Sales Ass


by Jairo E. Gonzalez       

   Nothing happens until a sale is made. So it is not an overstatement to say that the growing success of our companies is dependent upon the talent we recruit, build and retain in our sales forces.
   Few business problems cannot be solved by an increase in profitable revenue. A boost in sales would be a tonic to any firm's health - let's get started!
   Yet we remind you that it is not the Sales Leader's prime responsibility to increase sales. It is his or her challenge to increase the productivity of each salesperson. To succeed at this we must implement an ongoing campaign to recruit coachable high achievers.
   Sales Leadership means creating a respected and admired sales culture. The overriding goal of this winning culture is to build and maintain the finest sales force in the industry. A heady goal, but not an impossibility! It's probably a three-year project which will pay rich dividends.
   Start by looking at your competitors. What are they doing that's right? Benchmark yourself against their successes and commit to total high achievement. Let it be known that second level production will not be acceptable.
   We as Sales Leaders must provide:

  • Competitive Products
  • Competitive Pricing
  • Customer Partnership
  • Fair Compensation
  • The Best People
  • Coaching Assistance
  • Recognition Systems
  • Marketing Support

   These are givens. Now let's address in more detail techniques for recruiting the best people. It's the crucial issue.
   What will the Sales Professional of the future look like? What skills will he or she possess? Although we can't be totally certain, some trends are predominant:

  1. In most industries we will have fewer outside salespeople - but they will be more productive. More business will be done electronically and by inside sales.
  2. Sales Professionals will have more empowerment to make decisions. We will design the product on the customer's desk.
  3. Compensation will be based on the profitability of each sale, rather than on gross revenue.
  4. Sales Professionals will have more flexibility with regards to pricing, quantity discounts and delivery.
  5. Outside salespeople will emphasize customer partnering while working as a team with inside and technical sales.
  6. Instead of having an office, they will share desk space in a bullpen as needed.
  7. Their automobiles and home offices will be technologically equipped in order to always stay in touch.
  8. They will be consultants helping customers to be successful.
  9. They will evaluate every customer quarterly and fire some
  10. Business knowledge will be the prime requisite skill.

   In short, they will be the total Sales Professionals within your industry.
   You may want to add a few items to the above list - or argue against some of them - but the point is that we must now recruit higher-level candidates who are capable of building a winning team.
   High achievers apply self-discipline, which is defined as "doing what you should be doing when you should be doing it even when you don't want to do it." And the high achiever understands that "if it's meant to be, it's up to me."
   If our objective of having the best sales force in the land seems ambitious; it is because of the magnitude of our challenges for survival in very competitive and sometimes predatory industries. Survival of the fittest is the rule.

Our Game Plan

   As stated earlier, our premise is that ultimately our success depends on the professional caliber and production of the people we attract and retain. Recruiting top producers does not happen by accident. But we must first have a game plan in order to get where we want to be.
   Above all else, recruiting is an attitude - "recruit great people, then get out of their way." Accomplishing this requires an investment of time - both in this activity and in candidate selection.
   If you share in the belief that recruiting talent is your highest payoff activity, then you must commit at least several hours per week - maybe even one hour per day - to finding the talent.
   Show me an outstandingly successful Sales Leader and I'll show you an outstanding recruiter. This is the secret.
   Build your sales position skill profile by listing, in order of priority, the main talents you are looking for in a candidate. Start with a clean sheet of paper - just as if you were starting anew to build your sales team.
   Knowing which traits are most important will enable you to make better decisions when recruiting. For instance, if you have to decide between a candidate with strong selling skills and one who has more product knowledge, which one will you choose? Your answer in just this one choice can have a significant impact on your recruiting.
   In building a top-flight sales team, be sure not to overlook your current producers. Our studies have shown that the typical sales force, when broken into quartile rankings of production, has the bottom 25% producing less than 10% of the volume.
   Clearly, we need to be evaluating this sector of our sales force. After all, good Sales Professionals generally want to be working with other strong producers. An office of top salespeople is high on spirit, energy and creativity - and it will bring business in exponentially. But tolerating poor performers will create the opposite environment.
   So the more time you spend recruiting "smart," the less time you will spend supervising. Set minimum standards of production, measure results regularly and work on moving the bottom half either up or out. Do quarterly progress reviews and hold them accountable to their 90-day objectives.
   Hiring smart means not only that your revenues will increase, but also that your expenses will be reduced. Turnover cost often is one of our highest expenses, although it is seldom calculated.

Networking and Positioning

   We can see as we look at any industry that there is too much trading of bottom-tier salespeople among companies. This is based on the desire for "industry experience." As part of your overall recruiting game plan you should ask, "Do we have the capability and time to train non-industry - proven professional salespeople?"
   Once they're on board, you pay the price for bottom-tier recruits, or industry "retreads." And it is dear in terms of disruption, disenchantment and unit deterioration.
   With appropriate technical training, proven sales performers from other industries can grow to be stars in your organization. To make that happen, start with a targeted goal of how many recruits you want with non-industry backgrounds.
   To recruit from inside the industry, first position yourself with the top producers in your area. Your job is similar to setting up a baseball farm system.
   Get to know possible candidates well enough to determine if you want to continue staying in touch with them. If so, get your business card in their hands with an expression of your interest. And then find a way to communicate with each one quarterly.
   If you do, they will soon call you to discuss an opportunity and you can liberate some from the competition. Keep your meeting and conversation largely casual and social and there won't be any premature pressure on anyone.

