Category Archives: Helpful info for sales recruiting

4 Questions Sales Achievers Must Ask When Interviewed

Naturally you’ve done your homework before your interview and you have a bunch of questions ready about the products or service you’ll be required to sell. But don’t forget to ask the following four questions too – it shows you are serious about your sales career. Remember – when you are a seriously talented sales professional (that includes sales managers too), you’re interviewing your next employer at the same time they’re interviewing you. No need for any arrogance of course, but do look after your interests.

Question #1 How many of your reps regularly make their target?
Ask this one because you want to get an idea of how successful others are in the team – the answer could lead to further questions regarding sales targets and team benchmarks in general.

Question #2 What support structure is in place for me?
The answer will tell you whether you will have someone assisting you with sales admin, lead-generation and other general sales tasks that take you away from being out there in front of customers, as well as if there is a company driver available to collect cheques and make deliveries – these are all activities that will prevent you from doing your “real” job.

Question #3 Will the sales manager be conducting in-field sales coaching?
Of course you’ll want to meet your manager and if possible get an idea of his or her management style too from others on the team – you need to suss out the overall sales culture. Sales coaching is essential, even for top achievers – the level of coaching will be far higher than that for a junior rep but is coaching nonetheless.

Question #4 What sales onboarding process is in place?
Given that lack of a quality sales onboarding process is one of the main reasons salespeople leave within the first 6 months, it’s worth asking just how much help you’ll be getting to ramp up in the shortest possible time. If you’re expected to hit your target within the third month it’s a bit of a big ask if your manager only confirms your customer base the month before, or if you still haven’t been able to tie down the technical chaps for that in-depth product training you need.

Then once you get to when it’s looking like there will be an offer on the table,  it’s also a good idea to confirm your understanding of the commission structure as well as to ask for a full copy of the standard contract of employment to review BEFORE accepting the offer. I can’t tell you the number of folks I’ve spoken to that only find out about these vital issues after they’ve resigned from their current position or have already started their new job. Realising at the end of your first month that the commission structure is not what you “thought” it was, is a bit too late.

It’s your sales career move – make sure it’s the right one.

 

 

Sales Recruitment in South Africa – Insights and Recommendations for Employers and Job-Seekers

Employers

With the high rate of unemployment in SA, no doubt you know someone on the move, or a company looking for new sales folks. I thought you might find my perception of the sales employment sector of interest.

Not based on scientific research as such, just my ‘personal take’ on what I’ve seen happening out there and from ongoing feedback received in the sales employment sector over the past 9 years.

Insights – For Employers

1. Good sales managers and salespeople with the right skills are becoming even harder to find but because some companies don’t look after their superstars, there are always good people on the move.

2. Recruitment agencies are more savvy in placing sales folks but handling sales positions is still one of their greatest challenges thus you need to manage the process carefully.

3. There has been a major increase in employers advertising directly because of online tools such as LinkedIn and to save the cost of recruitment agency fees.

4. Poor quality CV’s and overwhelming response rates to adverts are making it harder to filter down to find the right people.

5. There is still very little (if any) proper onboarding assistance provided to new sales employees to help them ramp-up effectively in the first 3 months, especially for new business development.

6. Many sales salaries offered don’t seem to have kept up with inflation over the past 5 years, nor have petrol and cell phone allowances.

Insights – For Sales Folks on the Move

1. PNet and more recently Careers24 as well as LinkedIn are still among the top online portals used by both employers and recruiters.

2. It’s a tight job market but there are always good jobs out there for good sales folks at any one time.

3. 80% of CV’s I receive are poorly presented, are often inaccurate and incomplete – including those of sales managers, key account managers and sales admin folks. Clients and recruiter colleagues tell me the same.

4. There is still no “benchmark” for sales salaries – massive differences as seen from sector to sector and within each sector.

5. I’m seeing very little preparation done ahead of interviews – whether with the recruiter or the employer.

Recommendations For Employers

1. Try recruit directly. Develop skills on how to recruit salespeople and managers effectively – there is loads of info available online.

2. Use PNet, LinkedIn and/or Careers24 – single ads only cost from R595 to R1300 for 30 days.

3. Check out Indeed.co.za too, this is a no-charge job site that also pulls in every job advertised on career portals – there are also some great smaller career portals within industry sectors i.e. BizCommunity for the advertising/media sector.

4. Make sure you’re giving your newbies the support they need in the first 3 months – this still remains one of the main reasons salespeople (especially the really good ones) leave within the first year.

