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The Best Sales People Aren't Necessarily The Right Ones For Your Company

Mar 24, 2008
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of CEOs about their sales recruitment needs. To make a point, I mentioned to them that my friend, Willie McMoney, had heard that I was speaking to this group and asked that I mention he was looking for a new sales home. I shared Willie's background with the group: Willie has a Bachelor's Degree from a well-respected institution, has a great look, has been selling for over ten years for household name companies that offer low-price products, and has exceeded quota each of the last three years. That being said, I asked the group who wanted to hire Willie. Most raised their hands in earnest.

I shared with the group that there were a few more details to discuss before a decision could be finalized. The information to consider was the profile of their company, which included the following attributes: they were a start-up with no name recognition in the marketplace, positioned as a high value/high price provider, and required customization for each client. I asked the group again about hiring Willie. The light bulbs started turning on. They began to recognize that finding a great salesperson is not a one-dimensional exercise; rather, it requires that the company look within to determine the necessary skills and attributes for someone to be a great salesperson in their environment. The term "great" is the issue here. Willie is a great salesperson and he has the credentials to prove it, but the question is: will Willie succeed in your company?

Consider this: companies spend thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, defining their ideal client. They hire firms to help them analyze their approach and identify the audience, as well as how to reach them. When I asked this group to share with me the attributes of their ideal client, I felt like a game show host. The group came to life and was shouting out answers non-stop. I strategically interrupted them and asked them to share with me the attributes of their ideal sales person. After hearing the deafening sound of crickets chirping, I shared what I often heard as attributes of this ideal: someone who is very strategic, solution-oriented, sells on value, experienced, and a strong seller. The group sighed in relief as they thought I had let them off the hook. Not so fast! I asked them how they can hire talent to match that scope. How can recruiters translate that criteria into a project whereby they can laser-focus their approach and produce the right candidates? The relief disappeared from the room and was replaced by angst.

Hiring sales people is the business equivalent of formulating a marriage, a sales marriage, that is. Appearance may be enough to initiate the relationship, but without deep commonality of needs and values, the future of the marriage is bleak. Why does that matter? The expense of sales turnover is truly immeasurable. Sure, you can measure cost of turnover, recruitment, and training but how do you place a value on the damage caused by sending the salesperson of the day into the same accounts over and over again? "Hi, I'm Ben this week's salesperson representing Widgets We Make. I'm here to help with your needs."

The way for employers to avoid this peril is to develop a profile of their ideal salesperson. This profile requires the executive team to collaborate and be truly honest about the interworkings of the company in order to produce an effective exercise. The profile includes three primary components: product characteristics, buying process, and organizational attributes.

1. Product Characteristics
a. What is the nature of the product(s) being sold? Is it tangible, abstract, or concrete?
b. What is the nature of the buying relationship? Is it a one-time, transaction sale or a repetitive, complex one?
c. Is the product a component of something broader (niche) or is it a comprehensive solution?
d. How recognizable is the product and company in the marketplace of your buyers?
e. In contrast to the competition, where is the product priced?

2. Buying Process
a. What are the expectations of the salesperson with respect to prospecting? Are you generating leads or are they expected to self-generate them?
b. How long is the buying process?
c. Is the product "off the shelf" or does it require the salesperson to creatively build a solution?
d. At what level is the purchasing decision made? Who are the other buying players that influence the purchasing decision?
e. What sales support is available for the salespeople? Is the salesperson required to go from end to end or is the salesperson only required to handle certain parts of the process?

3. Organizational Attributes
a. How flexible does someone need to be to survive in your environment? Think in terms of how often the organizational structure changes the compensation, and/or the territory.
b. What is the sales management approach? Is the sales manager a hands-on coach or a distant observer of performance?
c. What are you willing to teach to a salesperson? The product? Prospecting? Product positioning?
d. What aren't you willing to teach to a salesperson? Sales 101? Prospecting?
e. What corporate baggage does your company have? What are the oddities that make it challenging for a salesperson to succeed in your environment? Is there a difficult individual in your company? Are there technical flaws that make it challenging to sell the product? This one requires true introspection and honesty.

With this exercise complete, you are ready to formulate your ideal salesperson profile which looks like this:

We want a salesperson who is experienced at selling
A product with the following attribute
In a buying process that include
For a company characterized by

Now that you have a profile for your ideal salesperson, don't keep it a secret. Be sure that your entire leadership team has a copy of it! Share it with recruiters so they can deliver candidates that match it. Develop interview steps that allow you to measure if these candidates meet the profile. Formulate interview questions that expose these areas.

I concluded the meeting with a quick comparison of Willie's skills and the company's attributes, which can be seen on the first page. A marriage between these two would be disastrous! Although I wasn't able to find Willie a new sales home, I did succeed in making the CEOs aware of the steps they need to take in order to create the best sales team possible for their company.
About the Author
Lee B. Salz is President of Sales Dodo and author of "Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager." He specializes in helping companies and their sales organizations adapt and thrive in the ever-changing world of business. Lee is available for keynote speaking, business consulting, and sales training. He can be reached via his website at Sales Dodo or by phone at 763.416.4321.
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