Wanted (A Recruiting Story)
March, 1982, Sherman Oaks, CA
I turned my head and there he was. He snatched the desk chair from the workspace next to me, plopped his 300+ lb. frame into the inadequate piece of office furniture and rolled himself over, blocking the exit of my cubicle. I was on a prospecting call—trying to set an appointment for an individual life insurance sale and he was just sitting there, totally out of context. Why would a sales manager from a competing insurance organization, a guy I just said, “No,” to, be parked next to me, just smiling at me while I was trying to work?
Didn’t he understand I was never going to join his sales team?
David Oppenheimer had a set of testicles the size of grapefruits. I’m suggesting this in a metaphoric sense, but I’m probably not embellishing much. David O. stood about 5’7 tall and weighed in at well over 300 pounds. As big as he was, he never looked sloppy. His hair and his W. Clement Stone-ish mustache were always perfect. He regularly had an expensive Cuban cigar in his right hand. He never lit it; he would just wave it around. David O. was always impeccably dressed, wearing expensive monogrammed shirts with fancy cuff links. And his ties—he wore bowties. From a distance, with his black suit, crisp white shirt and signature bowtie, you would think that a giant penguin was lumbering toward you. He was a formidable and conspicuous character to say the least.
David O. wasn’t a guy who could just slither into someplace unnoticed.
As I stumbled through the end of my prospecting call I struggled to process what the heck he was doing there, blocking the exit of my cubicle.
David O. was a sales manager with an insurance organization I’d previously worked with. He had called a month prior and had begun a recruiting conversation with me. His parent company, Penn Corp Financial, was starting a new product division and they‘d placed him in charge of sales.
I was his first call. He let me know that he was very interested in building a sales team around me. He seemed to really want me.
I was flattered, but I turned him down. I had my reasons. Most of them revolved around not wanting to work with Penn Corp again. I told him it was, “Nothing personal.” He said that he understood and let me off the hook. Then, a few days later, he called me again. “Hey, Joe, can we meet for lunch? I’ll buy. You choose the place. I want to pick your brain on a few things.”
Okay…to be fair, I knew his objective with the lunch meeting was to bring me back into the fold, but…come on, free lunch? So, I said, “Sure.”
Nobody could paint a bigger and better vision than David O. During our lunch he told me about the product he’d designed and the team he planned to build around it. He did ask me my opinion of how to structure the team, but he was clearly after me–he wanted me on his team bad.
During the time it took me to demolish my Sizzler surf and turf entree he’d asked me to join his new team four times. It was hard for me to turn him down. The picture he was painting sounded so cool. He made me feel like I would be a HUGE part of that picture. The problem was that I simply didn’t want to rejoin the company he was with. Their executive management treated me poorly when I left. Even though I liked David O., I didn’t want to be associated with a company that treated people like crap.
We parted ways in the parking lot. I thanked David O. for lunch and told him that I’d like to “stay in touch” with him.
He smiled, pointed at me with his unlit Cuban cigar and said, “Count on it.”
I should’ve just marked off the days in my calendar, because a week later he was on the phone again, asking me to have a cup of coffee with him.
“Joe, I need your help. I want to attract some top-shelf salespeople and I know that you know some of them personally and can help me meet them.”
I knew that if I met with him for coffee he was going to start selling me again on what he wished to build and how exciting it was all going to be. I knew I was going to get pitched again, but the guy was irresistible in his style, and he made me feel so important. So we met at a donut shop in Encino.
As we munched on the jelly donuts he asked me about which salespeople I knew that might consider making a move, but it didn’t take too long for him to start in on me personally again. He told me about the launch and who’d already joined the team. David O. launched into his vision again, describing in detail what the team would look like in a year and how important a roll I could play in all of it.
He was relentless in painting the picture…and putting me in it.
David asked me to join his new division at least three more times. I said, “No thanks,” but it was getting harder to turn him down.
That all led up to where I sat (and where David O. sat) that March day in 1982. I placed the phone down on the cradle and stared at him for a moment. He simply smiled at me, pointed at me with that stupid unlit Cuban, and said;
“Joe, I can’t start this thing without you. I can’t get this new division off the ground if I don’t have someone like you—somebody with your incredible talent. Hey, I know this great Vietnamese donut shop down the street.”
I know…this guy had stones, right, but what’s my point with this story? First and foremost, this guy let me know I was WANTED.
David O. made no secret of the fact that he wanted me on his team.
When you’re trying to recruit a high-level person, do you make it clear to them that they’re wanted and needed within your organization?
I also want to point out that David O. not only made me feel wanted and needed, he was also willing to take the time to tell a story, paint a picture of what he was going to build and what place I would play in that scenario.
When you’re talking with a prospective salesperson—one you really, really want, do you paint a compelling picture for them and then place them in that picture?
The other very obvious point of this story is that David O. wasn’t going to stop following up. He was going to keep calling me—shoot, he was going to keep showing up, until he got what he wanted.
Now to be fair, I never told him to “lose my number.” I liked the guy and he knew it. I just didn’t like the company he represented. He had at least two compelling reasons to continue following up with me: We liked each other and I was the prototypical guy he needed to start his new division.
He wasn’t going to stop following up until I disconected my phone number or entered a federal witness protection program.
Do you have a Lightning List? This is a list of your very top candidates—the ones you REALLY want to have on your team. The concept is that the people on that list are DESIRABLE candidates but they’re not completely AVAILABLE. So you continue to follow up with these top-shelf candidates until lightning hits the list, which happens about twice a year
(Note to self…write a blog on this specific subject…the Lightning List)
David O. was practicing the Lightning List concept on steroids. He was following up…he was willing to walk into my then current place of business and recruit me right out of it, directly in front of my current employer’s nose.
If you’re a recruiter of sales talent, are you doing these things?
• Making people feel wanted and needed
• Painting a BIG picture and placing them into it
• Following up often to remind them you want them on your team
I know…you’re swamped. You’ve got a lot to do. There is a lot on your plate. But if RECRUITING sales talent is part of your job, then you can’t afford NOT to engage in these critical practices.
Okay, so there is always the rest of the story with Joe B. You’re probably wondering if David O. was able to recruit me…get me to join his team.
What do you think happened?
Please SHARE this article with other sales professionals and sales leaders by using the social media buttons below.
Please leave a comment and tell me how you are going to apply this or if it was even helpful to you…I love your feedback!
If you are NOT a CAP Equation subscriber, please CLICK on the box below and access our free content. (It’s good stuff!)