Agency owners ask me all the time, “what should I look for in hiring a salesperson?” That’s a great question.

You know, in the insurance agency business, only about 10% of the people we hire as producers succeed and make it long enough to validate. That’s a pretty poor track record. And I think it means that we really could do a much better job of thinking about who it is that we want to hire in the first place.

It’s somebody that should be able to demonstrate that they’ve been successful in the past at something, not necessarily sales, even if it was being a lifeguard, they were the best lifeguard at the pool, and they can prove it.

The other thing is that they need to be driven. Ambition is great, ambition is wanting something, but drive is the absolute determination to get it no matter what happens. Drive is the number one predictor of success in sales.

The last thing to look for is that competitive spirit. Great salespeople love to compete. They’ll compete with themselves if there’s no suitable competitor available, but you want people who want to be number one, who are driven to be number one, who have the ambition to be number one, and who’ve been number one in their life, and are scared to death of not being number one.

So you if you get drive, ambition, prior success and a competitive spirit. And you’re a long way down the road to success with a salesperson.

During a conversation I recently had with a friend, he told me about an incredibly impactful quote that read in his daily devotional. It was originally spoken by the famous, Walt Disney, and it reads like this, “worry is a waste of imagination.” That resonated with me immediately because I’m always telling people, “don’t borrow trouble; don’t worry about things.”

 

I make a practice in my own life of worrying only about the things that I can control. I find that people who are struggling to break out of something, those who are trying to get to another level and those who are interested in starting a new business, are often paralyzed by fear. With fear, comes worry, which prevents them from being able to take action and they are unable to move forward.

 

The truth is that worry is a failure of imagination. It is also a misplacement of what you should focus on. Focus on what’s in front of you that is an opportunity and let the worries take care of themselves.

I’d like to talk for a minute about the incredible wisdom of Kathy Ireland.

Kathy was a 13-time swimsuit cover issue model for Sports Illustrated. We often think that beauty and brains aren’t available in the same human being. But in her case, that is simply not true. Kathy has gone on to become one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in the 21st century. In fact, her company actually sells over a billion dollars of products and she is one of the leading people in her industry.

Kathy said something really remarkable recently that I find really inspirational, and that is that it was not until she was 40 years old that she learned that no, is a complete sentence. No is a really powerful word for all entrepreneurs who need to focus, and who need to do things with a high degree of execution.

The myriad things that we get involved with are a distraction to us and prevent us from really being the best we can be at the thing that we really intend to do the most. Learning to say no to all of those details, learning to say no to those opportunities that are not central to our focus on our mission, is critically important to making progress.

Thank you, Cathy. For your amazing insight. No is a complete sentence.

My business coach Dan Sullivan, the founder of the Strategic Coach, says that the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people have successful habits. Well, that seems simple. It’s interesting to think about it in terms of your own life.

I recently went through an exercise where I wrote down everything that I do within the business and then compared it to the things that I am really good at. What I found was disturbing, but also inspiring. I learned that I’m only spending 20% of my time in my most successful habits. This means that I have an enormous potential to increase my performance and help my team get much, much better because for me to be increasingly successful, I need to increase my success habits.

C.S. Lewis, the famous author said, “the lazy man is busy with the wrong things.” Probably, like me, you’re far from lazy; you’re very busy. Often, we don’t take the time or make the effort to do the hard work of figuring out what things we need to do to increase our level of success. What do we need to get rid of? What do we need to focus on?

I’m excited about flip-flopping from 20% of my time to 80% of my time in my unique ability. That means I’ve got to lose old habits and gain new ones.

How about you?

As an entrepreneur, especially one who is growing an agency, there are so many hats you have to wear and so many things that you have to do every day, not to mention every week, that it’s really hard to have focus and intentionality. Those two things, however, are important to continued success in building your business.

To create focus for my team, and for myself, I like to ask this question, “What’s the one thing that you could do right now that would make a difference?” Doing this creates both focus and intentionality.

As I think about 90 days at a time in the management of our business, I’ve learned to ask myself, “What is the one thing we need to get done this quarter?” Then, if we have additional time and capability available, I can ask myself the question, “What’s the next thing?”

It is important to focus on the one thing you have identified first before moving on to something else. Try that and see if it doesn’t accelerate your progress.

Recently, we lost an incredible entrepreneur in America, and one of my personal heroes, T. Boone Pickens passed away at the age of ninety-one.

T. Boone was an amazing oilman, entrepreneur, and public-minded servant of the people who gave away most of the fortune that he managed to make, which was at least ten figures. I think he also left behind a message to the world about what he had learned and his long and amazing life. And some of that message was about the success habits that he had as an entrepreneur and a businessman. And I think they’re worth sharing. And I’d like to just share them with you because I know that I can’t summarize Boone as well as T. Boone did himself.

