Who’s Right for Sales?

We have an employee who we think, perhaps, is the wrong fit in sales — or is it too early to tell? Should salespeople have more experience? (Fortunately he’s doing well in account management.) What should we be looking for in a salesperson?

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY:  Should you hire for experience or train from the bottom up? When it comes to sales positions, there is no one size fits all. Account management can be a great starting position for people who want to go into sales. Does your candidate want to go into sales?

It can be expensive to hire a “pro.” And then there’s the risk that they don’t work out. Training an internal candidate can be a way to save money, but only if the candidate ends up producing. Stack the deck in your favor by focusing on people most likely to succeed.

Many business owners, when they think about adding salespeople, are not clear which skills to add: more leads, more qualified opportunities, better-quality buyers, more robust solutions, better proposals, higher closing rate? That’s the gamut from opening the door with suspects, to getting a sale done.

“More leads” means cold-calling, searching on LinkedIn, networking, record keeping and following up, pushing doors open. Ever seen your account manager do any of that well, with a passion?

Developing “more qualified opportunities” and “better quality buyers” means your salesperson must be critically assessing the people to whom he or she is talking. It’s not about making friends; it’s about getting rid of the suspects who don’t match the criteria of your best clients. It means asking sharp questions and shutting out bad prospects.

“More robust solutions” and “better proposals” come from gathering lots of information and taking good notes. At this stage your salesperson has to dig deep with qualified prospects to find out what they really need, testing out possible solutions even if it’s something your company doesn’t already do, but could. That means curiosity and inventiveness, with discipline not to stray too far afield.

“Higher closing rate” means a hunter mentality. Once the proposal is put together, confirming everything that’s been learned and agreed to, the salesperson has to have the guts and drive to wrestle the prospect to a final decision. That doesn’t just happen at the end of the sale. Closing starts at the very beginning of an engagement. Ever seen your salesperson take charge and control the outcome?

Getting someone started in sales by taking the account management route can be a smart way to go. The candidate learns about how the company delivers what it sells and builds relationships with successful clients. Clients who value an account manager’s contribution are likely to provide great references when asked. And knowing what the success stories are, how other clients had their needs met, can give future salespeople good ideas to apply in future selling situations.

What drives some people to succeed is poison for others. One of the most important parts of picking salespeople is taking a hard look at what motivates them, what drives them to get ahead. Are they competitive? Do they want the independence that goes with sales and do they have the discipline to manage that independence successfully?

What about willingness to put in extra hours if needed, or is your candidate out the door at the stroke of 5 p.m.? Money motivated, or willing to settle for a 40-hour-week paycheck? Internally driven or waiting for someone else to provide motivation and direction? The former will likely do what must be done to get ahead, the latter in each example may well fall short of the sales goals you set.

LOOKING FOR A GOOD BOOK? Try “Training and Hiring New Salespeople: Manager Guide to Hiring Success” by Steve Lemco.

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