A large organisation with a substantial sales force will inevitably
have some stars, some losers and some ordinary middle of the road salespeople
in their sales team. Hopefully the stars make up for the poor performers and the
overall target is achieved. A small or medium business with one, or at best a
few salespeople does not have the same advantage – sales winners are scarce and
frequently poached, sales losers and very ordinary salespeople are much more
common, so the small business are less likely to meet targets.
Finding and keeping the right salespeople has always been a
challenge, and is even more difficult when the economic conditions reduce
business opportunities. In boom times even mediocre salespeople will appear to
be much better, but when business is tight good salespeople are needed – but
where to find such diamonds? And having found them how do you keep them
motivated and loyal?
Most small businesses start with the entrepreneur being the
salesperson – as he or she is also the production chief, financial manager and
everything else. Although they will often say they are useless at selling the
opposite is often the case – business owners are often very good at selling.
They have drive, passion, very deep product knowledge, commitment to delivery,
the ability to address customer needs, good negotiation skills, determination
to make sales and a high work ethic. This is a great list of attributes for an
ideal salesperson. By comparison the qualities of smooth talk, slick closing
techniques, good presentation skills and all the other skills popularly called
‘the gift of the gab’ are insignificant. But at some stage the demands of
running the business prohibit the entrepreneur from getting to see customers as
often as before. The business then decides to find a salesperson or two – and that proves more difficult than expected.
To ensure that this salesperson adopts those desirable sales
qualities of the business owner, the entrepreneur needs to start with their own
attitude. If the salesperson will be regarded as a necessary evil, or a person
whose main attribute is to tell lies with a straight face then that is the kind
of salesperson they will attract. If on the other hand they regard a
salesperson as a respected key link to customers, a different type of salesperson
is likely to get the job. Have another look at the qualities the entrepreneur
displayed when selling, and then recruit those who have or can grow into those
attributes. Such a salesperson will engender respect for a professional and
will usually carry an aura of self confidence.
Now where to find such people? This brings up the question
of whether salespeople are born or made. All of us have our own beliefs on this
question, but there is almost certainly an underlying desire to be self
managing, and a drive for visible success behind most salespeople. If this is
so the entrepreneur must provide an environment where these drives can be
nurtured in the service of the business.
The company can recruit established salespeople or train
them from a junior status or from other disciplines. To recruit established
salespeople employment agencies, direct advertising, referral from associates
and head hunting could be used. All have their pros and cons but the key to
making any of them work is once again to refer to the desired attributes and
qualities and screen on that basis. The entrepreneur should not blindly accept
the contents of CVs or the recommendations of agencies. The agencies do not
know what it is like to sell in this company’s environment, and CVs can lie.
Two key facts which must be established are whether the prospective salespeople
has been personally responsible for sales success (as opposed to being an
advisor or order taker), and what their aspirations are. Salespeople who use a
sales position as a stepping stone to greater things can be very effective, but
if the business cannot offer them a career path they will move on at the peak
of their success.
Many applicants will respond to an advertised sales position
simply to get a job, or a better job. Screen such applicant out – a sales career
is not just another job, they are likely to be poor performers and will leave
as soon as something more attractive comes along.
If the business chooses to train people from other
disciplines it is usually easy to find candidates, but the entrepreneur must
exercise care. There will be technicians and office workers who want to become
salespeople because they see the glamour and financial rewards but not the
risks that salespeople face. Sales can be a lonely, difficult, risky and poorly
understood job, as well as a glamorous high earning one with lots of freedom.
Aspirant salespeople need to understand this. For trainees of all levels of
seniority the company must provide highly professional sales training with
follow up and mentorship as the new trainee gets established.
Two final tips: firstly work out what the company’s reaction
will be to less than satisfactory sales before employing anyone. That way there
will be a plan to assist, motivate, discipline or develop skills, not just dark
threats on bad days. Secondly remember the power of the incentive. All sales
managers will be familiar with the hunger for the holiday prize which the top
salespeople could easily afford on their successful earnings, but which means
so much more as an earned incentive. Incentives do not need to be expensive. A
company I visited had two prime parking spots reserved at the front door –
customer and salesperson of the month!
Have you thought
of any interesting ways to find and keep great salespeople? Or experienced a
problem with a revolving door of failed sales staff? Please leave a comment.
©copyright Ed Hatton. All rights reserved. You may
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