Graham Hawkins; author of “The Future of The Sales Profession” was the keynote speaker at the recent Sales Masterminds Forum, part of a series of events Harlow Group are sponsoring along with Salesforce and Linkedin.  I spoke with Graham after the event, where we spoke about many topics facing the IT sales profession.  In this section of the interview, we discussed the vendor rationalisation movement with the modern enterprise technology buyer.

You can watch the full interview here

Get “The Future of the Sales Profession“, by Graham Hawkins here

Come along to the next Sales Masterminds Forum on August 9!


We are delighted to be sponsoring this series of forums which are facilitated by Sales Masterminds APAC.

These event are designed to help sales leaders like you to improve the professionalism and success of your sales organisation.

The presenter for this one is Cian McLoughlin. Cian has invested the last 6 years in conducting win-loss reviews for his clients and has incredible insight into how customers make their buying decisions, and why they select one supplier over another.

Why will it be valuable for you?

Cian will will leverage case studies to reveal the science behind decision making and why human biology has such a profound influence on the reasons we say ‘yes’ to some requests and ‘no’ to others. I am sure it will help you and your sales team to position better to win.

The presentation will be followed by a panel discussion which will address your questions.

On top of all this it is a great opportunity for you to network with your sales leadership peers.

I hope to see you on August 9.

To your sales success!

P.S. – For more sales insights, SUBSCRIBE for email updates.




