Ask Mike: How to Recruit Salespeople

Posted by | October 25, 2012 | Ask Mike, People, Podcasts, Sales | No Comments

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Recruiting staff for a business can be a double-edged sword. The success that has led to your recruitment need is tempered by the fear of having to let go, along with the unfamiliar challenge of getting the right person. When this new recruit is a salesperson, the “wide boys in even wider ties” stereotype springs to mind, making the whole process even more daunting. After all, it is their job to make a great impression; so they are going to tell you what you want to hear, soften you up and then negotiate hard over the contract.

Do not be disheartened. In some respects, recruiting a salesperson should be the one of the more straightforward appointments you will ever make, as you already know what kind of person you are looking for: someone that you like and your customers will like. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes: product knowledge, charisma, appearance and great time-management are the sorts of skills you should seek out.

Also, it is easy to measure the performance of salespeople. Either they bring in the bacon (in which case you keep them on); or they do not… in which case you must give them short shrift.

Even so, particularly for new businesses, you want to make the right appointment, first time. There is lots of advice out there on how to spot a good salesperson, but be wary of falling for the stereotypes.  Simply looking for someone who is ‘hungry’ and ‘results-driven’ completely ignores the specific requirements of your business and customers. In our book, “Sales on a Beermat”, I divide salespeople into three categories:

  • The Hunter – Charismatic, confident and great talkers, these are the phone-burners and shoe-leather stompers who develop new business.
  • The Farmer – Helpful, accommodating and not too overbearing – these are the people who develop longer-term relationships and encourage repeat business; they are often called Account Managers.
  • The Sales Manager – Process-driven, logical and analytical, this is the person who analyses spreadsheets, measures the progress of a sales team and spots opportunities and problems early.

It is likely that you will recruit these types in descending order from the top; and at progressively later stages of the growth of your business. The hunter will bring in clients for the farmer to develop and build a relationship with; and eventually, between the two of them, you will hopefully have enough business to warrant a sales manager. Whichever you are recruiting, no one is better placed than you to make that decision.

The hunter and farmer especially are representing you and your business to your customers, so trust your own gut instincts. Ask yourself:

  • Who do you instinctively like?
  • How do you like to be sold to? How would you like your service to be sold to you?
  • What sales techniques for you?
  • And, since when you started out you probably did all the sales, what skills have you learned that you want to see in your potential candidates

Once you have considered these questions, you will be well prepared to interview them – rather than the other way round.

Incidentally, one typical mistake for entrepreneurs when interviewing candidates is to spend a whole hour doing the talking. You are, after all, used to preaching about how wonderful your business is. You must resist this temptation: hold back, open your ears, and let the candidate explain clearly how they intend to sell on your behalf.

Avoid ‘typical’ questions; good salespeople are prepared and will have a stock of rehearsed answers that will give you little true insight. Base your questions firmly on your exact business needs, and dig deep in order to discover the extent of their existing customer network, their motivations and drivers, and personal situation.

A salesperson’s commercial network, if suitable, can deliver a ready-made, receptive client base for your business; this low-hanging fruit offers a low cost of sale and a quick source of new business leads. Knowing their motivations, meanwhile, will help establish which type of salesperson they are and whether they are likely to fit in with your business. You will spend many hours in the trenches with your salesperson, so there needs to be a good cultural match. You will also need a self-starter, so make it clear that they will need to hit the ground running; if you encounter candidates who need full-time mentoring, move on.

If all goes well, you will move to pay negotiations (they are salespeople after all). Deciding how much you should offer is down to the market rate, what you can realistically afford and what they are truly worth to your business.

More important, though, is decidinghowyou will pay them.

Salespeople deal with the blunt end of the business. They cannot hide from customer complaints as other staff often can. However, a culture in which salespeople earn wild commissions but other members of staff have no incentive to exceed expectations is often counterproductive.

I am particularly wary of commission-only sales contracts. These look low-risk; and suggest that the salesperson will be massively incentivised to work. In my experience, the risks are actually far higher. It encourages a mercenary culture which serves to breed resentment; a hit and run mentality which completely ignores any long term goals and eventually alienates your clients too. It often leads to sales staff bringing in deals with no thought as to how the rest of the company will physically deliver the service.

I therefore advise extending incentives to all of your employees. Incentivising all staff based on the business’ overall performance gives everyone a shared goal; encouraging team spirit, a positive atmosphere, and mutual consideration for clients and one another.

A base-plus-commission structure certainly gets my vote. It offers stability and encourages loyalty. You are implicitly acknowledging your salesperson’s administrative duties and long term strategic input as well as their tireless search for opportunity.

The final question I often get asked is the ideal length of a probationary period. This really does depend on the nature of your business, but generally runs from one to three months. So long as you make your expectations clear from the outset and agree upon specific goals, the exact period is of less importance.

Your salesperson is going to be the “new you”: the face of your growing business. While you need to find the most competent person for the job, ideally with the network, wage expectations and motivations to match, do not lose sight of the most important, and often least emphasised factor. You are looking for someone who accurately conveys the heart and soul the business; and that is something which money can’t buy.

About Mike Southon

Mike Southon is a serially successful entrepreneur, best-selling business author, mentor and one of the world’s top business speakers on entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and sales.

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