5. Use my LEFT principle (Look Everywhere For Talent).   Recruit/network all year round to ensure you have a few potentials ‘in the wings’ at all times. Waiting until someone leaves and then only starting to look will place unnecessary pressure on the whole team and put sales revenues at risk.

6. Look after the good people you have. They will be snapped up in days because of the sales talent shortage out there.

7. Be efficient and professional when recruiting – not getting back to applicants or taking months to make a decision is unacceptable and just damages your brand through word of mouth.

8. Use personal networks and referrals as your primary source of finding quality sales folks, but don’t take any shortcuts – formal interviews and extensive work history and reference-checking is essential.

9. Be open to employing older sales folks i.e. over 50 – they can be exceptional assets and have a great deal to offer.

10. Be open to having to train juniors who have the right attitude but may lack experience or some selling skills, especially if your salary offering is low.

11. People need to cover their basic running costs. Offering no basic or a very low basic with no car, no petrol or benefits and only the promise of high commission generally doesn’t attract the person you’re looking for

12. If you don’t have a formal sales process in place, if you don’t know the length of your sales cycle, if you’re unprepared for the onboarding of your newbie, then expect your ramp-up period to be much longer. 3 months’ probation is unfair if you’re not giving the newbie the support he or she needs.

13. Don’t exaggerate on what a fantastic sales environment you have or how easy it is to make “massive amounts” of commission in a desperate attempt to attract a sales performer or to fill a sales position quickly. Within the first few months, the newbie will soon suss out the real lay of the land and move on. Not only are you messing with someone’s career, the cost to the company is huge.

Recommendations For Sales Folks on the Move

1. Approach job-seeking like a true sales professional – use your CV to articulate your value. A poorly-presented CV speaks volumes as does a great one.

2. Don’t apply for every job out there, be selective and play to your strengths. If you absolutely hate prospecting from scratch, then don’t apply for that job, you’ll just end up being performance-managed out in the months ahead which could be incredibly stressful.

3. Tap into your personal network and reach out to managers at companies you’d like to work for. Nurture those relationships.

4. Keep a ‘career file’ from the day you started your first sales job and keep your CV and supporting documents up to date.

5. Google yourself – if we can’t find you or you haven’t got a decent online presence, it tells us you’re not on top of your networking and prospecting skills.

6.  Lying or being anything less than 100% honest on your CV will come back to bite you at some point – every detail is checked these days. It’s a small market and people talk – don’t damage your brand.

7. Do your research on your prospective new employer thoroughly, including the management style of the person you’ll be reporting to; make sure that the grass IS greener.

Article from The Weekly SalesBrief For SA Sales Professionals – subscribe here

Should I stay or should I go now?

(With apologies to The Clash for hijacking the name of their song)

As a consultant, sales coach and recruiter I’m often asked for advice from sales folks – both salespeople and sales managers who lead a team of people – about whether I think they should ‘hang in there’ at their current employer when things aren’t great or if they should try and seek greener pastures where a better sales environment might exist. Even in today’s uncertain economic conditions.  

There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to that question. It all depends on your level of disatisfaction with your current situation and what the exact reasons are for wanting to look further afield.

If it is your boss that you simply can’t work for a day longer then perhaps you need to think twice before throwing in the towel. Do you have anything to do with the way he or she is managing you? it’s time to be brutally honest with yourself here. Perhaps your unhappiness is because you don’t like being called out for not reaching your sales targets. Perhaps your unhappiness is because your manager is simply disrespectful and, for want of a better word,  a total ‘jackass’ who couldn’t manage his or her way out of a paper bag.  (For example, a sales manager who starts a sales meeting witht the words “Hey, am I in the mood for firing someone today!”) Remember, many sales managers are promoted to a management role because of their sales achievements, not their management prowess.

Perhaps the reason is because you’ve totally lost faith in the company. For example your ops team can’t deliver on your sales promise. My advice would be in that case to pack your bags.  Once you’ve lost your belief in what you are selling, unless senior management is aware of the problems and taking some drastic action to address them, there is no point in staying on. One way or another, it is going to affect your sales self-confidence, your sales performance and/or personal drive.  We all know that we have to believe in what we are selling in order to do well and feel comfortable with who we are. Being an authentic salesperson or sales manager is essential.

