October 22, 2008

Gambling on a new salesperson?

The success rate for new sales hires is a miserable 33% - that means adding a new sales person to your team is one of the riskiest gambles you can take.  Given recruitment fees and long lead in times it is also one of the most expensive.

Most managers have experience of a failed sales or marketing hire, but how to maximise the chances of success and miminimise the costs of failure?

1. Get the timing right - Too many sales people join organisations at the wrong time - their desk and phone are not ready on the day they arrive, the target segments are not clear, there is no target list of customers, no marketing material, the induction training is not ready, etc.  It can be tempting to recruit a new sales person as soon as possible, however it is very important that the new hire joins when you, your organisation and your market is ready.

2. Prepare the ground first - As a general rule don't bring a sales person on board until you have your sales and marketing strategy set - that is your product is market ready, the sales proposition is clear and the choice of market segments has been validated. 

3. Set the right expectations - Don't be vague in terms of your job description for the new hire - specifically what level of sales activity do you want and what results do you realistically expect (given historical conversion rates and lead times).

4.  Define the role - there is not just one type of sales person, but a multiciplicty - which one suites depends on the size of the company, its stage of development, the sophistication of its sales and marketing, etc.  The two most common mistakes are:
  • To hire a heavy hitter sales person - with a track record of closing big deals (supported by a sales and marketing organisation and established brand) to a start up company where there is minimal support in terms of lead generation, marketing materials, etc. 

  • To hire a sales person who is a successful account manager with an established customer base, for an organisation that requires a sales person who can successfully identify and recruit new customers.

5. Adopt a more sophisticated approach to recruitment - sales and marketing candidates are good at selling themselves, so you are going to have to be very careful in your selection.

6. Get off to a good start
- The first 6-10 weeks is a golden period.  - Have everything ready for the new hire, and provide full support, training and coaching.  Leads are a stumbling block to most sales people getting off the ground quickly, so put a programme in place in advance to provide some fresh leads and enquiries that the sales person can follow-up in the early weeks. 

7. Remember you are still responsible - if a new hire does not work out, his/her manager must share the responsibility.  Too many managers appoint new sales people, provide the training and then step back - leaving them to their own devices.  It is important to spend lots of time with the new person visiting customers and prospects, to plan and review activity in regular and structured sales meetings, as well as to use a sales system to track activity.

8. Make the call early, but not too early.  Having made a major committment of time and resources to the appointment of a new sales hire, managers are understandably reluctant to pull the plug it is not working out.  The temptation is to give it a little more time and hope for an improvement.  However, if the support has been provided, then the manager is entitled to ask why the planned levels of sales activity has not been completed, if it has then why it has not borne fruit and whether the attitude, enthusiasm or skill of the sales person is at fault.  Every month that passes when a sales person is either in active or ineffective is a waste of time and money.

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