Have you taken the time to define what you want in a sales person and what process you will utilize to recruit that person? If your company has a sales force or wishes to build one, it is worth investing the time to define what you want in a sales rep and what your process for recruiting him will be. Successfully building a great sales force does not happen by accident. Success is the result of vision, of careful planning and of meticulous execution. What I will outline in this brief article are some of the considerations for building a direct sales force. A similar path might be described for building a force of independent reps, and/or a force of telesales reps.
Perhaps the first step is to consider the purpose of the sales force. What will they be required to do and what are the carefully defined results you will want from them? For instance, are they selling something simple or a complex system? Are they required to call on a single defined buyer or will they be involved in complex strategic selling into a large, diverse organization? Will your sales person be the point person for your organization who must orchestrate a complex sale that requires the orchestration of multiple support people and specialists or will he be a simple ???¦?detail???¦? person? Will you want them to just sell a product or establish the vision, reputation, and dominance of your company in the chosen market. Once you know what a person will have to do you will be in a better position to define what characteristics that person must have to qualify for the position.
Take time to define those qualifications on an interview sheet. Involve Human Resources in the discussion as well as other key people in the organization. As an example you may have requirements such as: honesty, persistence, prior sales achievement, sales experience at a defined level, written and verbal communication skills, negotiation skills and specific training, a college degree or an advanced degree of a specific type, technology and computer skills (ability with specific software), the ability to establish high trust relationships, the ability and willingness to work long hours and to travel, the ability to work some weekends, self starter/high initiative, good judgment, problem solver, organized, etc. Establishing this list of requirements will take some time, but it is worth the effort.
Now that you have the list of qualifications (both required and nice to have) spend some time developing open-ended questions that elicit answers that will reveal whether or not this person meets the criteria for the position.
Evaluate competitive sales forces, and their pay and benefits packages in the industry that you are in. Be certain that whatever you are going to build will be equal to or superior to that which you will be competing with. If you aim too low you will bake failure in before you begin. Better to exceed the competition if possible. That will allow you to attract high caliber people from their organizations. That can get you off to a fast start.
In recruiting great people, it helps a lot if you are someone they can respect. Make certain that you are doing all you can to hold yourself to the highest standards of character, honesty and integrity, learning, experience, communication skills, courage, grooming, and other professional business and leadership standards.
Develop your vision to share with and inspire the candidate. Make sure that your vision is in alignment with the company’s vision. Sales people want to be inspired by a cause greater than simply making money, or self aggrandizement. The best sales people want to be part of a worthwhile cause. For instance the sales force I built for a vital signs monitoring company was involved in saving lives, reducing morbidity, and making the health care system more efficient, not just in selling monitors. Another example is the eye care company I developed a sales force for. We didn’t just sell ophthalmic surgical equipment and intraocular lenses, we helped to return vision to the blind. The greater cause inspires the greater effort which produces outstanding results. Leaders have and share vision. Where there is no vision the sales force perishes.
Now develop your process. In brief I will describe below what that process might look like.
Step 1) Definition. In this step you will design and define territories, compensation plan, benefits package, offer letter, auto program (if there will be one), sales policies, recognition program, stock option program, profit sharing, etc. Complete the design of the recruiting process and be certain that there is buy-in at the top levels of the organization. Make sure that it has been reviewed by human resources. Define and develop your sales training. Have a vision for career advancement opportunities. Great sales people are often looking for career advancement opportunities. This work is preparation that should be completed before you launch your recruiting effort. Great sales people will have questions about these things. If you can???¦??t answer the questions, don???¦??t expect great sales people to come on board.
Step 2) Candidate Pool Development. In this step you will develop a pool of candidates. This can be arranged by advertising, through networking, by working through industry recruiters, and by asking top customers and existing sales people for recommendations. Require resumes. If you are looking for top candidates do not limit them to 1-page resumes, rather ask for details.
Step 3) Initial screening of the candidates. If you have a large pool of candidates screen them with the information received in step 2. Your goal is to eliminate unqualified candidates and narrow down to a select few to interview. You will save yourself a lot of time if you will do this. Often you can screen candidates out simply by examining their resume.