Youtube machine transcript of the above video:
every business on the planet is now
trying to arrange their vendors into a
vendor stack that’s efficient and so if
you’re a vendor sales person and making
the assumption that everybody can buy
from you think again
hi my name’s Steve Ludlow curator of the
hallo group sales leadership blog today
I have with me Graham Hawkins
thanks for joining us today great for
the sleeve like you know grain is an
author of two sales books most recent
one is the future of the sales
profession and so for those that don’t
know Graham grains got 28 years sales
leadership experience predominantly in a
tech space
author of two books as we’ve just said
recently completed an MBA and actually
doing some maturing and at the RMIT I
believe that’s correct what you’re
lecturing on yeah look a range of sales
and marketing based topics particularly
focused around procurement so and the
changes that we’re seeing there okay
from a sales point of your procurement
from a sales point of make a fantastic
interesting and to those that don’t know
actually was the keynote speaker at the
Sowers masterminds event that hallowed
group along with LinkedIn and Salesforce
sponsored it early on in the week which
is what brought us together today and
fantastic peanut and I picked up a lot
from it I think you said how would you
pick up a lot from it I’ve heard a lot
of content in space but there really was
quite a bit that I picked up from it and
I think the the first thing that really
stood out to me is the concept we were
speaking about with regard to extensions
studies where they’ve discovered that
amongst the sort of enterprise market is
a lot of being the rationalization going
on yeah and and you spoke a lot about
tier two and Tier three vendors being
pretty vulnerable in that environment
and hasseneen to qualify in or out
opportunities based upon this vendor
I guess movement and how a second and
third tier vendors you know supposed to
you spoke about qualifying the mineral
rights and that we just give up on that
sort of enterprise market and go for
tier two and Tier three clients or
having you to see that we should be
managing that as specialist providers in
the market yeah look it’s a really good
question the first thing we have to
acknowledge is that everybody is looking
to try and do more business with less
vendors so rationalization of vendors is
real everyone’s trying to drive cost out
of their businesses and managing you
know vast sums of vendors can be
extremely time consuming and costly so
every business on the planet is now
trying to arrange their vendors into a
vendor stack that’s a
and so if you’re a vendor salesperson
and making the assumption that everybody
can buy from you think again because in
many cases your territory is not as big
as you think it is during the research
phase of writing the book Steve I
interviewed a lot of buyers and lots of
them now put in place a policy for in
fact blocking off panel purchases so in
other words if you’re not already on the
panel you’ll never get on the panel
because they’ve got the door shut
basically so as a salesperson if you
don’t qualify that really really quickly
you can spin your wheels in an account
for eighteen months only to find right
at the end of the sales process when
you’re just about to get over the line
and get an order that someone says no
sorry we’re on you know we’ve blocked
off panel purchases so to your question
if you’re a tier 2 or a tier 3 vendor
looking to try and get into a new
account then you need to quickly find
out if they have got that kind of policy
in place yeah
if you’re a tier 3 vendor a single
private vendor then you need to work out
who the prime vendors are or the tier
ones and possibly align yourself with
one of those as a channel into the
account now you mentioned the Accenture
procurement report 2016 what they found
the key finding really was simply that
all businesses will align themselves
with a small number of strategic
suppliers in order to reduce risk and to
reduce cost sure so you know this is a
very real challenge now for the modern
vendor salesperson is how do you find
how do you identify which accounts to go
after and how do you make sure you’re
not wasting your time on ones where the
door is locked
yeah so as a specialist provider and if
you currently have a direct to market
strategy and you’re a salesperson or
sales leader working within that
function they had the ability to remodel
a go to market strategy to start
partnering with the IBM’s of the world
or fugitives or whatever that might look
like yeah is in your view in the tech
space at least would it make more sense
for these organizations to sort of
reframe who they’re going after and look
at the profile of the typical t1
enterprise that’s looking at this vendor
and and perhaps go after the mid-market
instead where they’re still looking at
innovating and expanding upon the way
they do business so that they can
challenge the t ones
hence looking at new inventors to
partner with in order to get a
competitive advantage yes 100% look in
every facet of go to market planning we
are we are being forced to get more
sophisticated and more targeted yeah I
think everyone agrees so when you sit
down and you do your your target
addressable market your market sizing
and you’re looking at your segmentation
plan you do your buyer personas you
follow that up with your ideal customer
profile yeah all of that needs to be
very sophisticated now you can no longer
afford to just go scattergun or you know
spray-and-pray as I call it yeah those
days are over so to your point we have
to get very very focused on which
segments which target customers you know
which buyers are our ideal sweetspot
type buyers and qualify them very very
hard I said to a client of mine recently
who is really just a very reactive
vendor responding to everything that
came along every proposal yeah I said
look if you haven’t got a very clear
view of the buyer and all of the you
know potential opportunities that you
have to sell to that customer you need
to qualify out and walk away it
strategically withdrawal or I call it
yeah that is you’re going to work out I
guess where you’re most competitive as
well just to be in the race is enough
you need to know that you’re going to be
in that top 2 correctly that was a
significant point of difference correct
and we hear it a lot as recruiters but
I’m sure you know many people viewing
hear this a lot from the initial person
they may approach that looked you’re not
only our vendor panel you know being
presented with a huge obstacle around
that and and that we’re not reviewing
that for the next 12 months is that the
other now on the back of that you hear a
lot of persistent sales people push
through that file at significant I guess
problem or a differentiator in their
product to bypass our procurement or to
be sponsored up if the salesperson to
listen to this each time and back away
early on in the process I could see a
lot of sales people walking away from a
lot of opportunity that potential
they’re competitors that may be more
persistent or innovative to find a way
in so how does a salesperson themselves
know the difference between a supplier
that’s just giving you the lines to get
rid of you and one that genuinely is
going to have that robot 18 months down
the track as you say look I think that’s
part of what separates great salespeople
from you know the also-rans yeah and
that is the ability to quickly work out
whether or not you’re a chance to you
know find a path of least resistance in
on the counter yeah so you make a good
qualifying very quickly and upfront
whether or not you have any way into the
account is critical so yeah being able
to strategically withdraw if you need to
or find a way another angle in you know
you talk about the different military
type strategies frontal attack flanking
to the side and all that kind of thing
you know when I did test planning years
ago we talked about all these different
strategies and at the end of the day as
a salesperson you may have to go and
actually align yourself with one of the
few ones an IBM or a HP in the
technology space in other industries it
might be one of the bigger players in
order to sell to the end-user you might
need to go in by a different channel
yeah that’s the way it is now


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I learned a valuable lesson a few years back.  I was managing a sales team of thirteen B2B sales people in the recruitment industry (They weren’t quite as green as Gary’s list, but we had a few rookies in the mix).  We had a Monday morning breakfast meeting every week where we would talk about the week that was, how we are tracking for the quarter, the plan for the week ahead etc…  Following a period of over-performance, I would tell the team about how great we were doing and pump up the individuals who performed well etc…. So to, after a ‘slower’ results period, I would talk to the team about how we as a team were underperforming and what we all need to do to correct the situation, but remaining vigilant in giving recognition to the top performers. Situational & Behavioral Interviewing for the Sales Profession

The problem was this: Although a team is a team, when things are going badly, not ‘everyone’ is to blame.  So to sit your team down as a whole and tell them they need to pull up their socks, is not an ideal thing for the ‘top performers’ to be a part of.  The message you’re giving to those top performers is inconsistent with their results. “Why do I have to listen to this, I doubled my budget last month!” they may think to themselves.  I learned during an exit interview with one of my better performers that he felt exactly this way. 

If you have a sustained period of underperformance, the message can also get very old and have a detrimental impact on morale across the group, including your top performers. 

