Recruiting and Retaining Sales Talent Part II

From SalesGlobe Forum
Held in Dallas on 11/6/09

This is the second in a two-part series. To read Part I click here.

SGF Member: One of the things we struggle with is, unlike someone who sells a product, we sell a service. Attracting the right people who know how to sell a service versus a product is very difficult. So I’d be interested in feedback, and what processes they’ve gone through to find that type of person.

We’re finding difficulty in finding sales people that have that aptitude to sell it. Is that something you can see on the front end? Do you have a process to pick up on a person’s competency to sell a solution, or beyond the product?

SGF Member: We spend a lot on the profiling, but for the most part, you’re still trying to get the right skills and profile for that person to be long-term successful.

SGF Member: A really interesting concept in the business or consulting industry is to take a person who is really an expert in what we do, and based on that, maybe they can sell. They are a consultant, they start as a specialist or a practitioner. Because they can’t sell consulting unless they really know how to do it.

But the dilemma is interesting. Your grow people up and you say, “Ok, now you’re a partner. You’ve got to sell it.” And suddenly he can’t sell. You’re moving people from expert to seller. And here we’re talking about: how do we take an expert and make them a seller?

SGF Member: See, for us the challenge is to find someone who is operational on the client side, who is part farmer and part hunter. Pretty simple. We do it the exact same way. They understand the breadth of it, and then you maybe help form the growth from a client relationship side.

And then, on the sales side, they’re purely hunters. Their job is to go in, understand the unmet needs of the clients, and see if there’s something our organization can do for them. Then convince them at a very senior level to do that, and then be willing to divorce themselves from it, with no emotional tie: “Charles, it’s nice doing business with you. I’m going to hook you up to Simon. He’s your client relationship manager, he’ll love you. See you later.”  So that I can focus on sales.

The challenge is finding that individual. We’ve done a great job at integration, handing it off so it’s seamless, and the client really feels engaged. What we struggle with is finding that person to do the job Simon would do. I’m not going to say it’s an easier job, to find those types of people that go out and have the grit to sell a service.

I’m wondering how others have dealt with that themselves.

SGF Member: The one thing that’s difficult is you’re not hiring entry-level sales people in that kind of job. You can have a fine track record of success in selling services: you just have to tell them what’s unique about your services versus what they’ve sold in the past. I also think you can’t hire them en mass. This is where search firms and networking come in, to hire them one at a time.

But I think you have to look at a track record of success at selling services. I don’t think you can take a product person and make him a service sales person.

SGF Member: I would agree. At my company I didn’t know anyone who made the transition from applications to the services side. We did have some people who came from the services side who made the transition to the applications side, but they had the credibility to back them up.

SGF Member: So what I’ve done is, I take a look at the most successful profile. And my business developer officer and I try to match that up. It’s difficult. You need a combination of skills. The ones that are very successful have to have the credibility, so they have to have the knowledge, the terminology, the experience.

SGF Member: We have a very solid team today, 94 people. But finding those people, you make a lot of missteps. You use a lot of recruiting firms. It’s been a challenge. So we’re very patient in the process.

SGF Member: Is there any other process? Any other way to adapt or to speed up the process? Are you able to test drive them?

SGF Member: Well not necessarily test drive them, but we talked about psychology – people, psychology and the process really then allows you to test all three of those before you ever make that hiring decision. In a 30-60 minute interview you really can’t take that much away. You really want to spend three to four hours getting these guys together and see what they would do, long term.

You can take a page from consulting – running through the pieces of what you’d want them to do. Or put them in a job, and see them in action. That’s one of the things with sales people is, they’re sales people. They’re really good in a short period of time. They’re really convincing. You get them and really see how they are in time.

This is the hardest. I got fooled many times.

SGF Member: I am a big fan of case interviews. I like to hear cases of them on a job because that’s how you really hear things. Give them a period of time. See how they deal with situations selling to you what you need. When we used to hire applications sales folks, we used to have a 95 percent success rate.

SGF Member: Is it unchartered that you can do that?

