When you’re ready to take your small business to the next level, employees who aren’t sales professionals may struggle to close deals and bring in new business. That's when hiring a dedicated sales professional or sales team may be near the top of your priority list. What do you need to know before you make these critical hires?
Pawel Cebula, co-founder and COO of Medigo, an online platform that helps patients find clinics and hospitals around the world, manages his company’s sales process. “I believe the right time to hire a dedicated sales professional or sales team," Cebula says, "is [after] you, as the founder, figure out the basics and understand the process well enough to delegate it to others.”
There are several other essentials savvy business owners may put in place before beginning the hiring process. First, think carefully about the role this individual or team will play within your company. What qualities are critical for a sales professional to succeed in your specific industry, with your business model and within your company?
There are several other essentials savvy business owners put in place before beginning the hiring process. First, you need to think carefully about the role this individual or team will play within your company. What qualities are critical for a sales professional to succeed in your specific industry, with your business model and within your company?
“Since our sales team is responsible for partnering with medical providers, our ideal profile was someone who was experienced in selling to clinics in hospitals," Cebula says. "That meant looking for people with experience in pharmaceutical or medical equipment sales.”
You’ll also likely want to consider how you'll configure the compensation structure for these salespeople. Cebula suggests that the structure for your sales staff should be different from that of other employees. As he explains, “The variable component—the bonus—needs to be significantly higher in order to incentivize your sales team to keep pushing. That also means that the base salary for sales employees should be lower.”
Finding Talent With the Right Qualities
“There's one big mistake small-business owners make when hiring salespeople," says Ira S. Wolfe, president of workforce solutions consulting firm Success Performance Solutions. "They assume sales is sales is sales. First of all, we're living in a dynamic, constantly changing, complex world—the top-performing salespeople yesterday may be a flop today. What they sold and to whom they sold it may be part of a diminishing or extinct market. New products, new services and new competitors spring up daily.”
Wolfe advises his clients to focus on several key characteristics when hiring for sales positions:
- Curiosity. “The desire to probe, ask questions and continuously learn are essential traits to keep up with the markets, customers and competitors," Wolfe says. "Low curiosity leads to taking things for granted, shortchanging due diligence and focusing on the transaction, not value.”
- A growth mindset. Wolfe suggests you determine the answers to these questions before you make an employment offer: “Does he or she see setbacks, obstacles and challenges as opportunities or threats? Do they get defensive when given feedback or learn from criticism? Do others threaten them or inspire them?”
- Ambition. Find out how motivated the individual is to grow and achieve.
- Accountability. Determine how willing the individual is to accept responsibility, and build and nurture relationships. Both can be key to succeeding in sales.
- Agility. Is the job applicant willing to take responsibility to solve their problems and those of others? If not, Wolfe says, move on.
“While there are many personality traits and qualities that top-performing salespeople share," Wolfe says, "the underlying catalyst is a quality of motivation that differentiates the most successful from the high potentials who miss expectations.”
Training Them for Success
Hiring a sales team often involves more than simply identifying promising candidates with natural sales abilities and setting them loose in your market. “Product knowledge is critical, but to be competitive, knowledge about your products alone isn't enough," Wolfe says. "Salespeople need to be smart about the competition and new markets. Both the young inexperienced salesperson as well as mature experienced ones benefit from personal development—relationship management, emotional intelligence, problem solving, collaborative skills and technology acumen.”
Consider creating a comprehensive training process plan before you make your first sales hire. Even if you hire a professional with experience in your industry, this individual doesn’t know the ins and outs of your company, culture or even necessarily your market niche. Sales teams typically work best when they have an in-depth understanding of not only your products or services, but those of your competition as well.
Ongoing professional development and continuing education on emerging market competition and trends may prove crucial for success in the rapidly changing markets that exist in many modern industries.
“Don’t assume that experience or a natural gift to sell qualifies someone to sell your product or service," Wolfe says. "Make sure you know what you expect to happen after you hire, then identify the qualities required to meet your expectations. Finally, have a plan to manage them. Too many small-business owners expect their salespeople to be the knight in shining armor to save the day until reality strikes and they realize all they hired was Don Quixote.”
Knowing what you need, preparing for the interviews and providing ongoing training may help you hire and keep a top-performing sales team.
Read more articles on hiring and HR.
This article was originally published on January 12, 2015.