Peer-to-Peer: Where have all the good (sales)men gone?

Written by ProfitGuide Staff


“I run a rapidly growing software firm and I need to hire a great sales pro. The last few have looked perfect on paper, sold themselves to me as the best thing going, but then totally disappointed me when it came to getting the job done. I’m beginning to believe I may have to start looking south of the border for a sales expert. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Does anyone out there know where the best sales execs are hiding?”

Submit a question.

Reader responses

Stephen D. Smith, HROI, Mississauga, Ont.

I asked a few people on the HROI team for some quick thoughts on this one. Here’s what they sent back:

  • I think part of the answer here lies in their recruitment strategy. I wouldn’t be so focused on what’s on paper rather on the competencies and skills the person demonstrates that they can bring to the table to achieve the sales plan … utilizing behavioral interviewing etc. would help. (In case you don’t know what behavioural interviewing is, basically it’s based on the premise that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. Therefore your interviewing should be designed to elicit specific actions / deliverables that support the desired behaviours.)
  • I would say that the guy they just hired wasn’t a bad salesman if he could sell himself. Perhaps the problem is more to do with their compensation structure. Have they linked up incentives with corporate goals? Have they communicated these incentives clearly to the employee? Does the employee understand and have the ability to deliver these sales goals?
  • How about calling up all the sales reps who left — to find out exactly why? Exit interviews are a great source of information. It could be that this company is hiring all the right folks, but is pushing them out the door when they get there.
  • Is the company setting the right expectations about the company or the role? There’s nothing like inflating expectations before a new hire comes on board, to have them scrambling for the exits 2 months into the job. Realistic Job Previews are offer a good framework to avoid this problem.

Melanee Henderson

How about hiring a woman sales pro? Where are all the good sales execs hiding?

You asked … check out the website called tnet (http://www.bctechnology.com/), and try placing your ad there and see what happens. Some of the brightest minds are in the lower mainland of British Columbia. They are crying out to work as the province is in one of its biggest slumps for employment opportunities so you may be able to lure them to Regina …

Gary Gregg, AppleOne Services Ltd., Etobicoke, Ont.

In response to your reader’s question I would like to share my insights. I constantly deal with this issue everyday on two levels. I run AppleOne Services Ltd., an Employment Agency that places temporary and permanent staff — sales representatives included. I am also on a constant look out for dynamic sales staff for my own company. Finding successful salespeople is one of the toughest positions to fill. Sales is the one job where your performance is constantly monitored, your attitude must be client driven and positive, and you can’t be afraid to pick up the phone and make that first call.

So where are the gems? We use our direct recruiting system to find candidates that are in the “hidden” market. We look for salespeople that are currently working, thus their skills are sharp as they are engaged in the sales process everyday. You can use a professional recruiting firm for this or speak to your Human Resources staff to have them engage in their own direct recruiting campaign.

When you do find a prospective salesperson it’s imperative that you put your candidate through extensive testing and behavioural-based interviews and reference checks. When we hire internally we put our prospective sales hires through personality testing and interview them based on behavioural situations. This gives us insight into their past performance, if they have the aptitude for the position, and how they conduct themselves in various sales situations.

The most common problem is that Managers do not establish:

  • What the salesperson has done in the past
  • The methods they used to accomplish it
  • The organization that supported the process. A salesperson may have been very successful with another company, however can they repeat the results with your product and company structure?

The behavioural-based reference check is one of your best indicators as to how the sales candidate has performed in the past. I believe it was Ronald Reagan who said, “trust yet verify.” I suggest that you write a list of sales activity, profit and “closing” questions for your reference checks to get an in-depth feel on how this individual performs. Interviews can be misleading, as most salespeople know how to make a dynamic first impression. You must look past the glamour and find the cold hard statistics.

Exceptional sales people are out there, but in order to weed through and find the “stars” a focused and detailed search is mandatory. Once you have them, ask for a sales plan with specific desired results and hold them accountable to it.

Neville Pokroy, Stantech Marketing Inc.

