Nature vs nurture: Why agents fail to fulfil their potential

We all know real estate is a competitive game and as a principal or manager, you want to get the best out of your agents. But what do you do when a newly hired, seemingly high performing agent fails to deliver? Pancho Mehrotra explains why this happens and how you can stop it.

Picture this, you’re a principal sitting alone in your office. You’re wracking your brain, trying to figure out why the last ‘hot potential’ salesperson hired a few months ago isn’t performing.

You might think about the time, money and the emotional stress you have expended trying to get them to deliver on their potential without success.

You wonder about the many other salespeople who have come and gone, many of whom underperforming and didn’t reach their potential.

Many principals talk about the 80/20 rule when hiring salespeople. It doesn’t have to be that way.

How can you improve the odds when hiring? How can support your salespeople to overcome weaknesses, so that hiring the right salesperson does not have to be a lottery?

How do you stop a seemingly high achieving candidate from becoming an average performer?

The trick is in being aware and armed with knowledge.

The knowledge to recognise the desirable qualities in a consistently high achiever, identify the gaps, and work on closing the gaps.

What is the difference between people of equal talent and motivation, some who become great performers and some who stay average?

When applying for a sales role, there are standard questions and responses around the drive to succeed, work ethic and social skills. 

However, the real issue is to understand what motivates the candidate to improve.

When they talk about their work ethic, what do they mean? What is that based on?

When they talk about what they like about real estate, ask what is the context?

We need to discover whether the salesperson has the right ‘intangible’ qualities or not.

In my previous article, I wrote about two important traits a salesperson should have to succeed – achievement orientation and high levels of energy orientation.

The following traits are the ones we test for in candidates and are important to measure to provide an insight into their ‘sales persona’:

  1. Competitive drive
  2. Achievement orientation
  3. Coachable orientation
  4. Sense of humour

A low score indicates potential stress for the salesperson and the manager. 

The nature vs nurture issue has been well documented and widely discussed.

Admittedly, there are certain attributes that we are born with, but can we develop something we are not born with?

The answer is yes.

It is an issue of awareness; once someone is aware of the key attributes, then they can pay attention and work to improve them. 

Let’s examine two of the above attributes and the variables within each attribute that we measure.

Coachable orientation

This refers to a person’s desire to learn and grow.

If the salesperson ranks low in a desire to learn and improve then the chances of improving are markedly low, and increased stress is a likely outcome.

Observing salespeople who are coachable also identifies other excellent behaviours, which can impact the culture of the business, such as the willingness to teach others.

The willingness to teach others identifies this person as a future leader and role model.

The desire for personal growth and self-improvement ranks highly within this individual.

Another related quality is the ability to learn from mistakes and not react with unhelpful emotions such as bitterness.

So being coachable is not just about learning, it is also about reactions and thinking skills.

Achievement orientation

This is a key psychological indicator that highlights if the person takes proactive action to learn about all facets of their job because they understand it is one of the keys to success.

An achievement orientation also demonstrates the salesperson’s ability to keep focused on their goals.

The most important aspect of this trait is they deal with adversity in a healthy way and take responsibility for all their actions and results. 

There are specific vital questions and ranking parameter for all of these attributes.

You can gather a good measure of the candidate’s personality by asking these questions, which provide qualitative and quantitative data.

Once you have the data, it is easy to identify and provide training and management support to get the best out of that candidate.

Is the salesperson maximising their potential?

Out of the four attributes, the ability to be coached is one of the keys to progression and can be measured.

The coachable person is open to feedback and curious about what is holding them back.

It’s essential that the principal and agent understand being highly competitive also has drawbacks unless one is aware of their competitive nature because that person may often see criticism as a threat. 

The important lesson here is when hiring new people, the manager or principal need to identify the weaknesses in their salespeople.

These weaknesses can be a liability but can be turned into strengths if the person is willing to learn.

It’s one thing to be told about your weaknesses, and it’s quite another to be able to work on them. 

If the individual does not have the attributes of a high achieving salesperson, no amount of training and processes will make a difference to the bottom line until the underlying qualities and behaviours are addressed.

There is so much training focused on motivational hype, which is of no value unless you know the person’s motivators.

This is where focused development of individuals is crucial to their (and your) success.

It takes a multi-dimensional approach and time to hire and develop the right people.

The rewards in the long run far outweigh the patience and time investment.

This is the same methodology high-performance sports teams who do well over long periods, such as the All Blacks, Golden State Warriors and past Australian cricket teams, use.

When we examine these traits in the highly motivated individual, there is little need for motivational training as their desire to improve is what drives them.

Yet, most principals see the lack of motivation in their people as the key issue to be fixed.  

The problems that are occurring with salespeople are often repeating patterns.

There will always be frustration and stress before awareness develops.

The real issue is perhaps that principals have the wrong people and hope motivational training will somehow overcome low productivity, which is a temporary fix, at best. 

In the words of author Jim Collins, “get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off.”

I would add, stop hiring the wrong people in the first place.

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Pancho Mehrotra

Pancho Mehrota is the CEO of Frontier Performance and a recognised leading expert in the area of communication, influence and the psychology of selling.