Sunday, January 3, 2010

Where Have All the Sales Professionals Gone?

A friend and I were recently lamenting the scarcity of professional sales people in today's workforce. Unfortunately, Chief Executive Boards International member companies are no exception. Finding and developing professional sales people is one of the top 3 issues in most small and mid-size companies.

The big problem? The thing that separates the pros from the wannabes, I think, is successful prospecting. A professional sales person knows how to find prospects. The wannabes expect to be fed from some sort of "leads spigot" -- a pipe that endlessly serves up a plate of already-warm prospects. People who would probably buy from you whether you had a sales person or not. These whiners are expecting others (perhaps you) to prospect for them, and they just go out and scoop up the orders. These are not sales people -- they're "order takers". In my experience, over 70% of applicants for sales jobs have experience as order takers -- not as sales people. And perhaps they'll find another one of those gigs. If that's not what you need, look further.

If your own skill set includes effective prospecting, you may be able to teach that skill to another person. If you come by it naturally, it'll be harder -- you'll have to examine exactly what works for you, how you do it, and then train and coach them in that skill. If that's part of your plan, you may find this article useful: 5 Prospecting & Networking Tips for Sales Pros

Much better to address prospecting ability in the selection process -- during the initial interview with a sales candidate. You'll want to use some behavioral interviewing techniques to ferret this out with a candidate. Ask questions like:
  • "Tell me about a time in your career where you just didn't have enough prospects to fill your pipeline." The candidate may "out" himself, saying something like, "Well, when I worked for ___, they just didn't give me enough leads, and I eventually had to leave."

  • If the candidate actually can describe a real time (exactly when, where, for whom they were working, etc.) when that was the case, follow up with something like: "And what did you do about that?" "How did that work out?"

  • Then ask them about another time when they had to generate their own leads. You're looking for a prior behavior that will predict how they'll be able (and willing) to prospect for you (not how they theoretically might generate their own leads).

Effective prospectors can be developed -- if they're willing to do a couple of things most people don't like to do. Those things include continuing to make contact with and get acquainted with strangers, and also listening to a lot of "no's" without taking them personally. That's why there aren't many pro sales people -- the average person just isn't willing to do the things the pros do to earn the freedom they have and the money they make.

You can develop your stable of prospectors through selection/deselection or through training and development. Just don't waste a lot of time on the latter unless you see major forward progress in the early going. Sales training is a huge industry for a reason -- there are a lot of people out there who can't sell and won't ever be able to sell but their employers just won't give up on them and go find someone who can.

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International

Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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