A Sales Manager's Hiring Dilemma
Heather Baldwin

W. David Houchins struggles with a basic sales management issue: finding and hiring the right salespeople. Houchins, a unit sales manager and special-care planner with MassMutual general agency Strategic Financial Group in Houston, says the recession created strong demand for traditional financial-planning services. It's been great for business but a challenge for Houchins, a hands-on manager whose time has been stretched to its limits with interviewing, hiring, training, and coaching.

Houchins is so meticulous about finding just the right salespeople to fill his open positions that he interviews about 15 applicants for every one he does hire. By the end of the interviewing process, Houchins has spent about 11 hours, spread over four "very structured" interviews, with each new hire. Once the new agent comes on board, Houchins spends "almost every waking hour" with him or her, in training and field coaching, for the first three weeks. That's on top of the one hour per week he commits to individually coaching each person on his team and a one-and-a-half hour sales meeting every Monday morning.

So how is Houchins, who already works 60 hours a week, going to meet the challenge of interviewing, hiring, and coaching as his team continues to grow? Essentially, he's going to clone himself.

"I'm going to promote two salespeople from within who will move into an assistant sales manager's position on the first of January," he explains. These top-performing reps are already well versed in Strategic Financial Group's sales systems and processes and will take over some of Houchins's coaching obligations. It will be the first time Houchins has ever used assistant managers.

The move will free Houchins to recruit more and to more aggressively focus on two areas of business over the next year: expansion of sales to certain cultural/ethnic groups and growth of "special care" customers, or families with special needs. On the cultural front, Houchins says he's put a "tremendous focus" over the past year on trying to make his sales team "a microcosm of the city at large." As a result, his agents range in age from 22 to 62 and hail from countries on every continent. Most recently, he hired a second-generation Indian to target Houston's burgeoning Indian population. Houchins credits this multicultural focus for his team's 199 percent sales growth over the past year, adding that his goal in the next 12 months is to get a better understanding of how cultural differences impact the consultative sale.

His other area of focus in the next year is on families with special needs. One in five families in the United States has a special-needs situation, says Houchins. With such an enormous market, he predicts one-third to one-half of his team's revenues will come from this group in 2011 and 2012.

"There are nine of us working in special care right now," Houchins concludes. "I'd like to have forty."

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