Why Companies Struggle with Finding Good Reps

I speak with CEOs all the time and a common question I ask is this: “What is your success rate in hiring a salesperson that is productive, meets goals and sticks around more than 2-3 years?” The most common answer is about 1 out of every 7 reps meets that criteria. One CEO I recently spoke to said that he has gone through five reps for the same position in the last 10 years. None of them worked. I often hear things such as “They interviewed great, they’ve had past success in my industry, and they had a good rolodex (younger folks, ask an older person what a rolodex is), yet they struggled when they got to me. Why does this happen?

There are several reasons that reps don’t work out, but we see that the biggest areas of failure are these:

  • Wrong person
  • Insufficient Onboarding
  • Lack of Management/Development

Let’s take a closer look at each of these:

Wrong person – Face it. Sometimes we just hire the wrong person, but that can typically be avoided. Let’s start with defining what we want in the new sales person. It needs to be more than “They are a hard worker, they know my industry, they are a good communicator and they have a good track record.” That’s not enough. Sales people possess all kinds of different skill sets. Hiring for a “hunter” is different than hiring for a farmer. So is hiring for an inside sales person vs. an outside. Selling direct to the customer is very different than selling to a partner like a dealer or distributor who then sells to the customer. Then there are more subtle things like “Will they be generating their own leads or will they be given leads?” That is an important question that needs to be defined up front. “Do they know how to sell the premium product in the space or the low-cost solution?” That’s a huge difference in skill sets. Think about all the things that you need the person to be good at, then narrow it down to the 3-5 that are most important to the company. Next, design your interview questions around those 3-5 skills sets.

Insufficient Onboarding – Even a thoroughbred won’t do well if you don’t give him/her the right training. Even if you’ve hired the person from within the industry, that does not mean they know how to position your products, set up your differentiation and know your sales process. They need to learn those items. Spending two weeks with them on the product or service you sell and then having them shadow somebody on the team will not give them the knowledge and skill they need to be successful. Our biggest tip here is to validate their training to insure that what you’ve told them stuck and they can apply it. Make them give you the elevator pitch. Role play a good Discovery call with them. Have them give you a presentation as if you were the customer. Do whatever you can to make sure they have learned the essential skills to be successful.

Lack of Management – Many leaders or business owners hate to admit it, but sometimes it is not the rep, but the manager. Setting a goal for the rep and pointing them at a territory or group of accounts is not management, but something we see often. Even the smartest and hardest working reps need some direction, accountability and feedback. Have you set specific goals for them outside of just the revenue number? Are they clear on who they should be calling on? How many meetings or opportunities they should be finding per month? Do you meet with them regularly to hold them to these activity levels? Are you doing ride-alongs with them occasionally to make sure they are being as effective as possible? This proactive management can do two things – 1) identify issues early in the process so you don’t waste months on a bad hire and 2) gives you a way to constantly improve their skills sets.

So, the world is not full of bad reps with only a few gems. There are all kinds of good reps, but there is work that you need to do to find the right ones for your company and make them successful.

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