Written by Ken Kanady, as originally published in The Reverse Review.

Most leaders of reverse organizations must answer this question routinely. To train or not to train is an important question, but not as important as the answer or process used to reach it. While “training” is often a quick, comfortable path to improve sales competencies, it is often the wrong path. (Note: For the purpose of this article, “training” refers to classroom-based, instructor-led interventions only.) Just by being performance-oriented and using a simple information-gathering process before making training investments, reverse leaders can reach higher-quality decisions, reduce time out of the field by loan officers, and lessen (and even avoid) incremental training costs.

The very first thing reverse leaders should do is abandon the word “training” and start focusing on the word “performance” – the accomplishment of a given task in a way that adds value to the organization. Training is an important yet optional activity useful in the facilitation of learning and improving performance. It is a means to an end. On the other hand, performance is a desired result or outcome worthy of continual pursuit. Reverse leaders are naturally results/outcome-oriented, so making such a mental transition should be quick and comfortable.

The next thing to do is to develop a customized (unique to the reverse organization) and personalized (based on well-identified individuals/teams) process that serves as the front-end steps to be used before making performance improvement or training investment decisions. There are many sophisticated, tested, refined methods to discover causes and solutions to performance problems, but the most simple process sometimes can help the most. A five-step approach outlined in this article is one such simple, yet powerful, process. It can help reverse leaders develop a disciplined, systematic way of addressing loan officer performance problems and/or training needs.

Once a performance problem is validated as being “human” in nature (a competency-based need versus a problem requiring a business, technical, organizational or operational intervention), the following five steps can help make a difference achieving positive outcomes in a more efficient, timely manner:

Step 1 Identify the ideal sales competencies needed to excel as a reverse loan officer:
This is usually done by reviewing the organization’s formal sales competency model for reverse loan officers. This standard identifies the most vital skills, knowledge and values needed by reverse loan officers based on the organization’s unique goals, strategies, metrics, and sales culture. Such a model is usually created through input from top sales performers, industry benchmarks, best practice comparisons, managerial interviews, and/or direct customer feedback. In short, ask, “What do ideal sales performance competencies look and feel like?” Write it down. (Note: If such a model is nonexistent, reverse sales leaders should have it developed and maintained over the long term – it will change!)

Step 2 Identify state-of-the-art competencies actually possessed and applied by reverse loan officers:
This is an objective assessment of current sales skills, knowledge and values as actually practiced/applied by reverse loan officers. Such an inventory is usually developed via loan officer interviews, customer satisfaction surveys, third-party feedback, performance reviews and live observation in the field. In short, ask, “Is our current state or condition of revere sales competencies good or bad?”

Step 3 Identify the gap in reverse sales competencies:
The primary outcome of this step is the creation of a very specific deficiency list (competencies needing development, change or improvement to any degree). In short, ask, “What are we missing, where are the deficiencies and who needs development?”

Step 4 Identify the root cause(s) of each deficiency or missing competency:
Explore all the factors that could be influencing each deficiency, such as obsolete technology, outdated information, lack of personal motivation, misunderstanding of facts, wrong application of skills, tainted values, negative attitudes, wrong sales strategy, antiquated training tools or methods, lack of field support, poor managerial coaching, strengths of competition, absence of timely feedback, or ineffective managerial or corporate communication. In short, say, “Let’s identify the real issues before investing in anything … including training!”

Step 5 Select the best interventions to eliminate human deficiencies and improve performance:
Based on output from prior steps, select the most appropriate, cost-effective business, organizational, technical or human solution. Sample interventions include new sales incentives or metrics, improving communication, simplifying technology, modifying sales strategies, strengthening partnerships, developing job aids, initiating practice/coaching sessions, creating individual development plans, and/or conducting training. Regardless of alternatives chosen, an ongoing tracking/assessment process should also be established to monitor progress and change. If not, corrected deficiencies may reappear. In short, ask “How can we preserve what works, discard what doesn’t, and fix what needs improvement?”

Real-world Reverse Case Study:
A reverse mortgage company, headquartered in the Northeast, conducted a formal “sales competency analysis” utilizing a basic process similar to the steps above. It was critical because the needs of their reverse loan officers were changing quickly. They realized their loan officers had to become more proactive in staying ahead of all areas of change taking place throughout the reverse industry, including federal regulations and state

scrutiny, reverse loan administration procedures, social media, internal systems/technologies, intense competition and the changing demographics of seniors.

