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Hiring Inexperienced Sales Reps

Will the seasoned CEO buy from the new salesrep? Are you willing to bet your job on the answer?

I came upon a terrific blog post a while back written by Martice Nicks.  That post followed an earlier one Martice wrote.  They both discuss a very important and always relevant question: Should I hire experienced or inexperienced sales reps?

Without stealing all of Martice’s thunder, I want to hit you hard with something from his post I found compelling:

The new hire with no sales experience has to develop the following knowledge and/or skills in order to become productive and effective:

  • the industry
  • the products
  • competitors and their products
  • value proposition(s)
  • sales terminology
  • sales process
  • buying process
  • sales methodology
  • prospecting/marketing
  • setting appointments
  • opening the initial meeting with prospect
  • evaluating the prospect’s situation
  • asking high impact business questions
  • the decision-making process
  • who has power and influence
  • what’s the sense of urgency
  • prioritizing the objectives
  • putting together the solution
  • constructing the presentation
  • presentation and demonstration skills
  • handling objections
  • negotiating
  • preparing the proposal
  • preparing the contract
  • following up to build satisfaction
  • obtaining referrals
  • managing the pipeline
  • managing their opportunities
  • managing the territory
  • managing existing accounts
  • organizing their day
  • sales metrics and what they mean
  • using sales tools
  • navigating your companies internal departments and systems
  • completing administrative requirements

Here’s my take.  For successful B2B, non-commodity selling (where we aren’t selling railcars full of common chemicals or hundreds of tons of soybeans, for example) experience rules.  Sure, I can recount examples of VPs of sales pulling engineers from their jobs in manufacturing and putting them on quota.  But I can give you many more examples of when that approach failed miserably—miserable being defined as the engineer failing in his new selling job, angering some customers, letting the competition win some deals they shouldn’t have won, and the engineer finally quitting in embarrassment and frustration.

We’re all faced with tough competition and often, even tougher buyers.  Do you want to roll the dice and cross your fingers on the potential success of on-the-job training with someone who is two years out of college or someone else who decided they want to sell because they think salespeople make lots of money and don’t work all that hard?

The days of a company training a salesperson for six to twelve months before letting them call on a customer alone are gone.  Forever.  Unless you have an established, formal program for getting inexperienced salespeople to the point where they are productive in a timeframe that doesn’t impact your ability to meet or exceed your bookings or revenue targets, please let me know.  Seriously.

I’ve been involved with too many companies that lost deals, important customers, market leadership, and plenty of money because management hired salespeople that couldn’t get the job done.  I’m determined to put an end to that.

I’m weighing in on Martice’s side on this one.

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3 Responses

  1. Dave — in general, I agree with you that it’s better to hire experienced salespeople instead of raw recruits. However, “old dogs” often rely on what made them successful in the past — their previous success can become their worst enemy, especially in challenging times. In other words, hiring salespeople with previous records of top performance is no guarantee that they can duplicate that success in a new company. CSO Insights, in their latest survey of sales executives, found no statistical difference in ramp-up times for new hires, no matter how much prior experience they bring. I recently delivered an online briefing on this topic — it might be of interest to your readers. You can see a free replay here: http://spisales.na3.acrobat.com/p61924695/
    Tim Sullivan

  2. Thanks for your comment, Tim.

    Your point about “old dogs” is right on target.

    Based upon ESR’s research and my experience, I interpret CSO Insights’ research a bit differently. Sales managers, in general, do a bad job of hiring salespeople. (That’s partly because senior-level executives do a bad job of hiring sales managers.)

    So, whether an ineffective sales manager hires an inexperienced rep or hires a now-ineffective “old dog,” the results are the same: the newly hired rep can’t deliver the numbers and their tenure at that company is short. Barry and Jim report that salesrep attrition is currently 30%!!!!

    The answer here is simple, but not easy: Senior management must consider proven hiring skills a critical, non-negotiable, capability for hiring (and keeping) a sales manager.

    Once a competent sales manager is in place, the likelihood of them hiring someone who can’t get the sales job done, no matter how much experience they have, is dramatically reduced.

  3. I have to grant your point, Dave, that sales managers do a generally bad job at hiring new sales talent. In fact, the same CSO Insights study we’re both quoting also points out that almost half (48%) of sales managers admit they do an inadequate job of hiring good people — and only one in ten are confident enough to report that they exceed expectations in hiring sales pros. That is abysmal, and no doubt contributes to the 30% levels in turnover. In fact, I’d venture to say that sales managers, as a group, are sliding into a death spiral of poor hiring, more turnover, more time spent recruiting, less time spent coaching and developing, getting behind on quota, leading to more hiring the wrong people, and so on. I also think most managers today don’t recognize that the skill set to succeed in sales has changed, even from just a few years ago — I suspect that most managers simply hire people that look and sound like themselves, which is great if you are selling in a demand-rich booming economy — definitely not the case today. Love your blog — keep up the good work!
    Tim Sullivan

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