A Word from the General Manager - January 2015

January 1, 2015

Building Your Sales Team

Brian Isard

For many small businesses it is often the owner who is responsible for sales, this is done for a good reason…it is their passion and thorough product knowledge that delivers sales results.

With business picking up across the country, many business owners are thinking of adding sales personnel or improving their existing sales staff but are finding it a real challenge recruiting people for those positions. Over the years I worked both as a salesperson and as a sales manager so recruiting salespeople was part of my job. I have learned some good lessons in the process, and while I can’t say that they will get you the best salesperson, these lessons may help you avoid hiring someone who will waste your time and money.

Hiring Right: Start by thinking about what you are offering the potential salesperson and what you expect them to do. Build a job description detailing: territory, performance expectations, tasks you want done, selling tools, sales compensation, training program, a realistic evaluation of the market and the competition, and opportunities for advancement. This is difficult work but it has been my experience that many salespeople fail in their role because company management is unclear about what exactly they are looking for and offering. This lack of clarity leads to unclear communications, which in turn leads to poor hiring decisions. Matching your company's sales needs and the selling style to your new hires is the first step in getting good salespeople.

Skill Sets: A true sales professional has a strong sense of empathy, which is the ability to identify with customers, to feel what they are feeling, and make customers feel respected. You either have to hire a proven salesperson, or find someone who actually enjoys to meet people and sell to them. People in the latter category do exist; but they will need some training to be successful in our industry.

Alignment with Business Goals: Salespersons have different roles in a company and often it is not fully explained to them where they fit in the overall plan for the business. Consider first whether you are looking to fill an entry level position where you are willing to train the new hire or a seasoned sales professional who brings with him his or her existing client base.

Certain companies require salespeople to focus on relationships with existing clients while other companies are looking for outside salespeople who are skilled at making cold calls on new customers. Careful consideration of sales objectives forces the business owner to clarify whether this sales position is intended to immediately generate new sales or perhaps develop contacts for a sales cycle that may stretch into months or years. 

Compensation: People ask me which the best way to compensate salespeople: salary only, base salary plus commission, commission only with an advance, or straight commission. Another question I have been asked is whether the use of brokers is a good option where you pay purely on results provided. What I have found is that if you aren’t paying some sort of salary, the employment status is unclear and you have less control over when and how hard salespeople work. Budgeting for a base salary with a commission percentage that ties performance to a level of income ensures that salesperson your can make a good living. 

A number of business owners have successfully recruited and retained good salespeople by giving them a share of the business or used profit –sharing to ensure that these key people are invested in your company’s future. 

Induction Training: Provide extensive training in both the products and services you expect them to sell. 

Put all new hires on a 4-6-month probation period. Evaluate their sales efforts by monitoring their attitude, behaviour, and technique to ensure you have recruited someone who can actually sell at the level you need them to.

Key Performance Indicators: Sales management is crucial so be clear about how this will be handled and who they report to. I have used the sales funnel strategy to keep control of the sales process. The sales funnel can be defined as:

  • Prospects (customers you once had that you want back, cold calls & leads developed),
  • Data Collection (copy of specifications, volume requirements, quality requirements, Opportunities to Quote)
  • Trials (Samples delivered for testing)
  • Wins (New Business Closed).

What I tracked is where the salesperson is in the sales funnel. Using these lead indicators helped me flush out whether the salesperson had any closing problems in the sales process. By quantifying the number of prospects at each stage of the process, you can predict the number of prospects who will, in time, become customers. It shows you where there are roadblocks, or if there are an insufficient number of leads at any stage in the sales process. This knowledge allows you to focus attention in your coaching effort to keep sales at targeted levels.

Support your people with weekly meetings and review their progress. There are some inexpensive tools available to automate the sales management process using Customer Relationship management (CRM) software allows you to see how many calls they have made weekly and what their closing rate throughout the sale processes.

Whether it is looking after existing clients or prospecting for new ones, the challenge is to keep close to the customer and the rest is just plain hard work.

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