Step 4) Screening interview. This interview will be held with the top five or so candidates for a given territory. Of course this will be done individually. Some managers will do a phone interview before an initial face-to-face interview. In this interview you will explain that this is a brief screening interview. Explain that you will be asking the questions and there will not be time in this interview for their questions. Drill down hard on areas where you have concerns about the individual, their education, their experience, and/or their lack of achievement. You are looking for reasons not to hire as much as you are looking for reasons to hire. Develop a system for scoring the candidates that will allow you to quickly determine your top remaining candidates. Don???¦??t lie to yourself; when you see red flags, dig down with questions; be willing to drop the candidate. Don???¦??t settle for less just because you want to fill the position. In the long run, you will thank yourself for hiring the best. In sales, as in most anything, 20% of the people produce 80% of the results. You are looking for that 20% all the time.
Step 5) Initial Face-to-Face interview. If you are the national sales manager, director of sales or VP of Sales you may wish to delegate the screening interview and the initial face-to-face interview to a trained district or regional manager. However, if the manager is new, be sure to accompany them on these interviews so they can see how it is done and so you can observe them in an interview situation. As you build a sales force, make certain that your managers are well trained in the recruiting process, that they see your interview example, and that they know what you expect from them. They need to be meticulous in following the process. During the interview ask lots of questions and drill down on areas of concern. Watch the body language; it will often give you clues when its time to drill down.
Step 6) Second Interview. By now the district or region manager has narrowed down to two candidates. The manager may wish to ask one of his sales people to accompany him on this interview to observe. It???¦??s good to have two sets of eyes and ears. You are looking for top performance, confidence, great experience, sales and negotiation skills, communications skills, integrity, work ethic, determination and commitment, big dreams and goals, and a host of other things. Take the time to get to know this person. Take them out to lunch. Invite them to bring their spouse to dinner later so you can see them in a more relaxed setting when their guard might be down a little. Make a selection by the next day and inform both candidates of your decision. Remember, the finalist you select is going back to the home office for a final interview. Don???¦??t assume the home office will rubber stamp the selection. The manager should ask the candidate for a commitment to perform at the top of his performance capability if you are going to recommend him as the finalist for the position.
Step 7) Background check Complete a background check on the finalist candidate. Human resources will help you to check out qualifications such as past employment, college degrees and other training they have had. The region or district manager should talk directly to the references provided by the candidate. You should prepare a list of questions that you would want that manger to address with the references. Assuming everything checks out, the candidate will proceed to the next step.
Step 8) Final Interviews The finalist candidate will come back to the home office. Here they may have interviews with people from senior management that might include human resources, VP of sales, CFO, and President or CEO. At the end of their scheduled interviews, ask each of the managers involved to submit an interview sheet with their recommendation. It is recommended that you caucus together to discuss the candidate. Unless there are very strong objections to the candidate the Director of Sales together with the VP of Sales should have the final say in extending the call. Be certain that no details of compensation, start date, etc. are promised until there is agreement inside the organization, typically an offer letter should come from human resources.
If things fall apart with the finalist candidate you probably have a back up candidate from the second interview. That might be your fall back. Not every company can be as picky as what I???¦??ve outlined above (some can be even more choosey than this). The better the compensation package offered, the better product offering, the better the reputation of the company, the better the training, the better the benefits, and the better the reputation of the management team, the more picky you can be in your selection process. Always hire the best you can afford. Always try to recruit people that are as good or better than you are. People of high character tend to be the people who produce the most and require the least maintenance.
Books have been written about recruiting. I don???¦??t intend to do that here. I suggest that you have a process somewhat like I have described above and that you follow that process and improve upon it. Take a course or two about recruiting. Understand the human resources side of things, the legal ???¦?dos and don???¦??ts???¦?. The quality of your people will determine the quality of your organization and your results. Set the bar high and keep raising it. Great people will attract other great people. Great sales reps don???¦??t want to be associated with mediocre sales forces.
Now that you???¦??ve hired them, train them. Don???¦??t skimp in this area unless you expect skimpy results. Be certain you have taken the time to carefully define in detail what you need them to learn in order to be successful and competent. The managers should be able to complete much of this training with the reps. However, you may want to bring the rep to the home office in order to include other key people in the training. Engineering, marketing, product managers, human resources, the president of the company, and others may need to play a role in your training in order to ensure competence in your sales people. Training is a topic for another article. But don???¦??t believe that simply hiring a great sales person is all there is to building a great sales force. If you fall short on training even a great sales person may fail or may produce mediocre results. Plan to spend time and money on training.
You will find while building a sales force that recruiting and training will be continuous ongoing efforts. As soon as you have hired a few people you will start to lose or terminate them for a variety of reasons too numerous to delineate in this brief article. Plan to be always recruiting. Plan to become a great recruiter that hires the best people. Plan to be perpetually training your sales team. Those things are key to having a top-drawer sales force that produces outstanding sales results.