they did, the pace of communication accelerated again and suddenly our efficiency jumped a notch. What did not change, again, was the way we used the new technology. If we were remiss in our follow up before the fax machine, we continued to be after we had one. If we didn’t take the time to keep a contact directory before, we probably didn’t have one after. “The more things change …”

Then the PC came along and everything really changed. Add a dose of Internet, and suddenly the one-man operation had parity with his competitor giants. Mix in some e-mail, add a Blackberry and smartphone, and we are all in the same game, in the same race, in the same gate.

What I continue to marvel at, however, is how the same people keep making the same mistakes, at the same pace, the same way, for the same reasons.

My primary business activity is the direct delivery of income development services to auto dealers in Michigan, but we also own a wholesale and brokerage division that acts as an administrator, insurer and claim center. We touch every aspect of the process that makes up our industry and we have to communicate directly with consumers, dealers, insurers and regulators.

I see the same patterns regardless of the level of technology involved. Certain insurance company contacts respond in a timely and efficient manner and some do not. The speed of their network and e-mail has no effect on their business etiquette. If they were remiss and slow before they had e-mail on their phones, they still are with it.

It’s the same at the dealer level. There is a culture in every organization that drives the behavior of its staff. Before all the bells and whistles I have listed in this article, I can remember which dealerships answered the phone promptly and routed you to the person and/or department you were looking for and can remember the ones that did not. The advent of the auto attendant allowed some dealers to accelerate their excellent service and it allowed others to hide behind it and simply add to the delay in seeking remedy. At the top, one dealer used technology to enhance customer satisfaction, and one used it to get away with doing less. “The more things change …”

And then there’s the issue of cell phone etiquette. I have a pet peeve when it comes to cell phones. I did just fine when I didn’t have to deal with the distraction of making and receiving calls during other conversations and activities and I still do. I recently read a book that included a section on cell phones and driving. It cited research that showed that using a cell phone while driving had the same effect as being intoxicated when reaction times were measured in collision situations.

Sure, you can reduce the calls you have to return by taking them while you are with someone else in a meeting or at lunch but I have learned long ago that I gain a measurable advantage by avoiding the use of my phone when I am in a negotiation or in a meeting. I am always encouraged during a delicate negotiation when my opponent is taking calls and allowing other technology-related distractions to take his mind away from the task at hand. Knowing that he has to refocus his mind repeatedly, and that he often misses details from the process before the call he just took, while often an inconvenience, it is often profitable for me.

At seminars, I see many in the audience combing through their e-mail on their phones during presentations. In an effort to be “more efficient,” they may miss a key takeaway or an item that could have been used to make a difference in their sales efforts. We trade one advantage for another. “The more things change …”

In summary, the innovations of our time have only magnified the strengths and weaknesses of our planning and structure. The exponential acceleration of business tools and their related provisions serve only to separate those who have superior processes from those who do not. Fifty years ago, those of who had disciplined business plans and the ability and desire to execute them would separate themselves from those who did not over a long period of time. Today, it happens quickly.

I encourage my associates to remember that process and accountability are the secrets to success, not the machines that we use. A better mousetrap in the barn is of little use when the mice are in the kitchen of your house having a meal.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Planning, execution, and disciplined work patterns led the way to success in the past and they still do today.

Posted in Meet the Executive4 Comments