Ian: Welcome to the Business Coach Podcast, an advice-oriented series that tackles the top issues and opportunities facing Canada’s small businesses. I’m your host, Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of PROFIT Magazine. And we’ve developed this podcast in cooperation with BMO Bank of Montreal.
Call it the impossible dream of entrepreneurs, to have a product that sells itself. The harsh reality for most business owners is that salespeople must do the selling. I call that a harsh reality not because I have anything against salespeople, but because the supply of good salespeople falls well short of demand. So every time you hire a salesperson you had better choose the right candidate.
In this episode of the Business Coach Podcast we’ll examine how to attract and select better salespeople with help from Matt Cook. Matt is president of SalesForce Search Limited, a specialized recruiter that appeared on the 2010 PROFIT Hot 50 ranking of Canada’s top young growth companies. He joins me by phone from his office in Toronto. Matt, welcome to the Business Coach Podcast.
Matt: Hi, Ian. Thanks for having me.
Ian: So Matt, many business owners would say that there is a shortage of good salespeople out there. How hard is it to find good salespeople and why is that?
Matt: Well, I think contrary to popular belief there actually are a lot of good salespeople out there. I think where most companies fall short is that they don’t necessarily know how to identify who a good salesperson is. And that typically stems from the fact that they don’t necessarily have a process for attracting, interviewing, and making decisions on who those people should be.
Ian: Would it be fair to say though that there are lots of good salespeople out there but they tend to already have jobs?
Matt: Absolutely. We get approached by clients all the time saying that they want to hire a superstar from another firm. The reality is if a superstar is doing very well in another company there’s less reasons for them to want to leave their job.
Ian: So what are some fundamental or classic characteristics of good salespeople?
Matt: I think contrary to popular belief listening skills is the most important especially in today’s day and age. Long gone are the days where you can just kind of show up, pitch your product, maybe lower your price and hope to get a sale. Today it’s really about listening to what the business needs are and then coming back with appropriate solutions. I think other attributes are things like attitude, resourcefulness, determination, being self-aware, being very competitive and motivated by money.
Ian: Now Matt recently Profit published a story on the changing role of the salesperson in today’s economy. How have you seen the role of the salesperson change in recent years?
Matt: Well, I think the biggest thing is we talk about consultative selling and going in and understanding business needs. I think the role of a salesperson today is to be more of a consultant, to really truly understand the needs of the business, to truly understand what they’re looking for in a solution. And people don’t want to be sold to. People want information to help them make informed decisions about their business. So talking about things like ROI, why your product or service will give them better ROI than another. And that applies to everything from selling copiers right up to multi-million dollar IT solutions.
Ian: I guess a good salesperson really has to be honest with themselves and understand that if their product doesn’t really fit the client’s needs that they shouldn’t try to go into sales overdrive and sell that product.
Matt: Absolutely. Part of qualifying a prospect is uncovering whether they actually have a need for what you sell, and in the past people used to try to sell through an objection when there wasn’t really a need on the other side of the table. Selling today is about truly understanding the needs and if there isn’t a need there to be able to say to a prospect, you know what, I don’t think you have a need for our service at this time. It’s about being brutally honest with your potential clients.
Ian: And of course if you’re brutally honest with those clients you’re just going to free up more time to sell to another prospective and a more qualified buyer. Based on all you’ve said about what we should be looking for in a sales candidate, how do we go about evaluating them? What are the crucial steps and approaches in the hiring process which most small businesses don’t do a very good job of whether they’re hiring sales candidates or any other type of candidate?
Matt: They key is to actually have a process. A lot of small and medium size companies, because they’ve had a great product or service and they’ve managed to grow really well and the owner has been the one out there selling, now they’re looking to bring on other people to do it. They don’t necessarily have a process for how to attract people, how to interview them, how to make an offer, how to compensate them.
So the first thing is to really establish a good process, and we’ve seen large companies that don’t do this very well. And we’ve seen small companies that do it incredibly well, but having a process is the most critical thing. Secondly would be to use things like assessments whether they’d be psychological assessments or sale specific assessments. They can really help weed out the good from the bad. Things like job shadowing. Internally, whenever we bring on a new salesperson we have them come spend an entire day. We get them involved in all aspects of the job so that we can see how they interact with our team as well as we get to see their skills in action. And other things like panel interviews. As many eyeballs as you can get on them during the process the better.
Ian: I know that role playing is often used as a sales training tool. Is role playing the kind of thing that works well in a job interview?
Matt: Absolutely. We do role plays with every candidate that we meet with. Asking them about their elevator pitch, walking them through a very specific objection as it pertains to their product or service just to see how they handle it.
Ian: Now earlier on we talked about the fact that a lot of good salespeople are already working for other firms. They’re gainfully and often happily employed, so it’s important to be able to attract really good people and to encourage them to apply for positions at your firm. Can you suggest the best ways today to do this?
Matt: We’ve heard from a lot of clients that posting on job boards just isn’t a very effective tool. Unfortunately, it is a way to attract a lot of resumes, but not necessarily people that you want to be talking to. You have to treat recruitment as a process, not an event. And you always need to be recruiting. You may not be hiring, but you should always be recruiting. So things like networking, establishing partnerships or relationships with recruitment vendors, or attending tradeshows and other industry events where you’re going to be meeting people that could potentially work for you down the road.
Ian: Matt, what can you tell us about how SalesForce Search helps companies find better salespeople?
Matt: Companies come to us when they’ve had challenges finding good salespeople, and we work with companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Rogers, Whirlpool, right down to small companies that you’ve never heard of and everything in between. We go out and find sales professionals that have the skill set, the attitude, the behavior, and most importantly the cultural fit to make them successful within that company’s organization.
Ian: And Matt, finally, what in your mind is the biggest mistake that employers make when hiring salespeople?
Matt: Interesting you mentioned that. We recently did a survey of 20,000 sales managers across the country, and 70 percent of them said they relied on gut feel when making a hiring decision. This is problematic for a number of different reasons because quite often companies will hire people that they like rather than the best person for the job.
In fact, we had a situation where a client even admitted to us that they were hiring someone that they didn’t believe was as skilled because they liked them more.
And specifically with sales this is an issue because people look at the person across them as an extension of their brands representing them in the marketplace. But if you only hire people you like and not necessarily people that have the skill set you’re not going to make a good hire.
Ian: A very common mistake Matt. And thank you for sharing that insight and others about hiring salespeople with the Business Coach Podcast.
Matt: Thanks very much.
Ian: Matt Cook is president of SalesForce Search Limited in Toronto.
That’s it for another episode of the Business Coach Podcast. Be sure to check out other episodes which you can download from BMO.com/coach, profitguide.com and iTunes. For other tools to help you build your business, visit the small business resources section on BMO.com. Until next time, I am Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of PROFIT Magazine, wishing you continued success.