Recruiter Says Less Is More: 'Decruit' Mediocre Producers

November 1, 1997

COLUMBIA, S.C.--To keep its best people, one company has been so successful weeding out nonproducers that it has achieved a 27 percent--or $65 million--increase in company revenue over the last four years.

“Million-dollar producers can’t stand being around marginal people,” says Doug Schmitt, director of human resources at Bob Capes, REALTORS®. “Dealing with someone's whining and chitchat and general sluggishness day in and day out can bring anybody down.”

That’s why Schmitt “decruits” marginal producers--he essentially fires them--and replaces them with top producers, often from the very companies that take in the salespeople he's let go. Schmitt says his “decruitment” program helps land top producers. “Word gets around, and they like what they hear.” In short, they want to be where the slackers aren’t.

Besides decruitment's value in drawing top producers and boosting morale, the program has a more direct economic benefit. “Desks are expensive,” Schmitt says. “I figure salespeople need to pull down at least $14,000 per year to earn their keep. If they’re not, I’d rather have an empty desk.”

Not that Schmitt doesn’t bring in new recruits. He does, about six per month. The company cultivates their skills with an extensive training program. It’s after about a year that the specter of Schmitt's decruitment program starts looming.

Lest you envision an office of trapdoors and ejection seats, Schmitt says, “We don’t just point at somebody one day and say, ‘You! Pack your bags!’ We work with salespeople who aren’t cutting it. We put them with a top producer who acts as a mentor, coaching them and tagging along on appointments. We give them every opportunity to improve before we cut them loose.”

Schmitt's vision of the ideal company isn’t a pyramid in which top producers occupy the narrow pinnacle but rather a barrel in which almost everyone does $750,000 to $2 million in business. With 10 offices and roughly 240 salespeople, that’s a mighty big barrel to fill. So when he decruits nonproducers, he watches where they settle and then sets his sights on the top producers in that company.

“It’s only a matter of time before they’re ready to move on,” Schmitt says. “We want them when they do.” Over the past few years, Schmitt says several dozen multimillion-dollar producers have migrated to the company from places where salespeople he's decruited have wound up.

Schmitt has lost track of the number of salespeople he's decruited (“maybe a couple a month”). But he's sure the program helped the brokerage garner $305 million in company revenue in 1996, up from about $240 million in 1992, when the decruitment program started.

Companies thinking of adopting Schmitt's program face one major hurdle: the unwillingness of top managers to facilitate a salesperson's departure. “It’s not easy to do,” he admits. “You're messing with people's livelihood.”

The key is to remember that if salespeople aren’t pulling their weight, they’re messing with your livelihood.

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