By Tom Waters and Ben Abel
Bank Associates Merchant Services
Editor's Note: While the current Street SmartsSM authors, Tom Waters and Ben Abel, are working as a team; occasionally, one of them will pen a solo article reflecting his unique experiences. This article is by Tom Waters.
When Bank Associates Merchant Services was in its early growth stages, I handpicked our sales team from start to finish. Once our first true sales process had been fashioned and proven to be effective among a limited sales force, it was time to expand its application to others deemed worthy enough to brandish our business cards.
The first step was to create the channels and processes that would screen candidates eligible for our training program. I had to "build the funnel." The original recipe of our hiring process was carefully crafted, intensely pursued and 90 percent wrong. I soon learned there is no magic bullet to winning quality recruits.
The hiring process never truly has a finish line. When salespeople stop growing, they immediately begin to surrender their hard work to the encroaching lines of competing forces. An innovative hiring process must be translated into a dependable training program. The predominant qualities of a new hire must include the ability to absorb your training methods and apply them effectively � easier said than done.
But once a reliable team takes hold of the company's ambition, it is truly a beautiful sight to witness. The thread of your core values begins to interweave through your staff and create the seeds to a genuine corporate culture. It is that cohesion that allows you to break away from teaching what to do and realign your focus toward how to do it. If this is done correctly, your team will contribute to your company's development without your intervention.
The characteristics of a successful hire have evolved as our company has continued to mature. Many factors have affected our needs analysis; we are constantly refining our recruiting methods. Where we once sought agents to facilitate our sales process, we now seek those to influence it. The gear has been shifted from finding doers to cultivating leaders.
Armed with a handful of commission-only reps and a shoestring budget, I set out to engage the general public and source the very best recruits, at a discount. With a carefully crafted job description and a registered account at Craigslist, I learned my first hard lessons in agent recruiting: time is valuable; do all you can to avoid wasting it.
Even if a candidate has a perfect resume, the person's eligibility could evaporate within the first three seconds of a prescreening call. A phone sales position requires a specific phone presence. At first, I felt terrible when I could sense right away the candidate was not a good fit. I would often delicately phrase my rejection with an essence of optimism.
After about 20 sympathetic rejections, I began to cut the conversations much shorter. At 100, I learned five magical words: "The position has been filled." Short, blameless and resolute, those simple utterings helped avoid the awkward rebuttals to "I don't think you have the right experience" or "This isn't a customer support position."
With a tactful dismissal process enacted, it was time to adjust the prescreening questionnaire to weed out unqualified candidates more efficiently.
"What caught your eye about the position?" always opened the door to the candidate's personal elevator pitch. That general opener helps reveal the interviewee's motivation to seek employment, potential ambitions and ability to communicate eloquently. If the candidate opened with, "I seen your ad," the conversation would end quickly.
Once someone's phone presence was approved, questions about typing speed and comfort with computers were next. If a candidate seemed hesitant about his or her computer proficiency, asking about the keyboard shortcuts for "copy" and "paste" provided a quick assessment for median competence.
If someone's phone presence was average, sales experience was called into question. As much as I would love for retail experience to count toward telesales experience, there is a fundamental difference between the two roles. The sale in retail traditionally starts with the customer initiating first contact. In telesales the agent starts first. Candidates with less than stellar phone presence had to work a bit harder to prove they had the mettle to persevere in a demanding outside sales position.
I received countless inquiries from candidates seeking customer service rep or receptionist positions. Even with big bold letters spelling out "Sales Position" in the headline and body of the advertisement, people would still call in for a reception job and boast about their attention to detail.
Hiring with a limited budget kept us in the shallower side of the candidate pool. Personality trends began to emerge as more agents passed the first round of our screening process. Everyone has unique qualities but two polarizing traits were showing face more often. Both had pathways that could lead to success. Each had unique characteristics that required distinct prodding for skills to advance.
The semi-experienced, eager-to-learn candidates show promise because they are willing to absorb and apply your methods. The challenge is to cultivate their inner passion to develop the elusive "sales personality" that I believe resides in everyone. The difficulty is uncovering that personality fast enough to quickly find a return on investment. Sometimes the inner salesperson is buried too deeply and does not emerge before the first progress report. When it does, however, that candidate is loyal, efficient and capable of professional growth.
The experienced, talented candidates show passion and comfort with sales presentations. They are almost always hired because of their natural interview skills and influential script read. The challenge here is the ego that resides with that talent. These people will prematurely try to deviate from the script to impress you with their ability to innovate. Intentionally or not, they will reject your feedback and fall into old habits that were successful in their previous sales roles.
Often they will not realize they are demonstrating an inability to follow basic instructions. The difficulty is in communicating the subtle differences between their old sales process and your new one. It's important to explain why something might be effective in other sales environments but ineffective in your office. If you don't, you will have an unpolished agent that will challenge your methods every step of the way. If developed successfully, however, you will have a self-sufficient producer that requires little attention as your company grows.
With a larger budget and a new market position, the hiring process must adapt to incorporate your progressing goals. The same types of candidates still pop up, but the quality is upgraded and the screening process must become more advanced. A basic math test helps to gauge the learning curve of statement analysis and future growth.
After a few years, you will have a strong team of homegrown veteran agents. With an improved hiring process and more capable candidate pool, your new hires will help motivate your enriched veterans to raise their personal bar. Future topics in this column will cover the hiring considerations for recruiting new affiliates, ISOs and experienced agents. It is important to understand the inner workings of the hiring process to help improve personal growth and prepare for future roles in senior management. The next stage in hiring requires a more advanced understanding of high-level sales associates. To know others is to know yourself.
Tom Waters has been dedicated to the merchant service sales profession since 2001. Currently, he is responsible for cultivating relationships with entrepreneurs in information technology, accounting, sales and marketing in his role as Sales Director of Bank Associates Merchant Services (www.bams.com). Using fresh and matter-of-fact training methods, Tom has contributed to the success of thousands of agents, affiliates and clients. He can be reached via email through email@example.com or via phone at 347-651-1065.
Ben Abel is Regional Director at Bank Associates Merchant Services. Since joining the team in 2006, he has risen through company ranks with a paradigm that his success was measured by the success of those around him. Ben is a dedicated, pioneering trainer whose methods of merchant services consultation have helped many agents expand their portfolios in terms of processing volume, deal count and profitability. He can be contacted at 347-866-9571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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