Improving your sales force

Are you hiring top performers, or does your sales force fall into the 80/20 rule?

You know the rule. It says that 80 percent of a company’s sales comes from 20 percent of its sales force.

There’s little doubt that top performers outsell poor producers. The question is, “by how much?” Evidence shows a top producer will generate five to six times the sales of a bottom producer. In a recent study of more than 100 businesses of various sizes and types, for example, the top producer outsold the same company’s bottom producer by an average of 5.7 to 1. (And to think the bottom producer still held his or her job!)

Actually, the study revealed a 3:1 to 9:1 range. But do the math using the lowly 3:1 differential as in the chart below, and you'll quickly realize how important successful salespeople are to any business. And now think of businesses with only one or two salespeople. It's even more critical that these positions be filled with top producers.

                           Effects of top producers

#1 produces $750,000                     #1 produces $750,000

#2 produces $525,000                     #2 produces $525,000

#3 produces $330,000                     #3 produces $330,000

#4 produces $275,000                     #4 produces $275,000

#5 produces $250,000                      #5 produces $750,000

Total Sales = $2,130,000                  Total Sales = $2,630,000

                                   An extra $500,000!

Whopping 75 percent of sales job candidates are unsuitable

Looking at the above table, wouldn't we all like to have a sales force made up only of top producers?

Unfortunately, few companies, if any, do. Worse, for many, three out of four sales hires fail to work out at all. A new salesperson has only a 25 percent chance of seeing his first anniversary on the job. Of those who stay, only one in 10 becomes a true top producer within three years.

Sales managers tell many horror stories about costs related to unsuitable salespeople:

Unfortunately there are more, of course.

Why poor sales performance?

Many factors contribute to poor sales performance, but traditional hiring methods and beliefs are at the root of the problem for most businesses.

For example, many hiring managers believe that "if you can sell, you can sell anything." Truth is, research clearly indicates this is not the case. Reporting on such research in their book, "How to Hire and Develop Your Next Top Performer," Herb Greenberg, Harold Weinstein and Patrick Sweeney conclude that:

•   More than half of those working in sales should not be in
sales at all because they lack the basic characteristics of
good sales people.

•   Of the remaining 45 percent, half are selling the wrong thing in the wrong place for the wrong managers. This leaves about 20 percent to produce most sales.

Other managers think selling is easy, that anyone can do the job. Unfortunately, with this perception sales people are often seen, at best, as a necessary evil.

And finally, some hiring manager’s misconceptions about sales people saddle them with inaccurate and undesirable characteristics. They think of sales people as:

       • Lazy
       • Lacking in intelligence
       • Opportunistic
       • Overpaid
       • Unethical
       • Pushy (uses high pressure sales tactics)
       • Backslappers and “BSers”
       • Interested only in money

All these misconceptions lead to mistake hires and consequently, poor performances.

And they beg the questions: What characteristics do great salespeople share? What separates top producing salespeople from those languishing at the bottom?

Characteristics of great salespeople

Experts say that successful sales people share several characteristics:

1) They are listeners, not talkers. Successful selling requires knowing a customer’s needs. Great salespeople encourage customers to talk about their needs. They then listen carefully so they can connect their product’s benefits to those needs.

2) They possess a strong work ethic. Successful salespeople work hard and sales superstars know there is no substitute for this. They prospect more often, make more calls, talk to more people and make more sales presentations than their coworkers.

3) They are exceptionally honest. Because many customers think a sales person is a backslapper, even unethical, they look for dishonesty in every sales situation. One whiff of it, and they dismiss the company and its products. Above all else, successful salespeople maintain their integrity.     

4) They are self-confident. Rejection is more common in sales than success. The best salespeople are able to set rejection aside and move on. They are persistent. They look for new solutions. They refuse to give up.

5) They are enthusiastic and passionate. Always in a positive mood, super sellers choose to focus on the positive rather than drag themselves down with the negative. What’s more, they are genuinely excited about their company and about selling its products and services.

Wow! You can see why recruiting an effective sales force is so challenging.

Quite clearly, finding people with these characteristics—those that will become your top performers—requires a lot of attention.

Tips: How to hire successful salespeople

Here are a few tips to increase your chances of hiring top producers.

1) Use hiring assessment tools to measure:
         • How candidates think, learn and act at work.
         • What careers truly interest candidates.
         • Other characteristics critical to sales performance.

2)  Measure top performance job by job using assessments to determine what is top performance in your workplace and in this job.

3) Hire for fit. The better your candidate matches measured dimensions, the more likely he or she will become a top performer.

4)  Build a pool of potential. Find top performers now; don't wait until you need another salesperson. Continuously improve your sales force by replacing bottom feeders with people who fit your jobs.

The search for top performing salespeople is seldom simple. It requires a lot of attention. But just imagine what your business will be like if each of your salespeople performs as well as your current top performer.

Better still, rather than imagine, take time to do the math and then follow the steps above. Before long, you should see your profits explode.

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