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How to find a good sales rep

How to find a good sales rep
by James Cryer

May I toss a few thoughts into the melting-pot on one of the most vexing issues which companies face: how to pick a successful sales rep.
My first problem with that proposition is that it is the wrong question. To my mind, it should be: how to pick a sales rep that will be successful for (or with) our company. That is a far more searching question and I will explain why.

Too often, I see companies attempting to “fast track” or take a short-cut, to instant financial fortune, by poaching a “successful” sales rep from their competitor. Too often there is an “illusion” of success that can’t be replicated. Too often, the quarry (i.e. the sales rep who is the object of their desires) can claim “success” by pointing to a sizeable sales budget he is responsible for. However, he may have inherited it or just got lucky. In any event, two other problems emerge:

Such large strategic chunks of business don’t walk around the marketplace; they are usually tied-up contractually, and the sales rep has probably been so busy servicing this core clientele that he has not been out prospecting or cold-calling (in fact he, or she, may regard it as “beneath” their dignity to do so).

Invariably, the seeds of failure are sown, as the new employer anxiously waits for “loyal” clients who do not budge; and the sales super-star is forced to door-knock on prospects who have never dealt with him. So a “proven” performer is exposed as a failure? Not necessarily. What it does show is that sales reps are exposed to a lot more complex ingredients for success (or failure) than are other internal employees. Therefore, apparent success in one (employment) situation is not always a reliable guide to a sales rep’s performance capabilities in the next.

In addition, a sales rep’s apparent failure is often the result of factors beyond his or her control, e.g. production or quality issues, pricing or delivery problems, inadequate promotional support, unrealistic objectives or lack of encouragement and motivation from management. I know this latter one is hard to believe, as we employers tend to think we are blameless when it comes to “creating the right environment” within our organizations. However, from my perspective it is frightening how many companies create the inevitability of failure by not delivering on promises or commitments made to the new employee upon arrival.

The answer, in my view, in terms of assessing a candidate is to do two things:

Place greater emphasis on the intrinsic personal qualities of the individual (rather than their supposed “track-record”), and take on board some of our collective duties as companies to train, guide, nurture, encourage, support and motivate that person, who, in 98% of cases will respond accordingly. (And, by motivation, I include saying “well done” which does not cost anything!)

What is a successful sales rep? It’s not all that mysterious. It is someone who communicates and presents well, is honest and diligent in making claims and who follows up. They obviously should be reasonable out-going, articulate and enjoy communicating with people, and be able to understand basic technical issues.

But to me, it is the attitude that is more important than merely having worked in our industry “for five years”. Too often, there are potential sales “gems” right under our noses (often with impressive sales records in other industries which we choose to ignore).

If we apply the above two “golden rules” (i.e. judge sales applicants more on their intrinsic qualities, and undertake some minimal support), there may be a veritable minefield of sales “gems” right under our noses. The good news from a commercial perspective is that these gems come at a much cheaper price than the overblown salaries some sales reps enjoy for merely baby-sitting large corporate clients that aren’t going anywhere anyway!

By “taking a bet” on potential candidates with good qualities, it would also add to the existing gene-pool of reps, which will ultimately reduce their asking price due to the natural forces of supply and demand.

W. James Cryer
JDA Print Recruitment


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