WHERE ARE THE GOOD, HUNGRY SALES TALENT HIDING???
I was recently involved in a forum-like discussion about the topic of how to find good salespeople for commission-only sales positions. A fellow member of an entrepreneurs group in which I’m associated with recently asked our group an important question that I have been dying to shed some light on for some time now. His question centered around the topic of the challenges of finding and attracting good salespeople… ones who will be able to perform and stand the test of time….the kind of folks who press on when the burnout starts to sink in, the ones who stay hungry even when they’re bathing in success. Where does an employer find such a person for their team?
Let’s take a look at the question that was asked by Jordan Stevenson, CEO of Media Phorm, and explore this topic for a moment because I have some great tips for you! Stevenson posted:
“I watched an interview a while back with a multi 7 figure agency owner a few months back… and the key nugget that I took from it was this: ‘Stop everything you’re doing and hire hungry, commission-only sales guys’ …Anybody with experience able to tell me the best way to find/recruit this type of beast?”
The responses from the majority of the commenters in the group post simply suggested that these kinds of professionals are just hard to find or they’re already taken. One commenter posted: “Good commission-only salespeople are like rare diamonds”. “But WHY?”, I thought to myself. Why is this such a challenge for so many sales-based corporations? And the response I came up with to my own question was this: Because sales reps need practical, vested training from experienced sales managers on how to network and communicate their sales language effectively, not obnoxiously… and they need a great support system within their organization. Here’s a look at the response I posted under Stevenson’s question:
“I agree, I used to be a recruiter for Northwestern Mutual, one of the toughest industries for any sales rep to survive. I think honing in on asking the right questions to people looking for sales jobs or to the ones you are “headhunting” is key. Dig into their psychological motivators. These factors really play a part in a person’s ability to perform to the standards in which an employer needs them to. The DISC assessment is a great tool to utilize in order to uncover whether a potential hire is cut out for the job long-term. Just as we make customer avatars to help us imagine and target our ideal customers, using this same technique to discover our ideal employees is extremely helpful. Create some employee personas/avatars and then start looking in the places that those folks are hanging out online and within the community. And don’t hesitate to become a master headhunter….you might be doing the person and the company they currently work for a favor.”
His response to my comment was well received. I got to thinking more about this topic and I want to share a little advice to those of you who may be struggling with this issue… because I was one of those unicorns and I’ll tell you exactly how I became one and how I successfully recruited these ideal employees.
SALES MANAGERS MUST BECOME SALES TEAM INVESTORS
The first point I want to make is that you (as in the recruiter, director, or manager…whatever your title may be if you are the person in charge of hiring and leading your sales team) have to be wiling to mentor, teach and coach. Use joint-work to let your reps see how YOU go to market. Let your new sales employees learn from you and they will remain loyal. Joint-work and support from their leaders will lead to their increased confidence and that confidence boost is what will keep them hungry as they find and develop their own style of approaching prospects in person and on the phone, regardless of whether the leads are warm or cold.
The Kolbe Assessment is another excellent resource to provide to your reps. The assessment will tell you about what drives your success and the way you take action. This will help your reps learn how to use their natural talents and instincts by focusing their time and energy on the areas of their business that will yield the most results in the quickest amount of time. You can Access the Kolbe Assessment here!
Have you ever heard the expression: “good salespeople aren’t born, they’re made”? It’s true! A sales manager’s performance plays a huge role in the success of the salespeople they employ. Good leadership isn’t all TALK, it’s the ACTION and INVESTMENT in the person in which you are leading that speaks multitudes and makes the impact. If you’re not willing to truly invest in your employees they wont invest in you, your company, or the products and or services they are out there trying to sell for your company. Burnout happens quick in this industry so whatever you can do to support your hard working reps when they are having a down week or going through a rough patch, DO IT! The answer to the question of “where to find good, hungry salespeople for commission-only sales positions” lies not so much in “where are these unicorns hiding” as it does in “WHO is trying to find these rare diamonds”. Sometimes all it takes is finding someone who is pliable, with a good work ethic and a willingness to learn. It’s also important that the person have great communication skills. Someone who is skilled in intra-personal communications and who is good at articulating their words, on top of being pliable and having a good work ethic is worth their weight in gold!
When I chose the topic for this month’s issue of Taking Care Of Business, I immediately knew who I wanted to interview in order to gain some good feedback and insight on this topic. That person is not only the Vice President of Sales at Pollock Company in Augusta, Georgia but he just so happens to be my dad, Jimmy Richards. Jimmy has been with Pollock Company for 34 years and has managed their sales team for 27 of those years. So if we do the math, that leaves 7 years of working for the company where he wasn’t in charge of managing the sales team. So what was he doing during those first 7 years??? He was a sales rep himself.
