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Why is it better to recruit salespeople from other industries?

When recruiting salespeople, it is common for people to revert to type – not taking a chance is often the easiest decision to make.  However, doing the same thing time and time again and expecting a different outcome is a sign of madness, apparently.

So, firstly evaluate how successful recruitment has been in the past? Do you need to look elsewhere and if you don’t, what might you be missing out on?

The Dream Recruit

Understandably, its normal to want to recruit someone from within your industry – they often come with a network and with experience and subject matter expertise can be hugely beneficial to your company.

They understand what approach works well and they carry status and authority in the market. They may be consultative in their approach, and able to share thought-provoking content that challenges clients to think in a different way, which in turn differentiates your company from the competition, thus improving your company’s chances of winning contracts.

Their knowledge will also enable them to understand that certain new business isn’t always appropriate for your company, and they are mature enough to discuss the merits of doing business aligned to the company strategy and future growth of your organisation.

Their experience means they can be trusted; they’ve been around the block and can help guide you to make the right decisions. Internally, they champion quality and not only do they have great client management and influencing skills, they’re also a leader. They know how to manage and motivate your workforce and understand the importance of setting up deals properly so the company can deliver work with minimal effort.

When winning business, they know when to present people with different skill sets to your clients, be these in the form of pre-sales, finance or board management personnel. They know how much time to invest when winning new business, what resource is required and when to walk away from an opportunity.

Their experience and insight will help to negotiate a good price with good margin, which often delivers a profitable win for your company. This person probably sounds like your dream recruit – it might even remind you a bit of yourself.

Whilst the appeal of recruiting this person is tempting, it is sometimes not an option. Firstly, they are probably already very well paid and offering them something that will appeal could be challenging.

So, are we right to dream, or should we be more pragmatic? 

There can be consequences to trying to recruit this type of person. You might find yourself recruiting a salesperson as you want to win more business. There is a genuine desire for growth, and this might be a new position, or someone may have left your company. You may have lost some clients, or perhaps you are riding the crest of a wave with the business’ recent successes.

Interviewing and recruiting salespeople can come with pitfalls.

Firstly, many salespeople are good talkers and they’re often likeable. They are natural in front of people, engaging and good at striking up conversations. There are some with egos, who are self-important, but you can be fooled by these people too. They are great at talking about how successful they have been and how magical they are with clients. It is natural to believe in them, as on the face of things, they can help you win new business.

Be careful though – this person can have superior knowledge, at least in their opinion. This person can be pompous and tricky to manage. They may lack drive and have an inability or lack of desire to learn.  This person can be negative and have a damning view on the market whose unwelcome opinions ripple across your team, putting a curse on motivation and dissipating your company’s will to succeed.

Sounds like the devil himself doesn’t it? There is a chance you have recruited people like this in the past and if so, how can you avoid doing this again?

Firstly, your company has lots of subject matter expertise in your sector. To start, I’d guess you are an expert in your sector and if not, some of your colleagues will be.

There will be people in your company who know the market far better than most salespeople, so tap into this resource. Skilled people in your company can support a salesperson and allow you to look to other sectors to source people who will open new and exciting talent pools that you may not have previously considered.

The benefits are that this person may come with energy and new ideas, they might be humble and have no pre-conceived conceptions about the market. By taking a job in a different sector, they’ll have a willingness to learn and are ultimately willing to put themselves into the market to discover new contacts, new companies and win new business.

Your company stands to gain by recruiting this type of person, by learning about a different approach to sales and marketing which may not have been tried in your company previously.

But do you need to go externally to recruit salespeople?

We have already discussed that you may have the resource internally to support this person, so is looking externally necessary? There is a chance that part of this position, if not all of the role, could be managed by one of your current workforce which makes good business sense for 2 reasons:

  • It gives opportunity for career growth within your company and promotes a competitive environment which should lead to a more productive company
  • You can save money.

The people you consider internally might not be the finished article, but if this is an option, reflect on what extra support they’ll need and contemplate what impact this person leaving their current role will have on the company, and what contingency is required.

Consider every eventuality, including ‘what if’ they are successful or unsuccessful. If this person is successful, they may want a salary increase and more commissions. Being successful will increase their chances of being headhunted, so you run the risk of losing them to a rival company; but if that’s the case, then it means that they will also have brought the company success.

The downside is that this person may fail and how do you prepare for that? There is a chance their previous position is no longer available, and the only option available might be that the person is forced to leave the company for matters related to poor performance. Consider that this person may well have been a high performer in their previous position within the company – it’s a terrible way to end their tenure with you.

My advice isn’t don’t do it, just that you need to consider all the consequences.

What type of people might be good?

You’ll know. You’ve probably been thinking about it for some time but be careful not to try to force a square peg into a round hole.

If this person hasn’t shown an interest in sales in the past, or doesn’t have the cut and thrust required, it is unlikely they are going to develop new personality traits overnight. If you are still keen to try, you may be able to edge them slowly into a sales position but balance their potential short-comings with support from yourself, team members or ensure that you can provide training. By not throwing them in at the deep end straight away, you can create an environment where they are able to do a trial of the role, but this doesn’t mean they can’t commit to giving it 100 percent effort and dedication.

Parameters must be put in place and targets need to be hit, and whilst there can be some leniency, you are creating a sales environment, so expectations need to be outlined at the start.

The advantage of a trial is that after a set period of time, they can either continue in this new position or return to their previous role. Some of the best salespeople have previously worked in pre-sales roles, account management, finance and delivery, with each discipline bringing different acumen to the role.

Largely, a salesperson will want to be successful because they are driven and whilst personality traits like integrity, tenacity, charm, curiosity and communication are all important aspects, understanding what drives them is key to learning whether they are the right candidate for you.

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