Are there sales or sales management opportunities out there right now? For sure. However do your homework carefully. My personal view is that generally speaking, companies are not as well structured in their sales environment as they ought to be. Many companies don’t have written sales strategies, many sales managers don’t coach or know how to get the best out of their sales team.  You need to know what type of sales environment will suit your strengths and personal preferences. If you know you need strong management support to keep you on the straight and narrow, then don’t join a company where the manager only floats in once every two weeks.

There’s no excuse for not being a sales professional. The internet is an encyclopedia of sales advice available to anyone and everyone who has a computer or even a phone.  Take every free sales or management assessment you can find to get to know yourself better. Take one or two more in-depth sales assessments where you have to pay for the results – that is of course, if you can afford to do so.

Just do what is right for you. Be accountable for the situation you find yourself in and as I read somewhere once “if you can’t change your circumstances, then change the way you think about your circumstances”.

Think Twice Before You “Fabricate” Your CV

It is extremely concerning to me when I come across a potential candidate’s CV when searching a CV database on an online job portal and find it completely different to the version that I have on file from a previous job application. 

It happened again today. I’ve just looked at a CV of a technical sales rep whom at first glance I thought would be the “perfect fit” for a senior sales position that I have just started recruiting for. On the version of the CV that I have on file from 2010, the gentleman listed 3 different positions from 1999-2004. On the new updated version, this has now been changed to one position from 1999-2004 with a completely different company.  In addition, there are a number of other changes of not only months, but years of tenure at various companies since then.

This “fabrication” has not only ensured the gentleman has completely blown the credibility of his working history and everything else he has listed on the document, it also calls his honesty and ethics into question.

On top of this, the contactable reference he listed for the new 1994-2004 position is someone who also applied for a position via our agency, thus it calls that person’s honesty into question too – if he is prepared to lie for a colleague. I happen to know that they are friends and have no doubt that he would have agreed to “cover” for this gentleman.

So both of them now miss out on any future job opportunities we may have for them – and we exclusively manage quite a few  top-notch, high-paying technical sales positions every month. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot in a tight job market!

Please do not under-estimated the importance of ensuring your CV is a 100% accurate reflection of your working history. If a lie doesn’t come back to bite you when searching for a job months or years later, it may do so when you actually land a new position.  Lying about something on your CV may provide an employer with a valid reason for firing someone should it influence their ability to perform their duties and responsibilities.

Most professional recruiters ask you to sign off on their application form that your CV is a true and accurate account of your working history, achievements, personal details and academic qualifications. We strongly recommend that you ensure that it is. 

If any recruiter ever advises you to change details on your CV “because it doesn’t look good”- please report that person to both the MD of their company and APSO immediately – this is probably the worst advice you could receive. And again, calls that person’s honesty and ethics into question.

Question: How Long Should A Sales Newbie Be Given To Ramp Up?

Answer: A new salesperson should be given a reasonable amount of time to find their feet and ramp-up to full speed. 

But what is the norm for what is considered “reasonable”?

To calculate a fair ramp-up period, the employer should allow for the following:

1. A 20-day product knowledge/learning curve – longer if your products or services are more complex or technical
plus
2. The length of the average sales cycle for your products or services
plus
3. Whether or not the newbie is given existing accounts to work with (which may shorten the sales cycle) or if theyneed to develop new accounts from scratch with no assistance from marketing whatsoever.

To be frank, many sales managers I speak to do not know the average length of their selling cycle and often thumbsuck an answer. Instead of guessing at it, one should do some proper research and analyse the last 10, 20 or 50 sales to get an average time of how long it takes a rep – from finding and qualifying a lead, right through to receiving a signed order with a definite delivery date. 

This is as important as knowing things like how long it takes to turn a non-performing team around. Imagine if you as a sales manager took a new position where the CEO was expecting a sales turnaround in 6 months when it was realistically a minimum of 12 months.  (Again, taking the sales cycle into account, among other factors). You’d be pretty upset to be held to account unrealistically.  The same applies to your reps. Just give them a fair shake is what we’re suggesting.

Here’s a scenario:
A rep joins a company in January. The average sales cycle for the product range is about 7 weeks from cradle to grave. He is given no accounts or existing leads to work with. It’s a complex product. 

The sales manager is so busy that he can’t spend much time with the newbie on training. However, come the end of January, the rep is expected to hit 100% of his target before his commission scheme kicks in. Under serious pressure to deliver results by the end of February,  the newbie has managed to self-study most of the product range and makes his first sale but only reaches 75% of his target. The company has a policy of carrying forward the deficit on the monthly target.

