Special Report: Sales-What Works Now, Part II
BY Susan Greco
Experts take on questions relating to recruiting salespeople, the value of independent reps, geographic sales territories, and sales compensation.
As a follow-on to Inc's February 2002 cover story, we bring you more ideas from our panel of experts as they address the most pressing sales-management issues of the day. Inc's February cover boy, Tony Natella, offers additional insights on recruiting salespeople. Other experts take on questions relating to the value of independent reps, geographic sales territories, and sales compensation. We also refer you back to the Inc archives for stories on coselling and how to get to the next level of sales.
I've never hired a salesperson before. What qualities am I looking for? What are some basic interview questions? "We have an ideal profile," says Natella, who is CEO of Diversified Communications Group, a $6-million recruiting firm in Bedford, Mass., and onetime Inc 500 company. "We don't want a patient salesperson. We want an aggressive and self-reliant one. To be a sales leader you have to be able to say to a client, 'This is what I think we should do." Even if that means encouraging a client to consider more options before making a decision, he adds. After using personality testing for many years on virtually everyone who has ever walked through the door looking for a sales job at Diversified, Natella is confident that there is an archetypal salesperson. In the parlance of one test he uses, for example, good salespeople score high for "expressive" and "driver" and low for "amiable" and "analytic."
On the other hand, Diversified once hired a man who went against type because he did so well on Natella's phone test, which entails several half days of cold calling potential clients. "His personality test said 'analytic," Natella recalls. "But 40 minutes into his phone test it was clear he was a star." Today that person is a managing partner at Diversified. So keep an open mind when interviewing. However, that doesn't mean ignoring the obvious signs that someone is not prepared to deal with adversity. For those who survive the dialing-for-dollars test at Diversified, there is a grueling interview with Natella, who throws out a number of "negative" interview questions, such as How do you handle rejection? and How often do you find yourself getting angry? Natella listens carefully to interviewees because "they're going to get constant objections and rejections." The idea is to probe into the why of some of the personality-test questions, he explains. "I always do this over several weeks. After the third date, the masks come down."
Another interview question Natella loves to ask is, What's the sale you're most proud of and why? Natella always wonders, "Was the rep really instrumental in making the sale?" Listen for how articulate the person is in analyzing why and how the sale happened.
Everyone says now is the time to hire salespeople. But does that mean I should fire my current salespeople if they're not hitting their goals? That question elicited strong responses from our panel of experts. "Companies should shake the trees," says Andy Zoltners, coauthor of The Complete Guide to Accelerating Sales Force Performance and a managing director of ZS Associates in Evanston, Ill. "Now is the time to ask below-average performers to leave," says Zoltners. "There are people who are not going to survive because they're not 'hunters' or they're not creative about finding new business. It's time to upgrade."
One bloodless approach to upgrading your sales force is known as "three strikes, you're out." In other words, if salespeople don't make quota for three consecutive quarters, it's time to replace them. That approach may seem ruthless, but research shows that a lot of people either aren't cut out for a sales career or don't know how to do a particular style of selling -- like pitching high-ticket products and services to top executives. If your customer has changed, your sales team may need to change too.
On the other hand, you can't blame every sales decline on your sales force. A lot depends on how fast your industry pulls out of the current recession. Thus, the other school of thought says not to lay off salespeople during times of uncertainty. Rather, look for ways to bolster the team you have.
"In tough times, I think you're better off having more than fewer as long as you can get performance," says John Monoky, an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan Business School and a sales consultant. "Most of the companies I'm working with were understaffed already on the sales side." He believes that companies should free up their salespeople to focus on new accounts. "What's happened with all the downsizing is, you have the salespeople involved in the servicing and maintaining and retaining [of accounts], but they're not working on getting new business. You've got to put in the infrastructure to support their going out and selling." Onetime Inc 500 chief executive Steve Schmidt agrees. "Your competition may offer a better compensation plan, but smart salespeople realize that if the pre- and postsales support is not available, they will make less money on a more generous comp plan," says Schmidt, CEO of $20-million Abraham Technical Services, in Maple Grove, Minn.