At the end of The Wizard of Oz, after a lengthy search and a perilous journey through a fantastical land, Dorothy discovers that she needed to look no further than her own backyard to find what she was looking for. The movie’s feel-good message is that your “heart’s desire” can be found in the people and places right close to home. Could that be true when you’re growing your company’s sales team? Can you grow employees into great salespeople, or is it best to look far and wide for a sales superstar?
Hiring proven salespeople with industry experience and a book of business generally means poaching from competitors. There are a few downsides to this approach. A salesperson willing to jump ship may feel no sense of loyalty when another offer comes along, and the next thing you know they will be leaving you, too. When you’re shopping for the most experienced salesperson, you’ll also be paying the highest salaries and commissions. And, of course, an experienced salesperson may be hampered by a non-compete contract.
Then there’s the concern that your company’s brand image could have to compete with the image of a “free agent” salesperson; one who puts their energy into building their personal brand over the company brand. As a result, you’re investing to build a customer base that’s more attached to an individual than to your company. When the salesperson walks, so do their clients.
Seasoned salespeople do bring proven skills and traits that are difficult to train. So, when you’re hiring from the big wide world it’s important to look for people with a passion for your brand who are loyal team players.
But before you seek far and wide, what about looking for your next salesperson in your own backyard?
It’s possible to develop internal candidates into successful salespeople. The first step is to look for people with the right personality traits. Most experts agree sales skills can be gained through training, but personality traits cannot. What’s the difference?
Assess your customer service team and look for the attributes your best-fit salespeople share. These include self-motivation, the ability to problem solve, a service orientation, and a curiosity that will help them connect with customers. Good communication skills are vital in every sales job, but you’ll especially want to be on the lookout for outstanding listening skills.
Once you’ve identified people who have the character and personality to succeed in sales, you’ll need to assess whether they have the right motivation. Often a bright and hardworking employee will try to convince themselves that sales is right for them. They see it as a step up the ladder with monetary benefits. It’s important not to set someone up for failure just because they want to please you. Retaining good employees means providing avenues for growth and development, but not everyone will make it on the sales track.
Training is the next key component. A program to jump-start the employee transitioning into sales should include product and process training as well as goal setting, sales strategies, and communications skills practice. Good salespeople embrace ongoing development and coaching, so they should also be expected to participate in continuing learning opportunities.
When it’s time to match the new salesperson with an experienced pro, plan the pairing carefully. Be sure to match them with someone who’s open to sharing their successes and techniques. A “ride along” can backfire if the more experienced partner sees the newbie as a threat or a burden. Equally, the salesperson-in-training should be thoroughly briefed so they know how to make the most of their mentorship.
Like Dorothy, you might find everything you’re looking for to grow your sales team right in your own backyard. The benefits include lower recruiting costs and deeper product and organizational knowledge. But perhaps most important, investing in employee development often means they’ll stay closer to home and continue to be enthusiastic supporters of your brand.