When a Salesman isn’t a Salesman

A business owner decides to beef up his company’s sales talent. He forks out a hefty salary for a “proven performer” from another industry; then…nothing.

empty suitThe salesman (or woman) is glib, professional and hard working. The owner devotes more resources to marketing and lead generation in an attempt to make good on his investment. Still no results.

Frequently, the owner assumes the blame for the shortfall. After all, the employee earned huge commissions in his previous job. He sold to CEOs, or to high net worth individuals, or products that were ten times the price of yours. Why can’t he sell your stuff?

Sales is a relative term, and sales compensation is a relative measure. I knew a former tennis pro who had made a huge salary “selling” medical devices to surgeons. When he transitioned to selling OEM hard drives, he failed miserably. He had qualified leads, and heavy marketing to support brand identity. His skill, however, was in demonstrating to the doctors how they could work faster and more profitably if they insisted the hospital pay for his devices. Faced with cost-conscious purchasing managers who perceived his product as a commodity, he was lost.

The owner of a technology company shared this with me last week. He is looking for reps to sell managed services to large corporations. There are plenty of highly compensated salespeople in the technology world. What he has found, however, is that selling networking equipment, software or telecommunications gear has little in common with “invisible” services located in the cloud.

Both examples are similar. In the first, the salesperson moved from selling to an end user who was focused on technical issues to a financial buyer. In the second the shift is from selling a known solution for a known problem to selling change that is disruptive to an entrenched infrastructure. Other than calling both jobs “selling,” they have very little in common.

The technical aspects of presenting a solution to customers are basic to all sales, but that doesn’t mean that all sales skills are transferrable. Someone who was provided with qualified leads likely lacks the training for effective cold calling. One who represented a well-known brand may not be prepared to educate buyers on a need they haven’t yet identified. Selling to large corporations is nothing like selling to small businesses.

Choosing an effective salesperson has little to do with how much he made in a previous position. Translating his or her success to your business depends on who he sold, how he sold, and what he sold. If those three factors match your sales profile, then prior successes are worth considering.

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2 Responses to When a Salesman isn’t a Salesman

  1. Ray says:

    Excellent article and very true.

  2. David Basri says:

    The days of the order-taking IBM salesperson of the 1980’s are long gone. While sales people can and should be well compensated, the majority of it should never be because of a hefty salary. Sales compensation may need to take into account a spin-up period, but most of the compensation should be commission or profit sharing, not salary. Order taking can be done by computers or employees in Accounting.

    David Basri

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