Often the best person to sell your business products or services is you. But at some point, to allow your company to grow, you might have to find the right person or people to focus entirely on sales while you focus on the very long list of tasks every business owner has, including developing products, looking for new office space, meeting with accountants, or taking your top client to lunch.
If you’ve never had a salesperson it can be a difficult transition. Your company is your baby and letting someone else represent it can be like sending the babysitter to your child’s parent-teacher conference.
Here are some points to consider when looking for the ideal candidate:
- Make sure the shoe fits. Does the candidate have the right approach for the product or service you are trying to sell? The person who can sell handmade silk scarves to the retail market may not be the person who can sell consulting services focused on helping small businesses obtain government contracts. The person who can sell home nursing services may not be the person who can sell locally brewed beer to local stores.
- Find a candidate who talks in numbers. If you’re interviewing candidates with sales experience, be sure to ask them about their “numbers.” A sharp salesperson will be able to spit out sales numbers, growth percentages, and annual goals the way baseball fans talk statistics. It does not matter exactly what they are, it just matters that the salesperson is focused on his or her own “bottom line.” If he tripled sales in nine months for the local soda distributor, that’s all you need to know. If the bottom dropped out of his former job, have him explain why. It should be easy to ascertain if it was market circumstances or a weak excuse for failing.
- Assuming you’re not in business just to make new friends, don’t put your personal feelings about a candidate above boosting your revenue. If you don’t have a sales background yourself, you may find your best salesperson will never be your best friend. When hiring someone for the position make sure you’re hiring the candidate based on skill and potential, not because you think he or she would be fun to hang out with after work, on the golf course, or on a cookout.
- Forget about the college degree. Sales is one area where a college degree does not necessarily define a successful salesperson. Persistence and drive is not something one learns in the classroom. It is innate. Depending on what you sell, you might find a prime candidate working at your favorite clothing store, restaurant, or gym. In fact, these are great venues to nurture sales talent. And if you can offer the person an opportunity to make much more money than they ever could staying put, you will no doubt have one hardworking salesperson. If you do make a hire this way, don’t forget to ask their numbers. It’s not the nicest woman in the clothing store you want, it’s the one who has the highest sales numbers. And a savvy waiter can upsell the most unsuspecting diner. Let him tell you how.
- Don’t wait until you want to make an offer to start negotiating. You can learn a lot about your candidate by asking what their compensation expectations are from the get-go. Salespeople are risk takers. A good one knows that the payoff should come from the actual sales and that it’s a growth opportunity. Consider the candidate who asks for the lower base salary and the higher bonus or commission over one who wants a high base salary. This puts you in a win-win situation. If she makes the sale, you know you can cover the cost of hiring her and she knows she gets an opportunity to earn more income in the end. What’s more, a good negotiator generally translates into a good salesperson.