In a recent episode of our podcast, FitzMartin CEO Sean Doyle sat down with Luke Allen, the CEO of OHD, an international manufacturer and distributor of medical device instrumentation. In this episode, we feature part two of their conversation.

Sean Doyle:

Welcome back to Aligned, the podcast for executives of emerging middle market companies, executives who are pursuing growth and looking for new levers to pull. Today’s conversation is going to offer one of three sets of ideas around sales talent, sales culture. How do we attract, develop and retain that talent? And with us to tell us that story is the CEO of OHD, who is an international company. Luke runs a company that has inside sales, outside sales and I believe reps through a distribution channel as well. So, Luke Allen, welcome.

And we’re looking forward to hearing you tell us about attracting sales talent as the foundation of building a great sales culture. So for the executive listening, what’s the number one tip? Give us…right out the gate, give us something important.

Luke Allen:

I think the major thing right out of the gate is proactive attraction of talent, is the key. And that probably seems easy to most people. But most companies don’t do it.

Sean Doyle:

Oh, it’s not a current pain. I’ve got my sales force in place right now. So you’re telling me I’ve got to make it a priority?

Luke Allen:

Absolutely. Yeah, you have to be….

Sean Doyle:

I’ve got these fires I’ve got to put out today.

Luke Allen:

Yeah, well, yeah. The future fire is going to be how do I get the right person in, or you lose someone that’s a key player right now on your team. How do you replace that person without it impacting your business? Proactive, attracting talent in every part of your business. But for sure, if you’re a sales company, that’s a key focus you have to be focused on.

Sean Doyle:

I recently was working with a client who had a single point of failure around a line of business, a specific line that there was only expertise from one salesperson. That person moved on to another job and they’ve been absent any ability to sell in that space right now. And that’s not totally true…there are some people who can talk. But you know how you’ve got this deep expertise in a subject matter, and the person you’re trying to sell to has that deep expertise. Well, I could know 50 percent, and if you’re looking for some specific, structured, engineered, thoughtful solution, then you’re going to pick up on that right away. So single points of failure are a massive risk. And that would be I’d say, even if you’ve got your sales force in place – take a second and identify where do you have a single point of failure, and then that’s where you could start. Then how do you do this? What do you do? What are the steps you take?

Luke Allen:

Yeah, well, that’s a great perspective that I just need to make a note on as well that Sean you just gave me. I think the way that you do this from my vantage point, the way we’ve put it together, is that you first have to take an assessment of your team and what those different roles are. And then you begin to build out a network, again – assertively, proactively – of other key people that are in an industry or outside of the industry that fit your culture, fit your expectations, talent. They’re talented. And you begin to…or what we do is we begin to court those people when we don’t have openings.

Sean Doyle:

Okay. I want to really break this down. What’s this sound like when you court me? I’m working for your competitor. What’s that call sound like?

Luke Allen:

Yeah, your competitor or someone else. But yeah, the call is…or maybe even at a trade show, we connect. And I say, Sean, you know, you seem to love what we do. You seem to be really engaged in this. You really fit what we value, in a salesperson here or a person in our company. I’d like to talk to you about what your vision is for your career, and how do you want it to be developed, and where do you see yourself going? All of these conversations are happening way before you have an opening. I think businesses do it the other way. They work, in the world they’re in today…somebody leaves, or they grow and they need to add people. And what’s the first thing that most people do?

Sean Doyle:

We’ve got to get help.

Luke Allen:

We get a job description. We give it to HR. He or she takes it, we post it on LinkedIn, and we post it on Monster. We get a bunch of resumes and we try to figure out who’s who. When you really step back and think through that process, that’s a horrible way to hire really good people.

What we found is the better way to do it is to have proactive conversations like the one we just pretended to have with key people. And then the other side is, maybe even people that you’ve interviewed that didn’t get the job, Sean. So, who did you interview that you really liked? But your business couldn’t hire those three people. You had a spot for one. How do you strategically stay in touch with those other two, monitor their careers, see how things are going? Again, that’s what we’ve actually brought in, two of our hires were people that we couldn’t place months or years before that we stayed in touch with, courted, developed relationships with and brought them then later.

Sean Doyle:

Interesting…

Luke Allen:

Very key.

Sean Doyle:

So when you’ve brought these people in, is it your experience it’s an opportunity to make more money? Is it more culture? Is it more…is it aspects? Is it wanting to work with you? Is it aspirational? What are the triggers for it? Especially for the A-players?

Luke Allen:

Yes, for the A-players.