Additionally, their organization did not have a formal reverse-specific sales competency model in place at all. They could not even begin basic benchmarking of sales strengths and weaknesses. Most important, they had begun experiencing a decline in customer satisfaction scores and a drop-off of quality third-party party referral sources. Hence, the development of their own front-end process was primarily driven by these two key business imperatives: improving customer satisfaction and strengthening reverse-specific referral relationships.

As a result, their management team, in conjunction with a human resources staff member, developed and conducted a basic front-end analysis (specifically targeting 17 reverse loan officers and two sales managers) across the Northeast region. This process yielded the identification of 133 reverse-specific sales competencies vital in direct engagements with seniors and/or their advisors (e.g., financial planners, attorneys, Realtors, bankers … potential third-party referral sources).

This list was then divided into two groupings:
ONE “strengths”: well-developed sales competencies that were professionally, consistently applied; and TWO “deficiencies”: underdeveloped, nonexistent sales competencies needing performance triage.

Of these 133, 26 competencies and capabilities were classified as deficient. They ranged in scope from basic mental/cognitive inabilities (lack of understanding or knowledge) to highly complex skill/behavior shortcomings (lack of know-how).

The letter “T” was placed next to deficiencies requiring a “Training” intervention (classroom-based, instructor-led). The letter “O” indicated other types of interventions that may be more appropriate to improve the deficient competency.

By reviewing the following list of reverse-specific sales deficiencies, reverse leaders can quickly develop an appreciation for the potential benefits of taking more disciplined approaches in assessing sales competencies, training needs, and/or types of performance improvement strategies (including whether to train or not to train).

O 1. Understand the importance of the “secondary market” for reverse and how it works
T 2. Know how to more effectively convey “reverse counseling” benefits to seniors
O 3. Understand all the new rules of the road regarding reverse compliance, especially advertising
T 4. Know how to articulate customized reverse “value propositions” to advisors of seniors
O 5. Understand “cross selling” prohibition regarding reverse mortgages
T 6. Know how to effectively convey “non-borrowing spouse” implications to seniors
O 7. Understand when not to take a reverse application from a senior
O 8. Understand the No. 1 myth behind making telephone “cold calls” to financial planners
O 9. Know how to recognize potential senior “impairment or abuse” during reverse engagements
O 10. Understand how and when to explain alternatives of reverse mortgages to seniors
O 11. Know how to effectively engage adult children of seniors during reverse engagements
T 12. Know how to conduct a “team presentation” with Realtors
T 13. Know how to explain the difference between the initial and expected interest rates
T 14. Know how to concisely explain the difference between a T.A.L.C. and A.P.R.
O 15. Know how to effectively convey annuities in the context of reverse mortgages
O 16. Know how to resolve outstanding conditions during reverse application and closing processes
T 17. Know how to convey personal and industry credibility (not only reverse “product” credibilit
O 18. Understand when to show both sides (vs. one side) of controversial reverse issues
O 19. Understand when to lead with the weakest (vs. strongest) points during reverse presentations
O 20. Understand when to draw conclusions for seniors about reverse mortgages
T 21. Understand the four cultural factors that need to be addressed when presenting to highly diverse audiences
O 22. Understand when to use humor with seniors
T 23. Know how to ethically avoid disparagement when discussing reverse competitors with seniors
T 24. Know how to assess a senior’s attitude (vs. understanding) during reverse engagements
O 25. Know how to overcome call reluctance before making cold calls to insurance agents
O 26. Understand when not to sell a reverse mortgage and how to effectively convey it to seniors

Note: At first glance, each of the 26 deficient competencies could easily have been addressed via formal classroom training. But in this case, this reverse management team determined only 42 percent (or 10 of 26) warranted formal training interventions.

Most of these “T” competencies share two key commonalities:
ONE A skill/behavior-based deficiency, and
TWO A higher degree of dialogue and interaction needed in mastering complex concepts.

Each of the “O” deficient competencies (16) did not warrant training but were addressed by other types of learning interventions, including information job aids, conference call discussions, field coaching, webinars, and online self-tutorials.

As a result of this basic, up-front competency analysis, time out of the field by reverse loan officers was minimized, and direct training costs were significantly reduced or avoided altogether.

Most important, sales performance improvement in customer satisfaction and third-party referral sources were directly impacted, measured, and tracked over the long term.

In conclusion, training is a very effective learning intervention that can directly improve human performance if aligned with appropriate performance deficiencies. But training is not a silver bullet. Determining whether to train or not to train can be a much easier, more productive task that yields higher-quality performance and positive business results simply by investing a little time earlier in the training decision process.