The only thing worse than hiring an MBA is hiring one as a salesperson.
I know because I have made this mistake more than once. I can remember one MBA in particular. He had an annoying habit of returning from sales calls with a Cheshire Cat grin on his face. I would ask him about his meeting and he would describe an "amazing" opportunity and boast about how "eager" the customer was to work with us.
Then he would drop his bomb: "We just need to make a few changes to our business model..."
Every time this guy came back from a meeting he wanted us to completely overhaul the way we did business in order to accommodate the unique requests of every prospect he met with. He lasted six months before I asked him to go ruin someone else's company.
The problem with hiring an MBA as a salesperson is they are the very worst form of consultative sales person. As you may know, most salespeople can be categorized into one of two buckets:
1. Transactional: relatively unsophisticated sales people who focus on closing leads. Transaction sales people can damage your brand because they use scripts, canned offers, and pressure tactics to get people to buy.
2. Consultative: a sophisticated sales professional (often with an MBA) who tries to understand a customer's problems and develops a custom solution for each opportunity. They often visit clients in person, ask lots of questions, and write bespoke proposals for each prospect they dig up.
I, like a lot of entrepreneurs, am naturally more drawn to hire consultative sales people because we think alike. We're hardwired to look at problems in the world and try to come up with a better solution. It's what makes us entrepreneurs.
The Pitfalls of Hiring Consultative Sellers
The problem with consultative salespeople is that they want to reinvent your business at every turn. They think of the world in terms of customers who have problems that need fixing instead of companies with products and services that need customers to buy them. Consultative salespeople often start thinking of their customer as their employer rather than you, the person who pays their mortgage.
Consultative salespeople are intellectually lazy; they are unable or unwilling to do the mental gymnastics necessary to show how an existing product can solve a customer's needs without having to be redesigned. When a consultative sales professional can't figure out how to make your product or service attractive, they take the easy way out and offer to develop a custom solution.
This, of course, destroys your company's growth potential over time. You end up reinventing yourself at every turn and undermining your ability to scale.
The MacGyver Sales Professional
There is a third kind of salesperson that is the ideal blend of the two. I call him the MacGyver Sales Professional, inspired by the name of the 1980s TV series of the same name. MacGyver would find himself in the direst circumstance with few resources at his disposal, but by the end of the episode he inevitably would have wiggled his way out of a nasty situation with little more than a stick of chewing gum and a coat hanger.
The MacGyver Sales Professional recognizes that you have a basic product (or service) to sell and tries to make your product work to solve your client's problem without reinventing your business model.
More than a transactional salesperson, The MacGyver Sales Professional goes beyond the robotic memorization of a presentation. She asks good questions and probes deeply to uncover a customer's pain points. When she understands the customer's challenge, she does the hard work of figuring out how to make your product solve the problem at hand.
How To Screen For The MacGyver Sales Professional
So how do you find a MacGyver Sales Professional? Start by asking a sales job candidate to sell you a pen (or a notebook, tablet, piece of gum, or whatever you have lying around your office).
The transactional salesperson will list a series of features: ('This pen writes in beautiful blue ink and it has this wonderful lid that insures the ink never dries,' etc.).
The consultative sales professional will ask you thoughtful questions about how you work and will do a good job of uncovering pain points, but he will struggle to show how the pen solves one of your needs.
Your MacGyver will figure out your pain points and show you how the pen can solve one of them.
Finding salespeople is tough. Transactional salespeople can be overly aggressive while consultative salespeople are so intellectually lazy you'll be reinventing your business for every new customer you win. It is the MacGyver Sales Professionals who have the poise to probe for problems, knowing that whatever they hear, they have the creativity to come up with a solution using the resources already at their disposal.