Hiring sales people can be a risky business, even for large companies with sophisticated recruitment processes, let alone a smaller business run by an accidental sales person with no background in sales management. Hiring a good sales person can be one of the best things you do for your business but equally it can turn out to be an expensive mistake and the source of a lot of heartache. Here are 7 of the biggest mistakes to avoid:
Mistake # 1 – Assuming all sales people can sell
The biggest and most common mistake is to hire someone who looks good and sounds good. Unfortunately these people often fail to deliver the goods, even if they have been successful in another sales job. There are over 25 important factors about a sales role that can have an impact on whether a specific sales person will be successful including:
Does the sales person have to generate their own sales leads?
What will they be selling?
Whom will they be selling to (eg executives, managers, business owners, consumers)?
Is it a big ticket item?
How much does it cost?
How competitive is it?
How complex is the sale?
How much supervision will the person need?
Just like any other job, you need to match the sales person’s skills to the role you are recruiting for and you need to get very specific. You also need to delve deeply into the sales person’s psyche which can be almost impossible to do without some kind of sales assessment tool.
Mistake # 2 – Recruiting a sales person to figure things out
Part of the problem is that many business owners do not understand and feel in control of their sales and so they think getting a good sales person will help them figure things out. They hope it will free up more of their time to focus on running the business and doing what they are best at. Indeed, it is unlikely that a business will ever grow significantly without some kind of sales team to scale up the business. This is especially the case if you consider re-sellers and franchisees as part of your sales team. However, hiring the wrong sales person can be a huge drain on time and energy.
Realistically, the best sales people, re-sellers, and franchisees will not want to figure out your sales strategy for you and if they cannot see the money quickly they will disappear without a trace leaving you with the people who are not that great and are more focused on winning the job to get the base salary than they are on taking your business to the next level.
The good news is that once your sales and marketing strategy becomes clear and simple and starts to work then everything gets easier and you can pay sales people less base salary and more commissions because they can see the money. Bizarrely I find that once I do this for clients they feel more comfortable with sales and are happy to do more themselves which makes it even better when they do come to hire a sales person.
Mistake # 3 – Hiring commission-only sales people
Many business owners are attracted by the idea of hiring sales people on a commission-only basis. This does reduce the risk of paying out base salaries to people who cannot sell. However, unless your product or service has a short sales cycle and is relatively easy to sell then the good commission-only sales people will give it a very wide berth. They have to decide whether they can make money quickly on it. Their focus is cash today and not an unspecified time in the future. It is possible to craft a commission only deal for most things but it always requires gaining clarity over the sales strategy and often requires out-of-the-box thinking like introducing a new easy to sell product that they can easily sell to the right type of customers. You will then need to get good at cross-selling the solution you really want to sell once they become a customer.
Good commission-only sales people, often called sales agents, are a special breed and you do need to understand their psychology to attract and keep them. Many businesses who have simplified their sales strategy have successfully worked with sales agents.
Mistake # 4 – Relying on interviewing skills alone
The problem with the interview process is that there are some questions that are very difficult to ask such as “Are you being honest when you say you love cold calling?” You also have the fact that even poor sales people are good at telling you what you want to hear.
I overcome this when working for clients by doing an initial telephone interview to screen out time wasters and then using an online sales assessment tool to tell me everything I need to know about a candidate and whether they would be suitable for a sales role. It’s like getting a structural survey done on a house. I then interview face-to-face people once I know they are capable of doing the job. I never interview a sales person face-to-face without having done a sales assessment.
There are many sales assessments out there and most will give you an idea of whether someone can sell or not. The one I use is much more sophisticated and tells me not only if they can sell but whether they will sell in a specific sales job. There is a cost attached to these assessments but when you know how easy it is to make an expensive hiring mistake they become essential. My advice is to research sales assessments thoroughly first before you decide which one to use. Ask to see samples and have the results explained to you.
Mistake # 5 – Relying on a recruitment agency
As you can see, hiring a sales person can be a risky business so perhaps it is worth going to the expense of using a specialist recruitment consultancy to hire someone. Unfortunately recruitment consultants are little better at predicting whether a sales person will be successful in a specific sales role. This is because there are so many factors involved.
Most do little more than advertise a vacancy and then sift through the resumes to find people that match what you are looking for. The good ones will get to know the candidates and interview them thoroughly to make sure they are a good match. Still they are unable to predict with certainty whether a sales person will be successful in a specific sales role. I have worked with some in the past who give guarantees but even they get it wrong which is why they give a guarantee and you normally have to pay much higher fees.
Mistake # 6 – Hiring a friend of a friend
Many smaller businesses seek to save on the cost of recruitment agencies by telling people in their network about their sales job and asking for recommendations. Whilst this is not a mistake in itself, doing so without a process that includes a sales assessment turns this into a high risk approach. This is because there is often some kind of obligation towards the friend and, in my experience the business owner tends to overlook some glaringly obvious signs. For example, I was recently asked to help with finding the ideal sales person and then the business owner came up with “the perfect sales person” through a recommendation of a friend. All the signs were this person was low on commitment but they were ignored. It took a sales assessment to make that clear to the person and thankfully he avoided making a costly mistake.
If you want to reduce costs then there are specialist web recruitment agencies which just do the online advertising. You pay them to place a job advert online and then they collect in the resumes and forward them to you to do the initial screening. Some will do this initial screening for you and my experience is that this produces just as good results as many recruitment agencies. It does take up more time and you definitely need to do some kind of sales assessment.
Mistake # 7 – Giving up
I have seen many business owners give up on recruiting sales people because they have been burnt in the past. The truth is that they have made many of the mistakes detailed above and paid the price without learning from their mistakes. Unfortunately, without some kind of sales team the business will rarely grow to its full potential.
Some decide to go down the franchising route without realising that for their franchisee to be able to make money they will need to be able to sell and build a sales team. What they will be expecting from them is guidance on sales and marketing and success to point to.
The answer is simple and if done correctly fairly inexpensive. It involves simplifying your sales strategy and then approaching sales recruitment like you would investing in a racing horse. Make sure you have your eyes wide open and you assess the sales person thoroughly before making a commitment, no matter how desperate you are for sales. It could take a lot of sales to pay for an expensive sales recruitment mistake!