IT’S SLIM PICKINGS OUT THERE!

How to Sell Your Company to Sales People as an Employer of Choice

Sales turnover rates are twice the rate of the rest of the labor force; the average tenure of sales reps is about a year and a half. The average tenure of sales leaders is about 19 months. Four to five sales leaders don’t feel they’re on track to hit 2019 targets. Studies around what it costs to replace an employee range from 50% to 200% of that employee’s salary. These are extremely costly figures for an organization. Figuring this out is about protecting your investment. That’s why WorkTango invited Asad Zaman, Managing Director at Sales Talent Agency, to share his savvy-sales-people recruiting expertise at a recent lunchtime webinar. His discussion addressed five key themes:

1. Why it’s hard to hire good sales managers and why it’s difficult for sales managers to build and hold onto a great sales team.

Large enterprises are growing more than they’ve ever grown; some are hitting that trillion-dollar number. When you look at early stage and growth stage investment, every year over the last five years has been record-breaking. Unemployment is low. Demand for sales talent is high. And that means it’s harder than ever to hire great people and hold on to them. To compound matters, ramp up for sales reps takes about three months and account executives take about six to nine months. Yet the average salesperson is not sticking around for even 18 months. That’s why 80% of sales leaders do not feel comfortable about hitting their 2019 revenue targets.

2. How to find and attract the right sales manager

Most people today look to hire sales managers from organizations that are very similar to themselves, or they try to promote from within. You need to open up the talent pool. Understand what experience is necessary and what is nice to have.

  • Look for sales leaders who understand teaching, coaching, managing, leading and inspiring. Have they handled deal size and sales cycles of a similar nature? Have they sold to similar decision-makers albeit within a different industry? That is a person you can bring onboard and ramp up fast. You can teach them the rest.
  • If you have a junior team, you can look at people that are currently sales reps. Maybe they’ve become team leaders or are coaching people or taking part in onboarding and they’ve shown that they have capabilities.
  • If you have a transactional sales team (early and growth-stage companies tend to be fairly transactional around what they sell), you can hire somebody from a B2C environment. They can bring a relevant skill set because that B2C job is probably much harder than the job they’re going to do for you.
  • When you want to hire well, hire people so that whatever role they’re taking, it’s a step up for them. If people take a step up into a new role they bring excitement and invigoration.
Salesperson - Promotion

3. How to identify and figure out if you’ve found the right sales professional

To figure out alignment and synergy between a candidate, the job, and the company you need to look at a handful of key considerations.

DRIVE – is the most critical talent component. To test for “drive” ask candidates to: “Give an example about a time that you set a very difficult or professional goal for yourself. Tell me about the strategy you put together to go about achieving it. I want to know about all the roadblocks that you had to navigate. Each time you fell down, tell me about it. Did you get there in the end? What did you learn?”

Everyone will have one example if they’re prepared. Ask them for a second and then a third example and you’ll really see whether they’re driven or not.”

NATURE – is the next thing that’s really important. A sales leader needs emotional intelligence and empathy to coach and develop people and to connect with multiple decision-makers. The average small to mid-market organization has four or five decision-makers and the enterprise has eight or nine, made up of people from different divisions with different personality styles. A sales leader needs to be able to connect with them, have rapport with them, create urgency and do all the things required to take this deal to the finish line.

One way to test for “nature” is to see whether or not somebody is coachable. Set a scenario and ask the candidate to role play with you.  Once it ends, give some positive feedback, coach with three or four tips, and then role-play again. Were they able to implement some of that coaching when you role-played the second time around? If they resist coaching they don’t have the right nature. They aren’t emotionally intelligent, they’re not coachable and you don’t want them.

PERFORMANCE – is a critical third element. Ask how they’ve been measured in the past and how they performed. Remember people lie. Dig deeper. Track back to see if they can walk you through the number of deals they closed with the right deal size. Start pulling on these threads. A strong candidate generally remembers their numbers and how they got there.

salespeople - employer of choice

4. What makes sales professionals excited about a company

When there’s so much demand in the market candidates have option after option. Through many conversations and research, Sales Talent Agency has developed a hierarchy of needs for sales professionals of any sort.

The first thing is a clear and compelling value proposition. Why the company exists.

