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Tips on hiring salespeople

Hiring new employees is always challenging; but recruiting and hiring salespeople is even more challenging. The process is rife with great rewards along with potential pitfalls. What follows is both an introduction to the process involved in hiring high performing sales staff, but also a leaping off point for you to explore this area more thoroughly so you can make the most informed decisions possible.

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At EMyth, we talk about building a systemic, integrated business that has systems in all of the Seven Essential Systems. A Marketing Strategy with clear positioning and differentiation, a Customer Fulfillment System, a Lead Generation System and a Lead Conversion (or Sales) System will allow your salespeople to reach their greatest potential. Yes, I know; it’s a lot more work than simply hiring a rainmaker; but you want all the necessary pieces in place to best support your salespeople. You also want to clearly define the position and decide on the exact results you want the sales person to reach. If you don’t have these fundamentals in place it’s much more difficult for your new salespeople to succeed.

If you’re like most small business owners, you’ve had experience with sales because you’ve likely fulfilled the salesperson position yourself. This will be extremely helpful when you’ve realized enough growth to hire a salesperson because you know the how of creating sales and building excellent client relationships. You can now translate that knowledge into a systematic path so that others can get the same result you have.

Finding the right hire

First, realize there are no shortcuts. It takes time to find the right people, time to acclimate them to the culture and to train them in your systems. Sure, you can try to find stars that start selling the moment they walk through the door, but this often results in pain later on. The best candidates aren’t necessarily the ones that can deliver the most sales in the shortest amount of time. In fact, hot shot salespeople often think about only one thing: closing sales. They tend to do and say anything to get a customer and in the long run they can get you into trouble, by not being trainable, controllable or willing to follow a system. If you’ve ever experienced this kind of salesperson you know what I’m talking about. In most businesses, you want long-term relationships with customers, and salespeople who help you convert and nourish those relationships.

The interview for salespeople is crucial. If they are good at sales, typically they interview quite well. But did they prepare for the interview by learning about your company and product line or service capabilities? If they can’t sell themselves and their fit with your company and culture, they probably won’t do a very good job in representing you to your customers.

Consider the candidate’s aspirations. Salespeople often break out into two categories. One type will eventually go into business for themselves; the other will always work for someone else. Though both can fit for a while, the second type typically makes the best hire, especially if you want to reduce turnover in your sales force. Most business owners, once they have a successful salesperson, want to keep them producing year after year.

When you hire salespeople, you’re not just hiring an employee. You’re also choosing customers, since your salespeople play a major role in determining the types of customers you have and the relationship you have with them. You want to get it right and hire the salespeople that will bring you the kind of customers you desire.

Remember also, that after politicians, selling is considered one of the most disreputable professions. The public often has a dim view of salespeople and tries to avoid them. Keep this in mind, when you’re recruiting who you want to represent your company to customers.

Great salespeople are always in demand. Mediocre salespeople are hot shots when it comes to selling themselves. Dig in. Find out whether they hit quotas and meet plans. Past results and behaviors are the best indicators of future success. And sales is quantifiable, so be certain to ask for their stats.

Full commission or salary?

A rather big decision in this process is how you will handle the pay structure. How will you compensate your salespeople? Pure commission, draw plus commission, base salary plus commission, salary and incentives, or salary alone describes the major possibilities. Which will it be for you? There are definite opinions relating to each of these; from hiring solely commissioned salespeople because they’re the only ones truly invested in results, to hiring salaried employees, since this is the best way to create teamwork and an overall investment in the company’s goals and not the individual's. There’s no right or wrong here. Check out your industry, your competitors and your present team, then decide which compensation system will best support the results you seek to achieve.

A couple of tips here: commissions typically account for a larger portion of pay when there is a short sales cycle with high profitability, which is usually quite dependent on the salesperson’s abilities. Commissions play a smaller role when the sale requires greater technical knowledge with a longer sales cycle.

A word of warning about the commission structure: it can alienate the salespeople from the rest of the company. They work more for themselves than for the company and they compete with each other. Loyalty is often low, with the sole motivation to make more money. In his book, No Contest: The Case Against Competition, Alfie Kohn analyzed 122 studies on this topic and discovered that 65 studies demonstrated that cooperation led to higher levels of achievement than competition, while 35 studies did not indicate any statistical difference. You’re going to have to decide here what is most effective in your environment to motivate your salespeople, but don’t assume it’s only about money.

A checklist to keep on track

So you’ve identified your top candidate. You’re ready to hire. Prior to making an offer follow your checklist of essential steps. (If you don’t have a checklist, create one). Ideas of what to include are:

  • Ask to see their W2’s for the past three years to verify income
  • Talk with past sales managers about their performance
  • Check other references
  • Verify any way you can the information they’ve given you about their ability to sell

Then, create another checklist that includes what to do for their first day, week and month on the job. Don’t expect miracles. It takes up to six months to really gear up in a business-to-business sales position and up to 18 months to completely master the job. Mentor and coach, and be willing to move quickly if the person isn’t matching your expectations—you can’t afford to have anyone but the best representing you to your customers.

Consider these tips just a start in your quest to find successful salespeople. Create your own systems and develop hiring techniques that ferret out the smooth talkers from the true sales performers that will stay with your company and help it grow to its fullest potential.

EMyth Team

Written by EMyth Team

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