About 5 years ago, I hired an individual for a sales role. He looked like a perfect fit. He was a recent college graduate. He had worked his way through school with a job off campus. He participated in competitive sports at the college level and his grades were good but not too good. He checked all the boxes.
After 2 months, he was a total failure.
What did we do wrong? We forgot to account for the fact that salespeople are different. The Profession of Selling is different. It’s different because it requires certain skills and attitudes that no other role in your company requires.
Think about this! Imagine you’re hiring someone for an administrative, finance or other non-selling position. You identify the role. You set the expectations. You tell them what you need them to do and give them the tools they need to be successful. You tell them who the people are to talk with to get some help if they need it and away they go. Most of the time it works out and everyone benefits.
You do the same thing for your new salespeople, right? Is it just as common for them to work out? Why not? What’s missing?
There are several unique skills and attitudes necessary for a salesperson to be successful that are not necessary in any other role in your company. I’ll identify three. Your chances of a successful sales hire go down quickly if you don’t account for these, both in your hiring process as well as your onboarding and training process.
First is the ability to deal with Competition. On a daily basis, salespeople deal with competitors whose number one job is to see them fail. And many competitors will go to any lengths, even lying, to make that happen. Do your other team members have obstacles to deal with? Of course, they do! But if the phone system or the internet goes down, or you can’t get a call back from an underwriter, those kinds of things are frustrating obstacles to success. It’s not the same as dealing with people whose purpose in life is to see you fail.
Second is the ability to deal with Prospects. For purposes of this article, let’s define a Prospect as someone who has a genuine need for what we’re selling and the ability to pay for it. A successful salesperson knows this is not enough! Any salesperson making outbound calls faces the fact that even the best prospects are resistant to change. They may even be hostile. Rarely are prospects waiting for the salesperson’s call and it’s common that they will resist being sold to even if it is in their own best interest. As the old saying goes, “no one likes to be sold but everyone likes to buy”.
Lastly, sometimes it’s the salesperson him or herself who gets in their own way. Things like Self-Limiting Beliefs, the ability to handle rejection and not take it personally or having an appropriate need for approval. It’s what goes on between their ears that will make all the difference. We’ve identified 6 core competencies that constitute what we call “Sales DNA”. These have proven to be strong predictors of sales success.
So if your goal is to hire salespeople who will be effective selling your company’s products and services despite all these challenges, make sure to utilize a hiring process designed to quickly find, identify, attract, interview, hire and retain top sales talent. Don't use the same process you use for other roles.
I'll give you one more old saying. “It’s the unspoken objection that kills most deals”. In a similar fashion, it’s what you don’t know about that potential sales hire that will make or break them as a sales success story. The question is this: Would you rather find out before they’re hired, or wait a couple months, like I did?
Remember that new hire I mentioned at the beginning of this article? Luckily for us, we had an opening in another, non-selling role. He was moved to that role and is today an AVP and a very valuable member of the team. Which proves my point. He was a good hire, just not a good SALES hire. Why? Because Salespeople are different.
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Last week, in a LinkedIn post from an Organizational Psychologist, it was suggested that if you can’t trust people to work from home, maybe you shouldn’t have hired them in the first place. This completely misses the point that working remotely, especially salespeople working remotely, requires a different set of skills. Not just sales skills but skills throughout the company, including management skills, systems and a better support structure.
As we get used to the new normal, the skills that got us here won’t be the ones that keep us here and certainly won’t be the ones to take us to the next level.
By some estimates, only 41% of all salespeople are well-suited for working remotely from home. It requires the ability to work without supervision, to be a self-starter and to be able to work independently of physical proximity to the rest of the team.
Managing such a team represents new challenges as well. Being able to coach, motivate and support a team takes a lot more than just looking at call counts. That was true before and it is critical in the brave new world we live in now.
Remember the CRM? Back in February (doesn’t that seem like a long time ago?) it was just annoying when you couldn’t get docs done because of a missing field and had to walk over to talk to the salesperson. It was just annoying when an important customer called the office and you didn’t know about the conversation they had with your salesperson the day before. It was just annoying when only 50% of the sales forecast came through. Now those things can be mission critical. Setting expectations about using the system and holding people accountable matters now more than ever.
So, what do you do? My suggestion is to start with an honest inventory of your sale teams’ strengths and weaknesses. If you don’t know where you’re starting and what you have to work with, it’s hard to chart a path to get you where you need to go.
By identifying the core competencies (we look at 21) in your sales teams, you can:
Whatever you decide to do, do it NOW. Everything changed back in March and it isn’t going back to the way it was any time soon. I was here in 1987 when the stock market crashed. I lived through the dot-com bubble in the 1990s, 9/11, and the credit crisis of 2008+. This is different. We’re going to be living with this for a while.
So, it’s time to go on offense. Figure out how to use this new reality to your advantage. Find and use trusted advisors. Those who do will thrive and those who don’t…. well, listen, just be one of the ones who do. And keep washing your hands.
