"Don't bet on horses, bet on jockeys." Anonymous.
Eddie needed help. Days after buying a small auto-parts wholesaler, Eddie faxed a help-wanted ad to his local paper. It was a simple ad: "Sales representative, great opportunity for self-starter. Unlimited commissions." After Jason, fresh from community college, signed on, he was given catalogs, price sheets, and a list of gas stations, garages and auto body shops to call on. Little else.
Six weeks later, they were frustrated and tense with each other. Jason was making few sales, earning little money and not understanding what was expected of him. Eddie was sure Jason was lazy or lacked sales skills. Both were at fault. The problem was poor communications - coupled with cloudy expectations. Jason lacked guidance and did not ask for it. Eddie assumed all sales jobs are the same: issue catalogs and a customer or prospect list and all will be fine.
Eddie didn't have a clue about hiring a salesperson, or understanding the duties and requirements of the sales job. He, like many other small-business owners, viewed outside sales representatives as a necessary "burden," best handled with a commission-only huckster, or an inexperienced "youngster," who will work cheap.
Like Eddie, you will find that there is more to a sales job than writing up orders. It may require knowledge of merchandising, customer sales training, inventory control, and limited market research. If hiring a sales representative is new to you, talk to some of your customers. Explain that you are about to add a new sales employee, ask their opinions if you can, show them a preliminary job description. I think you will be surprised at the amount of help you will receive
Sales jobs are not all the same. Ask the person who delivers bread products to the local supermarket if he or she is in sales and you will be told yes. If you ask the same question to an advertising account executive, you will get the same answer. Yet, they are different jobs with different sales skills. Sales jobs are not interchangeable, nor are people. There are inside sales jobs, outside positions, jobs requiring strong closing skills, jobs stressing reliability, jobs demanding persistence and follow-up, and jobs based on technical expertise. The list is long.
If you repeatedly supply a product or service to the same customers on a regular basis, you need sales representatives whose strengths are reliability, dependability, product knowledge, honesty, and clear communication skills with modest powers of persuasion.
On the other hand, if you are continually prospecting because each sale requires a new customer, you need individuals who are aggressive, who see selling as warfare, who know the value of closing on the first sales call, who know how to fight to prevent the prospect from leaving or hanging up on them, and who are determined to get the order. If you are starting a business that demands prospecting, such as home security systems or life insurance, you need sales people who are motivated by money, not compliments.
The competence of your sales employees is a statement of your leadership and business skills. Your attitude and perceptions of sales representatives will influence your hiring practices. Ask yourself, do you consider your sales employees part of your company, or outsiders only interested in themselves? Do you trust them to work independently, or assume they spend the afternoons on the golf course?
If you do not have any selling experience, your first sales employee must, otherwise ignorance may lead to failure. Don't gamble to save a few dollars with an unknown, untried sales employee. An experienced salesperson will save you time and money; however, he or she will come with established work habits that may not be to your liking. But the right sales person(s) bringing you immediate business can mean your survival.
In a future column, I will suggest ways to pay a salesperson. It makes a difference.
(C) Copyright 2001 Dr. Paul E. Adams. Syndicated by ParadigmTSA