If I took a poll of small business owners of whom they felt were their most difficult employees in relation to hiring, managing and performance, an over sounding majority would say, salespeople. Having been a salesperson in my earlier career and managed salespeople, I will agree, we are not the easiest group to manage due to personalities and traits that tend to run throughout. On the other hand, we are that necessary evil within your business that can make or break a business. By the end of this article, hopefully, those business owners that feel this way will have a different opinion. Something else to keep in mind is that a majority of salespeople who have worked for business owners that have this opinion have interesting stories to tell about their tenure in a small business. Many business owners believe that because they hire a sales rep this will solve all the issues in their business and they should hit the ground running. Many are not provided training on the business or given time to get up to speed on the products or services being sold. Many are not managed by someone within the business and given direction. Another thing that is common is that they are not provided with a contract, quotas, and key performance indicators. The ones that are given quotas are provided with unrealistic quotas that were not met before the arrival of the rep by anyone else in the business.
The Importance of Sales Personnel to a Business
Sales personnel are one of the greatest assets to a business as they are responsible for bringing in revenue which keeps the lights on in a business, pays other employees, and funds the business. With that being said, it is important that you hire the best you can find and make sure they are trained, managed and treated with respect within the business, as replacing sales personnel can be expensive.
Hiring Sales Personnel for Your Small Business
Since these individuals are your greatest asset, finding and hiring the right people is going to be key. You need to develop a job description that outlines realistic expectations of skills, objectives, and provide an understanding of salary and commission. Paying a base salary that is peanuts for a salesperson will get you a monkey. If in Ontario, it is now a requirement that they earn minimum wage. If you let them go and they have not earned at least minimum wage, (even if they sold nothing) you will be paying this on their exit. If you are not experienced in hiring salespeople, hire an outside firm to help you find the appropriate candidates for your business. Use professional sites to list your opening such as LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed. Do not post a job for a sales professional on Kijiji or a job board.
Once you have found the right candidates, it is well worth the money to invest in someone either inside or a recruitment firm to do a background check, check references and provide them with a sales aptitude test. Having this completed will provide you with the best candidates. Salespeople are good talkers, and most make a great first impression, so it is important that you be prepared to interview them properly to find out if they will fit in your organization and if they have the skills outlined on their resume. If you are not comfortable doing this, enlist outside help. It is important also to look for salespeople that have sold similar products or services. Just because someone sold cars last week does not mean he or she can sell industrial products this week. They may, but there may be more of a requirement on you for additional training. You need to hire someone who is comfortable dealing with your target customer. For example, high tech or industrial salespersons usually have some level of technical knowledge in the industries they have sold. Very different than someone selling retail commodity products.
Once you have found your top candidates (2-3), you will want background and reference checks performed and have sales aptitude tests performed to ensure the best hires. For the individuals that you send an offer, you should have an employment contract that includes points related to the position including quota, salary, commission, bonuses and key performance indicators that are going to be measured. Contracts should be vetted by a corporate lawyer or paralegal who has experience with employment and sales contracts.
On Boarding and Managing Sales Personnel
Before hiring a salesperson, it is important that it has been decided who will manage them. Managing salespeople is different from other employees as they are generating the revenue for your business. You need to have someone who can take the time early on to make sure the individual(s) are trained on your products and services as well as how the business functions. You also need to make sure they have the proper tools to track and manage leads and have a defined sales process already in place.
Salespeople should be providing your forecasts and progress reports on a weekly basis and informing the sales manager (usually the owner) of their progress and where leads are in the sales process. Salespeople should be treated and feel a part of your team, as they are one of the essential assets to the success of your business. They should understand the company vision and mission and know what goals and objectives you have set for the business since you are relying on them to meet most of them.
You also want to make sure that if you have multiple sales reps that you ensure equal and protected territories, You do not want to cause conflict between your sales reps fighting over the same business. That will frustrate them and is a waste of their time and hurts your business as well.
As with any employee, you should be performing regular performance reviews. It is important for them to get positive and constructive feedback as well as them having the ability to tell the owner or sales manager what issues they are facing. As with any employee, if there are issues that you are having with the salesperson, they must be documented, and there must be a corrective plan of action. Just getting rid of someone because they are not selling is not good enough. You need to make sure that you did your part as well and provided help. Too many times, we have seen businesses who are not truly ready to hire sales personnel. They do not have the proper processes or training in place or have people with the time to manage.
We have seen too many times where we have been brought in to a business to deal with sales personnel employee issues to find out that due diligence was not performed before hiring. They then were brought in, were given a desk and a phone, ignored, and then there was confusion about why they were not performing.
Your business needs to be ready before you hire sales personnel. Processes and goals need to be in place, and the owner or others in the business need to be available to train and manage a new salesperson. In Ontario, make sure they are making the base at least minimum wage. https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/es/tools/esworkbook/minimum.php. It is a fallacy that people are more motivated with lower bases and higher commission. What we usually find is that there is not the potential in that business to generate the quota provided. Pay your sales reps and set reasonable expectations, as you would another employee, otherwise you will get exactly what you expected.
Hire professional sales personnel to represent your business and if you are not sure how to do this, outsource this to a recruitment or human resource firm who can help you recruit, perform necessary checks and testing, and even perform interviews.
Have a proper employment contract for sales personnel that is vetted by a lawyer. A legal contract protects you as well as the employee.
Make sure you have the proper training in place before the arrival of the sales personnel. Training should include not only product and service training but an understanding of how your business works and the processes that exist.
Set up proper territories to avoid conflict.
Have weekly meetings with your salespeople to see how they are doing and get an update on their key performance indicators and accounts.
Manage and keep your salespeople in the loop on any changes of goals and objectives to the business.
Provide performance reviews on a bi-annual or annual basis and document any issues that you may have as you should with any employee. You should meet with them as required and review any corrective action if needed. If you have to let a salesperson go, make sure you have documented the issues and that you as a business owner are clean in providing them with what they needed to be successful. Consult with an employment lawyer before letting a salesperson or any employee go.