Very often I come across people thinking that a good salesperson will be the “ace in the pack” for business development. While I believe that good sales people are crucial to an organization, we need to understand that they do not operate in a vacuum. Therefore, creating a positive environment that the salesperson works in, is crucial.

This environment is created by the marketers in the organization. They are the people that prepare the groundwork for the salesperson to work in. They are the people that create the awareness of the company, so that the salesperson goes into the sales call knowing that the prospect has an understanding of the company, its products, its reputation, its history, its service orientation, and what makes it different from the competition etc. If you send a salesperson into that kind of environment, the chances of success go up significantly.

The bottom line: don’t leave your salesforce out to dry. Provide them with the marketing support and then test them. If they can’t succeed in that “supported environment” then they probably are not right for you. So, ask yourself: before I judge my sales team, am I giving them the support they need?

I hope this helps!

Debbie Gracie-Smith, CRATOS Technology Solutions Inc.

Where have all the sales men gone? Perhaps the issue is that the company should be looking for a sales person or rep, not necessarily a man?


In reference to your “article 4”, (PROFITeer, Vol. 6, No. 19, September 30, 2003) for Hiring a Sales Ace, the question(s) must be asked; Are his software products new? Do the software product(s) fill a new market niche? Does his growing business have the ability to service what he sells? There are a number of other questions that need to be asked and then answered by him (the product supplier) before he will have success in his search for a sales pro.

Marty Avery, Pylon Design Inc., Toronto

As the Regina software firm has discovered, it’s harder to sell an intangible (software) than it is a product.

How to find and hire people who can sell? You’ll likely get answers that say, “hire only on commission so you get only performers.” You may, but you risk that they will leave you in 2 years after they’ve saturated the market, and sell a new software to the same customer base they’ve been mining for years. If it’s all about money at the start then it’s going to always be only about money.

To find dedicated, loyal sales people who will enhance performance of a business, companies need to hire for attitude. Look for ethical, motivated, engaged, intelligent people who tinker constantly with their selling process and your delivery process in order to contribute to the top AND bottom lines. If a sales person figures they “know it all” or have “the perfect system” that doesn’t need to evolve, that’s your first clue they’ll be a dud. Even Olympic athletes keep tweaking and training.

Three years ago I was recruited from marketing to be the sole salesperson for a graphic design firm looking to grow. At first my wheels spun. I hardly sold a thing. I was new to selling, knowing a lot about marketing and little about sales. Then I found the right balance of gas and clutch so that sales have doubled the last 2 years.

Traction came from adopting practical advice from an enlightened sales training company to: develop an ideal client / industry profile, research and focus on 2 growth industries in order to gain a deep understanding of clients’ markets and core issues, and streamline our offering to solve those key business and personal needs. Then we deliver what we say.

Three years ago I knew nothing about sales. I sought expert help from proven sales professionals, and now Pylon is operating at capacity. Lucky they didn’t turf me while I was honing my process. Lucky I found the right sales training company who really gets it.

I highly recommend www.whetstoneinc.ca for those looking to boost their sales force’s performance.

Contact Adrian Davis, Vice President, to find out how they can fine tune your sales force. Below follows the signature to Adrian’s e-mail. It sums them up.

Whetstone Inc. — The Path to Power
T: 866.454.1535
F: 866.454.1536

Whetstone, a pioneer in intelligence-based selling, specializes in helping business-to-business companies win major accounts.

At Whetstone we recognize that businesses lose millions of dollars each year because they don’t effectively sell to senior executives in their target markets. The result is long sales cycles, lower sales volumes and increased frustration. At Whetstone, we combine the latest research in sales performance with competitive intelligence to help our clients dramatically increase their revenues. We have processes in place that enable us to guarantee sales results for our clients every time! Collectively, we call these processes The Whetstone Way.

Knowledge is power. Whetstone is The Path to Power.

Denise Faguy, VentureLabour.com Inc., Guelph, Ont.

You may wish to contact the Canadian Profesional Sales Association. Not only can they tap you into some excellent, well-trained sales people, they also offer tools to help you profile potential employees before you hire them. Check out their website at www.cpsa.com.

Ralph T. Oosterhuis, Decor Grates Inc.