Richards started his career hitting the pavement, working his you know what off, and learning the ropes, while building a rapport with his customers. He has proven experience in the field, and that is what makes him the effective sale manager, and now Vice President of Sales in which he is, today. “If your sales reps do not have their sales manager’s support and their manager isn’t investing 110% in them from day one, they’ll be gone within the first 90 days on the job”, said Richards. I’ll paraphrase the key takeaways I got from our conversation… here are three crucial tips Richards shared with me:
- Tip # 1: Joint-work. When I asked him what his training process was, he replied, when I hire a new rep, “ I start working with him one-on-one on the first day he comes in…I hit the road with him and we grind the pavement together…that’s where they are going to learn.” He mentioned that sales training schools are a great addition to building good salespeople but nothing takes the place of learning from, and working one-on-one with, a sales manager that has proven experience and success in the field.
- Tip # 2: Modern day technology still can’t measure up to the effectiveness of face-to-face human interaction. “The problem with many people in the sales industry is that they don’t want to get out their office, away from their computer and step up to the plate…they send emails to leads…everyone wants to use email today to drum up business but the truth of the matter is the person your trying to win over, they’re not going to read your email because they get hundreds of emails from people just like you trying to get their business.”, said Richards, also mentioning, “You as a salesperson have got to do something different than every other rep out there…you got to get face-to-face with the people you are trying to reach. If they don’t see you the first time that’s okay, go back a couple of weeks later and try to get in front of them again.”
- Tip #3: Your reps have to “know your product inside and out, be able to communicate the product and your companies value proposition, and-they have to understand their potential and existing customers’ workflow” in order to better position themselves for a win.
When I asked Richards what he looks for in a potential hire, his answer was simple:
“ I want to see someone that has a blue-collar work ethic, someone who has a proven track record of a willingness to learn from others and history that proves that he’s a hard worker who has what it takes to survive in this business…So I ask questions to feel him out, like ‘what did you do in high school? Did you work a part-time job and or play sports?, What did you do in college? Did you work your way through college or play sports? What was your GPA and what did you study in college? How did you make the most of your time when your were in school?”
After talking to my Dad, I quickly realized we where on the same page. When I asked him: “who would you rather hire: someone who is ‘extraordinary’, straight out of the box, or someone who is pliable, has a good work ethic and a desire to learn from the best, with an ability to communicate and build trust with your customers by being genuine?” … I don’t think I need to tell you which option he chose but if you haven’t picked up on it yet, it was the latter of the two. I’ve learned a lot about business from my Dad and watching how he invests his time in each and every one of his sales reps and his customers. Having that type of role model in my life played a huge part in my own success in sales and in business… so imagine what you could do if you modeled that type of behavior with your own sales team!! In addition to having the privilege to watch my father work over the years, I’ve also been blessed to have had a “sales manager” who took this same approach and invested 110% in me when I joined his team.
My former boss and associate at Northwestern Mutual in Augusta, Georgia, Gil Eaves, (who at that time was the Managing Director for the Augusta district office), set a perfect example of this type of leadership. He was so much more than just a “boss”…he is an investor in people. Gil Eaves, owner and founder of Eaves Financial Group, was and still remains to be my teacher, mentor, cheerleader, and a constant source of knowledge.
He’s always been eager to share his knowledge and advice with me and any of his sales team members who simply take the initiative to ask for it. Gil has helped mold my success and still supports my career and all of my professional efforts to this day, even though I’m no longer with his company. And I am still “repping” for him any chance I get, because I believe that he has great value to offer that other people need and I want my clients to have the opportunity to work with an incredible leader who truly has their best interest at heart.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Hire people that are not out just to make a career in sales but a career in selling what your company sells. They have to be passionate about your company’s offer and be excited to share it with others…that’s the emotional driver that keeps us hungry and relentless. A good way to discover this information about a person you’re interviewing would be to use targeted questions that are focused on the product or services in which the potential candidate for the job would be selling. For example, If you were interviewing a candidate for a sales representative position for a financial planning firm, you should ask them specifically if financial planning is something they truly feel is extremely important to them in their own life and why. There are a lot of ways you can get into the minds of those you’re interviewing by asking the RIGHT questions.
Back to Stevenson’s question, there was another response from a commenter within our group on Stevenson’s post that I really loved. I thought it was a fabulous tip. Tom Midds, Owner of Journey’s End Marketing, stated:
“…one critical aspect of a good salesperson is their ability to explain concepts clearly. Whether that’s explaining the offering of their previous company, or how they approach a sale, heck even get them to explain to you their favorite hobby – the rules of NFL or something.”
Using this technique when interviewing a potential hire is an excellent way to learn whether the person will be cut out for the job, especially if what they’re selling requires complex concepts that need to be taught to potential clients in order to close deals.
