Sales Management Lessons From a Possum

Let’s be honest. How hard has it been to find a few loans per month the last few years? Even our rookie originators made money and covered draws. There was so much business that it seems everyone obtained his or her mortgage license. If they didn’t, they know someone who is an originator. Today presents us with a different challenge; one we have not faced in many years. With the market slowing down, acquisition of new business is the primary strategy of most companies. If that doesn’t create the impact needed to drive operations and profitability, you will start seeing even more staffing reductions in our industry. As the engine is to the car, the mortgage sales manager is to our industry. This position significantly impacts what happens next; therefore, making the right hire is critical.

When interviewing and managing mortgage sales managers, I try to determine where they fit in my “O.H.G.P. Mortgage Sales Manager Profile.” Identifying enough examples of past behavior, one will be able to determine future behavior. Yes, I agree this is a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious), as Todd Duncan likes to say. But I have seen way too many instances where sales managers will not ask probing questions to get “down and dirty” in the details or roll up their sleeves to fix a complex issue. The results can be devastating for an organization; especially in a down market when recruiting smart, sales management and expense control are the order of the day. Situational questions during the interview stage, conversations with industry insiders and former employees can help you effectively identify past behavior. So, once you learn to identify traits, you can recruit and manage for optimum results.

The O.H.G.P. Mortgage Sales Manager Profile:

We all know these sales managers. From pricing issues to underwriting challenges, there is rarely a day when something doesn’t come up that requires problem solving or crisis resolution skills. Maybe a complex deal is blowing up at the table. Maybe the company is tightening pricing. Whatever the challenge, it seems the ostrich is not effective in problem solving, dispute resolution, or strategic planning. They pretty much disappear when the going gets rough. We see a lot of talk, but not too much in the way of results-oriented action. It is amazing how many ostriches survive in our industry…but they do, primarily when they also report to an ostrich. The million-dollar question is: how do we manage ostriches? I have spent too many valuable hours on ostriches in the past. I realize I spent so much time because I hired the ostrich and didn’t want to admit my hiring mistake, so I kept trying to get them to perform as expected. I am learning to cut my ostriches as quickly as possible. Your best management strategy for ostriches is to avoid hiring them in the first place. Ostrich resumes are easy to spot—a lot of job-hopping is one obvious sign. They also spend more time telling you what their past companies didn’t have than what they will do during their first 60 days to perform at your company. Ostriches rarely come prepared with detailed plans.

These folks are the ones who complain about everything…the market, the company, pricing, products and especially their last bonus. You always hear them during breakout sessions at sales rallies, but they are smart and try to blend in during these events. But the minute a negative is thrown out, they pounce and show their teeth. Their bigger problem is they rarely have solutions and never create anything worthwhile for themselves or their team. Hyenas have possum-like tendencies as they are both scavengers at heart and have a lot of energy. I would equate a hyena to a high-maintenance, low-producing originator. Obviously those two traits together are poor. But I will take high-maintenance and high-production all day. If the hyena can transfer the negative energy into helping us fix the issues, we have a winner. Someone who is viewed as a complainer is a good person to have in your company if those complaints are followed by ways to improve upon the issue.

Managing a hyena isn’t easy, but some drivers are honesty, respect, and empowerment. First, explain how the hyena is viewed within the company. Then discuss how many of the issues brought up are valid, but lacking is the solution. Empower the hyena to run a task force to research and recommend solutions to one or two issues. Create an environment where the hyena can take stake in the solutions. If we can channel that negative energy into positive actions, we could end up with a possum.

These people know how to adapt and they will make a correction, but it will take time and their regions or offices will suffer during the transition. They know they have originators who will not make it, but they take too long to require call reports or put originators on probation. When they lose a top originator, they start recruiting the replacement. They can be successful in replacing, but the result may be three or four months of reduced volume, which could blow the quarter and possibly the year. The gator may get around to doing the things they need to do, but with closer supervision and direction, they can be pushed to do it quicker. Most gators lack the drive or strategic thinking of the possum so expecting to grow to possums may set them up for disillusionment. Understanding the weaknesses and managing to those will help a gator realize results quicker.

Being from the South, I have always admired the possum. Talk about adaptability! If a possum’s food source dries up on Monday, I guarantee they have found a new one by Tuesday. If we take down a tree a possum lives in, they quickly find a new home. The possum is a master in the art of survival. As such, the possum manager makes changes within the shop quickly and before too much harm is done. He or she also collects good market data before complaining about pricing to corporate, knows the competition well, makes decisive decisions and is always thinking about surviving. A possum is rarely swayed to gamble on weaker producers, but typically goes for the better hire even if it takes longer to get. Most importantly, the possum is a self-starter, needs little motivation or direction and is adaptable enough to change with the market or as your company needs them to change.

Mortgage sales managers are the key drivers in our organizations. Selecting the right leader for a team, or to build a team, is a critical decision that has far-reaching impact. Every company is different and unique. Some are highly political and others purely numbers driven. Being able to identify the four management profiles not only helps make better hiring decisions that fit your organization, but also allows you to use situational management skills with existing team members. You would manage a possum differently than you would manage an ostrich. An ostrich would require hands-on management with very frequent assessments and guidance. A hyena does best surrounded by positive strong-willed people and hands-on management. Don’t allow the hyena to surround himself with other hyenas—unless you have no interest in attempting a conversion to a possum. Gators represent your steady leaders, your rocks. Getting those gators to be more proactive and more aggressive will significantly impact results.

By A. Blair Glenn