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August 4, 2020

Why Full-time Sales Reps Fail in Our Industry

Hint: It’s almost never the sales rep’s fault.

There is an all-too-common occurrence among Market Research firms. It seems that when they finally summon the nerve (and resources) to hire a full-time, 100% business development professional (i.e. a ‘sales rep’), that sales rep fails (and is subsequently fired) almost every time. And pretty quickly, too. I can count on one hand the number of firms I know where there has been some level of success with this structure.

The question is, “WHY does it fail?” What is going on at all of these research firms that almost predisposes the sales rep to failure?

There are 4 possible contributing factors… and any of the failing firms could be have up to all four of them working against them:

1. Lack of a sales culture. Research firms are operations-driven businesses. Virtually everything that takes place in a research firm revolves around research projects. You’re either getting ready for it, implementing it, doing the analysis or wrapping it up – and everyone in the firm plays some role in that. There is no thought about ‘sales.’ From ‘ops’ perspective… there is no need for sales.

There is disdain, even, for sales… “We do all the work, why should they get the commissions?” And until there is a company-wide, cultural understanding about the value that the sales function brings to the table, having a full-time ‘sales rep’ will never be a good fit. And culture always starts at the top… with the Founder, CEO or President.

2. A bad hiring decision. The sales rep is just doing a lousy job. They’re not closing many deals or making good progress toward their goals. Or maybe you just hired the wrong person for the role. Effective recruiting, vetting, hiring and training for this position falls on the person managing the sales rep. Do a good job up front and you’ll likely not hire a ‘lemon.’ But, because there is so little understanding of the role of full-time sales and how to manage it (see below), little is known about the best way to hire for it, as well.

3. Ineffective management. If you’re hiring your first full-time sales rep, you likely don’t have a ton of experience in managing them, either. You’re not sure how to set goals, establish selling strategies, create sales plans, develop compensation models, provide guidance and coaching. You’ve never been a full-time sales rep, so you don’t truly understand the position or have empathy for what they go through every day. Often, sales management in our industry is “go out and sell something.” Selling success in our industry requires two things: a good sales rep and and an even better sales manager.

4. Unrealistic expectations. Finally – and maybe most importantly – the firm’s leadership has unrealistic expectations. You assume that because someone is an experienced, professional sales rep, that they should – almost immediately – begin having a significant impact by bringing in new business. In an industry with a 6-9-12-month sales cycle, I am amazed that expectations like this exist… but they do.

The firms hiring these sales reps want and expect a strong ROI (which they should), but they’re rarely patient enough to wait for it to happen. Developing relationships that lead to business take time… buyers won’t buy from you until they get to know you, then like you, then trust you. And that’s not going to happen during the sales rep’s first week on the job.

Notice a theme here?

Yes, for sure, it’s possible that you hire a sales rep who simply doesn’t or can’t get the job done. It happens. But more than likely, it’s the environment the sales rep is working in that limits their chances to contribute to the growth of the firm.

So, take a look at the four factors reviewed above – Culture, Hiring, Managing and Expectations – and before you fire that ‘ineffective’ sales rep, make sure you’re doing everything possible to set them up for success.

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