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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast, sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales featured an interview with Dan Bonner, CVice President of Sales – Debt Resolution at JG Wentworth. JG Wentworth is a 2022 IES Premier Sales Employer. Read more about the distinguished Premier Sales Employer designation here.]
Find Dan on LinkedIn.
DAN’S TIP: “Invest in yourself. Pick one area of your life that you want to get better today, invest 20 minutes per day, and make it better. I think ongoing education’s a must for sales professionals. If you don’t like to read in the morning or before bed, watch a video, listen to podcasts, you’ve got some great ones, on your commute. That 20 minutes per day turns into 10 hours per month and five days a year that you can devote to bettering yourself. It’s just time well spent and it’s going to separate you from the amateurs over time.”
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Fred Diamond: I want to recognize that JG Wentworth is an IES Premier Sales Employer, and it’s actually the third time we announce our 2022 Premier Sales Employers in June of this year. This is the third time that JG Wentworth was recognized. What does it mean to be recognized? What does JG Wentworth specifically do to have been recognized as a Premier Sales Employer?
Dan Bonner: Thank you, Fred. Honored to receive any award, really, but especially from the IES. Ton of respect for what you do, the value your organization brings to the sales community. I’ve attended in-person, online events over the years and always found great value in them. Having JG Wentworth awarded again, a powerful recruiting tool for us. It’s always nice to have some external recognition for the hard work our sales management, and especially our learning and development team is putting in throughout the year. But where we come from or where, hopefully, we earned the award was, first and foremost, JGW is a sales centric organization. Top to bottom, we look at there’s a sales team, and then there’s everyone else that supports sales. You and I both know, unfortunately that’s not the case in every organization. Our name brand recognition, 30 years of TV commercials, attracts solid candidates for us, but it’s the culture of continual learning and a passion for growth is what keeps us here and working to be the best.
Fred Diamond: In the early part of my career, I was a marketing professional with Apple Computer. I came to the conclusion relatively quickly that my job was to make it easier for the salespeople to sell. Everybody’s job in the company, it doesn’t matter what you do, if you’re in logistics, operations, accounting, you need to make everything easier for the sales process to happen. It might be something as simple as making sure it’s easy to work with your company for things like billing, and payments, and tax, and whatever it might be. Give us a little bit of an idea, before we continue, on what JG Wentworth does. Not everybody knows. You mentioned the TV commercials for 30 some odd years, but give us a little bit of an insight into what the sales professionals do at your company and what your company brings to the market.
Dan Bonner: It is funny because we have such an iconic name. Everyone knows the jingle, very few people know what we do. We have two major product lines. One is people that win the lottery, they have annuities, accident settlements over time, where they have payments coming in residually over time. We get them a lump sum of now for those illiquid payments. The second part is what I’ve transitioned to over the last year, is debt resolution, where we actually help consumers that have built up unsecured debt over time. They’ll enroll those accounts with us and we’ll work to get the accounts resolved down to a lesser amount so it’s a win-win for everyone across the board.
Fred Diamond: What do you like about it? You’ve been there for a while. I know, of course, you’re with Stone Street, which has won a couple of IES awards, and of course, they were acquired by JG. What do you like about this? This is what your career is. Give us some insights into to have your passion and energy as a successful sales professional, you have to love what you’re doing. Give us some insights into that, Dan Bonner.
Dan Bonner: Every day, walking off the elevator, I’m learning something new. What I come to work for is obviously we talk about continual learning all the time. It’s something we’ll talk about a lot during the podcast, but every day I’m learning something new, and not just from people above me. We have great mentors here, Gary Milwit you mentioned as being one of them, but even brand new sales reps. I get a lot of energy from the new people and just trying to work with them every day. That’s really what keeps me going, is the people that we work with.
Fred Diamond: What makes it attractive for sales professionals? You said you’re using the Premier Sales Employer designation as a recruiting tool, as it should be. Why would somebody consider working at JG Wentworth in sales?
