When I started my coffee business I went through almost 20 sales reps before almost giving up on the sales rep idea. The more business owners I spoke to, the more I heard the same challenge, “There are just no good sales guys out there”. Thankfully, I learned some lessons along the way and discovered (eventually) how to solve one of the biggest problems most small owners face . i.e. How to find GREAT sales people.
The two biggest reasons I feel business owners and myself were failing miserably when it came to finding great sales reps were:
- Expectations around what a sales rep ACTUALLY should do is very wrong
- Sales structures for sales people are usually very wrong
Let me unpack each one:
The expectations of a sales rep:
Forget the expression of hunters (sales reps who hunt for new business) and farmers (reps who farm existing business). Sales reps essentially fall into 1 of 3 categories.
Brilliant Closers — These are salespeople who are brilliant when it comes to closing leads which they have been given. (still very hard to find, but where we all should be aiming)
Terrible Closers — The majority of sales reps however unfortunately fall into this category. Given a number of leads, they will close a tiny percentage.
Golden Geese — These are the sales reps that most business owners/sale managers go looking for and measure their current people against. These are people who, after receiving training on your product, can find, nurture AND close new business. The emphasis on “can find”. The biggest problem of the myth of the golden goose, is that these sales reps exist BUT are one in a million and we are better off forgetting about them altogether.
I believe that searching for a Golden Goose is the total wrong approach for the following reasons:
- They are almost impossible to find
- You can for sure get short term benefit from a Golden Goose but you can’t build a business around one. The only way to build a sustainable scalable business is to create sales processes which “findable sales people” can slot into and this starts with a lead generation program, not a Golden Goose.
That brings me back to the three categories above (Brilliant closers, Terrible closers, Golden Geese). Successful salespeople need to be able to close, not prospect. Prospecting or lead generation needs to be your (or your marketing managers) main priority, not your sales reps’. Creating a reliable consistent lead generation machine is by no means an easy task but once in place, it will set your future salespeople and your business up for tremendous success.
A lead generation program ,which consistently brings in good quality leads, is NOT your salespersons’ problem. If we are ever going to find and hire successful salespeople then we need to accept this.
Once we cross this precipice, we can then start our journey to find our Brilliant Closers. In order to be successful at this we first need to have the right salary structure in place.
Sales Rep Salary Structure:
“Good sales people are driven by cold hard cash” is the biggest myth ever told after the Golden Goose Salesperson. The reality is good and great sales people are driven by many factors but ALL require security.
Expecting a good sales person to leave their current job and come to your company and potentially not be able to pay their bills because they haven’t earned enough commission will NEVER attract the right type of salesperson. Furthermore if a salesperson joins you on this basis you can be 100% assured that they aren’t the right type of person either. A salesperson needs to know that they will still be able to live if they don’t sell enough of your product. Expecting that the fear of not being able to keep afloat each month, if certain targets aren’t reached, will drive someone to perform at their best is both cruel and ineffective.
We have found that the best sales salary package incorporates a good basic and other rewards such as recognition, bonuses or prizes. Commission alone, counterintuitively, almost never results in a salesperson performing well. A salesperson mostly performs well because they are inherently a good salesperson, not because they could earn a bit extra commission this month.
But why would a salesperson then sell to their max if there is no clear carrot spurring them on? That makes no sense, right? Well, does you accountant do his/her best work whether or not he/her earns a commission? Does your operations manager check stock correctly without demanding payment. If you give your sales reps recognition when they have done well, give them the security that they need (good basic salary) AND they are the right person for the job, they will do their best work (we have seen this time and time again).
Finding great salespeople and building a consistent lead generating machine should be all small business owner’s biggest priority. Lead generation is the egg, the salesperson is the chicken. In order to attract and keep the chicken you need to be prepared to take the risk and provide food each month regardless of whether or not the chicken lays the required number of eggs.