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  June 21, 2013
Playing Salesman Roulette...



I was at my monthly happy hour meeting with a small group of entrepreneurs when the subject of sales people arose... specifically hiring good sales people.
I listened intently to the gripes and complaints of my associates, each telling horror stories of sales people that they had previously hired and subsequently fired.

My friends believed that they had done a good job in their hiring process... finding capable candidates with lots of industry experience... conducting multiple interviews... and hiring who they thought was a professional sales person with a long track record of outstanding sales.
The newly hired sales person is a professional at saying all the right things and completing sales reports... but really have no idea as to selling anything.
After a while, it is apparent that no new sales are being generated and then they realize that they have made a big mistake in hiring this person.
In the end, the only thing that this experienced sales person ever sold was themselves to the company that hired them.

The company, now desperate to hire a new sales person to replace the old one, repeats the process above almost in an endless loop.
The difficulty is that hiring sales is very much different than hiring engineers or accountants.

With engineers, it is very easy to immediately identify and test for a very specific skill set... not so with sales people where it can take several months for the sales cycle to complete... so you really don’t know what you’re getting until a good deal of time has already passed. 

There are actually several obstacles in hiring quality sales people.

First and foremost... there simply aren’t that many great (or even good) sales people out there.

Oh sure... there are plenty of people who call themselves sales people but in reality most sales people are nothing more than mediocre... at best...

Still as entrepreneurs we inherently know that nothing really happens at a company until a sale is made. So we go out and try to find quality sales people to help grow our companies.

A typical company might use the following process to hire sales people: 

  1. Drafting a job description of the daily duties of a sales person.
  2. Post the job description in all the usual places like Monster.com, the career center at our local Universities, governmental employment offices and in the local newspaper.
  3. Receive 100’s of replies with attached resumes.
  4. Sift through the resumes for previous work experience within the industry.
  5. Conduct several interviews with a few select candidates.
  6. Hire one of the candidates... spend a few days training them on specific products and a few applications.
  7. Give them an account list and send them out into their territory so that they can start making sales.

One doesn’t need a crystal ball to predict the results from these new hires.

After a prolonged "honeymoon" period... the sales person isn’t making the progress that you had hoped for.

So you tell yourself that they just need some more training and management. Maybe they are just spending their time doing unproductive things, so you start having them keeping a log as to where their time is being spent (call reports).

Sales activities seem to improve slightly... but actual sales remain flat... but you rationalize the situation by telling yourself that sales activity will some day lead to actual sales.  

After some more time has passed... you have the "things need to change... or things WILL change" talk with your sales person.  You try to scare them into trying just a bit harder...

Finally... after a good deal of time has wasted... you finally come to the realization that this sales person, who was supposed to help increase sales, is just costing the company a lot of money and time... and the sales person is fired. 

You, as a smart individual, decide that this time around you’re going to do it a different way... so you make the decision to hire (and pay) a superstar sales person from one of your competitors (if you can even identify who those superstars really are).

The problem is that truly superstar sales people aren’t necessarily unhappy with where they are currently at. At their current place of employment they already know their products, they already have a well-developed client base, and more than likely they’re already making buckets of money (this is why they are super stars to begin with).

Unless a big change has occurred at their current employer (perhaps a change in management... or a new commission plan that caps earnings)... that super star sales person isn’t going to jump ship... they are very happy where they are.

Also... just because they are a superstar at one company... doesn’t mean that they will be a superstar with your company.

A superstar sales person at IBM or SAP might fail miserable at a new startup company where resources are slim and marketing departments non-existent.

So if hiring mediocre industry retreads is a bad idea (and it is) and hiring super stars is next to impossible (or at a minimum truly unaffordable)... then what is the answer?

After discussing this problem with several people I hold as experts in this field, the consensus is that a company wishing to create a world-class sales force has to be dedicated to training and developing their own sales people.

The most successful sales companies understand that it takes a certain breed of individual to become a top sales person.

These companies take great pains in looking for people who have very specific personality characteristics, the proper attitude, and an outstanding aptitude.

They understand that they can teach people about products, applications and certain sales skills, but they can’t train a person to be a problem solver, or to be curious, or to be creative. These personality traits are inherent to a certain type of individual.

Successful sales companies have pinpointed the specific personality traits that lead a successful sales path.

Their entire interview and selection process then helps them to identify those individual who possess these traits and those who don’t.

Once these soon-to-be -salespeople are hired, they are then placed in an intensive training program. The training process will determine if the person has the right mental makeup and determination to become a professional sales person.

If a person graduates from the sales training program, then they are asked to continuously perform at the highest levels. The companies achieve this by benchmarking and setting attainable yet challenging goals and metrics for its sales force.

If you believe that this process sounds expensive and time-consuming, you’d be absolutely correct. Doing something the right way always takes a bit more in terms of time and money...

But I think of all the time and money that is constantly wasted in hiring bad sales people... not even counting the cost of lost opportunities and damage to the company’s brand.

At OptiFuse, we have decided to take this route of hiring and developing sales people based on personality traits and talent not necessarily sales skills.

(By the way... If you happen to know someone who might just have what it takes... then please take a moment to forward this email to them. 
A full description of the position can be found by clicking here or download the job description in PDF format by clicking here.)

Finding quality sales people is one of the hardest things a company can do... it can easily be the most costly if done wrong... but also the most rewarding... for both the sales person and the company... if done right...

The success of a business should not be left to the luck of the wheel but rather it needs to be an engineered result with a purpose and goal in mind...   

Thank you so much for your continuous support of OptiFuse, as we thank you in advance for helping us to help you.

Jim Kalb

Email - jimk@optifuse.com
Website - www.optifuse.com

Blog - www.optifuse.blogspot.com
Twitter - @OptiFuse

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