Although he reaches target in Month 3, the rep is penalised because of the deficit brought forward from January and February and receives no commission. This seriously affects his enthusiasm about his new job, he’s completely stressed out and wonders if he’s made a mistake. The manager is already thinking “performance management”.

What do you think? Is this a fair shake? Personally I think it’s a raw deal. Having said that, he should have clarified the company’s expectations of him and the exact sales targets and ramp-up period BEFORE he accepted the job offer. He should have asked how long the sales cycle was and the sales manager should have had that information at hand and ready to discuss it with him properly long before he accepted the offer.

Both parties are at fault and there are serious negative consequences that could have easily been avoided by being very clear upfront.  I’m in the process of educating as many sales reps as I can to ask the right questions of potential employers way ahead of time – in fact if they are working with a recruiter, they should find out all of these details when they take the job spec. Recruiters should be able to share that with the applicants.

In a nutshell:  Calculate and allow a newbie the appropriate amount of time to ramp-up. Be clear about this in your interview. Stagger the targets if necessary. Give thorough and proper sales and product training. Measure performance on sales productivity during the ramp up phase not just gross sales achieved.

The bottom line is:  Look after your newbies and you’ll drastically improve your sales growth, staff retention rate AND reduce your stress and sales costs.

Job Hunting Tips for the “mature’ sales professional

My weekly SalesBrief this week centred around the topic of age – from whether salespeople do have a “sell-by date” for themselves, to understanding how older sales folks and younger sales managers relate. 

As a guide to those older salespeople who are currently in the marketplace for a new job, the very first suggestion I’d make is to take a brutal, long, hard look in the mirror to ask yourself if you are “the best you” you can be right now. The question is, would you employ you?

In sales, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the overall image of the salesperson – as we all know, first impressions count. We also know that research proves that the salesperson plays a vital part in whether or not a client decides to buy. So being up to date with the latest developments, keeping yourself current with the latest sales training available, looking professional, being enthusiastic and having the right attitude are baseline requirements – even more so when you’re looking for a sales position in a highly competitive marketplace.

My second suggestion would be to apply sales process thinking to finding a new sales position i.e. you are the product and then first the recruiter, then the employer needs to “buy” you. [Note: if you don’t clearly understand the term “sales process” then your selling skills knowledge may not be as up to date as you think.]

Your very first step in your sales process is to prepare your CV – which is your marketing material – your “lead-generator”. How does it look? Is is professionally presented, perfectly laid-out and proof-read? Or does it look more like a dog’s breakfast that has quickly been thrown together? Think like a buyer (i.e. the recruiter and/or employer). Your CV is their first impression of you, and that CV has to “work” to get you in front of the right person. If your CV doesn’t send the right message, you are drastically reducing your chances of even being interviewed telephonicially

Does your CV indicate the value you can offer a company as a sales professional? Or is it more of an outdated “features and benefits” type of CV?

Remember – we’re applying sales process thinking. What is important is to move the “sale” along from step to step.

Your first step is to get the positive attention of the recruiter and/or employer, it is NOT to try and “close the sale” ie. get the job.  That comes much later in the process.

Then you have to target your potential prospects with that CV. Where do you start looking?

A must-do these days is to list your CV on PNet and Career Junction, along with all the other online job sites there are. My estimate is that 90% of recruiters and employers are using these career portals to find potential applicants.

Remember, most job sites allow only recruiters who subscribe to their service to search CV’s. Employers are generally not given direct access to CV databases. Employers are able to post their job adverts, but they can’t search CV’s so don’t be too concerned about your current employer finding your CV there. Check out the job portal’s terms carefully before posting your CV.

I’d also recommend that you create your profile and load your CV up on the LinkedIn networking site too. It’s a popular site among professional recruiters.  

When applying for a sales position, do take the time to read the job specs to make sure you are a potential match for the position. If your CV doesn’t “speak to” the job spec, then you need to make the connection for the recruiter or employer in a cover letter. If it means taking the time to write a specific cover letter for that specific position then do it. 

As early on in the sales process as possible, explain the current structure of your salary package too and what your expectations are. There not only needs to be a match with your selling skills, there needs to be a remuneration match.

Think of the advertised job spec as a “tender specification”. In sales, you wouldn’t dream of submitting your proposal for a tender unless it matched the tender’s requirements, would you?

I hope you see where I’m going with this line of thinking. In basic terms, if the recruiter is looking for an apple, make sure they can easily see that you are an apple from your CV. Otherwise you’re just one of hundreds of people who apply for every job they see listed and that will ensure you’re overlooked.

