Finding the Right Sales Person for your Company

Years ago I thought I was really smart.  I found out who the top sales person was for my biggest competitor and I hired that person away from them.  They had been successful, knew my industry and had contacts that could help me.   They should be able to ramp up quickly and be productive, right?  What could go wrong?  I went through the interview process with this person and asked all kinds of questions.   But in hindsight, I think that I was looking to confirm what I wanted to hear.   I hired that guy and paid him well.   I was fired up.   I was helping my team get better by adding great talent and also hurting my competition a little.

Then reality hit.  I sat him down and said “OK, you were pretty successful selling against me.  Tell me what your pitch was.  How did you compete against us?”   He told me that he basically told prospects (and even my customers) that his company could do everything that my company could do, BUT CHEAPER!   That was his whole pitch.  At this point, I am kicking myself for not asking those questions a long time ago – before the hire.

Well at least I knew what I had to work with and I thought good training could bring this person along.   Nope!  He understood the technology and the industry, but he could never learn how to sell value.  Every deal he brought me for the next six months was “If I could just drop the price 10%, we could win.”  I couldn’t get him over the hump.  And you know what?  That was entirely my fault.   I wasn’t nearly as smart as I thought I was.

This is a common tale.  I talk to sales leaders and CEOs all the time that hire people based on industry experience, contacts and a high level interview.  It almost never works.  There is a much more disciplined way that has proven to be much more effective and it starts with getting really specific on what you want in a sales person.   Think about some of the following questions:

  • Do you need a hunter or an account manager or a hybrid?   People are quick to say ‘Hunter’ but then turn around and put that person on existing accounts right away.  If it is a hybrid you are looking for, how much time should they spend hunting vs. managing accounts?  This will dictate some of the skills you are looking for?
  • Will they need to generate their own leads or will they given leads?  Some sales people are awesome at following up on leads, but they are not as skilled at digging up their own.
  • Who are they selling to?  Selling to a large company with several layers of management is different than selling to mom and pop types of companies.  It requires different skills?
  • Will they work autonomously or will they be managed closely?  Try putting someone who is used to support into an environment where they get little support and see what happens.  Or, flip that and put a very autonomous person in an environment where they have a lot of oversight.  From experience, neither works well.
  • Do you need them to be good at selling on price or building value?
  • Do they sell to multiple decision makers or just one or two?
  • Are they in the field selling or over the phone?
  • Do they sell direct or through partners like resellers?

This list could go on and on and depending on how you answer the questions, you may need different skills.  They key is getting clear on what you need for your company.  Narrow it down to the most important 4-6 traits.  Now start your search.  And, by the way, make sure your management team is aligned on what you are looking for.  Too often we see people with different criteria on what you need.  That rarely works out well.

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