Selling leadership in a changing market Nicholas J. DelTortosales process, market conditions, adaptation Many in the business world today like to talk about the benefits of having a "process" to their business. Great strides have been made based on the development and execution of processes ever since Henry Ford created the assembly line. Having a process has been the foundation of success for almost every business. So why is it that so many mortgage companies struggle with the implementation, adaptation and execution of a sales process that keeps pace with a changing marketplace? To be effective for the long term, a sales process must be repeatable. In the mortgage industry where the market changes constantly, how can we develop a consistent, repeatable sales process? There are the traditional sources of business: real estate agents, certified public accountants, lawyers, previous customers, etc. But with the constant rate of change, these sources are also changing and our sales force can become paralyzed as a result. These approaches are deeply influenced by refinance markets and an old supply of referrals that is constantly fluctuating. Our selling eventually becomes "hit or miss" by acting purely on our gut instincts. We tend to take a hands-off approach with our sales force and count on them to find their own niche. This often means that our best and brightest salespeople who have managed to find a reasonably successful strategy, keep on doing what has always worked in the past. This is fine for the short term, but in a rapidly changing industry, it can leave your business with a slow, almost imperceptible deflation and stagnation. The speed of change and complexity of our industry continue to accelerate. So inevitably, if our sales leadership approach is to remain hands off with our best salespeople and if they stick to the tried and true methods of generating business, then as sales leaders we are not foreseeing, focusing and reacting to market changes. Will success last year or even last quarter be enough to sustain revenue? For any sales team, the objective is simple: revenue, and lots of it. Intuitively, the processes to support such a basic objective are also simple: hire and retain producers of revenue. Hiring the best becomes our top priority-seeking out candidates with previous experience, records of accomplishment, methods and relationships. This is what our clearly defined process becomes by default. This is a critical part of the strategy for success and the lifeblood of any company's long-term success, but it is only part of the formula. The other responsibility is to improve the "process of sales"the sales "coach" methodology. How can we truly help our sales to prepare and challenge them to deal with changes to the market, competitive threats and technological advances? This is clearly the duty of sales leadership. Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and all of the best and brightest in any endeavor still have a coach who helps them stay on top or advance their game. The sales leaders new responsibility is to their sales team and the success of the business demands effective coaching. Top producers need coaching to help recognize changes in the market and opportunities to expand their business. Those who keep their heads down and stick with tried-and-true methods miss these opportunities. Many sales leaders, especially the top producers, do not feel comfortable identifying, developing, practicing, rehearsing and training for a new repeatable sales process. It seems almost counterintuitive to introduce structure into an environment that needs to be fluid in order to accommodate market changes. Joint development of strategies to improve market penetration, new sources of business and recognition of new opportunities becomes the most powerful value you can create for your sales team. These new opportunities also create excitement and energy, a renewed confidence that contributes to success, even in their traditional book of business. If a new approach does not bear fruit right away, it does not represent wasted time or failure. An effective sales process results in gaining informationa source of power for all sales. This requires the effective sales leader to then work jointly with their sales team, using this new information to improve tactical approach and value proposition. The development of action steps, joint development of an approach, rehearsal of a salient message and collateral materials, coupled with a regular progress review, is essential. Without these steps, your business faces significant risk in a changing market. In addition, your top producers may begin to feel that they are bringing more to the table than they are receiving. Effective recruiting usually has a message that the "new company" or new sales leader will create more value than your current situation. The bottom line is that if you don't do it, someone else will. Or at least theyll make your top producers believe they will. Moving from one problem to the next, doing the best with what's available, is not a formula for success. The sale is more of a unique occurrence than a repeatable process. Especially for new hires, success becomes hit and misses. Without accountability for a defined, repeatable activity, it will reduce the capacity for new hires to leverage their talent because of there is no sales foundation being supported by leadership. A sales process that identifies changing market conditions, seeks new opportunities to expand business sources and facilitates the power found in shared knowledge is the foundation of a scaleable sales organization. Long term, this is the winning formula. Nick DelTorto is president and chief executive officer of Amerihome Mortgage based in Brookfield, Wis. He can be reached at (262) 821-1200 or e-mail [email protected].