When you have an opening in sales, do you hire a sales person or a member of a sales team?
Are you still hiring to a specific “type,” each one a clone of the other? Is your sales organization just a collection of sales free agents each pursuing their individual goals?
Or, do you have a sales “team?”
A Sales Team Shortens The Learning Curve of New Reps
As a manager you have to look at the challenge of building a sales team like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. A successful sales team is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a collection of individuals who possess complementary skill sets and who view themselves, first and foremost, as members of a team.
This is especially important for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that typically have fewer resources, less formal sales structures and often don’t have in place consistent processes for the on-boarding and training of new salespeople. How are your new salespeople going to get up to speed and productive as quickly as possible?
You could invest in a formal training program. It can be a valuable resource to have available for your reps. But studies show that much of structured training is quickly forgotten. It is estimated that people forget as much as 90% of what they learned in a classroom training environment within 30 days.
So, how do new sales people learn the ropes, and how do they learn to successfully sell your product or service? They could read a book. Or attend a webinar. But the most effective way for new reps to learn is by watching others on your sales team and patterning their actions after the successful sales reps. They seeking out mentoring by more experienced members of the team, they participate in calls and go on customer visits with senior reps to see how they sell. But this mentoring and collaboration won’t happen if everyone on your sales team is pre-occupied with looking out for #1.
The Importance of Mentoring
In my first sales job I learned from watching and listening to Gary. Gary was the first really good salesperson I ever met. He had a disciplined prospecting process he followed and was knocking it out of the park. He wasn’t a classic mentor in the sense that he didn’t actively reach out to help newbies like me. But he was more than happy to share his methods and give feedback and advice if you demonstrated the initiative to approach him and ask for his assistance. Which I did. Looking back, I estimated that Gary’s advice shaved at least six months off of my learning curve in this new profession (which was huge because it helped me qualify for President’s Club in my first year.)
Gary didn’t have to spend his time to help me. It certainly took time away from his selling. But, by inclination, he was someone who wanted to help. (He also knew that what went around came around. As I became a competent, trusted sales rep, then Gary was comfortable having me look after his active prospects while he went on vacation.)
Your sales team should be like a family with 10 kids. Ask each one, as an adult, who had the biggest influence on their development as a kid and they are just as likely to mention a sibling as they are a parent. That is what you are striving for with your sales team. Certainly salespeople are influenced by great managers, but much of their sales learning comes from the examples set by their peers and attempts to mimic their behaviors with customers to attain the same results.
What’s Your Hiring Plan?
What does this mean for the hiring sales manager, especially in an SMB?
It means that before you hire, you need to carefully plan for the composition of your sales team. Instead of every rep matching a certain profile in a personality assessment, think strategically about the range of customer types that you sell to. Then, write down a list of the mix of skills, experience, expertise, and personalities that will create the most productive selling environment for your company.
Because the issue is not only about how a team environment accelerates the development of new salespeople, sharing of best practices and people working collaboratively to maximize the productivity of the team. It is also about how you sell and who you sell to. Because, if everyone you hire is the same, who is going to handle the prospects that are different?
I work with a client who had strong opinions about the type of salesperson he wanted to hire. And, it worked. For a while. But then their market started to shift (as markets invariably do) and they didn’t change how, and who, they hired to adapt to this new reality. One day they woke up and realized that they didn’t have the skills, experience or expertise in place on the sales team to effectively develop and sell new prospects. Suddenly, there were gaps in their capabilities that left them vulnerable to competition. (And, that’s when I got their call.)
Before you make that next sales hire, take a step back and create a hiring plan that factors in where your markets are headed and what that will mean about the type of customers that you will sell to and the types of skills and experience you’ll need on your sales team in order to sell to them. Be sure to also factor in your requirements for team players who will willingly share best practices and mentor others on your sales team. Then, instead of hiring an individual, hire a member of the team.