Recently I read “Hire Right, Higher Profits” by Lee Salz which focuses primarily on enterprise sales rep hiring. Two of the take-aways from that book are in the title of this article and, below are a few more with my additional commentary.
-B2B sales are hard: “the attrition rate among B2B salespeople hovers around 25 percent, while nearly 50 percent of salespeople don’t deliver on their revenue targets. We also know that depending on the industry, somewhere between a fifth and a third of salespeople aren’t suited for the roles that they were hired to perform.” As a CEO it’s inappropriate to assume perfect hiring and that you’re not going to have material levels of churn in your salesforce. Count on at least 25% of sales people leaving each year and that those 25% will have performed below quota during the time they were at the company. I like to assume that for every two sales people, one will hit quota and will be well short of quota (50%), which blends out to quota attainment of 75% between the two.
-You’re always hiring: “executives know that only searching for talent when they are staring at open seats on their sales team can result in poor selection decisions. Instead, they are perpetually on the lookout for talent and always have prospective candidates in the pipeline.” Sales people are the only employees in an organization which are profit centers, so you should never not be hiring (great reps generate at least 4x to 5x what they’re paid). Additionally, you need to always be on the lookout because as bullet one points out, there will be attrition among your weak performers.
-Training is critical: “Every once in a while lightning strikes and a company finds a great salesperson. But this is the exception, not the rule. More commonly companies find salespeople with potential, but both of you have work to do for that potential to become reality.” Stop trying to find the perfect rep with 20 years of experience, because otherwise you’ll never make a hire. Rather, look for the person who is hungry, self-motivated, and is coachable. In sales, experience does not equate to success.
-The rule of five: “five percent of salespeople will exceed under any circumstance. Five percent of salespeople will fail no matter what is done for them.” This means the other 90% have a shot if you can give them the tools and onboard/coach them appropriately.
-Big firm reps don’t do well at startups: “As one friend shared with me ‘when you work for Microsoft, you are a finalist in every deal – even if you have never met anyone in the company. Chief Information Officers rearrange their schedules to meet with you. Now, here I am working with ABC Technology.com and calling on those same CIOs. Rather than receiving a warm welcome, I’m greeted with ‘Never heard of your company’ and I struggle to set a meeting.” As mentioned in a previous bullet, experience is not a prerequisite for success, so stop trying to hire only those sales reps with big firm experience. If anything, a rep from a big corporation could be in for a shock when he realizes selling just got that much harder without a big brand behind him. Look for the young, hungry kid with a lot to prove versus the old timer who thinks he’s going to bring his book of business over.
-Titles matter: “when a salesperson is handed her title, she immediately derives a message from it and so will her clients.” Account Executive and Business Development are appropriate titles. Manager, Director, and Vice President are ambiguous or could misrepresent a salesperson’s authority, so avoid them.
-Long job descriptions are a turn-off: “How many people match this entire list? Does anyone match all these criteria? Would this company really not consider a revenue investment in someone who does not possess some of these attributes? By publishing an ad that is so restrictive, the company misses out on potential superstars who choose not to apply.” Stop creating job descriptions with tons of requirements like ‘10+ years in selling like products’, ‘working knowledge of professional field’, or ‘MBA required’.
-Industry experience is over-rated. “Executives make three mistakes when they pursue candidates with industry experience – the assumption that these candidates will have a fast ramp and the misconception of guaranteed success are two of them. The third mistake becomes apparent when the starry eyed interviewer looks at the candidate and asks ‘how much business can you bring with you?’ This is an awful expectation to set for a prospective salesperson and creates an ethical dilemma. In addition, it’s not easy to move a mass number of clients from one supplier to another. When a salesperson has left your company to work for a competitor, how successful was she at taking her clients with her? She probably wasn’t very successful.” Don’t hire reps because you think they’re going to come with clients, because they won’t. A rep sells the product, but the product is what keeps the client, not the relationship with the rep.
The book contains a number of other valuable points but these are the ones that stood out to me the most, especially since so many startups selling to enterprise seem to violate these rules.