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The Innovative Workplace

Use sales savvy to make great hires

The parallels between sales and hiring

By Don Phin

What is the greatest risk faced by you and your clients?

It's the failure to effectively market and sell your services. Companies are willing to spend big bucks to buy programs that help them market their business and train their sales force. Statistically, roughly 50% of all dollars spent on corporate training are for sales and marketing.

I realized that if I was going to help our HR That Works members do some "out of the box thinking" in the HR arena—which is sorely needed—it wouldn't come from the box it was in. As Dr. W. Edwards Deming, father of Total Quality Management, stated, profound knowledge comes from outside of a system because a system cannot understand itself.

Of all the "outside" inputs into HR, none are more relevant than those from the areas of sales and marketing. The parallels are everywhere. When you think about it, sales is about attracting interest, getting clients on board, keeping them happy, and creating great stories that drive referrals. Sounds a lot like managing employees to me.

The law of attraction 

In a scene from the movie "Glengarry Glen Ross," Alec Baldwin reminds his real estate sales team of the four most important letters in sales: A, I, D, A. First you have to get people's Attention, then their Interest, then their Desire, and then motivate them to take Action.

Well, guess what? AIDA applies to finding great employees as well. If there's one thing I've learned from my own sales experience, as well as working with hundreds of companies, it's that what comes to your company comes from your company. People are attracted to your company because somehow it grabbed their attention. Many agencies are using social media platforms to grab the attention of their prospects. In the same way, you can use these platforms to grab the attention of potential employees.

How do you position yourself on the Web to attract winners and repel losers? One way, of course, is to describe your high standards and the numerous gates prospective employees will have to go through to work with your agency. Of course you tell prospective employees you do this because you want to work with only the best and there is simply no other way to hire the best. So maybe you run an ad like this:

And so on.

Think of how that message will affect not only prospective hires but also prospective clients who view your Web site. Take advantage of the ability to easily and inexpensively produce videos for YouTube and link them to your Web site. If you're the agency owner, be precise about what you're looking for in an employee and share that in a quick video. Then have managers and current team members describe your agency environment and the opportunities it offers to the right candidate.

Although insurance is viewed as a staid industry, much like accounting and law, that doesn't mean you can't have a little fun too. Let some personality shine through! No one really wants to work for a stick in the mud. Remember, you want to hire people who are productive and fun to work with.

The hiring process 

The last client you want to bring on board is one who is desperate for coverage. The last person you want to hire is someone who is desperate for work. You want to attract an excellent employee who has the skills and ability to work wherever he or she chooses.

When interviewing prospective employees—as when meeting with prospects—start with an "up-front" agreement. I encourage employers to put their hiring process in writing to eliminate guesswork. As in selling, you should be a better listener than talker when interviewing job candidates. Ask probing questions. Delve into the candidate's previous work experience. My favorite question is: "What felt unfair to you at your last job?" Understanding how people deal with what feels "unfair" to them tells you everything about their personal character and how they will act when something inevitably feels unfair to them when they're working for you.

You don't want clients who shop for a new agency every year. The real profit comes in retention. The same holds true for job candidates. Does this prospective employee look like he or she is ready for a long-term relationship with your agency? Or does the candidate skip from workplace to workplace, never satisfied and always looking for more?

To what extent has the candidate made an effort to develop opportunities where he or she felt stifled by management in previous positions? What was the candidate excited about doing in his or her last job? What homework has he or she done in preparation for this interview with your agency?

Don't rush the hiring process. It's not something to "get over with." It's the bread and butter of what makes a great agency—hiring great people.

Letting go of the losers so you can focus on the winners

As we all know, some accounts are simply not worth the time and effort. Sometimes it's because it's a one-policy account or the premium is so low; in other cases the client's need for hand-holding is so great that the account is a money-losing proposition. Those accounts should be sent to the competition so they can lose money over there.

In the same way, you have to be adamant about keeping "the right people on the right seat of the bus," as Jim Collins says in his excellent book Good to Great. I remember that Les Breedlove, the owner of Slaton Risk Management in West Palm Beach, Florida, had all of his employees read Good to Great, and then he gave each employee a miniature yellow bus with the Slaton logo to place on his or her desk. There was no doubt about the importance of excellence at that agency.

If somebody is not performing at your agency, the first question to ask is: "Why not?" Did you hire a misfit to begin with? Did you allow the employee to turn into a dinosaur because you didn't insist that he or she get training? Does the employee have the skill set but not the team attitude you're looking for? Here's my question, whether it's for a client or an employee: If they quit, would you be relieved or upset? If the former, then why are they still there? Do you really like the drama?

Here's where the rubber meets the road: Let's say you have a high-performing producer who brings in a lot of revenue but also creates a great deal of drama in the process. For example, there's a high level of turnover among the producer's support staff. How is that nonsense factored into your calculation of this producer's "profitability"?

Another kind of problem employee is one whose behavior has the potential to generate a sexual harassment or E&O claim. Yet another is a producer who will not participate in any new sales program you're introducing because "my way is the only way." This attitude undermines the team's effort to move forward. Although this producer may generate excellent revenue, the problems he or she creates really aren't worth it! These folks are better off working for themselves or the competition.

Celebrate successes

How many of us stop running long enough to actually celebrate our relationships and successes? What do you do with your employees that is fun and engaging? For five years, I was fortunate enough to work out of the office of Slaton Risk Management in West Palm Beach, and then for two years out of the office of Cavignac Insurance in San Diego. I did so to help myself better understand the agency business.

To their credit, the principals of these agencies know how to celebrate. On at least a quarterly basis, they have some kind of activity for employees: a picnic, bowling night, softball game, race car driving, or dinner. These smart agency principals realize that success is not just about making money, but also about having fun and building relationships along the way.

Ask yourself this question: "How can I do a good job of branding and selling our agency to current and prospective employees?" All you have to do is open up any good book on sales or marketing and replace the word "customer" or "client" with the word "employee," and you'll gain a great deal of insight about how to be a better leader and manager.

The author

Don Phin is president of the Employer Advisors Network, Inc., and the author of the "HR That Works" series of compliance and management products. He is the editor of "Employment Practices Liability Consultant" (EPLIC) published by IRMI. He can be contacted at


What comes to your company comes from your company.

No one really wants to work for a stick in the mud. Remember, you want to hire people who are productive and fun to work with.










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