If I polled small business owners about whom they felt were their most difficult employees to hire and manage, an overwhelming majority would say salespeople. Having been a salesperson in my earlier career and managed salespeople, I know we are not the most manageable group due to the strong 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 it. Hopefully, by the end of this article, those business owners that feel this way will have a different opinion.
Many business owners believe that because they hire a sales rep, this will solve all the issues in their business and that individual should hit the ground running. Something else to remember is that most salespeople who have worked for business owners with this opinion have exciting stories about their small business tenure. No matter their experience, a sales rep needs to be provided training on the company or be given time to get up to speed on the products or services sold by the company. Many are not managed by someone within the business or given direction. Like any employee, they need to be managed and provided with expectations and goals to achieve. Another common theme for many small businesses is that sales reps need to be provided with contracts, quotas, or key performance indicators. When we see quotas provided, many times, they are unrealistic.
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. Generating revenue keeps the lights on in a business, pays other employees, and funds the company. That said, you must hire the best you can find and ensure they are trained, managed and treated with respect within the business, as continually 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 sales reps will be essential. You need to develop a job description that outlines realistic expectations of skills and objectives and provides an understanding of salary and commission. Paying a base salary that is inadequate for a salesperson can be compared to paying peanuts and getting a monkey. If your business is in Ontario, you must earn minimum wage for a base salary. If you let them go and they have yet to earn 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, you can hire an outside firm to help you find the appropriate candidates for your business. Use professional sites like LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed to list your opening. Do not post a job for a sales professional on Kijiji or a job board.
Once you have found suitable candidates, you need to perform 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 you must be prepared to interview them properly to determine if they will fit in your organization and have the skills outlined on their resume. If you are not comfortable doing this, enlist outside help.
Look for salespeople that have sold similar products or services to similar target markets. Just because someone sold cars last week does not mean they can sell industrial products this week. They may, but there will be a higher requirement on your part to provide training to become productive, which will cost you more than hiring from your industry. You need to hire someone comfortable dealing with your target customer. For example, high-tech or industrial salespersons usually have some technical knowledge in the sectors they sell. Very different than someone selling retail commodity products.
For the individuals you plan to send an offer, you should have an employment contract with points related to the position, including quota, salary, commission, bonuses and key performance indicators that will be measured. Contracts should be written or vetted by a corporate lawyer or paralegal with experience in employment law and sales contracts.
On-Boarding and Managing Sales Personnel
Before hiring a salesperson, you must decide who will manage them. Managing salespeople differs from other employees as they generate revenue for your business. It would help if you had someone who could take the time early on to ensure the individual(s) are trained on your products and services and how the business functions. You also must ensure they have the proper tools available to track and manage leads and a defined sales process already in place.
Salespeople should provide their forecasts and progress reports weekly and inform the person performing the sales manager role on 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 rely on them to meet most of them.
You want to avoid causing conflict between your sales reps fighting over the same business. That will frustrate them, waste their time, and hurt your business in the long run. Ensure that you provide equal and protected territories if you have multiple sales reps.
As with any employee, you should be performing regular performance reviews. They need to get positive and constructive feedback and be able to tell their manager what issues they are facing. As with any employee, if issues occur with the salesperson must be documented, and there must be a corrective action plan. Getting rid of someone because they are not selling is not good enough. You need to ensure that you did your part and provided help if you do not want to pay high severance payments.
Too often, we have seen businesses that are not ready to hire sales reps. The business needs the proper processes and training and people with the time to manage the sales reps. We also had seen many times where we have been brought into a business to deal with a problematic sales employee to find out they did not perform proper due diligence before they were hired. They were hired, brought in, given a desk and a phone, ignored, and then there was confusion on the part of the business owners why the sales rep was not performing. In this case, the issues lie with the business owner, not the employee.
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 make 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 commissions. We usually find no real potential in that business to generate the quota that the salesperson was provided. Pay your sales reps well and set reasonable expectations,otherwise you will get exactly what you expected.