“There is no doubt in my mind that to create a world class sales team, you need to know how to identify talent outside of your own industry.  Identifying common ESF’s is the first step in widening the talent pool available to you.”

When hiring sales people, many sales managers seek out someone from within their particular industry, thus minimising risk, with the understanding that a person from within the industry is accustomed to selling in the ‘environment’ in which they operate.  The pro’s and con’s of this selection strategy have been discussed in a previous post.  Although there are some great examples of hiring decisions made in this manner, this strategy often leads to us making a decision from a VERY ‘short’ list of candidates that happen to be on the market within our industry.

Look at the last few hiring decisions you’ve made in your sales team.  How many candidates did you have to choose from that you thought could actually do the job?  Most sales managers who like to hire from within their industry exclusively, would say, “One; and I had a vacant territory for around five months, costing me big money whilst I searched for them.  We missed budget because of it”.  This is understandable and common; after all we are in the midst of an acute skills shortage that I believe has hit the sales profession more than most (a subject for another post).  Often this person wasn’t the best of what the industry had to offer; they gained the job by default, they were the only one there!  So how can we expect to create a ‘best of breed’ sales force to beat our competitors if we are often recycling the sales people they let go?  The fact is this strategy severely limits the talent available to you when selecting the best sales person for the job.  It’s my belief that this selection strategy is born out of a lack of education on recruitment strategy or hesitance through fear of getting it wrong.  “Last time we hired from outside of the industry, they just didn’t get it.”  If every time we made an error, we never tried again, we would still be in the Stone Age.  It’s having the know-how that can change this.  The challenge is that most sales managers come from a sales background – they have little to no education on recruitment strategy, so they go for the safety of hiring from within the industry.

In all likelihood, the best sales person for your business on the market right now is not currently working with one of your competitors; but how do you know if they can make the transition across to your industry?  Well, without meeting them you won’t know – and in my experience, many great sales people are overlooked at resume screening stage due to a lack of industry experience (ever heard this one before?). 

Does this mean you should meet every experienced sales person that applies for the position?  Of course not, you’ve got better things to do with your time.  So how do you ensure you don’t miss that diamond candidate in the resumes hitting your inbox?

Consider this; there are other industries that face similar challenges to your own throughout the sales process.  Perhaps your sales people are challenged by the ‘type’ of decision maker the sell to (be it a CFO or HR Director etc.), or the fact they are required to be more of a ‘trusted advisor’ than a slick sales person (often the case in the professional services space).  Or perhaps your solution is particularly technical and requires that rare mix between a technical mind and a strong communicator.  These are not factors that are common across all industries, however there are some industries that do share these challenges.  Once you isolate the key challenges faced in the sales process in your industry, you can then go about isolating industries that share common ground in these areas.  Upon meeting sales people that have come from these alternate industries but share the ‘Environmental Selling Factors’ of your industry, you will be re-invigorated about sourcing talented sales people for your business.  You’ll have a new found understanding that you actually have far more talent to choose from than what you thought.

Here are the top 12 Environmental Selling Factors you should consider when sizing up candidates:

1.                  Commodity Selling Versus Value Selling.
Senior level management will rarely get involved in buying commodity products.  After all, the vendors are all offering solutions that are very comparable (by definition).  These buying decisions are mostly made at procurement level.  Someone that is accustomed to influencing at the ‘C’ level is unlikely to be effective when dealing with procurement and may not appreciate what drives decision making at this level.  The same can certainly be said visa-versa.  Often one is a price sell where the other is what many call a ‘solution’ sell, where problems are solved or efficiencies are improved, or previously unrecognised more effective ways of doing business are discovered (often the case with technology solutions).  In these situations, clients are quite prepared to pay a premium, as a clear return on investment can be argued.

Situational & Behavioral Interviewing for the Sales Profession2.                  ‘Technical’ Solution Selling
This is where one of the most severe skills shortages exists in the sales profession.  You’re selling contract pharmaceutical manufacturing to pharma marketing companies, or you sell raw chemicals to manufacturers.  You really need a brainiac with a science degree with the communication and sales skills to boot.  Often these skills are mutually exclusive by way of interest (scientists don’t like to sell and visa-versa); but when you find someone with the rare combination, you’re onto a winner.  Many engineering based industries have this challenge.  Perhaps they could be cross pollinating rather than limiting themselves to recycling their competitor’s staff?

3.                  Collaborative Versus Solo Selling
Collaborative sales environments are often found in the professional services space (among others).  You need to gain the buy in of internal delivery staff who will in the end be your ‘product’.  They will be delivering a bespoke solution that the sales person needs to design with the delivery team in the best interest of the client.  The sales person takes the time to understand the client’s needs, communicate them back to the delivery team and together they develop the solution to pitch to the client.  This involves selling both externally and internally and requires great stakeholder management, listening and influencing skills.  For example, the IT systems integration / consulting industry share this commonality with the management consulting industry.  Could these industries consider talent from one another, thus increasing the talent pool available to them?

4.                  Flexible Solution Versus Rigid Solution
Going into a sales call with a pre-conceived understanding of what you are going to sell to them based on the fact your product is one-dimensional, is an entirely different sales process to having any number of malleable solutions to offer a client dependant on their needs or business opportunities.

5.                  Trusted Advisor Selling (Creative Selling)
In many cases (particularly in the ‘flexible solution environment’ listed above) the sales person must position themselves as a ‘trusted advisor’ to the client; advising that a solution be built and delivered in a certain way, or advising the client on how they can go about achieving a better business outcome through doing things differently.  This is a fine skill that is typically only mastered after many years in the sales profession.  It requires a quiet confidence, composure, deliberate communication style and advanced commercial acumen.

