Last week, in Part 1 of this series on hiring your first sales rep, we focused on getting ready internally for the hire, with an emphasis on culture, structure and compensation. In this post, we’ll explore the actual hiring and training of that new rep.
Hiring your first sales rep
Most importantly – and everything else pales in comparison – hire for selling skills and sales experience (communication skills, phone selling, presentations, proven sales success, etc.). You can train them on market research once they’re on board. Yeah, I know… that recommendation is going to rub a lot of folks the wrong way, but remember why you’re hiring them… to sell, not to do research. That’s the job of your ops team. If they have some market research background, great! But selling skills and experience are your first priority.
The best market research sales rep I ever hired – bar none – came out of the advertising industry. She understood B2B professional sales, she was comfortable selling an ‘intangible,’ and she embraced all of the detailed steps in the selling process. So let me repeat it: hire for selling skills first.
With that focus on selling, two other employee recruiting elements become very important:
- Focus on selling skills and sales experience in the ads you run to find candidates and in the job postings you place online.
- Ask primarily sales-related questions during the interviewing process… and see if the candidates actually use their selling skills during the interview. They are selling themselves, after all.
Training your first sales rep
Once on board, don’t rush to get your sales rep on the phone or out in the field. Make sure he or she is prepared to represent your firm properly when talking with buyers. Their training should cover:
The MR industry: how it works, the various ‘players’ (agencies, fieldwork firms, panel companies, etc.), recent industry trends, your competition, etc.
The research process: various methodologies, the different applications of research, different technologies, designing projects, etc. Note: the goal here is not to turn them into a researcher, but to give them enough knowledge and understanding that they can talk intelligently about research with a buyer.
Your clients: the kinds of industries and companies you sell to, the various job functions the buyers and influencers hold within those companies and the kinds of projects they hire you to do. Early on, have them spend some time with existing clients to understand the buyer’s perspective.
Your products and services: teach them about all of the products and services you provide, and not just the features, but the benefits of each (read this post for more information on features-benefits). If you offer technology, teach them to use it and to demo it. To help them sell, have them learn your capabilities presentation, how to draft a proposal, the language you used to talk about your firm and its services, your elevator pitch, what makes your firm unique in the marketplace, and so on.
Tie it all together: once your first sales rep has been through all of the training outlined above, have them integrate that learning into their sales efforts by taking them through some ‘role playing.’ Create a number of realistic scenarios and let them play the role of your sales rep (and you play the role of the buyer) so they get comfortable ‘talking the talk’ in different situations (read this post for more information on role playing).
You’ll have the best chance of success with your first sales rep if you focus on the two main elements outlined in this article… hiring the best person for the job and preparing them properly to go out into the marketplace. And don’t rush either one. The little bit of extra effort you spend recruiting the right person for the job or the little bit of extra time you spend with them in training will be more than made up for when they start bringing new projects in the door. I’ll sum it up this way, “Better to do it right than to do it fast.”