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April 1, 2014

Don’t hire a sales rep until you’re ready… and most firms in MR aren’t!

Confident happy business woman with coworkers in the backgroundIn the discovery process with new clients, we talk about the kinds of things they’ve done in the past to help grow their businesses.  One of the statements that seems to be made by nearly every firm in the Market Research industry is, “We hired a sales rep back in [insert date years ago], but it didn’t work out… and haven’t had one since.”  Why is that?

While “below-goal sales” may have been the rationale for the sales reps’ dismissal, much of the lack of a sales rep’s success is often the fault of the MR firm itself.  And it generally boils down to one of four things…

  1. The culture.  Firms in our industry are, by nature, operationally-focused.  We manage our businesses around delivering services to clients, one project at a time.  Virtually everyone on staff is there to contribute to the projects.  It’s what we do and who we are.  Business has always come to us as a result of the good work we do and word of mouth.  Then we throw a curveball – and bring in a sales rep.  Never had one before.  Not quite sure what they do or how they do it.  It also makes your operations team (again, most of the staff) angry… “Why should the sales rep get a commission when we do all the work?”  A non-sales-friendly culture is a difficult thing to overcome.
  2. We don’t know how to hire.  When I talk with owners in our industry, the first thing they want in a sales rep is MR experience… and not just being from the industry, but having real, hands-on experience as a researcher.  And I guess that makes sense – except that the skills to be a good researcher and the skills to be good at sales are polar opposites.  Hire for the skills the role needs – communication skills, phone selling, presentations, proven sales success, etc.  If they have research experience, that’s a bonus.  The rest, you can train.
  3. We don’t know how to manage sales reps.  Managing sales people is nothing like managing PMs or Analysts.  For one, they’re often not around – and that’s a little disconcerting.  They require goals (how do I set those?) and some direction… and little else.  Sales reps hate being micromanaged more than any other role in a company.  When they come to us for help, we really can’t give it because we’re never been “in their shoes” before.  Weekly sales meeting?  How’s that work?  And then there are the new tools to learn like CRMs, sales pipelines and call reports.  Ugh…
  4. We’ve got no patience.  We bring in a sales rep on a Monday… give him a base salary, hefty (at least, we think so) commission plan, cell phone, laptop, travel allowance, new sales collateral… so why don’t we have any new clients by Friday?  I get it… you make a big investment and want a return on it.  But new clients – especially in our industry – take a long time to acquire… to steal away from their current suppliers.  If you believe you’ve hired the right person and trained them well… then you’ve got to give them the time to generate leads and (as importantly) nurture those leads until the new business starts coming in.

A well-managed sales effort with an experienced sales rep (or sales team) is critical to the long-term success of any business.  But before you hire one, make sure your company, your processes and your mindset are ready for it.

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