Working Hard is Overhyped!


While sales results have not been stellar this year, many mortgage banking managers believe that if their originators would just work harder, production would turn around. Unfortunately, working harder won’t make an appreciable difference amid our dramatically changing marketplace. What will? Succeeding in today’s difficult sales environment requires working smarter and adopting new selling techniques that resonate with savvier consumers.

Working smarter is all about learning something new and applying it to your personal sales model. This sounds simple enough but replacing ingrained habits with new behaviors can be tough. Just ask anyone who’s ever tried to diet without changing their eating patterns!

Learning or adopting new habits involves awareness of the issue, commitment to do something differently and discipline to keep at it until the new behavior becomes second nature. For producers who have had past success but are struggling now, what once were best practices can become obstacles to future production. As Liz Wiseman observes in her insightful book, Rookie Smarts, “experience is a distinct advantage in a stable world; experience can impede progress in an unstable or rapidly evolving arena.”

It is no secret that mortgage banking is facing significant challenges from external factors such as rising interest rates to internal challenges such as a retiring sales force and a disconnect with younger buyers. Holding on to the same selling methods doesn’t work because the circumstances are so different than before. Prospects are less trusting today and filter how they can be contacted. This isn’t an industry going from horses to Model T cars but more akin to moving from cars to time travel.

It may seem illogical that during times of change, experience doesn’t have the same value as fresh thinking and resourcefulness. Instead, experience frames the solutions as dependent on what worked previously. On the other hand, individuals with “rookie smarts” have the talent to be free to improvise and adapt quickly to changing circumstances. It is in many ways about being creative. According to Wiseman, “rookie smart” sales professionals are important to an organization because they value “the power of learning and are not dependent on accumulated knowledge or experience.”

In a volatile and uncertain sales environment, it is clear that managers should be hiring individuals with both sales talent and rookie smarts — people who are willing to create demand and be a life-long learner. One of my favorite interview questions for sales candidates is “When was the last time that you read a sales book?” If they answer two years ago, they are outdated and not currently relevant. Likewise, if they have never heard of Klout, BombBomb or other selling productivity apps, they are also behind the times.

The interesting point that Wiseman makes in her book is that “rookie smarts” can be picked up by anyone who desires to live and work on a learning curve. It isn’t just a young person’s behavior but something that can be learned by anyone. Of course, younger people by definition can have the upper hand on this issue versus more experienced people because they are more willing to ask questions, get mentors and be flexible. Experienced sales professionals might have more trophies but this is exactly what holds them back from taking the risk of changing their selling techniques.

Frankly, many current originators are not a match for the new environment of continual learning. They have decided to stay in the safe zone and do not want to change their selling techniques. The tell-tale sign of their failure to learn is their lack of prospecting for new referral sources. They are comfortable to work a declining number of referral sources and view the decline as the lender’s problem. When companies support this lack of prospecting by not holding them accountable, is it no wonder that poor productivity is the rule.

Moving forward, sales organizations that want to achieve sustainable success must make learning a top priority. It starts by hiring individuals who are willing to ask the tough questions, to challenge the status quo and to have extensive expert networks. Creating an environment where learning is valued will attract these individuals.