The face of your company Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2009

You want to make sure your sales force will be able to sell your service or product well and also present a positive image of your business. Particularly in today’s economy, when you’re looking to boost sales and revenue and gain new clients, it’s important that your sales force is in tiptop shape and armed with the right tools.

“Great product concepts are one thing, but great product successes are another,” says Jessica Ford, director of sales and operations at Ashton Staffing. “The difference usually centers on sales. The magic may be the brand, but the carpet is the sales force. Your brand can’t fly without it.”

Smart Business spoke with Ford about what to look for when hiring sales reps and how to best train sales team members.

What are some key qualities to look for when hiring sales reps?

You need sales reps to be hunters and not farmers. The sales force can make or break a business, especially in this economy. You need a sales force that will go out and get new customers and not just focus on your current customers. Customer service is important, but you should have reps that are solely focused on that aspect and others who can go out and drive the business. Good sales reps also need to be chameleons who can mold themselves to different personalities and backgrounds when meeting with different perspective clients.

How can you run a successful sales rep hiring process?

First, look at the candidate’s resume. If he or she has jumped around more than every few years, you should pass that person by. No company would allow a superstar sales rep to just leave the company without a good reason. Sales reps who jump around may have been terminated or resigned from a previous position because they could not generate enough business to meet goals.

Most sales positions are minimally supervised on a day-to-day basis. Sales reps are given company credit cards, drive company vehicles and are expected to work independently to some degree. A potential sales rep should have a credit check, criminal background check, and behavioral and personality testing. This may seem like a lot, but you need to know that the face of your company is honest and responsible.

Your top performer should also complete the personality test. This gives you and your recruiter a clear understanding of the personality that will best match the position and your company culture. Those who cannot pass this testing should not be considered for an interview.

No matter what a candidate has sold in the past, one question will show you if the candidate is the right salesperson for your company. After the candidates finish telling you what a great closer they are, hand them a pencil and tell them to sell it to you. The majority of interviewees will start pitching and continue to talk as you sit there bored.

A top-performing salesperson will not pitch, but will start out by asking you questions about your business, how often you order pencils, etc. There are two types of sales representatives — those who pitch and those who take the time to understand buying motives and properly qualify potential clients.

How do you train and develop sales team members?

Sales managers or vice presidents play vital roles in identifying, training, supervising and mentoring sales reps. They can also help sales reps close large and difficult customers. Sales reps should be introduced to all new customers to check upon the veracity of the sales activity and solidify the relationship with the new customer. It also provides bonding between the sales management and rep that will help with customer retention.

Investing in your employee training is the best money you will spend today. Make sure your sales rep is completely trained on your product. You never want to send out a rep who cannot answer questions regarding your product. Product training and knowledge of your company should be the first step in a new sales rep’s orientation and training process.

How do you develop incentives as a way to reward top performers and drive sales reps to work toward those incentives?

People work to be paid. New sales reps should be offered a minimal salary with a generous incentive plan for new business. Incentive programs should target performance and not activities. Reward sales reps for new business immediately and turn over the account to either a service rep or the sales manager. Provide small incentives for retention of one to three months. The sales rep will feel free to pursue other business full time.

Employees and sales reps are extremely efficient in gaming compensation systems. Sales reps quickly determine which activities and outcomes are compensated and which are not. If more pleasurable and lower effort activities, such as lunching with an existing client, are equally compensated with a less pleasurable activity such as cold calling, it is not hard to predict which activity will continue and which will diminish.

Jessica Ford is the director of sales and operations with Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or jford@ashtonstaffing.com.