So, you are about to hire your first salesperson. Here are the top 5 ways you will screw it up.
As I’ve been working with company owners in the contracting and building materials industry, there comes a time when an owner asks themselves “do I want to keep this company as a lifestyle business, or do I want to build something bigger than myself?” When people come to me and inquire about how to go about taking the next steps, I offer my advice. Sometimes the owner listens and gets results, sometimes they ignore the hard pill that I just gave them to swallow and they end up hiring someone who was never set up to succeed. Unfortunately for them, the salesperson is gone in three to six months primarily due to underperformance. There are several variables that can be the cause of this, but one thing is certain – it’s the owner’s fault that the first sales hire wasn’t a success.
Here are 5 ways you will screw it up when making your first sales hire for your business.
Screw up #1 – Hiring early & not putting a system in place that you digest first
Typically, owners are good sellers themselves because they have their backs against the wall and have the decision-making ability to dictate prices. Owners are motivated enough to sell deals and take action because they know that they’re working themselves out of the job and passionate enough about what they do to take the deal to the finish line. However, most owners don’t have a good process that they follow themselves, they wing it. They rely on their instinct and knowledge, but it’s almost impossible to translate into a person’s mind in a short period of time. However, even technically gifted, operationally oriented owners can “learn” the fundamentals of sales. I make this point for two main reasons – if the owner invests in themselves with a solid sales plan, process, and coaching, they may not feel the need to hire a salesman at all for a little while longer because they’re more productive. That’s the ideal situation, right? After all, who needs overhead and distraction just for the fun of it? The second reason for an owner to digest a strong selling system before hiring a salesman is this – the owner is going to have to be the sales manager! A huge part of wearing the sales manager hat is coaching, motivating and holding people accountable. If the owner doesn’t have an approach to sales that they’ve incorporated themselves, there will be a strong disconnect and it won’t be authentic. Worse than that, the selling system won’t stick, and your salesperson will fail. Hiring should be born of necessity, so optimizing the right habits, leads, disciplines, and approaches should occur first.
Screw up #2 – Having the wrong expectations
Nothing is worse than unmet expectations. Emotions will come up like anger, disappointment, anxiousness, and even panic. Owners shouldn’t expect their first salesperson to be the sudden replacement of all your productivity. If you imagine a Major League Baseball team – there’s big leaguers and minor leaguers. Your new salesperson is essentially a new minor leaguer that needs to prove themselves productive to be able to contribute on a larger scale (think bigger jobs, clients, etc.). Being realistic with the ramp-up time for a salesperson to becoming a strong producer is important. If you’re taking a laborer from the field, or a college hire or someone from a different industry, you should expect it to take about one-year until they’re an average producer, then three to five years until they’re a Rockstar producer. Anything faster than that should make you tickled pink. What does this mean? This means you’re going to have to remain focused, keep your eye on the ball and produce – all while mentoring someone else to eventually take more responsibility with leads and accounts. Expect them to fail, make mistakes, screw up, forget something, not know something and must take their kids to the doctor’s office and miss the meeting.
Screw up #3 – Not tracking your own selling activity
I’ve tried this myself and it’s impossible to effectively and objectively manage what’s not being measured. Owners should already be adopting a CRM program and tracking their own selling activity and numbers to achieve the goal. If an owner doesn’t have a vision, mission, goal and game plan in place for the company then the weeds of life will get all up in the garden and kill the plant. It takes saying “no” very often to remain focused and to keep from all the distractions that come to a business owner. Therefore, adopt a CRM and track the activity first. This way, the owner can have a good set of data to work with for appropriate expectations for the salesperson. A salesperson will often tell owners what they want to hear, not what they did wrong or avoided doing. Therefore, make measuring their activity and results in something that’s already part of the culture and expectation from the onset. Of course – after the owner(s) do it themselves.
Screw up #4 – Hiring from the outside first before looking from within
I’ve seen owners hire salespeople from the outside and from different industries and fail, even when they had people, not in sales that were already contributing in different ways and loving being at the company. This is the construction industry, not pharmaceutical sales. Salespeople don’t have to look like GQ and Victoria’s Secret models and speak eloquently like politicians to sell and make a strong contribution. I’ve worked with many companies where we promoted a field worker, a surveyor/inspector or service coordinator and because they had the desire and commitment to grow and help people – they learned the mindset and fundamentals of selling and have made wonderful contributors. A huge part of having a successful first hire in sales is chemistry and trust. Be sure to see if this exists in your company or personal network before looking outside.
Screw up #5 – Not having a Sales Talent Acquisition & Ramp Up Plan
Let’s pretend the owner found a candidate (either from within or outside) and is excited about seeing them become a strong contributor. Be sure that the company uses a professional sales report to see where their skills measure up against the best in the world and objectively determine what skills need to be worked on for them to grow. Don’t do this one alone, use a tool for this! Then, interview them on their previous track record of overcoming obstacles. A career in professional selling is different from most, it takes serious focus, discipline, grit, determination and the ability to learn constantly. If a person isn’t conditioned to function this way, they’re going to be overwhelmed in this role. However, if they pass these and have earned their stripes, they are bought into the unique DNA and company direction and are ready to be part of something bigger than themselves, pitch them and keep the momentum. How does one do that effectively? Go through the sales training system with them that was already adopted. Don’t leave them to their own devices, why? A huge part of their knowledge is what they learn from the owner and having discussions about the content is hugely valuable. Could you imagine a new player in a minor league organization that doesn’t receive coaching and instruction? Could you see an organization not providing them a uniform, equipment and a structured learning environment for them to practice and apply to game-time performance? We can learn quite a bit from sports and other performing teams – bring these best practices into your organization. Salespeople should be self-starters, yes, they should be. But they’re not going to build the company for the owner, that’s the owner’s job. They will thrive with a strong company vision, good systems, selling tools, accountability, coaching, direction, and training.
I hope this helps with hiring your first salesperson – hopefully, I convinced you not to and become a stronger one yourself!
To your success,