Here is the course of action that we use to find the ideal person for important positions in our company.

First, you must fully understand what kind of corporate culture your company has developed into, your management style and the personalities of your current management team. This is necessary in recruiting candidates with similar characteristics that will fit well with the company’s corporate philosophy. The next step is to put together a corporate profile and a job description for the position to be filled. It is very important that perspective [sic] candidates have a very clear picture of the company they are going to work for and the requirements of the position. Once this is completed you can now go to market by placing ads in local or national newspapers, professional journals and other job posting sites.

Review all applications and eliminate the ones that don’t meet the job requirements. Call the ones left over and interview by phone; this will eliminate many others that don’t fit the profile. Set up interviews with the remaining candidates and run them through some psychological testing. At this point the number of candidates should be reduced to less than 12. Review the results of their tests, this should narrow it down to three or four quality candidates. Setup another interview with your choices, and this should narrow the possibilities down to one or two. Then a final more in-depth interview is done and a decision is made and an offer is presented. I would strongly advise that while conducting the final two interviews that you involve several of your management team in the process, such as your controller or general manager, because they will be working with whom ever you choose and it will give you an opportunity to see how they interact with your current management team. Assuming the offer is accepted, that person will now have to give notice to their current employer. The whole process should take about ten to twelve weeks.

Now that you have found the ideal person for the job, What’s next? Remember this person is only going to be as good as the company that hired him. He or she could be the best salesperson in the world, but if he or she does not have the proper training, tools, support and budget to get the job done they are destined to fail. The first three months should be devoted to analyzing the markets to determine who the potential customers are and which of them you want to target first, learning about the competition’s products as well as yours and putting a appropriate budget together to support the objectives of the management team.

You can do this yourself or you can hire someone to help you through the initial stages. I use Jerry Adel from Jerry Adel and Associates. I find him to be quite thorough and very astute when it comes to evaluating people. Jerry is not a head hunter, but a resource. He’s not cheap, but he’s also not as expensive as head hunter and in my opinion worth every penny. His process is intense and uses several different methods to determine the right fit. I have used him on four occasions and he hasn’t disappointed. Jerry is located in Toronto, but works for clients all across Canada. Jerry can be reached at (416) 488-7585 or by e-mail at jerry@jerryadel.com. I would also recommend that you visit his web site www.jerryadel.com. Good luck with your search.

Jane Weiss, RW Networks

I would like to respond to your reader who is having difficulty finding a “sales ace”. It is time for companies to look at their sales department in a different light and consider using a sales agency. Most sales agencies carry a number of lines, usually complementary products. These “guns for hire” are proven sales professionals. There are many benefits to using an agent:

  • Your costs are predictable! You only pay the agent when he sells your product. You agree on a commission rate. The agency covers related sales expenses.
  • Increased sales. By choosing the right agency you are finding someone with an established customer base who is loyal to their territory.
  • Immediate access to the market — the agent is experienced and already established in the marketplace with an existing and loyal customer base.
  • Experience — most agents are proven sales professionals. They have established agencies because of their entrepreneurial spirit. Definitely, a trait you would like to see in your sales force!
  • Eliminate staff training costs — you only have to train the agent on your particular product.
  • Vested interest in your success — an agency must sell to survive.

The agent is a cost effective way to create a field sales presence! Best of luck to your reader!

Linda Farrar

Those sales aces have been downsized so many times because of the economic times they have gone anywhere to be able to keep a roof over their head. It is a given that, when projects get put on the “back-burner” and the sales are down, the first heads to roll are the “sales” types. Having had a 20-year successful sales career in hi-tech enterprise-wide software sales to government, finance and retail Fortune 500 organizations, I took a recruiting job, two years ago, hoping to find the right fit and have not seen more than two jobs that would even come close to meeting the challenge I am looking to achieve. It then takes companies months to make a decision. That’s where all the salesmen have gone!

Have a question for your fellow entrepreneurs? Send it to Peer-to-Peer.

Other questions.

Watch for another Peer-to-Peer Poll in the next PROFIT-Xtra.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com