As a sales recruiter, even when I post a job ad with extremely detailed job specs, I get on average 150-200 applications, 90% of which are not even remotely a match but I still need to send a regret letter to each person (this is why many recruiters battle to get back to everyone with a reply – not justifying a lack of response, just giving a possible explanation). So in order to find 4 or 5 potential candidates, I need to open and read 150 CVs – you can imagine the hours and hours of my time that involves.

As I mentioned in the SalesBrief, if you are an older salesperson and feel that your personal image is a “selling feature” then you may want to consider adding a professional photograph of yourself to your CV.  If you are very active then list your sporting interests too.  But never lie on a CV, about anything.

If a recruiter or employer uncovers deceit in a CV in any way – from listing incomplete qualifications as complete to increasing dates for length of employment to make your CV read better, they may begin to question your personal integrity.

Rest assured, there are great sales positions out there, it’s just a matter of finding them. Much like prospecting for new business – if you know where to look and have a great product or service to offer, you will successfully close that sale.

Does having a “proven sales track record’ on your CV really make someone an exceptional sales candidate?

At first thought, you may say yes, of course it does. However I’d like to disagree. There are too many factors that influence a salesperson’s ability or failure to reach sales targets. 

Here are a few examples:

I know of a solution sales chap who “inherited” a R30 million Rand deal from an alliance partner.  He did nothing more than being on the other end of the phone when the right guy phoned him to tell him they’d won the deal and were giving that part of the contract to his company.  If you saw that achievement on his CV, you’d automatically assume that he was a ‘wunderkind’ sales rep who had reached 250% of his target by month two of the financial year. Not so.

Another example:

Jenny X’s CV says that she has been the top sales achiever at her company for the past five years.  Unless you ask the question “top out of how many sales reps?” you wouldn’t know that she was the only rep they had. So is she the top achiever? Did she achieve amazing year on year growth? Or is the company in a niche market with a whole batch of existing clients that Jen merely needs to visit once in a while and who would happily keep on ordering, with or without her being there?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking sales achievements but if you don’t ask the right questions at the interview, you may just employ someone who can’t cut it in your sales environment.

We call it “interrogating” a sales CV. It’s really important for you to do it thoroughly.

Those super sales achievers who have indeed reached and exceeded targets will only be too happy and willing to share with you exactly how those deals were brought it – they’ll have the facts and figures imprinted in their memory banks ready to reel off to you without hesitation. Dig a bit deeper into their ‘proven sales track record’ before allowing yourself to be sold on what is on paper.

Now, we haven’t even mentioned how the company’s work ethic, brand, reputation, product or service that the salesperson is responsible to sell  can influence his or her sales results.  An over-priced, under-performing product won’t exactly sell well in today’s competitive market, no matter how good a salesperson is sitting across from Billy the Buyer.  You also have to ask yourself if you really want a salesperson selling for you who can sell rubbish without a second thought to an unsuspecting prospect? What about ethics? Would your choice be sales results over ethics?

I’m not making excuses for salespeople who over or underperforming, I just think that there are many factors that are ignored by employers which could influence the outcome of their sales recruitment decision.

It’s all about asking the right questions AND having a well-defined sales recruitment process in place which helps you to cover all your bases.

“Must-have” info in a Sales CV

When you’re previewing an applicant’s CV there’s information that you simply must have:

1. Details of any formal sales training, in addition to any academic qualifications
2. Reasons for leaving each position listed
3. Contactable reference details for each position
4. Summary of sales achievements

If it is not there – ask.

What to look for in a sales-specific CV

When viewing an applicant’s CV, many sales managers still take it at face value – or possibly allow for “just a little” exaggeration here and there. As a recruiter, I find that these days one has to query and double-check everything. We’ve had CV’s on our database for 3-4 years and when we receive an updated version, I often find that the content has changed quite dramatically – not just a single word or sentence here and there but in actual employment details.

For example: I had 2 versions of a CV – one 3 years old, the other brand new, from someone on our database looking for an external sales position. When I compared the two, the gentleman had completely omitted 8 months stint at his 2nd most recent company and added that time period on to his current employment tenure, knowing that it is difficult for recruiters to verify current employment details. It was a huge red flag for me. Why did he do it? When something as obvious as that is picked up, it makes one question every detail in the document.

Please take the time to meticulously verify the CV of the candidate whom you would like to employ. It is just another safety check to do before taking someone on full-time.