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July 5, 2012

Hiring your first sales rep? Consider these 7 “must-dos” first…

If you’re about to hire your firm’s first sales rep, then let me congratulate you on taking a very big – and vitally important – step for your firm.  Having someone other than the principal(s) of the firm do your selling is an important and often scary thing to do.  You’re letting go and relying on “an outsider” to help make you successful.  But until you do, you’ll never be able to realize your firm’s full potential.

As you know, though, hiring your first salesperson to represent your firm in the marketplace can be a daunting task, particularly if you, as the owner or senior manager, don’t have a lot – if any – experience at it.

To help, here are 7 keys to bringing on that first sales rep and making the transition a successful one:

1.  Define their role & have a plan
Sales rep… what does that mean to you?  You’d better be clear on it – because your candidates will ask.  Is this an inside (phone and email) or outside (traveling) position?  Are they going to just prospect for new accounts, help to grow existing ones or both?  Will they have “territories,” either geographical or by vertical industry?  Who will they report to?  Think through all the details of their roles & responsibilities before you start recruiting.

2. Provide resources
In addition to the salary of the person you’re hiring, you will also need to provide them with the resources to help them be successful.  This will include training them on the front end (don’t skimp – do this right!), providing the necessary technology (computer, projector, CRM software, cell phone, etc.) and establishing a travel and entertainment budget.

3. Set goals, then compensate
Good sales people are motivated by achieving the goals set for them and then being paid when that happens.  So make sure to create a compensation package that does that… and the more they exceed the goals, the more they should be paid.  Your salespeople should be among the best compensated people in your firm… because when they’re successful – everyone is successful!

4. Measure constantly
There are three key areas that you should measure to help in the management of your first sales rep:

  • Activity (are they staying busy?): phone calls, in-person calls, presentations, proposals, etc.
  • Pipeline (are they making progress?):  how many prospects are in each phase of the sales pipeline – suspects, prospects, qualifieds, proposals out, closed – and are they improving each week?
  • Revenue (are they having success?): not just revenue this week or this month, but also year-to-date, vs. goal and vs. last year

5. Integrate them into the company
If the sales function (other than the principals doing it) is new to your firm, it will come as quite a change for everyone at the firm.  Your admin and operations staff might be asking questions like, “What does our rep do all day?”, “Why should she get a commission when I do all the actual work?”, “Why do we need one – we were just fine before?”  So make sure to integrate your new sales rep into your firm as soon as possible.  Introduce the position to everyone before he/she is hired and make sure your staff understands how important the role is and that you – as the owner – are supporting it 100%.  Then, when the rep is on board… introduce them to everyone, sponsor a group lunch, let them report back to everyone occasionally on what they are learning out in the field, etc.

6. Hire for sales skills/achievement, not research
Here’s the question… would you rather hire a researcher and teach them to sell… or hire a sales rep and teach them research?  Both are challenges and finding someone with both skill sets would be ideal – but unlikely.  Your sale rep does NOT need to be a researcher, but they do need to understand how research works, how your firm manages projects and what’s going on in the industry – all teachable knowledge.  But they DO need to be skilled at the buying/selling process – and while it is teachable, it takes a long time to be good at it.  So hire first for sales skills and proven achievements then second for research background.

7. Listen to them… they’ll have their finger on the pulse
Once on board, make sure your sales rep has a pipeline to senior management.  This is the one position in the firm that will have their pulse on what’s happening in the marketplace because they will be talking to prospective clients all day long and asking the kinds of questions you – as senior managers – will want to know the answers to.  Take advantage of that insight and lend an interested ear to what your sales rep has to say.

My final comment is this… hiring a sales representative can be one of the best things that ever happens to your firm.  So, don’t screw it up!  Hiring a bad rep will cost time, money and could damage your reputation.  Follow the above advice and take your time to do it right.  Having a strong sales presence can provide a significant competitive advantage for a long time to come.

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