The other down side to addressing the entire team with negative messaging such as this is that you give underperformers an excuse: “Oh, so we’re all underperforming. It must just be a tough market.  Although I would like to improve my situation, I don’t feel any pressure to, because we are all struggling. He can’t sack all of us”.  I learned that ‘misery loves company’ and it can breed. 

I’ve since learned to isolate negative messages to those that need to hear them.  This saves the top performers from needing to hear about it and tends to ensure that underperformers have less company and make fewer excuses.  This creates more expectation on them to correct their situation and in my experience, they are far more likely to do so in this environment.  The top performers are also happier and feel more recognised.  The entire team has a more upbeat place to work, resulting in better retention and engagement across the board and higher morale.

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Hiring from your competition

We all do it.  It makes sense.  Why wouldn’t you?

  • They are a proven entity; a low risk option; you know they can do the job.
  • They already have some product knowledge so it will take them less time to become profitable for the business.
  • They have contacts in your target market; contacts they can easily get a meeting with.
  • They won’t absorb valuable hours out of your week for product training.
  • They will bring market intelligence and valuable information on our competition.

These justifications a very compelling.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had a recruitment brief to recruit “someone who has sold our products and who has sold to our market.”  There are many reasons why you might hire people from your competition or even develop an entire recruitment strategy centred around hiring people from your competition.

But it’s not always a great idea, especially if this is your ongoing recruitment strategy.  Why?

If you think about a recruitment decision as having long-term impact on your business, one that you will feel the consequences of in 12 months time and onwards; if you’re aim is to have the very best talent available to you; the highest sales producers, on every hire; if you intend to attract professionals that will forge a career with your company, consider this:

Let’s say you are looking to hire only sales performers that represent the top 20% of sales people in Australia.   (By the way, if this is not your strategy, why not!?)  Now let’s take it one step further and say that any new comer has to have worked in your industry, selling the same or similar products to the same or similar markets (OK, so they are currently employed with a competitor).Situational & Behavioral Interviewing for the Sales Profession

How many sales people work in your industry?  This varies dependant on the industry, so for the sake of this exercise, let’s say there are 200 serious sales people in your industry in Australia (lucky you, if there are 200 of them).  So you have 40 people (the top 20%) in your potential talent pool of candidates to select from.  Where around 30% of sales people are on the market at any one time, the majority of these are not top performers.  That’s why they are looking to move.  So let’s say only 15% of the top 20% (40 candidates) are on the market at any one time (and I think I’m being generous here).  That brings your talent pool down to 6 candidates in Australia and you have to find them.  Oh, and by the way, how many of these 6 people live in your city within Australia?  You can see where I’m going with this.  The fact is, you need to get lucky to score a great sales person from one of your competitors. Whether you like it or not, if you have an ongoing strategy to hire from your competition exclusively, you won’t end up with sales people that represent the top 20% of sales people in Australia, let alone your industry.  You’ll end up settling for what is available within your industry at the time, which will rarely be the industry’s best.  However, you have taken a low risk option; a proven entity; you won’t have to train them and they will bring their clients with them… right?  Are you looking long-term, or even mid-term?  The problem is, none of these factors are a measure of a great sales person that will have significant impact on your company’s bottom line in the long run.  You’re simply taking the seemingly safe option, not the most effective one.

However, a sales person that is in the top 20% of sales people, who is not reliant on bringing clients across, who can actually sell…  Wouldn’t this be a better long-term option for your company than to hire a mediocre sales person from a competitor?  After all, even if they can bring over some clients from your competition, if they are not a true sales performer, how will they reach their target in year two?  Or is that when they will leave for another of your competitors who is offering more money?  Are you thinking long-term?  If you had have been thinking long-term two years ago, what would your sales team look like now? 

OK, I know what you’re thinking.  “Who’s to say that a sales person that sells another product or service can transfer their sales skills to your industry and be successful?  These sales skills are not always transferable across industries.”  I agree.  I’ll come to that later in this article.

Here’s some other factors you may want to consider when hiring people from your competition, none of which are show stopping reasons not to, but should be strong considerations.

1.  Large expectations
Often someone who moves across from a competitor is expected to bring their clients with them.  This is rarely a realistic outcome.  Sales people can find themselves in a difficult position when telling a client “I know I said that ABC & Co’s product was the best in the market, but this product is really the best product on the market right now”.  This is just one of the many obstacles that a sales person is faced with when attempting to bring a client base across.  If they are successful in doing so, due to some form of loyalty or relationship with the sales person themselves, then how long will it be before they take these clients to one of your competitors when they move again?