Dan Bonner: Well, I think nothing’s changed as far as everyone’s looking for a good opportunity. Wentworth, with those different product lines we talked about, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace for consumers and we’re a great place for consumers to go. We’re seeing great growth within that debt resolution business, 300% growth year over year, which is just fantastic. You don’t get that everywhere. Then we are the undisputed industry leader on the other side of the fence. If you’re looking for a place that’s solid and just has a good foundation going into the next several years, Wentworth’s a good safe harbor for sales professionals.
Fred Diamond: What would it take? What would a good sales professional for your company look like? What type of skills, what type of characteristics? Looking over the years of the great salespeople who’ve been there, and you’ve had a lot of great ones, but what are some of the common things that make them successful for what you do?
Dan Bonner: Common characteristics of everyone is they’re great listeners. There’s people that sound fantastic on the phone. They have radio voices. Mine’s a little high pitch. It’s not the best. However, great listeners can overcome all that. It’s overlooked. Whether you’ve been in sales for 5, 10, 20, 25 years, it’s really an overlooked quality.
Fred Diamond: Talk about that for a little bit. Prior to the pandemic, we used to do every show, I would do it in person. I would go to the sales VP’s office and bring my mics and do the interview. I would ask that question, what is one of your great characteristics? Three out of four times the guests would say, “I’m a great listener.” What does that mean? Tell us, how do you train the people to be great listeners? It’s easy to say, “You got to be a great listener.” Well, tell us some things, Dan, that you work with the salespeople to get them to become truly great listeners, and how does that happen?
Dan Bonner: I think as we’re selling a product or learning about a product, especially for newer reps, we get so excited to tell everyone about every product feature, benefit, and everything that could be, without truly understanding what the person’s looking for. If you don’t understand what a person wants, what they need or under what conditions they’re going to buy your product, everything you’re saying is just white noise, and it really doesn’t matter to the person. You got to ask those questions and then patiently wait for them to answer them in full. We literally tell people to bite the inside of their cheek. If they feel like they want to talk, just bite the inside of your cheek for just a second. Just that pause creates enough space where someone’s really going to go in depth on their answer instead of just giving you a one-worder.
Fred Diamond: I actually have a little post-it note next to my desk. It says, “WAIT. Why Am I Talking?” We’ve used that one so many times. A lot of times they say they’re a great listener, but in reality, they’re just waiting for their opportunity to talk. I love what you just said, give the customer the opportunity. Bite your cheek if it’s necessary so that you’re not saying anything is always so much more valuable. How are things going in sales right now? Again, we’re doing today’s interview in the summer of 2022. Again, JG Wentworth was just recognized as an IES Premier Sales Employer. We’re definitely not in lockdown anymore, but not everyone’s gone back to the office yet. The world is still in constant flux because of everything over the last two and a half years. How are things going in sales right now, do you think, Dan Bonner?
Dan Bonner: Well, it’s a different environment. We’ve seen that 2020, organizations that never dreamed of being remote, JG Wentworth being one of them, were forced to be fully remote overnight. Now it’s trying to find the balance over time. Internally, our organization, I have about 120 sales reps, I would say one third are here in the office full-time, because that’s what they like. That’s what they enjoy. Those same people have the option to be hybrid. Another one third will be a hybrid. Then the other area where we’ve grown is remote. Within that debt resolution field, we have debt specialists that are all across the country working all different kinds of hours for us. It’s been nice to see. We’ve gotten a lot of growth from being able to bring in professionals from other areas like that that we normally wouldn’t have if we were just brick and mortar. It’s rubbed off well on the people here.
A good example I like to bring up when we’re talking about remote work, one of our best reps, she’s out of Texas, would not want to do a 9:00 to 6:00 job. That just wasn’t for her. She works, I want to say 1:00 to 10:00 Eastern Time every day. She likes to take the time in the morning to help her grandkids out, all that good stuff. Then she gets in and she likes to work the late shift. People have seen her success. I have people here asking to work 1:00 to 10:00 at night, which we never would’ve dreamed of staffing voluntarily before. That’s really, again, helped. We’ve seen growth on those off peak hours that we just never would’ve had if we weren’t open to being remote like that.
