In part one of this series, we addressed transitioning out of a “referral only" sales mindset. In part two, we began to explore criteria for building a successful sales team, examining the advantages and disadvantages of part-time and full-time labor, “hunters" versus “farmers" and various compensation plans.
To be certain, there is no perfect, out-of-box, this-is-right-every-time scenario when it comes to building a sales team. In fact, compared with building a technical team, it might be even more difficult. Technical talent can be measured, or at least vetted, based on certifications and actual hard skills. Sales, on the other hand, is very much a soft-skills profession. There are countless sales programs and techniques that any given salesperson may have been trained in, but there is literally no way to predict how well a salesperson will perform for your business — especially if there is no existing system in place.
So what do you do? Hire someone who may be less expensive but has little experience, or invest in a “heavy hitter" with years of practice and a fat Rolodex, knowing that there’s no guarantee it will be relevant to or pay off for your business?
Let’s examine the pros and cons of each.
The Experienced Sales Professional
Whenever you hire a seasoned salesperson from another company, be it a competitor or not, that person is likely leaving his or her previous position for a reason. Think about it: If everything were going well, why would she be looking for alternative employment? While this is not always cause for concern, try to figure out the real driver for a job change, beyond the stock interview answers.
It is just as critical that you determine which holes need to be filled on your end when assembling a sales team. Maybe you need someone who has a long line of industry credentials to gain credibility with new clients. Perhaps you’d prefer to hire someone who will serve as an ambassador to the marketplace. Then there is the candidate with a deep Rolodex of contacts who is more of a relationship broker than a seller. These are all valued members of any sales organization, but you have to determine what makes the most sense for your business.
Of course, with experience comes a heftier price tag. Larger base salaries may be required to land a more seasoned sales rep. Assess whether the ROI works in your favor. How much new business will the hire need to generate to offset labor expenses and stabilize cash flow?
The Inexperienced Sales Professional
When considering an inexperienced or “green," sales rep as a possible hire, what qualities should you seek? Are you willing to have someone who looks like he just started shaving meet with a business owner on behalf of your company? Yes, details like this matter.
One thing to remember when hiring sales reps – especially inexperienced ones – is that they are all wild cards. Too often, employers take what’s said during an interview at face value, only to be disappointed with their new hire later. Sales people learn early that the most important product they have to sell is themselves. Be wary of applicants misrepresenting their skill sets or degree of expertise, and exercise caution when hiring. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
While it can be risky, you shouldn’t discount the idea of hiring less-experienced sales reps. Oftentimes they introduce a level of energy that is contagious to the sales efforts of an MSP. If you find someone who is hungry and eager to make her mark in the business world and can offer the right mentorship, these individuals will often surprise you with their quick ramp-up time and impressive performance.
You may also find that investing in younger reps creates more meaningful relationships, allowing you to grow your company from within. This is certainly an advantage in the long term, especially if you are providing professional development opportunities like sales training, sending them to industry conferences or just investing in them personally.
Inexperience does not always just apply to age, either. Hiring someone with a technical background might be the best move for you based on your company and the responsibilities for the rep. For an organization that has a virtual CIO (vCIO) in place to help during the sales process, technical knowledge might not be a requirement. However, if your sales team needs to field technical questions upfront, having someone with only average sales skills and a wealth of technical knowledge might be the smarter choice.
Where Are These People?
Right now you may be feeling overwhelmed with the various considerations involved when hiring a salesperson, and that is OK. If you have never done it before, there’s a good chance you’ll make some bad hires. If you have hired sales talent in the past, you are still likely to make bad hires. It’s a learning process.
What you want to do is source potential sales employees ALL THE TIME, but hiring a staffing firm can be expensive when just starting out. The best way for an MSP owner to find sales talent is to do what you were previously doing to grow your business: Ask for referrals.
Putting an ad in the paper and on job sites (including LinkedIn) may get you a high volume of applicants, but you probably don’t have the time needed to vet a large pool of potential team members. Instead, ask your clients if they know of any sales professionals looking for work. Ask friends. Ask everyone. Referred business is one thing, but a referred potential hire is like striking gold.
By Carlos Borges
By Ray Vrabel