Here’s what he said.

“A good work ethic is critical. Don’t think competition is bad, but play by the rules. I love to compete and win. I never wanted the other guy to do badly. I just wanted to do a little better than he did.

Learn to analyze well assess risks and the perspective rewards and keep it simple. Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality of a good leader. Avoid the Ready, aim, aim, aim, aim syndrome. You have to be willing to fire.

Learn from mistakes. That’s not just a cliché; I sure made my share. Remember the doors that smashed your fingers the first time and be more careful next time.

Be humbled. I always believe the higher a monkey climbs in the tree the more people below can see his ass. You don’t have to be that monkey.

Don’t look to the government to solve your problems. The strength of this country is its people.

Stay Fit. You don’t want to get old and feel bad. You also get a lot more accomplished and feel better yourself if you stay fit. I didn’t make it to 91 by neglecting my health.

Embrace change. All the older people are generally threatened by change. Young people love me because I embrace change rather than running from it. Change creates opportunity.

Have faith both in spiritual matters, and in humanity, and in yourself, that faith will see you through the dark times.”

Great wisdom from T. Boone Pickens, I’m going to work on, and I hope you will too.

When the entrepreneur decides to hire a salesperson or three, it’s critically important to also commit to managing those people effectively. Perhaps, you don’t have enough to justify a full-time sales manager, but someone has to fill the role to maximize the return on your investment in these people. Here is what I think you should be looking for in yourself, another executive leader or an outsourced manager.

While it’s helpful for a sales manager to have been in sales at some point (because there is some credibility with the troops), I don’t think it’s critical. Some say you need to know how to play the game to coach it, but I disagree. For example, my wife is a very successful political consultant who has never run for office.

 What a great sales manager needs to be is a great COACH. A great coach is, first of all, someone who loves to win but loves to win through helping others be their best.

 A great coach understands how the game is played, but even more importantly is highly observant and able to watch salespeople perform and coach improvement in performance.

 A great coach knows what it takes to be a great performer, as well as a mediocre one and is demanding enough to extract great performance while being patient enough to bring that performance along over time.

 A great coach expects the best out of people he coaches and is never willing to settle or enable less than that. Everyone has the best and every salesperson has a different level of ability. The great sales coach knows that and works to bring the salesperson to their best performance. They need to know instinctively, how to do this combining encouragement, ego-stroking, data-driven accountability and sometimes a swift kick in the ass. A great coach never accepts excuses but understands that no one wins all the time. 

 A great coach is a leader who motivates by understanding the wants, needs, and aspirations of his players and is willing to do the hard work to inspire each person.

 A great coach never takes performance for granted, is always looking ahead, and constantly recruiting new people for the team. A great coach never falls in love with a player and understands that a business is not a family (a family is where they must take you in). A great coach will always seek to upgrade where it makes sense and set clear expectations about what is required to remain on the team.

 The “sales manager” needs to be a senior-level leader in the organization, who is responsible and accountable for results. They should be compensated for results themselves. They need to have planning skills to be able to plan for people, activity, and results on a schedule. While some patience is required, I prefer a strong sense of urgency in their nature. While people skills are important, they absolutely cannot be someone whose highest value is being liked. They, like their charges, should be driven to succeed. They need to have a moderate to higher level of autonomy (in other words, given a goal they should be able to figure out how to reach it, be able to make independent decisions with confidence, etc.). They need average or better detail orientation as they need to track, analyze, and manage with data. They should be or commit to becoming an expert on your business in the overall sense, as well as your products.

 Finding these people is tough! However, if you look for the qualities, instead of resume history, it’s easier. Look for consistent and increasing levels of success, created from leading a team (not necessarily a sales team). Look for actual coaching experience outside of sales. Look for someone who likes working with others to accomplish results, as opposed to doing it independently (which is what you want in the salesperson). Look for drive.

 If you’re going to be the coach, does this describe you? If not, look for an option inside your organization or perhaps an outsourced person. You will never get the best performance from any team without coaching and accountability. 

As soon as the owner of a growing business has maximized her own time available for the sales function (by hiring others to do as much as possible of the service function), she will naturally want to hire additional people to help continue growing revenue. This is a critical moment in the growth trajectory of the business!

If the entrepreneur gets this wrong and hires the wrong kind of personnel, growth will not only stall, but the business could go backward! This is true because value, resources, time, and money are wasted with someone who isn’t truly productive.

