What will the next generation of sales specialists be like as employees? What will they need for training and technology? How will we find them, compensate them, and manage them? This topic has become a driving concern for many entrepreneurs. Recently I was introduced to someone with fresh ideas who is taking the longer view. Rolf Meyer, president of HARTING North America, is hiring recent graduates who have little to no experience and turning them into top salespeople.
HARTING North America, based in Elgin, Illinois, manufactures connectors. Not terribly exciting, but, as it turns out, pretty important. With all of the recent talk about "big data," it is these connectors that send that data at warp speed to its destination.
So why go through the trouble of training new graduates when it would be a lot easier to pick up a few sales veterans from his competitors and work them into his system? Meyer explains.
1. The world has changed and veterans may not adapt—Meyer recruits young people—and demonstrably flexible people of any age—because the world is changing and they are more willing to adapt along with that change. Inflexible people are at a disadvantage in this fluid world. Here is what that means ...
2. Build new habits rather than undo bad habits—"We are looking for people who can be molded into the way we do business," says Meyer. "Experienced people who sell commodities think they can sell anything. Maybe they can. But we are not selling anything. Our people learn that what they are actually doing is giving solutions." He hires paid interns for positions in sales, finance, manufacturing, information technology, and other departments. But the key focus is on sales. Interns then become employees.
3. Qualities over experience—"We want people who are curious, nosy, open-minded," he said. "We need to know as much about the customer as the customer. Our interns learn our product line inside-out. They learn the customer inside-out, too. That is, they learn what problems are plaguing the engineers they meet? And perhaps the single most important question our interns learn to ask is, 'What do you want to do five years from now?'"
Admittedly, this is a long-term strategy. The goal is to build competitiveness in your sales force five years from now and beyond. However, with thousands of the most experienced people retiring every week, there will be a lot of scrambling by the bigger players in every market to secure the remaining tenured candidates. Building your own force from the ground up is a compelling strategy for the coming market challenges.