You can’t have a successful business without great salespeople to sell it. It’s not easy to find great salespeople, but if you're going to build a large and successful sales team, you should learn to identify them and snag them before the next guy does.
I've been recruiting great salespeople my whole life and can tell you that all the best salespeople have the same key traits. Every great salesperson is a great communicator. They talk with purpose, and can turn even an idle conversation into an opportunity. Great salespeople have high energy, are extremely positive and thrive on helping people. Many of the best ones may be dealing with some insecurity in life and have a need to prove something, which enables them to overcome rejection and obstacles to scale great heights.
I built a large real estate brokerage business by recruiting newcomers to fill my offices. Most of my superstars started with me without any sales experience. But to turn my eight-man shop into a company of 1,000 salespeople, I needed to find a fast way to recruit new talent.
My most productive idea was to advertise free career nights, drawing in lots of people curious about what a career in real estate might be like. Our weekly seminars attracted 20 to 30 people and ran for an hour. Beyond speaking, my job was to stand at the door with a sign-in clipboard to greet people as they entered. If on first blush someone had high energy, a positive attitude and an eager handshake, I handed them a pen to sign in. If they didn't, I handed them a pencil. This simple trick saved me endless time later when I'd make my follow-up calls only to the names written in pen.
Recruiting Great Salespeople ... From Competitors
Once my company began to grow, I fixed my sight on recruiting the top salespeople from competing firms. In a commission-based business like real estate, the only way a salesperson gets promoted is to move to a bigger company that has more market clout. They don’t get paid more there, but having a big company name on their business card carries more prestige. When your company brand is the biggest, recruiting top salespeople away from your competitors is easy. But as a smaller company, you have to be smarter and create a clever way to grab their attention and get in touch with them directly.
I created a systemized way to get in touch with my competitors’ best salespeople and recruit them. Like most businesses, the real estate business has industry events where competitive firms meet annually to acknowledge their outstanding agents. Awards are given to the top producers for the most deals and the biggest deals, and also to the most successful rookies of the year. After each event, I made it my business to send a show-stopping floral arrangement to every winner. The flowers arrived at their offices the next morning, along with my handwritten note of praise: "Congratulations, David! I’m sure your boss must be SO proud of you! With warm regards, Barbara Corcoran."
Of course, most of the winners had not been appreciated by their managers, so when they called or emailed their thanks, my door was flung wide open with a friendly conversation, laying the groundwork for future follow up. Most of those agents moved to my company within the year because I had created a good system for meeting and recruiting superstars from my competitors.
When competing real estate firms sell a property, the commission is typically split between the two firms, half to the agent who brought the buyer and half to the agent who controlled the listing. My little company had very few higher priced listings, because as the new kid on the block, the high priced owners didn’t trust us. But I soon captured a larger share of the high-end market where commissions are so much juicier.
Here’s how I did it: Whenever one of our customers bought our competitors’ higher priced home—the one we couldn’t get listed—I sent flowers to my competitor’s agent who had secured the high priced listing on the day of the closing. “Thank you for letting our Mary help sell your listing. I’m so proud of you both! With appreciation, Barbara Corcoran.” Mary always heard from the competing agent immediately, giving her the opportunity to brag about our company. This simple routine turned most of my own agents into happy recruiters, bringing in the agents needed to convert my company into a high-end firm.
Keeping Them Happy
Recruiting great salespeople can take a big effort—and another lump of effort to keep them with you. I’ve found the key to keeping them happy is to make each person feel important and appreciated. When I had only a dozen agents, giving individual attention was easy. But once we had 500 and then 1,000 agents, we needed to institute systems to make sure everyone got their fair share of attention. At first I wrote dozens of post-it notes congratulating them on this deal and that deal, tacking them on their phones in the early morning. I wrote them for every listing they got and sale they closed, and they loved coming in to a happy note in the morning. Later the post-its became individual emails. Once I figured out how to cut and paste, my emails got faster and I developed a dozen boilerplate ways to say congratulations.
I also awarded oversized gold ribbons to hang on the agents’ bulletin boards when anyone made a million-dollar sale, quadrupling the company’s high-end business in a single year. The ribbons were embossed in gold with “$100,000,000!” printed on the face, and although everyone laughed as I awarded the first one, once someone decorated their cubicle with a few, ribbons were soon coveted. Our top salesperson soon had her office wallpapered with gold ribbons, so I presented her with a desk chair upholstered in gold lame—-at $5 a yard—to the envy of the entire office. She showed off her chair to every customer who visited, and it got so much attention, I had to re-cover it twice.
Good recognition systems keep salespeople happy, and by making the individual successes of our superstars public, we inspired our newcomers to become superstars, too. In an industry known for high turnover, we lost no one. You can’t have a successful business without great salespeople to sell it.
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