Sean Doyle:

Even a good B player. None of us is pursuing a C player.

Luke Allen:

It’s a good question. And I think one of the aspects of this to Sean is in today’s world, so like people ask me questions around…How does that change for millennials? Is that a different answer than what it would be for a different generation person? My thought is, it goes back to what we do well, and that is sales or marketing. It’s finding out what is important to that person. And I think one size fits all/HR hiring plan really is the wrong approach. I found that some people — A-players — money is going to be important because they’re A-players. They can go to a lot of great companies and they’re going to be A-players at most places they go. Right? And if you’re an A player, you’re probably going to be able to do that performance for a lot of companies.

What I have found is that culture in today’s world is a major part of this. What is your development plan for me? What is your long-term strategy for where I can go with you? Where do you see the company growing, Luke? Where do you see this being in 5-to-10 years? A lot of that might not have been the questions that employees felt they could or would ask 10, 20 years ago, maybe. In today’s world, I think it’s absolutely what people are asking. They’re saying, why would I want to come play for your team, John? What makes it different? So, I understand the money is going to be the same. But what makes you a better long-term fit for my future career and investment of my time and life. And when you answer those questions at a high level, you’re going to bring in better talent.

Sean Doyle:

We read some science not too long ago, and it became actually a process we use at FitzMartin. We break down the science from U. Cal Berkeley and it breaks down the types of pain people solve, because as humans we all pursue avoidance of pain. I will do anything to avoid pain. In this case, probably the pain is taking the time to recruit for a job that’s not there. Sure, I can just avoid that. While the pain of firing somebody is probably a better example of…we will avoid that. Right? When you know you’ve got to let somebody go, you find a thousand reasons to give him another chance. I mean, you leave rational thinking to avoid that. And eventually, you do. And everybody says, ‘I wish I should have done it earlier.’

I mean, everybody goes the same process. But this is a great demonstration of pain avoidance. Specifically, what the science says is you can break pain down into three categories, that there’s financial pain, there’s strategic pain and there’s personal pain.

So financial pain would be pretty much what it is. Right? I don’t have the money, or I don’t have the retirement. You know, you could be creative with comp, right? Maybe it’s deferred comp… because A players might not want all that cash right away. The second category is strategic pain. So, when you’re hiring a salesperson, that might be somebody who’s looking for a way to advance their career, a way to move into a new line of business. It might be a way to get involved with innovation someday. They could be a CEO if you give them the opportunity to do certain things, right? Then maybe it’s moving from inside sales to outside sales. There could be all kinds of different strategic pains that you could speak into. And then lastly, there’s a personal pain. So personal pains might be simple. I want to move closer to my wife’s mother. I need the grandkids around. We talked about that at dinner last night. You know, there’s all kinds of personal pains. Maybe I need more self-esteem and I don’t have enough money to buy a boat. And you’ll be creative and give me access to the company boat, you know, whatever those ideas are, but this personal thing. And I know from a behavioral-science, a cognitive-science model, if you look for people and then frame that looking into identifying what is the financial, personal and strategic pain that that person you’re trying to attract to your company. What are those pains? And then you can speak to them. Most people, I think, the mistake in hiring is focusing so much on the financial. That they forget the strategic and the personal pains.

Luke Allen:

Absolutely.

Sean Doyle:

And you just said something. I know I’ll come for the same amount of money, but what else do you offer me? And that speaks to that. What’s the strategic advantage? What’s the personal advantage.

Luke Allen:

Exactly. And Sean two things I thought of while you were talking, which I think that’s great that the science backs up some of what we’re seeing in the market. But the first thing is that you’re at the point of…What else are you offering me? A lot of times people say, well, 401Ks and insurance and things like that. And I don’t think that’s really the question that people are asking. They’re asking the question about the strategic part, which I think we get to talk a little bit about in our future episode on developing the talent. But to your point here, you really have to have that message on the front end when it’s when you’re bringing people in. They want to know that they don’t want to sign up before they know that they’re going to be developed. And there’s a plan. So you have to communicate that on the front end and then execute on that in the middle to really achieve these three pillars of the way that we’re building this.

