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Liberty Life: Chris Oosthuisen

It’s a savvy manager who sets up a Liberty Life Agency and posts record sales the first year

Juliet Pitman

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Chris Oosthuisen of Liberty Life

Chris Oosthuisen is no stranger to taking on a challenge. The professional rugby player turned insurance salesman holds three business degrees, the latest of which is an MCom, where his thesis focused on the gap between what managers see as motivational and what salespeople really find motivational. He also single-handedly opened up Liberty Life’s first agency in Bloemfontein in January 2005 – just over a year later, in March 2006, he was awarded the insurance giant’s prestigious Gold Branch Manager of the Year award.

Achieving sales targets in such a short space of time after start-up requires loads of energy, hard-nosed business savvy and, most of all, a great sales team. The latter is something Oosthuisen knows a thing or two about – he followed a simple yet highly effective four-point strategy in handpicking the individuals who make up his winning team: recruit the right people; develop them; motivate them; and retain them. The first point is the most vital, according to Oosthuisen. Gathering the right people for the team is the first step to creating sales superstars. Training a salesperson takes time, energy and money – things you don’t want to waste on the wrong people. “I look for people who have entrepreneurial spirit, an internal locus of control, people who are enthusiastic and driven,” says Oosthuisen. He also looks for people who can handle rejection – “you have to develop a thick skin in sales.” From a developmental point of view, his approach is two-pronged. He ensures his team are technically well-versed in the products they sell and he focuses on the softer side of personal development. “Development of the person and development of product knowledge are like two legs – it doesn’t matter how fast one can run if the other can’t keep up,” he says.

Motivation is also high on his priorities list. Oosthuisen is looking to create what he calls “discretionary effort“ in his team; that little bit extra that people put in at their own discretion, when they are not asked to. “When people do this, they surpass ordinary standards and start achieving peak performance,” he says. He tries to get to know each team member personally in order to understand what drives them to succeed, so he knows where to focus his motivation. Finally, retaining staff means get-ting rid of “bad apples“ and creating positive experiences for those who remain. “I try to catch my staff doing something right instead of something wrong. And I try to give back to my team and their families to show them I appreciate their efforts,” he says. In the business that he’s built, Oosthuisen is a great believer in the importance of a company culture. “Building a team culture is so important,” he says. “It comes from the manager, from the top down, so I see the laying down of that culture as a very important part of my job.” Part of the culture he tries to instil is one of mutual support. “Sales is a tough job and you need the rest of the people in the office to lift you if you have a bad day,” he explains. “That’s also why you need to have the right people in your team who buy into the culture and who offer support and motivation to their colleagues.”

Oosthuisen believes that the key to being a good salesperson lies in one of his favourite quotes: “Successful people have a habit of doing what unsuccessful people don’t like to do.“ As he explains: “These are things like phoning leads, something no salesperson likes to do but is so necessary.” When questioned about his own success as a sales manager, his own ‘X factor’, Oosthuisen is philosophical: “I think being a good sales manager is more about people skills than technical knowledge,” he says. Other than that, he attributes his own success to hard work and getting the basics right. “You must prospect, pick up the phone and call people, you must see people as often as you can.” It’s a simple recipe, but it works.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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