Sales Success and Internal Drivers

Why is it that experienced salespeople who once were successful seem unable to adjust to changing circumstances? You see it in sports and sales often. For example, my favorite baseball team, the Phillies (I admit I am a longtime fan—even when they had 10,000 losses!) have had a successful track record but in the last few years, they disappointed with poor performance in the playoffs.

What is interesting about the Phillies is while they have had roughly the same talent over time, their performance has suffered since their 2008 World Series win. What happened? A review of performance stats indicates that team members changed their approach to hitting. Where once they were swinging at strikes, now they are swinging at balls and wasting at bats. According to, Phillies players swung at balls 31% of the time, which ranked 15th in baseball. What this means is instead of having to walk, ball players are striking out. Again, same talent but different results—results that made the difference between winning a championship and failing in the playoffs.

It seems to me that higher expectations also played a large role in their hitting patterns. For a team that rarely made the playoffs when I grew up to one where it was expected that they win another championship, the pressure to perform translated into bad decisions at the plate. Bad decisions coupled with a lack of discipline in what the athlete did put them in a position where they couldn’t leverage their talent when it really counted. (A great book on why individuals don’t perform when it matters is “Choke” by S. Beillock)

Sound familiar in mortgage origination? What worked before and what is required now can make a “B” player an underperformer. Managers ask, “What is wrong with Johnny or Jane? Why can’t they originate like they did before?” The answer is that Johnny or Jane is just an order-taker who succeeded in a market that did not require a high level of sales talent.

The truth is that bad decisions are made all the time when hiring originators. Over-valuing external factors can take many forms. The most common is when hiring managers become influenced by the originator’s previous employer — the bigger the company name, the more convinced they are that the candidate is a consultative sales expert.

Another hiring tactic, looking at an originator’s W-2 forms, can mask the real success driver. Maybe the originator’s success was a result of the previous employer’s sales system instead of an indication of sales talent. What is often overlooked is that when an originator moves from one lender to another, the producer typically loses half of his or her production. Thus, a $10 million producer is really only a $5 million originator. A key question to ask during the interview process is: Can the originator rebuild his or her book of business?

If external factors are deceiving, maybe it is time to look at the internal characteristics that an individual brings to the plate. Does the originator have the nine personality traits linked to sales success? (Read my article “Why Johnny Can’t Originate” for more information on these traits). Just because an originator had prior success at another lender, doesn’t mean the individual can duplicate these results in a more competitive market. Have you reviewed your hiring practices recently?