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Finding good sales people

September 9, 2010

(Note: Updated 2/22/2015) My friends at Impact Hiring Solutions posted an article on their blog answering a question I hear a lot: “Why is it so hard to find great salespeople?” They are right it is hard, and I think we should listen to their solid understanding of how to properly hire a sales person. However, there is a trap waiting for you. It’s a pretty significant trap; and it’s this . . . .

Do you know what it takes to be successful in sales in THIS market or are you going to build your success factors based on past experience. Now, I’m not talking about setting the measurable goals part of this process. You know how to determine what the top line, bottom line and profit margins need to be. I’m talking about what makes a salesperson successful in the present economy. And if you follow the Impact Hiring Solutions guidelines, how will a person demonstrate that they have achieved the success factors in other companies and in this market?

Move up the sales ladder for success.

The new economy requires new sales skills.

Here’s what I’m thinking. There has been a significant shift in our economy. As I’ve stated several times elsewhere on this blog (Generosity and Authenticity), I think this shift is permanent for anything other than fully commodity products. If you have a “me too” product, you will still need to check many of the same boxes you had to check prior to the economic reset. In addition, you will have to learn some new tricks like advertising in the electronic media rather than the usual direct mail, etc. At least you will need to shift a significant portion of your advertising budget to the electronic media. Printed products may never go away completely, but they will be greatly diminished. You will have to work harder at building a brand that people trust with service that is irreproachable, even for the commodity product.

When it comes to high-end products and services, the game shifts all the way to the fourth rung on the ladder; trust-based selling. In my mind, that title is a misnomer because it isn’t really selling at all. The process is completely based on having the client’s best interests at heart, not just your own. To the topic at hand, your job as hiring manager looking to hire a “great salesperson” is to figure out how to build success factors that will attract the best and brightest trust-based salesperson. And one who can demonstrate that she/he has actually accomplished what you’re asking for in this market. And if they cannot so demonstrate, then the next best thing is to have them demonstrate that they have indeed mastered trust-based selling in the “old” market. You will have to extrapolate if that is the case.

Here’s what your sales team is up against today:

  • Nobody wants to be sold – on anything. When ready, they’ll buy, but not be sold.
  • Consumers and businesses are still saving not spending
  • Consumers and businesses are paying down debt, not adding debt
  • “Normal” advertising is much less effective (gone electronic, not print for the most part)
  • Salespeople are not necessary for many products – replaced by internet search, etc.
  • Excellent logistics is expected and “entry level” to play in the market
  • Excellent service is expected (or you’ll be trashed in the blog-o-sphere)

Okay, if you buy all that, then what are we supposed to do? In my opinion, we have to shift much more to the trust-based business model. That means long term relationships and that means making sure everyone in the organization has the client’s best interest at heart. Fundamentally, that is antithetical to the normal salesperson and to the usual commission based system we use to encourage sales. As long as any significant portion of my income is based on taking orders off the buyer’s desk, I will be focused on doing just that. Which means as a salesperson I will be focused on what is best for me and not what’s best for the customer/client. I will maximize short term gains rather than long term possibilities. There will be little or no trust.

I am convinced that business has changed permanently. If so, then what makes us think we can continue to use the same business model (including incentives, organizational structures, product development, etc.) even though the market has significantly changed? If we aren’t going to have the same goals, same incentive packages, same level of business, same customer/client expectations then what will the success factors look like for that “great salesperson”? Unless you have really done the hard work of rebuilding your business model and figuring out the new game, then hiring a “great salesperson” with skill for the old model is bound to fail.

The conclusion I draw is this: the folks at Impact Hiring Solutions are still correct in their process. What must change are our business models, our goals, our methods of achieving those goals and thus our success factors must also change. What is going to be very difficult is to find someone who can demonstrate that they have achieved the success factors with other companies while operating in this market – because this market is very likely what we will have for the foreseeable future. I am tempted to be a bit glib here and say, if you’re looking for a Great Salesperson, then you will fail. Consider hiring a Great Business Relationship person. Someone willing to work for the very long term, not simply the order on the buyer’s desk (if there even is an order on the desk). Find someone who wants the whole team to be successful, not someone who is a superstar, individual contributor. Then incentivize your whole team to be sure they are moving the organization forward: top line, bottom line, profit dollars, retained clients, new clients, productivity improvement, process improvement, etc.