Yes, every business Owner or CEO has some important questions to ask. The answers will determine who thrives and who gets left behind.
I doubt that there’s a single person reading this who is happy about the Coronavirus and its effect on the economy. The company presidents and owners I talk with are all frustrated and concerned about the forced transition it’s inflicting upon us. They’re looking at their sales teams and asking, “Who’s going to help us sell our way out of this crisis and how are they going to do it?” Even when the economy “re-opens,” most people recognize that many of these changes are here to stay.
While we can’t control the overall economy, we can control our reaction to it. In fact, how we react over the next 6 months is going to determine who thrives and who gets left behind.
One of the hardest and yet simplest choices we need to make is whether to play defense and hope everything goes back to normal or to play offense and embrace these changes. Every company needs to be thinking about these questions, addressing them and taking action accordingly.
Two things are clear. First, the transition we’re experiencing is not optional. We don’t have a choice in the matter. It’s affecting all of us. Second, we do have choices in terms of what we do with it and how to react. The answers to the questions above, and many others, will determine each company’s best path forward and how to chart that path.
Now’s the time to embrace the new reality and make some smart decisions. The choices we make in the short term will determine who thrives and comes out of this on top and who gets left behind.
I’d welcome your thoughts and feedback.
First things first, everyone needs to take care of their physical and emotional health. Wash your hands. Practice “social distancing”. Use the phone, Facetime, Zoom and the many tools we have available to stay in touch with friends and family. We’re all in this together and we can get through it together.
The world changed a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago, how many people used words like “Covid-19” or “pandemic”? Whoever even heard of “Social Distancing”?
I guarantee that about 9 months from now, we’ll all look back at the events of 2020 and a lot of what we’ll see will be determined by the actions we take today. Company owners and executives who take the time now to make sure their sales organizations are strong, optimized and effective will be the ones who prosper despite current events.
Some questions to consider:
The answers to these questions will vary widely from company to company but one thing’s for sure. More than ever in recent memory, the companies who can answer these vital questions, and many more, and act on those answers, will be the companies that make it through this crisis and come out stronger than ever on the other side.
The world changed a few weeks ago. Those of us who can change with it will continue to thrive.
How about you? As a business leader, are you thinking about:
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Barry Goldwater once said, "American Business has just forgotten the importance of selling". Senator Goldwater could easily have been talking about the Equipment Financing industry.
Those who know me know that I like to keep things really simple. To that end, I tell every Business Development Representative in our company that they have one, and only one, primary objective: Find deals we can fund. What could be more important? And notice I'm not talking about just any deals but rather deals we can fund and as a result, get paid. We're not in business to turn people down.
So, what does that have to do with the importance of prospecting? In my 30 year sales career and in the 18 years I've been in the Equipment Financing industry, I've noticed that the vast majority of training has more to so with how to identify a qualified customer, and less with how to find a qualified customer. Let me explain.
How to identify qualified customers has more to do with knowing and understanding credit criteria: A Credits, B Credits, knowing the appetite and approval guidelines of funding sources, etc. These are very important aspects of getting deals funded (and hence getting paid) and I don't want to minimize their importance. These things are important and vital to success in this industry. But identifying and finding are very different things.
Finding new, qualified customers is something different. It includes all things related to the early stages of the sales process. Things like Prospecting, Qualifying, and getting early agreements to move forward. It's been my experience that these sales related skills don't get the attention they need and deserve in today's marketplace.
Prospecting is the first step in creating a list of potential clients. It doesn't matter if your business comes from direct outreach to potential lessees, from Vendors, from existing clients or from anywhere else--chances are that the deal you're working on right now, the one you hope to fund soon, is on your desk because somebody somewhere made an initial contact with that customer. There was an initial contact and that contact occurred because of prospecting.
It's been said that nothing happens until a sale is made. And a sale can't be completed, a deal can't get funded, until an initial contact is made, and that initial contact happens as a result of Prospecting!
Countless books have been written over the years about prospecting, the frame of mind to have and ways to do it effectively. It's beyond the scope of this article to dive in too deeply but I'll give you two big ideas:
Sounds simple enough, right? But here's the challenge. Remember when I said prospecting is a person-to-person process? That process involves people and people, by their very nature, are not simple. Prospecting may be simple to do (just do it!) but it's not so simple to do well. Prospecting requires skills, training and a repeatable process. It's way too important to try to just wing it. Make sure you have a plan, a process, and a commitment to prospect on a daily basis.
So, what's a politician like Barry Goldwater doing talking about sales? Before he was a US Senator and a presidential candidate, young Barry Goldwater ran his family's department store. Goldwater's Department Stores can trace its roots back to a small store that opened in the 1860s in Gila, Arizona. After his service in WWII, he found it difficult to go back and decided instead on a career in politics, but he never forgot the lessons he learned in the family business, lessons about selling.
And I'm sure we can all agree; a good politician knows a few things about selling.