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Is This Dog Going to Hunt or Not?

Mar 26, 2008
One of the greatest challenges that recruiters have today in assessing the viability of a new sales rep is whether or not that individual is going to be able to learn the value messaging and deliver it in a way that will drive sales. The problem with sellers is that we usually interview better than we produce on the job.

I have met very few reps who do both well.

Usually managers and recruiters work closely during the recruitment process for each rep. This is (or should be) especially true for higher profile, larger quota positions such as field based roles or senior sales / executive account manager positions.

The more complex and mission critical the offering, the longer it can take for these sales reps to absorb and leverage all the resources around them to become successful. For example, Telus has a new division whose new reps will probably take two years before becoming consciously competent, in my opinion.

To make matter more risky for vendors, if a territory is not already well developed or has been badly neglected, it can take longer for that rep to come out of the ground. In addition to the reality that many big application sale cycles (such as those in the infrastructure and ERP space) are taking longer to close and harder to justify with capital expenditures, it become a very frustrating and patience testing process to know for sure whether or not a new hire is going to produce a return on the investment made in thier development and support. This always adds to management pressure if development expectations aren't clear from the CEO on down.

This is less true for applications that are focussed on the desktop level or are easier to buy such as the Software as a Service model. When I was a Program Manager at Business Objects (now SAP), my business unit (World Wide Sales Operations) had a clear body of evidence that the cost of hiring, training and supporting a senior feild rep was well in excess of $100,000 by the time in you included all salary, benefits, travel, etc. This was the price of hiring a new rep at the field level. Further, we had lots of data to support that these individuals usually didn't produce much in the way of meaningful revenue for at least 3 quarters on average. In addition, attrition was very high (probably higher today) at close to 40%, which meant that every 2.3 years, we were working with an entirely NEW sales force. So, if you do that math on that situation you can see why it was very important that we paid close attention to supporting reps skill and territory development to ensure as much success as possible.

This was another reason why the direct sales force had a quota overlay of at least 2.5 times our number...we needed lots of room for error and attrition. Unfortuntely, this kind of scenario creates a situation where big deals get all the press and hero worship is the order of the day,but that's a whole other article.

It is farcical that we think because a rep came out of Oracle, i2 Technologies, IBM, or Veritas with consitent W2's in the $300,000-plus range, that they are going to be successful in your organization. As they say in the Mutual Fund industry, 'past performance is no guarantee of future results'.

It is up to us as managers and those in Sales Operations functions to design and refine systems aimed at ensuring the success of rep development in the field. We can't expect that everyone is simply going to get our organization's message and then deliver against multi-million dollar quotas magically.

However, managers should be able to determine whether or not reps are going to make it. Yet, it should not be exclusively their role to develop and deliver the mechanisms to ensure that success. They should merely be the operators of those mechanisms. That design and delivery role should be the function of a Sales Operations-type function. These functions should be well developed in any company over 15 million in revenue. In companies producing less than that, such as start ups, they're likely going to be non-existent, which is why those guys need my book even more and should also be hiring reps and managers with same industry expertise.

That way, it's more likely their dogs will become successful and skilled at the hunt.
About the Author
Brooks Van Norman is the author of New Economy Selling. The world of sales has forever changed and most organizations don't know how to handle it.
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