Fred Diamond: As an employer, one thing we talk a lot about, Dan Bonner, is the fact that the employee now in a lot of ways has more, for lack of a better word, power, in being able to say, “I want to work from 1:00 to 10:00,” where prior to the pandemic, the answer was probably going to be, “No, we need everybody from 9:00 to 5:00,” whatever it might be. How have you guys adjusted to that? Is it, “Since we see success, are we looking to implement that across the board, or move into more of a flexible schedule”? I’m just curious what the mentality is from the employer here.
Dan Bonner: When we talk about flex schedule and flexibility, that really is the key. You can get some really good talent that, again, they’re going to give you 40 hours a week. It might not be the traditional factory 9:00 to 6:00 40 hours, but they’ll give you a good solid 40 hours a week. As long as the production’s there, I don’t care when it happens.
Fred Diamond: That’s the great thing about sales, is at the end of the day, we talk about excellence, and performance, and skills. At the end of the day, are you performing? It’s great to see that companies are now being more flexible in how that performance happens. I’m curious, one of the reasons why we created the Premier Sales Employer, of course, was to present companies as great places to work, because salespeople are always looking for the right place to go to at the right time. But we also produced it as well for the sales professional who’s looking for their next opportunity, or maybe wants to make a change, or is in position to move into something different. What do you find that salespeople, Dan Bonner, are now looking for?
Dan Bonner: I think we hit on a few of those. It’s the flexibility of being able to sell when they want to sell. It’s also the opportunity to learn, continual development. Here at Wentworth, we devote at least two hours just straight up formal coaching each month per person, on top of the ad hoc coaching that happens each day, and things like that. Then the last thing is stability. There’s so much instability in the marketplace right now. Companies that you thought were fairly strong and really attractive, all of a sudden they’re unfortunately laying off hundreds of employees. Interest rates and everything going on in the market, it’s crazy times right now. I think those three things, good, stable foundation, opportunity to learn and grow, along with that growth opportunity that comes from income. Then the flexibility to do it when we want to do it and how we want to do it.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about leadership. The companies that have received the IES Premier Sales Employer designation, they all have great leaders, and not just at the top, but at the various mid-levels as well. Talk a little bit about what the leaders at a Premier Sales Employer look like. What are some things they’re concerned about? What are some of the things that they do? Again, like you just said before, we’re in an interesting time right now. There’s a lot of change all over the place, for a whole bunch of reasons that we’re all aware of. What does a leader look like today and how do they maintain that essence of leadership?
Dan Bonner: I think here we have the best leaders in the business, outside of myself. Our senior leadership team, it’s just highly supportive. They make sure the sales team has everything that it needs. That runs from, again, C-level down to VP. We’re here to support and help our reps grow, and managers and directors thrive for quality. I think that across the board at Wentworth, we have, and you talked on it, is excellence. You always want to drive the numbers up. You always want to be the best you can be at whatever it is that you’re trying to do. Integrity. Everyone here is just completely transparent. We do the right things when no one else is watching. It’s a big part of what we do and how we keep the brand name safe.
Humility. Again, knowing that I’ve been doing this 20 years, I’m coming off the elevator, I’m still looking to learn something new today. Just knowing that you’re not necessarily the best, there’s always room to grow. Then grit. It’s that grind, it’s that day-to-day. We see it with our executive team, they’re very hands-on, roll their sleeves up. Gary being one of them, is the head of our training and development staff. Gary’s got 25, 30 years of just lock-solid sales knowledge. He’s literally sitting down on calls every day with our guys, because, again, we have multiple offices, remote locations, and just investing time in coaching and getting these guys better. It’s great to see all around.