But let me give you a quick story if we have time. The story that I have is when you have a good, great culture, normally you have an openness with your people. And so, I had an employee that was really great, an A player for me, came to me and said, Luke, I have this desire to run a business. I don’t really know if that’s going to be able to be here in the next two years. And I said, I don’t really see that in the cards right now. But I understand that, you know, we love you. We respect you. And again, this is the culture that you build. I said, well, you keep me updated on how this is going with you. He said, absolutely. So, a few months later, he came to me and said, hey, I have this opportunity. I’m thinking about buying a company, but I want to let you know that this could be done in the next two to three months. What that allowed me to do, Sean, was I began to hire before this impact to our company occurred. So, the first key takeaway here for you executives listening is if your people don’t talk to you about what they’re thinking or what’s going on in their in their life, you have a blind spot that you cannot protect your business from. And that is a huge, huge, huge weakness. This allowed me to prepare two to three months in advance of a key A player leaving. So, I had these strategic meetings with people that were on my list that I had been courting, identified the person I wanted to fill the role with. I offered them the job before this person told me that he was officially leaving. He told me, hey, it’s two to three months. I let the person know that I was bringing in two to three months, we’re going to make this transition. My current employee came to me and said, “Hey, I bought the company.” I said, “Man, this is great. Congratulations.” He said, “My last day is going to be January 15th. Whatever it was, I said, wonderful. January the 11th, I brought in the new employee, the current A player trained him up for the four days that he was in the office or whatever it was. And that was the transition. You think about the impact on your business. When someone says, well, what is this really going to give me on revenue, whatever? I spent no money on hiring people. We didn’t spend any money on consultancies looking for people. I had no downtime, really, of vacancies in a position. Clear transition, happy employee exiting out, great employee coming in. And it does that happen like that every time? No. But when you do it this way, you at least have a chance for this to occur. Does that make sense?

Sean Doyle:

100 percent. So in summary, I’m hearing abandon those HR-minded tools. Don’t think so much about the ads on Monster. Is Monster even a thing, still?

Luke Allen:

I have no idea. I don’t. That’s what I’m saying. I’m out of the loop on that because I don’t have to really use it.

Sean Doyle:

That’s the reason I think they’re out of business. Indeed is maybe the new version. People get the point. So abandon that in favor of a one-to-one selling methodology.

Luke Allen:

Absolutely.

Sean Doyle:

As a marketer, I would tell you that part of that can be building published web pages, but not on your navigation that you can send people to. We’ve done some really interesting things, for example, I think a common problem is trying to recruit A-players into a geography that’s not Manhattan, for example. Right? So we don’t live in Manhattan, but there are people in Manhattan that are pretty high performers, right? That’s the thing about Manhattan. It draws people who want to prove they’re the best and they’re going to do it there. So how do you get that person from Manhattan? Well, I’m going to come back to financial, strategic, personal pains. And it may be that the person in Manhattan is getting ready to have a family and they’re exhausted by the Manhattan life.

So in our area where we live, you know, the pictures of beautiful rolling countryside and trees and green and grass and great school systems that send people to the Ivy Leagues as well as the Southeast colleges that are excellent. You know, those kinds of things can be part of this. And the reason I like that as a recommendation to support the attract effort is it gives your prospect in this case, your sales…what am I trying to say? The person you’re trying to recruit – it gives them a way to involve other decision-makers. Because before I move to wherever I am, I’m going to need to get my wife on board or my spouse or my family and I want to be able to show. So this gives a great tool. It’s just a very simple thing that marketing can do to support your efforts.

So I’m hearing: develop those lists, make some face to faces, have it supported with this pain framework. This idea of strategy and financial and personal pain. And then one last question. Who does this? If I’m the CEO, do I do it? Do I get my V.P. of Sales to do it? Who spends the time doing this?

Luke Allen:

Great question. And that’s actually one that thought in my mind. Did we answer that thoroughly enough on this episode? And I’m glad we can end with it. My view of that in our structure is your direct reports are where you handle this. Meaning if you have seven direct reports, that’s who you should be working to, make sure you have the lists to protect the business. And then and then it should flow down. So, by no means should the president be doing this for every role. You can’t do it. And so that’s absolutely what not what we’re saying. But if you have key reports, if you’re the president and you have key reports that are direct to you, you better be preparing yourself for this. But then I also think you train your people this way. Sean, you develop your direct reports to be doing this with their people. And again, you build this strength of the organization. And the last thing I’ll say is you can’t do this flawlessly. And in real practice, there will be times that you don’t have this perfect scenario and you’ll have to use other methods. But what we’re talking about today is trying to limit that and not make that the main way that you bring in the best talent possible.

Sean Doyle:

That’s fabulous. Luke has always been a pleasure. I look forward to getting together with you again to talk about developing this talent we brought on. How do we take the A players, make them successful, even more successful, B players to elevate and C players to either find their own destiny or to become a B player? Let’s talk about that next episode.