Avoiding this risk and maximizing opportunity involves looking for a winner. Here is what I think are the critical things to look for:
1. DEMONSTRATED and PROVABLE previous success. This sometimes isn’t in sales, but sales are better. Winners win!
2. Drive. Ambition is great, but drive is essential. Ambition without drive is hell on earth for everyone.
3. Work Ethic. This is very closely related to #2. You want someone who thinks 40 hours per week is part-time and they want a full-time opportunity. Full time in sales is 60-80 or more hours per week.
4. Ambition. I love it when someone asks if they can skip the base salary and have a higher commission rate. Those people don’t come along often. You must look for them; they are worth looking and waiting for.
5. Competitive. A great salesperson is always looking for someone, even themselves, to compete with. These people want to be the best, be number one, be better next month than they were this month. They are never satisfied. They are often a pain in the ass in this respect, but that competitive fire is what makes them what you want – a winner. When they want to own a piece of the business and are willing to do seemingly impossible things, you’re on the right track.

The biggest problem I have experienced and have seen our agency owners experience (we have over 170 agencies in our organization), is “settling” for someone who isn’t strong in all five of these things. Mediocrity or failure is always the result.

By the way, when you are ready to hire a salesperson use competition to your advantage; hire three and keep the best.

Finally, statistics show 50% of all applicants lie on their resume or in thier interview. Everyone is on their best behavior in interviews. So, demand proof of prior successes, such as a W2. Don’t want to show us? Then go away. Also, use a testing instrument to make sure you are getting the plumbing behind the wall that you want. The best I have ever used in over 30 years, bar none, with virtually 100% success rate, is Culture Index.

While flying to Canada with a friend recently, he told me about reading a study that showed that creating locked cockpit doors on airliners after 9/11 hadn’t worked out the way virtually everyone thought it would.

As you will remember the 9/11 hijackers were able to commandeer several airliners by killing the aircrews and flying or attempting to fly them into buildings. An entirely logical response to this was to create locked cockpit doors so that hijackers could no longer do that, right?

Well, it seems that more people have now died as a result of aircraft accidents from locked cockpit doors than have died from terrorist acts. At least in the planes themselves.

Apparently, what’s happened is that mentally disturbed pilots have been able to fly the planes into the ground (or water), killing all aboard with no way to stop them. Tragic unintended consequences.

Several years ago, I decided that I had never adequately thanked my insurance clients for putting their trust in me. Of course, I regularly thanked them for their business. That’s a matter of basic politeness. I thought to myself that my clients had given me an enormous gift, the gift of trust. After all, my professional work and how well I did it would determine whether their dreams were assured when disaster struck or became nightmares.

I decided that ordinary a thank you just wasn’t adequate to recognize that trust. Besides, I had never told any of these people what that trust had meant in my life, my families, and my team member’s lives. This trust is, after all, what makes everything possible for us. So, I resolved to go and spend an hour with each client just saying thank you.

It’ not easy to spend an hour with someone on such a simple subject! You must dig deep, become vulnerable and focus on the other person exclusively, but I went out and tried to do that. It led to amazing conversations, increased customer relationships, and a few close friendships. All these things could easily be expected consequences, but my business also doubled in the next two years. That was an unintended, and unexpected, consequence!

Life is full of unintended consequences. But, if we focus on trying to do the right things and perhaps even doing the extraordinary things, the world has a way of saying thank you in turn.

 

One of the things that distinguishes high-performance organizations from the average ones is leadership. While leadership from the top, and management in general, is important the leadership exercised by team members across the organization is the real hallmark of high performing cultures.

Another hallmark of consistently high performing organizations is that they take the time to recognize and celebrate contribution and success.

In our company, we have a bell that we ring to call the team together to recognize and celebrate individual and/or company success, achievement, accomplishment, and effort. Anyone in the company is fully authorized to interrupt everyone’s day to call attention to the extraordinary. While the bell is but one means to consistently reinforce excellence and recognition, some aren’t comfortable with ringing it. The myriad smaller efforts that contribute to success may go unrecognized by the whole team if the bell has to be rung to do it.

So, one of our team members, Alexa Deghand, suggested that we convert a large blackboard in our break room to a “Bravo Board”. The idea is that anyone can recognize anyone else in the company for their unique contribution. Alexa’s leadership has created a whole new way to reinforce successful habits, practices, actions, ethics, and accomplishments with individual recognition of a fellow team member or members.

We’ve seen nearly universal participation in the weeks that we’ve had our Bravo Board. We’ve added a new dimension to celebration and recognition. Alexa has helped us narrow our focus on achievement to recognize the many smaller, extraordinary contributions made to our success by everyone in the organization.

Do you focus on regular celebrations in your company? It’s amazingly powerful. There are many ways to celebrate and many ways for your team to lead. The key to creating and improving a culture of leadership and celebration on your way to incredible high performance is to be open to new ideas and leadership whenever and wherever it comes.

Bravo Alexa!