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Hiring The First Salesperson

by Doug Davidoff | Sep 29, 2011 4:32:00 AM

success_solutionsMonday, I discussed two grave mistakes made when small and mid-market companies hire sales and marketing people.  If The Wall Street Journal is to be believed, more small businesses are planning to hire in the next six months than those that aren't; and the sales and marketing is the focus for 50% of those firms.

Given the size of firms that were surveyed (under $5 million) I'm certain that many of these firms will attempting to do the single, toughest thing in business - hiring the first salesperson.  As I shared Monday, hiring any salesperson is difficult, but hiring the first salesperson in a company borders on the impossible.

Going from an entrepreneur/leader led sales effort to a salesperson led effort is a HUGE shift for any company, and it is ALWAYS underestimated. I often advise clients hiring a first salesperson that they may need to expect to go through 3 hires to get it right.

The reason hiring a first salesperson is so difficult is actually quite simple.  Solving the problem is a bit more complicated.

When you hire a salesperson, the sales process paradoxically fails to create value.  When led by a principle or services provider (a la accounting, law, engineering, etc.) the "seller" is constantly creating value.  They're not "selling" in the traditional sense.  They're probing, solving problems, enlightening the customer about what is possible.  Sure, they violate 90% of the rules of selling, but they create value.

When a salesperson is hired, they stop creating value and instead communicate value.  The process becomes a series of "we-do's." 

The problem is that even when the salesperson is saying the exact same things that the non-salesperson was saying - they're not saying the same thing.  The non-salesperson was constantly diagnosing and designing, while the salesperson is constantly telling.  The non-salesperson (accidentally or on-purpose) was problem focused, the salesperson is solutions focused.

Now you can't blame the salesperson most of the time, because the only training the salesperson gets from a company is about the solution.  They're told stories, talk to successful customers and study all of the wonderful things the company does.  Little to know time is spent on understanding the customers problems better than the customer understand their own problems.  There's no diagnostic sales training teaching and supporting the salesperson's ability to dig deeper with the customer.

A successful salesperson brings a critical capability and focus to a company.  They don't have the expertise of the founder, the leaders or the subject matter experts.  So they need a process that ensures they create value throughout the entire sales process.  They must be trained to understand - diagnose - the critical few problems that your company solves.  They must be supported by a marketing effort that supports that message and provokes the customer.

Merely hiring a salesperson and sending them into the field is not a recipe for growth.  Hiring a salesperson is a defining moment for any company - and it must be treated as such.

If you are hiring salespeople in the near future, you can download Avoiding The 10 Critical Hiring Mistakes When Hiring Salespeople.