Building your sales force
Sales recruitment is probably one of the most difficult areas of personnel recruitment to target effectively. The old adage, ‘nothing happens until a sale takes place’ may sound trite - but it is true – so you need the best people in your sales force.
There is still reluctance among many in considering sales as a professional career option. Many think it is “just a job”, but there are CEO’s of large organisations who started out in sales. After all, commodities would not reach the consumer without a sales force presenting them in the first place. And being a ‘rainmaker’ can lead to career advancement.
Businesses looking for salespeople must bear in mind that they must first sell themselves to the candidates, and there can be stiff competition when searching for the right calibre people.
There are many ways to advertise; from newspapers to the Internet; specialist journals or magazines to tertiary education institutions; in-house through personnel departments and also personnel agencies.
The essentials of recruitment include consideration of the following criteria:
- What you are selling. Set out a detailed job description including geographical areas to be covered. Be clear and concise in your specifications and details or you may be awash with unsuitable candidates.
- Your target market. If your product is an agricultural one which requires experience or knowledge of farming, then a farming journal or agricultural college would be better places to look than a large metropolitan daily newspaper; but do not forget small local newspapers in rural areas. People working in the field are exposed to these.
- Age group of your target market. Older, experienced buyers may be less tolerant of young people who may come across to them as know-it-alls; and a young market may not be impressed by someone they think is a couple of generations out of date.
- Language skills. In this country where we have eleven official languages, a Xhosa speaking person may be far more likely to succeed with a Xhosa speaking client than someone who is not, so if the target market is predominantly one language group, keep that in mind. Cultural congruence can assist in deal making, although this factor may not be relevant to all selling opportunities
- Educational qualifications. Formal standards of education are not always necessary. There are many examples of highly successful sales persons who left school without qualifications. However, if you are selling a techno-specific product, such as in the engineering sector, then someone with the relevant knowledge and proof thereof is necessary. There is nothing worse for a client than to be faced with a salesperson who cannot answer technical questions about a product. If specialist knowledge is required, target colleges and universities for inexperienced people to be trained into the position. If looking for someone with an MBA, look to business schools to recruit from.
- IT knowledge. With more businesses replacing paperwork with computers, it may be an advantage to employ someone with computer experience. However, a candidate who is not computer literate can soon learn, and should not be turned down for that reason. Only when a product directly relates to the IT industry should it be a pre-requisite.
- Physical specifications. A small, physically weak person will have a tough time carrying large items if called on to do so from time to time (for example, to conduct demonstrations) and a grossly overweight person is not going to have any success selling slimming products. Some people cannot cope with driving long distances on a daily basis because they may have a chronic spine problem, so it may be necessary to include these in your criteria.
- Social background. This can be important in some person-to-person situations. In addition are some positions which require a great deal of travel, even globally. If the candidate has a family, check that they are amenable to the potential upheavals. A great deal of money may be wasted employing and training someone who then leaves because of family pressure.
When advertising, try to avoid adjectives such as money-hungry, self-motivated or driven. They invoke the old, traditional view of the bombastic, hard-selling, thick-skinned reps who end up alienating their customers; yet there are many unassuming, highly successful salespeople out there who are intelligent enough to know that they naturally need to be self-motivated, without being told so. And you can test for this quality.
Take note of people you meet at business or social occasions who may have no sales experience, but who impress you as having great potential. There could be a time when you feel it would be worthwhile to head-hunt them. They may not wish to entertain your offer, or prove not be such a good bet when interviewed thoroughly, but you may be lucky and find a star. But be careful if you try to poach experienced sales people from competitors. If you can recruit them, their loyalty and commitment may be questionable.
Finally, do not be drawn into the belief that the IT industry and new technology will obviate the need for trained sales personnel. Many customers do not want to deal with machines. They want to deal face to face, and to know that an effort is being made to make them feel important to the company. Nothing will ever replace customer service and care, and this can never be offered by a machine alone.