Fred Diamond: What do you see as some of the challenges remaining Premier? Again, you’ve mentioned a couple times that we’re in a challenging situation. We see this all the time, sales organizations are in flux. A lot of companies are dealing with the challenges of, “How much hybrid do we do? How much remote do we do? Do we want everybody in the office?” People are struggling with that. Even some of the top-notch sales organizations. I had a conversation with the VP of sales at one of the most formidable high tech companies in the history of high tech, and they said that their big challenge right now is how do we position our sales organization for the next 18, 24 months? Because things have changed so much up and down the ranks, not just with the senior people, but with many junior people as well. What do you think some of the bigger challenges are going to be to help JG Wentworth remain Premier?
Dan Bonner: I think a big part of that is people always worry about, again, we talked about external factors and things like that. We’ll figure out the whole remote work staff and things like that. It’s tough, but you can work through that. One of our biggest challenges is always internal, and I always say, “Our biggest competition is ourselves.” It’s really looking at ourselves, looking to get feedback from our employees and see, “What are we doing and where do we need to improve?” Then setting specific process goals to get to those areas. If we’re lacking in a certain area, let’s identify it, let’s change it, and let’s keep improving internally.
Fred Diamond: Before I ask you for your final action step, how would you describe the environment of JG Wentworth? Of course, you do a lot of TV ads, on one side of the fence, your company is the standard for the settlements and things like that. Is it just a constant, a fast-paced type environment nonstop, and how is the sales process? Is it a one call type of a thing or is it the kind of thing where it might take a year to get someone to become a customer? Or is it someone sees an ad, calls you and then boom, within 10 minutes they’re customers?
Dan Bonner: Well, that’s where we have something for everyone. If you’re a relationship builder and you like that bigger deal that takes a longer time, we have a lottery division that deals with very high dollar amounts, very low number of potential customers. Next step up would be our annuity business. That process probably takes anywhere between four to six months where you’re working with a customer, multiple customers at a time, but it takes a little longer to get through the process. Then our debt resolution business. Holy moly, about 120 sales reps, we see about 50,000 leads a month. We’re getting through 50,000 leads. About 25% or so is one call close, but most closes within that week. Then just very high volume, 50, 60, 70 customers per month that we’re enrolling per rep. A lot of fun there.
Fred Diamond: Is most of your stuff inbound, where people call you for one of those three options, or is there any outbound in your business, or not really?
Dan Bonner: There’s always outbound in that. We can’t just dial through the phone book and find a lottery winner or anything like that. It’s all driven inbound and we spend a lot of money in marketing. Obviously, you guys see the brand and everything else. But a big part of what we do and that grit aspect of it is just getting back in front of the customers. It’s a mix of both, but primarily inbound, I’d say about 90%.
Fred Diamond: If it’s mostly inbound, of course, is the primary mechanism phone conversations? Do you also do things like emails, and text, and those kinds of things, or is it pretty much training your people to engage in the right type of conversation? We talked about the ability to listen. Is that pretty much the standard, it’s basically interaction via the phone when the customer calls in or what?
Dan Bonner: No, we want to take a multi-channel approach. We’re cognizant that our customers, some prefer to talk over text, some prefer emails, some prefer phone. As a salesperson, I will always favor over the phone, the voice connection, and that’s where you can do the great listening and everything else. But we’ll engage customers via text. We’ll engage them via email. Then ultimately hope to have that good, solid conversation with them over the phone.
Fred Diamond: Dan, again, congratulations to JG Wentworth, congratulations to you for leading the teams and having such a great reputation out there in the sales organization. We’ve known each other for a number of years. You’re definitely a professional and good for you for all your success as well. Give us one final action step. You’ve given us a lot of great ideas, but give us one specific thing that you think sales professionals should do right now after listening to today’s show to take their sales career to the next level.
Dan Bonner: Invest in yourself. Pick one area of your life that you want to get better today, invest 20 minutes per day, and make it better. I think ongoing education’s a must for sales professionals. If you don’t like to read in the morning or before bed, watch a video, listen to podcasts, you’ve got some great ones, on your commute. That 20 minutes per day turns into 10 hours per month and five days a year that you can devote to bettering yourself. It’s just time well spent and it’s going to separate you from the amateurs over time.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo