Berlin – the former capital of the free world, has now become the German capital of the start-up economy. What used to be the opposite of a magnet for new business in the 90s, is turning into a machine for new business. Severe and significant money is pouring into the Berlin startup scene, and the uprise of the B2B corporate sector has become the engine for more sales jobs. But hiring new sales guys is like magic!
The key factor in scaling the business often goes through hiring more sales talents (in B2B), whom all drive top line revenue, while contributing to bottom line EBITA. No matter if the business is hunting larger SMBs, the German Mittelstand, or Fortune 500 enterprise companies, growth is made possible by attracting and developing talented and money driven sales professionals.
Many companies are going through so called growth-pain, growing quicker in employees than the management structure and staff development departments can handle at the same time. However, finding TALENT in sales positions has become harder, as competition has become greater. What used to be a war for skilled IT talent, to build the backbone and infrastructure of the business offering, has now developed into an open conflict, which hits the front end of the business. The ultimate goal of every company, to increase sales revenue and to become profitable, goes through acquiring more paying customers.
The illusion of making your business attractive to everyone.
We all know that it is important to become an attractive business for winning and keeping dearly fought talent. Employees do not come cheap, and you want to give them a new home, so they never need to leave you. However, it is not enough to offer a weekly basket of fresh fruits and group luncheons. After-work beer and hipster vegan soft drinks and designer water are becoming a commodity. I have seen a company which has replaced their water cooler with a wine cooler, and another New York business offers 28 brands of breakfast cereals. I have seen black jack tables and ice cream machines, and we all want to foster creativity. Ping-Pong and Soccer Tables are so yesterday already.
…and why it will not work for sales candidates.
As much as those gimmicks are universal and are attractive to a broad group of people, sales people are a particular breed and demand something which you try to compensate with atmosphere: Money. In sales, the number One thrill is measured in closes, clients, kills, and commissions. Especially the latter is a must, and most of the time short lived. Motivation wears off quickly if commissions are not rising (just like your profits). Of course, a sales persons welcomes all the other gimmicks you are offering, those are something to brag about – but neglectable if necessary.
The challenge in selecting talent
An absolute nightmare in sales recruiting sometimes is to choose the high performer from the mediocre. For every talented candidate, you also attract 5-7 average seller, all of them jumping on the band wagon, singing the same song – talking the talk, but not walking the walk. When hired they may increase the total number of sales, but adding a larger proportion of costs, and bring down the average sales performance. Far worse than watering down the KPIs are the fact that they burn through leads, and render them use less until you leave them time to revere (hoping no competitor will win them in the meantime).
Whenever you are adding people to your sales floor, you will notice that the ramp up period for new seller increases over time. Obviously there are several reasons why this is happening, but in general whatever you have perceived as a regular sales performance in the past, will become exceptional in the months to come.
The reality of your sales floor
During the life time of your sales floor, the ramp-up of your newly hired sales people will slowly decline as a consequential law of every sales operation. At first, your sales team has the advantage to harvest the lower hanging fruits, while they approach as many best-suited prospects as possible to build their pipeline. Many seller “mark” potential clients first, to avoid getting them taken away and contacted by their competing colleagues. Often when a business kicks off their sales, there are fantastic commissions to be made, until you decide to mainstream you remuneration plan for the employees to come. When you choose to pump in a new blood of additional sales professionals, you also increase the fight for leads and prospects. The “older” seller who may already maintain a network of clients will start to live off referrals from their base, as new seller force their way into the market. Inbound leads will often go to the highly decorated veteran, instead to the rookie, who needs to provide proof of performance before earning himself incoming leads. The experienced seller gets richer, while the newbies will need to work double as hard, to catch up on performance.
How to master the challenge:
There are many ways to soften the internal company competition and to work against prolonging sales ramp-up times. Here are two main strategies:
Leads are Life
When adding additional sales people (not only replace them) spread your lead base to replicate previous success. For every generation of hiring new seller (not just a specific cohort of a particular starting date), you need to broaden or shift your target audience and ideal prospects. When you were selling to SMB, start selling to enterprises hiring a new generation of sales professionals who are equipped to succeed in that matter. When you were addressing the automotive industry, the newer generation may focus on banks and insurance companies. When you were selling into a particular region, an English speaking country, bring other markets into the mix, like Germany, France or Italy. You soften internal company competition and avoid that older seller start playing unfair, to mark and secure their lead base (and future income).
If you can not enlarge your lead base, or when replacing sales people
When you can not provide more potential opportunities as above, or when having an indefinite number of SMBs, it is vital to share best practice across the team. I am not talking about the single best tip of your highly decorated seller; I am referring to a detailed session. Most people will tell you that the reason they were successful early on was due to their belief in the product and their activity, addressing many prospects.
To be telling the truth – they simply didn’t know better. There had been no benchmark, nor negative influencers, not many failures or drop outs. All of them had no clue, supported and helped each other. They also learned during this process. Every wrong action, misused arguments or ineffective questions provide valid feedback. In those times when you are raiding through an enormous lead base, you can adapt and turn your tide to become successful.
Remember, the person or species which adapt to changes will be a success. Much activity helps during the process because a high number of leads provide the opportunity to make it better in your next calls, the one after and the other hundred you are doing next week. If you need to cherry pick leads, you do not have the opportunity for trial and error while sitting on a significant burn rate.
On a side note, did you ever hire an experienced seller, who has been around the block and knows what he is doing? How many of those were able to replicate their success for your business?
Instead of shielding your best performing seller, not to lose their commissions and lacking performance, you need to over share their daily activities, and their know-how they were applying their experience throughout the day. The better you bring that knowledge to as many people as possible, the more you can speed up development of the youngsters. In fact, imagine you would tape every sales call, and analyze each one of them thoroughly, to build conversions and KPIs, you could create a sales pitch, based on conversions. It would adapt to changes in the market, and always stay up-to-date.