"I don’t want a job hopper–I want someone with a stable work history." I get that a lot, particularly from hiring managers looking for good salespeople.
The phrase "job stability" is defined very differently today than it was 25 years ago. So the question is, as we prepare to enter 2008, what is the new measure of job stability? 10 years at each position? 5 years? 18 months? As a business owner or sales manager, should you just install a revolving door and resign yourself to the fact that you are going to have to be in constant recruiting mode? How long can you realistically expect a salesperson to be productive with your organization before they voluntarily move on or you have to let them go for lack of production?
That depends. It all comes back to how well suited the person is for the job in the first place.
I had this exact discussion today over lunch with Tom, the Vice President of Sales for one of my clients: a technology company that sells value-added products and services to webhosting providers, internet service providers, and cable companies. He had sent me an email earlier this week expressing some concern because the last 2 sales reps he hired, one of whom he recruiting on his own and the other referred by me, did not stay with the company longer than a year. And it turns out that these were not isolated incidents; apparently this has been a recurring theme since he took over the sales department 4 years ago.
"What’s the biggest challenge you’re running into with new salespeople?" I asked.
"The bottom line is they’re either not ramping up the way we expect them to or they’re bailing after 12-18 months as soon as a new opportunity comes along," he said. "We need our reps to hit the ground running. We provide some basic product training when they start, but it’s not like a formalized 6-week ’boot camp’, by any means. We just don’t have the resources to do that–we’re not a huge company. Essentially, we leave it up to the individual to determine those areas where they need training and then they’re responsible for finding the educational resources. The reps that do well with our company are the ones that take the initiative to be successful. The ones that stand around waiting for you to send them to product seminars and complain about the lack of marketing materials and support are the ones that don’t make it."
In the last 15 years or so, a lot of career salespeople have gravitated to the technology industry, not due to their interest in technology, but because there is a lot of money to be made. Within the telecom industry, for example, there are a ton of people in sales roles with limited technical skills that bounce around from company to company every 18-24 months. They’re the $75 - $110k per year player–what I like to call the MLS (Mid-Level Sales rep). The job boards are littered with their resumes. The two reps that recently left Tom’s company are prime examples: one went to work in sales for Louis Vuitton luggage while the other is now managing a golf tour.
Up to this point when considering a candidate for a sales position, Tom’s focus was on their sales experience first and foremost, with their technical aptitude and skill sets a distant second. When we sat down and analyzed the profiles of his top 3 sales reps, all had one thing in common: a strong background (education and/or work experience) and keen interest in technology. 2 of the 3 had never even been in sales prior to taking the position, yet they were all top performers.
"Most of the people you’ve been hiring are just not that interested in your products and services," I told him. "They just see your job as a means to an end and as soon as an opportunity comes along that sounds better where they can make the same money, they leave."
In a perfect world, your sales reps would be totally passionate about your products and services. But at the very least they should have a strong interest in what you sell. This will allow them to speak naturally and confidently when carrying your message to their clients and prospects.
Hiring is not an exact science, particularly when it comes landing great sales reps–it’s trial and error. Study the profiles of your successful salespeople or those working for other companies in your industry. Talk to your competitor’s sales reps and ask them what they like most about the job/company/product lines. Forget about what you think the profile of a successful salesperson should be or what looks good on paper. Duplicate what you already know is working.