IF YOU’RE NOT A SKILLED RECRUITER, HIRE SOMEONE WHO IS! This is What Good Recruiting Looks Like:
Years ago I was recruited for a summer college internship with Northwestern Mutual. Northwestern Mutual’s nationally recognized financial representative Internship Program has ranked in top 10 for internships in the U.S. for 21 straight years and was ranked the #1 internship in the financial services industry by Vault.com. It was the real deal, a commission-only sales job that allowed me to learn from some of the best sales professionals in the industry. I was recruited by their then recruiter, Sarah Johnston, whom approached me in the commons area of my college campus at Augusta State University ( now called Augusta University). The building she chose to mingle with the students in was the School of Business building which also held the Department of Communications and Marketing. Genius! Sarah knew that would be the best place to reach the people who were the most cut out for the internship based on their field of study.
The point I’m trying to make here leads back to my advice to all of you to create a handful employee avatars/personas that consist of fictional profiles of what you’re ideal employee looks like. Then go to the places where these folks are hanging out. Having a recruiter on your team is so very beneficial. Designate someone who is already on your team to handle this aspect of your business if you cannot afford to hire an additional staff member. But make sure that person has the personality that fits right with the role of recruiting.
Sarah Johnston’s days of recruiting for Northwestern Mutual are over, but because she set out to start her own, now wildly successful company, The Briefcase Coach. Sarah is a Resume and Career Coach who specializes in one-on-one interview coaching and feedback sessions.
Her expertise could offer valuable insights for employers on the hiring front. Check out her website briefcasecoach.com to learn more about how Sarah can help answer some of the tough questions people are asking about finding and attracting hungry commission-only salespeople. Like Richards mentioned during our conversation, “…your reps need the full support of their sales managers, and a team of people in place within the company that can assist them whenever they need support…”, whether it be technical, emotional or just help with their sales language.
DELEGATE ADMINISTRATIVE TASKS SO THAT YOUR REPS CAN FIND SOME TIME TO ACTUALLY GET OUT AND SELL SOMETHING
Johnston acted, not only as a recruiter for Northwestern Mutual, but as an accountability partner for all of our Augusta reps and she worked hard to find us opportunities to get involved in the community, pushing us to get out of the office and network. If your company doesn’t already have a designated person(s) to fulfill this type of role then you need to start looking for someone quick because it makes all the difference, saving your company time and money in the long run. It will also contribute to a decrease in the turnover rate of your reps. If you’re honest with yourself and your company currently meets the definition of a “revolving door” company then something needs to change fast and it might even be that you need to make the difficult decision to “clean house” and start “taking care of YOUR business” and your sales team.
It might be time to start thinking about hiring some key people to focus on guiding your reps and bringing them some much needed encouragement and motivation. The culture of your organization affects your employees and their performance. Toxic work environments are one of the top contributing factors at play for those “revolving door” type companies. No one wants to stay with a company who’s culture is so negative and competitive that they can barely stomach going into the office each day. Think of ways in which you can create a supportive and positive work environment for your entire staff.
Hiring an employee to help out with some of the administrative tasks that consume so much of a sales reps’ time, is a great place to start. This person could even act as an accountability partner for your reps and also help them with finding creative networking opportunities that are time efficient, yet effective. They could even help scout leads for the company.
*”According to a survey conducted by Zoom, 89% of survey respondents said their company has missed opportunities because sales reps could not leverage all the information available to them.” (Source: LinkedIn Pulse- Lauren Barber)
So my advice would be to have an employee or two help with some of the time consuming tasks such as searching and finding up-to-date contact information for key players in the buyers company so that your sales reps can spend more time selling than they do on updating data into their CRM system.
EMPLOYER BRANDING IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS CONSUMER-FOCUSED BRANDING
One last thing I want to touch on is the role in which Marketing plays in all of this. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “marketing” as:
noun | mar-ket-ing
2 :an aggregate of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer
The key word here being “aggregate”. Companies can not direct their marketing efforts as a means of functioning solely as a tool for reaching consumers. Your marketing is the driving force in creating brand awareness that aids in employer branding. We need to be using good marketing as a tool to position our companies to attract the cream of the crop employees. Sabrina Balmick, Marketing Manager at ACA Talent, hit the nail on the head with this “tip for structuring commission-oriented sales positions”:
“Offer a clear value proposition. Employer branding is critical in attracting in-demand talent to commission-driven opportunities. Apart from pay, what sets your company apart from competing employers? Why would a top candidate work for you? This is an opportunity to promote your company’s culture, benefits, perks, and everything that makes you unique. Also, consider your products and services. Why should a rep sell your product or service over a competitor’s? What makes you different? Marketing doesn’t only influence current buyers. Today’s candidate (or employee) may be tomorrow’s customer.” Sabrina Balmick, Recruiting Commission-Based Salespeople (See full article here)
In closing, I just want to say, that yes, I believe there are certain personalities that are more cut out for sales but the important thing we should be focusing on is how we can do our part to ensure that our reps have the best possible chance of succeeding in this business. Asking the right questions during the interview process, providing an inner-office support system, and investing one-on-one time in our reps through mentoring or joint-work is the best way to ensure that you will hire, grow, and keep excellent salespeople who will want to invest their time and energy into growing your organization.