The Keys to Turning Around Sales Performance

It is hard to believe that 2012 is nearly over. This year has certainly been a whirlwind so I thought it would be a good time to address some questions that I frequently hear when consulting on sales turnarounds. The Number One question managers ask is “What can I do to increase sales performance of below-average originators?”

In my experience, the answer is twofold:

1. Correct the hiring process if it is not screening out underperformers before you hire them. (If your percentage of underperformers is more than 20 percent, you have a hiring process problem.)

2. Select and improve the quality of first-line managers especially targeting individuals who can coach.

Why are these two strategies the best way to correct sales performance? As any sports executive knows, if you want to turn around a team it always boils down to the quality of the personnel/talent and quality of the coaches. Just ask the owners of the Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars or KC Chiefs — you get the picture. Even my Eagles are in this group now after several years of poor talent evaluation and coaching decisions.

So, the first line of defense is to correct the hiring process and that is a fairly easy thing to do. However, it does require corporate leadership to install a uniform approach throughout the sales organization where talent is objectively analyzed and consistently matched to your culture when recruiting. Objective methods that can help managers in the hiring process are pre-hire assessments, behavioral questions and a multi-party interview process. In my view, hiring problems at companies typically occur when management teams decentralize the process leaving the field to fend for itself with no support except assigning an originator a hiring goal. This approach encourages a “body hiring” strategy to take hold at a company which invariably translates into high turnover.

The second component of improving sales performance is a function of the quality of the sale manager — specifically, the manager’s ability to coach the sales staff. What exactly is coaching and why is it so important? Coaching as a process that facilitates job-related development and action planning by the employee, in order to bring about changes in the individual’s sales performance. Notice that coaching is not described as the manager counseling the employee. Counseling is more about an employee who is struggling with emotional issues. While counseling is centered on past events, coaching is a future-driven process. Coaching matters because the field of business is always changing and good coaching helps sales professionals adjust to selling techniques that succeed in today’s new reality.

Since coaching is a development-based process, the manager should design time for the employee to practice new selling behaviors. Poor managers believe that telling their employees what to do or allowing employees to observe the manager during a sales call is enough to change an employee’s selling techniques. The truth is that when there is no opportunity to practice in a safe environment, the employee has no chance to implement the change. Sales professionals will not risk it when they are in the field with their customers. So selling technique changes have to occur through a coaching effort.

The important point is that selling well is no different than other performance professions. Similar to the music or sports industries, high achievers are always practicing their profession. At the heart of effective practice is immediate feedback from a trusted advisor or third party who observes the new behavior and can provide corrective information on what worked and what did not. The trusted advisor in mortgage origination is the sales manager.

Can your sales managers deliver effective coaching to their mortgage originators? If you aren’t sure or want to evaluate the coaching talent, I would be glad to discuss it with you.