SGF Member: Nobody in our space approaches businesses like we do. So that’s great. We like that. We like unchartered. But it’s strange. We worked with a couple headhunters, and when you look at these people, at their credentials – they’re awesome. So I went before anyone else met them, and I asked a couple questions. And they said they were really good in this particular space. I don’t want a box.

So you get people who –  maybe you run into this –  if they were acceptable in their environments, they would die in another environment.

SGF Member: So are you having trouble finding the right candidates, or are the ones you’re finding not performing?

SGF Member: Well form follows function on that. I’m through with the other piece of that. It costs a lot of money to bring people on, it costs a lot of money to train them, it costs a lot of money for that entire process. If they don’t develop to the level of some of your expectations…

I’ve hired some great candidates, but the company hasn’t put them in the right position. Classic sales guy here, but guess what the company spend $5 million last year and they’re not going to buy anything for the next two years. We’ve got a great guy on the account – he’s a great guy. He didn’t suddenly forget how to sell. So you’ve got those issues.

SGF Member: So I’m asking, do you have the right candidates, and are you doing the right things for them, putting them in the right position, to be successful?

SGF Member: I want to go back and make sure I answer that properly. I think it’s a little bit of both, but more times than not it is people in the environment that’s nearest or exactly like other environments, and they’re just not having the same level of productivity.

SGF Member: I think I made my errors in that. I got in this trap: I was going out to hire sales people, and that’s what I should have been hiring. It was a large complex sales organization. The sales people didn’t develop relationships with the customer. They were more used to a lot of environments. They weren’t as successful with the longer term, ongoing relationship with the client. And so I brought in a relationship management.

I learned there are more differences there than commonalities. You don’t have to get an account manager for this customer, but it’s another filter. And looking at this candidate, if they have this kind of relationship.

In our organization that kind of relationship guy, that’s how we separate those components. Because if it’s a client you’re already engaged with and doing business with, you just trying to nurture, grow and develop that relationship.

For a client manager, put that person in front of clients that you trust. Ask your clients, “How would you feel about doing business with this person, versus your original contact?”

SGF Member: I like that trusted customer relationship.

SGF Member: I like that idea. Throwing someone new out there?

SGF Member: That doesn’t have to be the customer that guy services.

MARK DONNOLO: Ok, any other points to bring up?

SGF Member: I don’t know if you guys have exposure to this or not, but our company uses the Gallup Poll exclusively, for psychological profiles and things like that, hiring sales people across the business.

When we start a new division we go to Gallup and say, “We want these characteristics for a communications rep.” Or you can probably call Gallup and create a profile, and say, “We want these characteristics profiled.”

For us, that’s the first step: put them through the interview process. But if they don’t score well on the Gallup, they don’t move on. If they do score poorly in some areas, at least we know where. If they have vision, or know how to build a relationship, at least we know where to dig deep.

It was discussed earlier: some of those tools, when we start a new division, it’s very helpful. We know what we want in a sales person and we know the characteristics that need to be there.

SGF Member: So you’re using a good filter then to increase the probability that you’ll have a good candidate.

SGF Member: Yes, for people who work in our business units who are going to have to go in and sit down to talk to Mr. Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo or Walmart or Walgreens.

SGF Member: Can they design a profile for that as well? They can? Excellent.

SGF Member: I’m a big fan of psychological profiling; I’ve taken a half a dozen. And I’ve been impressed. I took this 30 minute test and you nailed me. I mean it was really telling. And it’s good for the candidate as well, just as it’s good for the company. Because it makes sure you get somebody that’s a good fit for them as well.

I spent the last few weeks looking at this thing. And what I liked about this approach as opposed to the Gallup plan is they analyze the top-middle, and they build a profile for your company versus a generic, this is a hunter, farmer, whatever it is. And then the system kicks out a set of interview questions, based on those questionable areas where they don’t fit.

So those people in the remote stores or wherever it is, so that’s actually a good guide. It’s kind of interesting, and seems like it’s taking us to the next level.

To learn more, visit SalesGlobe or email Mark Donnolo at mark.donnolo@salesglobe.com.

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