 2.  Longevity and Loyalty
What did you offer to the sales person to encourage them to move from a competitor to your company?  Was it money?  What ever it was, how long will it be before another of your competitors offers an even better deal?  They’ve already told you they will move for better conditions, so what’s stopping them from moving to one of your competitors when they receive the next head hunt call?   You may have a good answer to this.  Let’s hope you do.

 3.  What do you like about the way your competitors do business?
Or more importantly, what don’t you like?  I say this because you are potentially going to spend the next few months debating with your new recruit over the best way to do things in your industry and finding your company’s values are continually undermined as your new starter struggles to break long formed habits.  This inability to conform to your company values may spread to other staff.  Before you know it, your company’s ‘way of doing things’ has been diluted and begins to resemble that of your competition.  Of course I’m being a little dramatic here as these issues can be averted if managed correctly.  But this scenario can sneak up and catch you unawares over time if not managed closely.

Now, let’s say you knew how to select sales talent from outside of your industry, talented sales people capable of performing as well, if not better than those in the top 20% of your industry, who could successfully make the transition.  If this were the case, you could select from a significantly larger pool of candidates.  You could actually afford to select exclusively from the top 20% of sales professionals in Australia, as there would be so many more available to you.

So, am I saying not to hire people from your competition?  Not at all!  In fact, if you can manage the above factors and continue to attract the very best of your industry to your company, you’re obviously on a great path.  However, in reality this is rarely achieved.  What you can often end up with is a team of sales people from your competition, made up of your competitor’s left-overs.  Let’s face it, they won’t easily let go of their top performers.

What I’m saying is, hire people that represent the top 20% of sales people in Australia.  Hire great sales people.  If they happen to have worked for a competitor, that will be an advantage in getting them up to speed earlier.  But make sure you hire on skills and competencies, not on whether or not they have worked at your competition.  Therein lies the challenge!  How do you qualify skills and competencies in an interview?  What skills and competencies are most important to qualify?  And furthermore, not every selling environment is the same and just because you are a great sales person in one industry, doesn’t mean you can transfer these skills to any industry.  In my experience, many sales managers simply have not been given the knowledge and training to do the following:

1.  Identify the critical environmental selling factors that exist in their industry that will most certainly exist in a selection of other industries.  These factors can be used to determine other industries to consider sales talent from, thus significantly widening the talent available to you when making a hiring decision.  These factors may include such things as

  • value of sale,
  • length of sales cycle
  • market segments targeted
  • level of decision maker they are selling to
  • product or service technical similarity
  • commodity Vs value selling
  • structure of the sales process
    These are among many environmental selling factors to be considered when deciding if a person’s sales skills are transferable to your industry.  Click here to see my top 12 ESF’s.

2.  Some sales managers lack the knowledge to accurately identify and isolate the skills and competencies required of a sales position in the company. 

3.  Of those that can identify the requisite skills and competencies, most have not been given the knowledge and training to conduct an effective interview, incorporating situational and behavioral questions to qualify the vital skills and competencies.

After all, when in your sales career did your sales manager or mentor sit you down and teach you how to do these things?  It simply doesn’t happen.  We learn to rely on gut feel and instinct, but these things alone have brought many a sales manager undone.  Qualifying sales people in an interview remains a real challenge for most.  Add to this that they are interviewing sales people!  Even a mediocre sales person can normally sell themselves and build rapport.  Now, if you are a Sales Manager hiring right now, I certainly don’t admire your position if you are using gut feel and intuition as your key guide.Sales Jobs in Australia

Over the past 10 years, I have interviewed over 3000 high level B2B sales professionals.  I now work with sales directors, mentoring them in the development of robust, successful sales recruitment strategies; from identifying required skills and competencies and formally documenting them, through to sourcing, screening, interviewing, assessing and securing high performing sales talent.  We also show sales managers how to use highly sophisticated assessment tools to benchmark existing sales performers within their organisation, enabling them to judge incoming sales talent based on benchmarks created from their top performing sales people.

Let me leave you with this thought.  If your sales team was made up of the top 20% of sales people in Australia, what would your sales team and your sales management career look like today?

We’ll be releasing a white paper later in the year to help guide sales leaders through the maze of recruiting top performing sales people, so watch this space.  In the mean-time, I’m happy to talk further if your sales recruitment strategy could use a fine tune or perhaps even an over-haul.  My email address is


P.S. – For more sales insights, SUBSCRIBE for email updates.

NOTE: This article was spotted by Recruiter Daily and republished in their leading recruiter newsletter.
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