6.                  Length of Sales Cycle
When selling strategically over a period of twelve months and five (plus) sales calls in order to bring in a piece of business, someone who is used to a shorter sales cycle may become impatient and lose motivation as they are used to ‘winning’ on a more regular basis.  They may feel a need to ‘close’ often and throughout the sales process, which will bring a sales person undone in this environment.  Strategic selling involves understanding your clients business at the deepest level and the ability to formulate bespoke solutions.  A shorter sales cycle may simply require one or two meetings, some discovery questions, a presentation, a Q and A and a close; two very different skills-sets required.  However, often sales people progress from one to the other over time.

7.                  Average Sale Value
Dealing with large scale decisions where significant capital outlay is required takes a certain skill-set and persona in order to be trusted by a client with such a commitment.  This is less about industry and more about seniority of sales position.  Selling a smaller solution may involve one decision maker where selling a larger scale solution may involve you needing to influence five key stakeholders and have them reach agreement with one another.  This involves an intricate understanding of organisational structure, behavior and business drivers and may require someone with greater commercial acumen and business experience.

8.                  Average Unit Price
Selling pens (regardless of the volume) takes a different skill-set to selling industrial capital equipment.

9.                  Markets Sold To
The buying behavior of government departments can be vastly different to that of a top 500 company, albeit they may both be making large scale purchases.  The motives in such buying decisions will often vary greatly, as will the process prospective vendors have to go through to be successful.

10.             Level Of Decision Maker Sold To
A CFO is driven to make decisions on entirely different criteria to that of a Marketing Manager.  Even personality types typically vary between job functions.  Knowing how an HR Manager typically thinks; how and why they make decisions and so forth, can be a great asset to a sales person.  You may sell Human Capital Management Software to HR leaders within large corporations.  Perhaps a sales person from a leadership training company would be worth talking to.  Both industries sell to HR decision makers and understand the typical buying drivers and behavior.

11.             Product Versus Service
Selling a product that can be touched, felt and demonstrated in action, is vastly different to selling something than cannot be seen, but can only be described.  The skill-sets involved with each sales process often vary greatly.  Sales people can sometimes struggle to make the transition from one to the other.

12.             New Business Versus Account Management
Perhaps this one goes without saying.  I’ve seen many sales people fail in making the transition from one to the other.  We must remember selling is not selling, even if someone comes from the same industry.  In this case, the day-to-day tasks and often the personal ‘make-up’ and occupational interests of the individuals a vastly different from one another. 

 So ask yourself; which of the above environments exist in your industry.  Sales people coming from alternative industries that have conquered these same selling environments may be quite capable of making a successful transition into your company.  Therefore, you have brought an enthusiastic new entrant into the industry that is keen to learn and do things ‘the company way’ rather than saying “at ABC and Co (your competitor) we didn’t do it this way”. This new entrant is stimulated by your industry (it’s new to them) and has no pre-conceived notions of how things should be done.  They are not underwhelmed about what your company does, having been in the industry for 20 years and a little ‘over it’.  Furthermore, they bring new ideas; and although of course many of them may be misguided initially, as they develop, their slightly different way of looking at things is sure to add value to company processes and selling strategies.

 The obvious benefit of being able to identify these ESF’s (Environmental Selling Factors) is increasing the number of sales people you have to choose from when hiring, thus improving the quality of sales talent in your organisation.  You can then focus on getting the person with the best selling skills with an aim to attract someone that is in the top 10% of sales people in Australia, rather than choosing from the one or two people you have in front of you from your competition.  If you did have people that only represented the top 10% of sales professionals, what could this do to your sales numbers over time?

The immediate challenge is learning how to identify the ESF’s in prospective CV’s and understanding the industries these candidates are likely to coming from.  If you’re like most successful sales managers, you’ve only worked in two to three industries over your time, so how are you to know the common ESF’s that others industries may share with your own?  This can take a lifetime of recruiting sales people or a strong recruitment partner that is able to be your ‘trusted advisor’ in your recruitment strategy development and deployment.  It may help to work with a specialist sales recruiter with many years experience to guide you through it and suggest industries to consider sales people from that have already mastered the ESF’s that exist within your industry.  If you’re short on such a contact, I can point you in the direction of a number of good consultants (cheap plug).

If you are a sales person looking to make a transition across industry, perhaps you can consider the above.  Which industries share the ESF’s that you have mastered over your career?  Perhaps these are the industries you should be pursuing. 

Without the common ESF’s, can a successful transition be made? 
Of course it can sometimes be made, with a healthy investment in professional development and plenty of time to be given to the prospective candidate to create success.  Unfortunately, not many companies are able to or are prepared to make such an investment.  However many acceptations are out there; companies that are more than prepared to make this investment in sales people early in their career.  Often the salary is not substantial at first as the company is investing in your development and is prepared to wait longer for their return on investment.  Unfortunately for those advanced in their sales career, asking $100,000 plus salary without any common ESF experience is unlikely to come off (of course there are exceptions).  This is due to the fact that this sort of salary normally demands a faster return on investment, larger result expectations, and lower risk (if you’ve not done it before, you are high risk, like it or not).

I hope this article has inspired you to lift the bar in considering what sales talent looks like and where it can be found.  There is no doubt in my mind that to create a world class sales team, you need to know how to identify talent outside of your own industry.  Identifying common ESF’s is the first step in widening the talent pool available to you.   Of course once you have a selection of talented sales people to choose from, you’ll need to learn how to employ situational and behavioral interview techniques to help determine which of the people you have in front of you has best performed in these common ‘Selling Environments’.

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

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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 steve.ludlow@harlowgroup.com.au.

Steve.

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. http://ht.ly/3UgR5
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