The next thing is to have proof. Case studies, reference letters, testimonials – these things are a necessity for sales people.

Engaged support is the next need. Whether new or seasoned, sales people need to learn, to develop, to grow. Sales managers want somebody that they can jam with on strategy. They want somebody that can teach them, help them develop their business acumen and see different angles so that they can track towards joining the C-suite one day.

Realistic targets are also important. Oftentimes companies get this part wrong and increase sales quotas to be able to meet a sales person’s earning expectation.  Very quickly that person comes in and realizes it’s an unrealistic number, which is a great way to lose people.  A rule of thumb: if 80 percent of your team isn’t hitting its target you are either ridiculously bad at hiring, or you have very, very wrong targets.

The last thing in the hierarchy of needs is the Big Picture – a purpose that candidates connect with as well as clear opportunities for growth. Given that sales and marketing often represent 40% of your entire workforce, keep them in a good mind frame so the rest of your company culture doesn’t suffer.

salesperson - coachable

5. How to help sales managers hire and manage individuals through the different stages salespeople go through?

While a weak sales manager generally hires people that have done the same job for a competitor, a strong sales manager flips this on its head. This person can hire all sorts of people. Why? They’re good teachers. They’re good coaches. They know how to lead. They know how to manage. They know how to inspire.

  • They hire people on the junior side, teach them and develop them out
  • They go after people mid-level in their careers who aspire to learn and recognize that this great sales manager can help them bring the best out of themselves
  • They hire the people they experience in the market; these hires come because they feel the sales manager will be a partner and remove roadblocks that hold them back from doing their job as well as possible

Having a good sales manager gives organizations more options. But to build and keep your sales team, the sales manager has to understand the stages sales reps goes through when they join a new-to-them organization or take on a new-to-them role.

Stage One: is when they first start. They have high confidence but their skill set is low. They feel they want to come in and knock it out of the park from day one. You’re not likely to lose them; they’re going to stick it out through probation.  A structured onboarding process which takes up the entire first three months helps manage any risk. What the sales manager needs to do is micromanage. Show them how things are done in a way that leads to the most probable chance of getting the outcome wanted. Measure them on activities. Give them zero creative freedom (you don’t get creative until you get good).

Stage Two: is when they realize knocking it out of the park isn’t happening. While their skill set starts coming up, confidence dips. This is where you risk losing people. They’re worried they might be fired and think they should have some kind of contingency plan. The sales manager’s job is to inspire and empathize. Give them examples of people that were at the same stage, feeling what they’re feeling, but are now killing it. Have them talk to that person. Give them a little bit of creative freedom. Watch for the right kind of effort. See if they’re improving. If they’re not – you should be scared.

Stage three:  somewhere between nine months and a year this person’s skill set is up. Their confidence is up. They’re post probation. They’ve had some wins. They’re feeling good. Chances of turnover are there, but low. The sales manager’s job is to mentor and coach, to take them to that next level, to drop the reins of micromanagement and give all sorts of freedom.  It’s time to become a partner, to allow them to customize their approach a little bit so they can have fun with it.

Stage four: is high confidence and high skill set. They’ve had enough repetition, they’ve won consistently and they feel great. But they’re starting to get bored.  They need a new challenge. The sales manager’s job is to come up with the new challenge (transitioning to a different type of selling role, to a different size of customer, taking on management responsibilities). Support them. Empower them. Enable them to grow.  If the manager can’t do this, make sure there’s bench strength on the rest of the sales team because this person won’t stick around.

The bottom line is to make sure your outreach and the actions of your leaders convey:

  • We solve an important problem
  • We are uniquely able to do it
  • We have made clear progress
  • Our growth is creating great career opportunities
  • Our people are important and valued

If you recruit, onboard, ramp up and live this employee brand message, your organization is in a good spot.

Additional Resources

Check out our guides on workplace culture, employee engagement, and employee surveys. Learn about every aspect of a successful employee voice initiative!

WORKPLACE GUIDES

Want to dive a bit deeper into this topic? Watch our recent webinar where we discuss how to prepare HR with the knowledge and knowhow to help grow, retain, and equip sales teams for cultural and organizational success.

WEBINAR

Read great blog posts on workplace culture, employee engagement, and employee surveys.

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