Recruiting Methods

1. Your Personal Observation:
   We have found this to be the most effective method of recruiting. Always be on the look out for candidates. We refer to this practice as "red shirting." Each one of us has a success story of the great waiter, retail salesperson or vendor who successfully made the transition to being a Sales Professional. With our recruiting profile in hand, we should dedicate 10-20 percent of our time each week to proactive recruiting.
   Too often, recruiting is thought of only in the traditional sense of filling an open position. This reactive activity is often rushed, with predictable consequences.
   But positioning is different, in that we are recruiting someone who is not necessarily looking to make a move. Since the process has no fixed time frame, it's a never- ending venture.
2. Centers of Influence (COI):
   Ask for recruiting recommendations from people within the industry who have regular contact with top salespeople. Your COI can include customers, vendors and others who know or work with you and your company.
   Having a position skill profile is a key to success. You will distinguish yourself from other recruiters by outlining to your COI specifically what type of person you are looking for.
   Provide your COI with a one-page profile, and on the back provide space for them to write in the name, address, phone number, any special characteristics of the person and the date of this referral. Getting three names in this manner will be more fruitful than simply asking, "Do you know anybody looking for a sales position?"
3. The Competition:
   We already understand our competition in the areas of product, price and service. Yet we also should know the names of their top producers, plus territory assignments, compensation plans, incentives and awards and the tasks expected of their salespeople.
   Positioning recruiting consists of developing relationships with candidates over a period of time. Similar to how a Sales Professional "courts" an "A" customer, we want to be considered by the candidate should circumstances change in his or her existing environment.
   With so many chances occurring every day in most industries and markets, one never knows when or if a top performer might be open to making a move. Our goal is to be high on their list as an attractive alternative.
   It's important to involve your Sales Associates in the recruiting process. At least once a quarter, bring up your recruitment goals and plan them as an agenda item in your sales meeting. Ask your salespeople for their help in attracting top producers. Hearing positive reasons for working at your company from a peer is often more effective than hearing them from you.
4. Other Employees/Associates:
   Others in your company, armed with the salesperson profile, also can be effective recruiters. They will help get the word out that your company is special if you keep calling attention to your recruitment efforts.
5. Job Fairs:
   Job fairs can bring impressive results for recruiting - as well as in advertising your company as a success.
6. Colleges:
   Introduce your company to local college placement directors if you're looking for ready and hungry recruits. Demonstrate the opportunities for career growth in your firm, and review with the placement director your desired candidate profile.
   Also consider teaching a related course to spot potential sales candidates. Or volunteer as a guest speaker for the student marketing association. Once again, a key is to be proactive.
7. Professional Associations:
   Being active in your industry associations will provide a good source of qualified leads. Meet with them at trade shows to introduce yourself.
8. Newspapers:
   Run newspaper ads once a quarter to test the market. Although these generally are not very effective, they can give you a sense of who's looking - and on occasion a candidate will be identified.
9.The Internet:
   There are a number of recruiting sources developing on the Web. Recruiting is like dropping a rock into a pool of water - the rings get bigger and bigger - although weaker. Get your salesperson profile into the hands of anyone who might help you identify candidates. But never delegate the recruiting of Sales Professionals to Human Resources.

Recruiting Tools

   Here are some suggestions for you to remember when recruiting:

  • We need to do a better job of selling our business as a career opportunity with growth potential, and not just as a place to make "good money."
  • Case studies of your successful salespeople should be put in writing. Use them to show recruits the potential that is available in your firm.
  • Company handouts also should be available to portray your organization as a leader - someone to be affiliated with.

   Consider your written training program to be a recruitment and retention tool. This is particularly important for those brought in from outside your business.
   Compare a typical company's training program to what a new stock or life insurance salesperson is offered. If a recruit is making a choice revolving around his or her career growth, the typical absence of training within many firms can be seen as a problem by the candidate when comparing industries.
   Personal growth opportunities are more important than money.

Retaining Our Own Existing Sales Professionals

   No matter how successful we are at identifying, positioning and attracting top salespeople, it will matter little of our existing top performers aren't satisfied.
   A key to recruiting then, is to "mind the store" by retaining your top producers.
   Top performers very often seem to need little help or attention, and that generally is what happens as we spend our time with those who seem to need it. But our stars do require attention and recognition, and we would do well to invest our time with our top 25 percent.
   Learn to listen to them. Resolve any problems or complaints, and encourage their ideas. Ask for their input in your marketing plan. Tap them for involvement in the training program. And create a sales advisory council.
   Also offer to ride shotgun with them on client calls. Support them when needed. Get your top producers involved in your recruiting efforts. The more active they become in your company, the better their retention and performance will be.
   Nothing is more important to a Sales Leader than effective recruiting. Recruit great people and you will find success, in spite of any other company shortcomings.


Jim Pratt is the CEO of the Pratt-Daly International Sales Consulting form based in San Diego, CA. Jim's experience includes leading sales forces of one to 4,800. You may reach Pratt-Daly at 800.374.0300.