Saturday, January 09, 2010

Lesson #2 – Sales Reps – The Changing of the Guard

My thoughts on Sales Staffing has less to do with anything in the book and more to do with my experience.  Interested in your comments, thoughts, experiences as it relates to Sales staff.

Like many functional areas in your business as your market matures and as you are crossing the chasm the skillsets of your employees will need to change.  Sales is a bigger challenge than most due to the Rock star culture and image that good sales folks earn and carry with them.

In the early days as you are trying to sell your product, service, solution one of the biggest jobs your sales rep has is to convince your customers that they need something that they don’t even realize that they need.  This is NOT easy and takes a patient yet persistent sales rep that is prepared to invest the time and build a really trusted relationship over a frustratingly prolonged period of time.  After they have done this they still need to be a more traditional sales rep and manage a process and close.  This is more of a patient farmer personality than a pure Type A aggressive sale type personality.

Now the problem.

The person who is successful at doing this and who closes absolutely critical sales for your business in its early critical days is more than likely NOT the right person to be selling as and  after you cross into a more mature selling environment.

As the market for your solution matures people start to understand that they do in fact need what you are selling.  They are probably building RFP’s to address those needs and you probably have more competitors than you have ever had since inception.  The main task for the Sales Rep now is not to convince prospects that they need what you sell but rather it is to be a trusted advisor of the prospects and to aggressively, competitively outsell the competition.

It is hard to change the horses that brought you!  As Jim Collins has taught us though it is critical that we have the right people on the bus and as difficult a change as this can be it is imperative that you make it.  Given the breadth of experience, history and knowledge that the original sales rep has it is often advisable to try to find a position within the company for them BUT I am NOT a fan of making up positions for people.  If the original Sales Rep wants to sell it may be best for you and for them if they can go find another company that is in a market still in its infancy and repeat their success their.

As you recruit for your new sales rep profile there are some considerations and this is where I am really interested in other experiences because there are a couple trains of thoughts but the main crux of the argument is…what is more important domain knowledge or pure sales skills.  If you sell a solution around physical asset performance do you NEED to have someone with specific knowledge and contacts and background in that space OR are you better off going and finding the best pure sales person around regardless of what they sold???

There are definite arguments for both but I tend to prioritize the must haves in this order:

  1. Industry/vertical experience – given you need to be on the front end of RFP’s and you need to have trusted relationships to successfully close deals I think having existing relationships in your target vertical or geography are critical because you may not have time to build them in a mature market.
  2. Pure sales skills – demonstrable experience that you have sold over quota consistently in your past and you can walk through and articulate, debate with me and convince me that you are a rock star.
  3. Functional/domain expertise – I rated this last because there are numerous other areas in the company where this type of support can come from if the candidate has #1 and #2 above

Love to hear your thoughts and experiences and what has worked for you??

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