Hiring Salespeople; The Puzzle Solved
Since 2015 I have worked alongside about 200 small businesses taking daily questions about what steps they should follow to grow revenue. It’s no secret that to grow your business, it takes people. I’m not talking about the guy that sells you business cards, or the person that tells you you’re doing a good job…I’m talking about the people you hire to represent your brand.
In fact, as a sales coach, the number 1 question I got over the last 3 years has been just that….
“How do I find qualified sales people that will stick around and do the job as well as I do?”
Hiring salespeople is the most complicated recruiting a business can do because of one factor, selling. The simple nature of talking to someone who has spent a career learning to influence people to do what they want makes interviewing a salesperson tricky. Imagine how hard a salesperson will try to sell when they are engaged in a short conversation with a huge gain. Some of you interview a salesperson for a half hour over the phone or in your office, and make a decision based on that conversation alone. Most of your salespeople will need to spend more than 30 minutes over the phone or with a prospect to make a sale. You should be willing to engage with this new salesperson in an interview for at least 2x what your average sales cycle will be with a prospect. That’s right, if it takes an hour to sell someone over 2 separate calls, you should interview a salesperson for 2 hours over the same 2 or 3 interactions. Better yet, do a phone, an office and a restaurant interview. The only way to know how a person will respond to a few different scenarios in a few separate days is to put them through it. If your interview is short, you end up putting a salesperson in a chair across from you and telling them to be on their best behavior for 30 minutes and they could stand to make $50,000 off this conversation. This falls apart quickly when they are asked to show up to the job, and with the same level of passion and skill they sold themselves, they are to do 6000 separate conversations over the next year to actually see that $50,000.
About half of the small businesses I worked with included some sort of recruiting and training program setup and management. In that time I have gone through about 25K resumes and interviewed about 800 people. When you can figure out how to recruit, train and retain salespeople, you can apply the same principles to most any other position with the same success levels. Now to be honest, every market has its own quirk about recruiting. Some places craigslist is still king, while in others job fairs and information sessions rule supreme.
Here are a few tips, regardless of the medium, that will allow you to succeed once you have a candidate.
First, it will take you longer than you think to find the right person. I am always shocked how a business will post a position somewhere and be surprised that they have not found the right person in a week’s time. This is even more surprising when the position is attracting a lot of talent. Just because you are receiving applicants or even hired a recruiter, does not mean you are going to get someone immediately. The likelihood is that you should always be recruiting, but rarely hiring. I joke that this part is a lot like looking for a remote control when you lose it. As soon as you find it, you stop looking. You don’t fill in all the spaces between the cushions of your couch, block the gap below your table and superglue the remote to the table, you just stop looking. Just because you have the best salesperson you could find between February 10th and April 1st, does not mean they are the best person for the job. Does this mean they won’t be good on the job? Absolutely not, but your next best salesperson doesn’t work for you yet.
Second, the candidate should not, will not, and cannot be blamed for not knowing your company. When someone applies for a job, they do it a dozen or so at a time. Most sales applications look the same. “Meet people, talk to people, sell people, make money $$$”. You can’t take offense when someone doesn’t remember who you are or what you are doing. Should they at least remember they applied, yes? Should they remember the product set or exactly what you do, no! Take a moment to be realistic about the scenario they are in before you judge the applicant for applying. They need a job and don’t have the luxury of reading your whole website and doing a product demo before they apply. Give the candidate some flexibility in learning your brand before you start the interview. This allows you to see if they can walk and talk in your world before you start to disqualify them for not being a “good fit”.
Third, when they quit, they fired you. When you fire them, you’re partly to blame. Look, I know this is the hard part to hear, but it doesn’t make it any less true. When a salesperson quits, they said one of the following:
“You don’t pay me enough to do this.” “I don’t think I can ever sell enough of your product to make what you promised me.” “I’m not getting the right kind of support.” or “There is something wrong with your business.”
All of these can be addressed in an interview by being honest with the candidate up front, and by designing a program that allows them to succeed. When you fire a salesperson, it is not always because that person is bad, but because they never got out of the bad stage. What I mean is that every salesperson goes through the same progression. To be great at something, you first have to be good at it, and to be good you have to be bad at it. Before you can be bad at it, you have to just try. This is why setting initial goals for a salesperson should be focused on trying before it is being great. It’s your job as the business owner or sales manager to do something everyday to push that person out of the bad and into the good. Just because they are a salesperson does not mean they should, “just be able to sell”. Almost every time I ask the question of the last time you were on a sales call with your salesperson, it is almost always the point where they gained confidence in that person or lost confidence.
You see how good they are with a customer and never go out again, or you see how bad they are with a customer and start planning to replace them, or at the very least, not waste their time being on a pitch with that person again. This doesn’t mean you should spend every minute with them either. You can’t micromanage the sales process or it’s just you selling through your rep, which isn’t scalable. Let your salesperson succeed of fail on their own from time to time to foster growth.
Lastly, paying commission only is not the answer. Does this sound familiar, “Since I can’t find the right person, I have to do commission only.” Let me be clear, if you can’t afford to sell and service accounts, and you need to hire someone, you should hire a service person and continue to sell. If you can barely afford to pay the service person, offer them commission for problem solving so you can stay selling. Their job becomes servicing accounts, and telling you to get back on the phones. I have done this myself and it works well.
When you hire someone commission only, you are asking them to wake up everyday broke, and fight for a job. Not really a great way to get someone behind your brand. When you aren’t offering them a salary, you aren’t offering them a structured work environment. You aren’t incentivizing them to get out of bed. You aren’t allowing them any comfort in bad days. The truth is that salespeople usually have mediocre days followed by some bigger days. No salary means no comfort. Some people can thrive that way, but others not so much. If your solution to stopping your business to design a sales process and sales material to allow a salesperson to succeed is just offering them commission only, you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t support a salesperson, regardless of the pay, they won’t stick around. You’re way better off paying them minimum wage with commission just to ensure they are clocked in at 9am and doing something. Better yet, pay them just enough salary so that the hourly covers the taxes on the very nice commission checks you pay them.
The moral of the salesperson story is this; give them a reason to do their job every hour, day, week, month, quarter and year. This is as simple as:
Hourly – A wage for asking them to build your pipeline Daily – An environment that encourages them and supports them Weekly – A short term incentive for performance, think “sales contest” Monthly – Commission, and enough of it to keep them interested Quarterly – Reviews for career pathing,merit increases and/or bonus opportunities Yearly – Something worth waiting for, big ticket items like trips and raises
Once you have these things in place it is easier to attract candidates and keep them coming back, and bringing their friends and clients with them.