Your Revenue and a Harsh Fairytale: When Building a Good Sales Team, You Kiss A Lot of Frogs

by Jill Foster on July 31, 2009

“You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.”
This is the mantra I learned many, many years ago when I first stumbled into the dangerous world of dating. Finally, on February 14, 1993 (yes I was married on Valentine’s Day), it appeared that I had finally found my prince, and that I would never have to live by this mantra ever again. Well I was wrong. While I am still happily married to my prince, I have had to kiss many frogs in my sales organization at Information Experts.

14 years, 15 different reps: a sales team journey
Over the last 14 years, we have gone through at least 15 different sales representatives, sales executives, business development representatives, or whatever the title of choice was at the time, to drive revenue. And while I am not an expert on Miller-Heiman, Dale Carnegie, SPIN Selling, or any of the other popular sales models, I do know this:

Sales people will say and do whatever they need to do to convince you that they are the answer to your troubles.

After all, if they can’t sell themselves, how will they possibly be able to sell your product or service?

Rare yet possible: the right sales pro for your business
As our business started to grow, it became apparent to me that I was going to have to expand the sales team to include others than just myself. There was no way I could build revenue by supporting the entire business on my back. Undoubtedly, the business owner is always the best sales person. It is very difficult to find a sales person who is as knowledgeable, passionate, and emotionally invested in your business as you are. But from time to time, a sales representative comes along that truly believes in what you do, can connect with the customer, is everything they say they are, and is highly motivated to bring in sales day after day.

Sales is definitely a numbers game.
If you connect with a certain number of people, you want to be able to count on closing a designated percentage of those connections. But for many businesses it is much more than a numbers game.

The sales process is much more complex than just being in the right place at the right time, or calling a prospect on exactly the day that they need what you are selling. Sometimes those stars align, but most of the time they don’t.

Finding your special sales ‘prince or princess’ requires several factors including:

  • Attractive compensation package
  • Precise job description
  • Precise description of how performance will be measured
  • Marketable product or service
  • Alignment between how they perceive the sales role and how you perceive it
  • And luck. Lots of luck.

Recognize if they’re a good sales match for your team
In addition, the sales person must be a match for your organization. If you are selling a highly consultative solution that requires the sales person to construct a customized solution to a unique need, you can’t hire someone who sells off-the-shelf software, regardless of what their numbers have been or who is in their rolodex.

Product sale vs solution sale
There is a HUGE difference between a product sale and a solution sale. A product sale is often black and white. You can put definitive parameters around the product. It is easy to do a comparison of one product to another product.

A solution sale requires the creation of a strategic, trust-based relationship with a client.

Both have their places in the business world. When you purchase any commodity product, it is a product sale.

The chart below highlights some of the differences between product-based selling and solutions-based selling:

Product-Based Selling Solutions-Based Selling
Product more important
than the client
Client requirements more important than
Very pervasive lead
base; mostly anyone can be a potential client
Much more targeted lead base
Product fits many customers
and applications; although there is customization the basic product
is the same
Highly customized solution
Shorter sales cycle Longer sales cycle
Sales person is an
Sales person is a highly trusted, valued
Sales engagement often
begins with a product presentation
Sales engagement begins with a needs
Considers the end of
the sales cycle the conclusion
Considers the end of the sales cycle
an opportunity to learn more about the customer environment

History (and mistakes) of our sales hiring process
Over the years, we have made a lot of mistakes with our sales hiring process.

  • We’ve hired sales people based on their rolodexes, and the contacts that they said they had, only to learn that those connections weren’t that strong.
  • We’ve hired people based on the previous sales they had made to customers, only to learn that the customer wasn’t so satisfied with their service, or that the customer was going out of business, or that the customer had no money, or that the contacts at that customer were no longer there.
  • We’ve hired people who were totally incompetent.
  • We’ve hired people who were actually selling for multiple companies, but didn’t tell us.
  • We’ve hired people who said they “get” consultative selling, only to learn they had no idea how to formulate a solution. Examples – we don’t sell “websites.” A website is a product. We sell creative and strategic communications solutions, and a website may be part of the overall solution.
  • We’ve worked with every conceivable compensation structure – salary plus commission, commission only, salary plus draws, salary only.

“Coffee is for closers” (and making a sales hire is risky!)
As the owner, you can’t help but want to watch and measure their productivity every day. You are banking on them bringing in the revenue. And the longer they are in the organization, the more money you have invested in them. So the days roll into one another as you anxiously wait for a sale to close. You think to yourself,

“I’ve already invested 6 weeks with them. What if that closed sales is right around the corner? I’ll give him another week.” It’s just as stressful to keep a non-performing sales person as it is to cut them loose.

In today’s market, there is just no cushion for non-performing sales people. If they aren’t driving revenue, then they are pure overhead. They are either building your profits or bleeding your profits. There is no in-between.

Research plus intuition
A lot of the decision process to bring on a sales person boils down to intuition. After you have done your research – you’ve looked at their numbers, you’ve cross-checked their references and contacts, you’ve had multiple conversations about what you need and what they can do – you will have to do some soul searching to see if you are ready to make the leap of faith.

Whether that leap will land you on a lily-pad or in a castle is anybody’s guess, and only time will tell.

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Guest contributor Marissa Levin is Founder and CEO of Information Experts. Launching a new Women Grow Business series on sales strategy, Marissa was named a 2008 BRAVO Award winner by SmartCEO Magazine (which honors the region’s 25 most influential women CEOs) and recently was listed in Washington’s 100 Technology Titans by Washingtonian Magazine. Describing her true passion as “helping other business owners be successful with their own business growth”, Marissa can be reached through her blog Marissa Levin.

(Image AlCool – Frog Prince – by Alicanto)

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