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Employment Strategy Corner: The right way to build a sales force

This month, I’d like to talk about the tricky question of recruiting, sales representatives in particular, from a direct competitor. In this recession, our clients have a strong interest in salesmen, as they should. More than ever, sales drive our businesses. Sales will keep our doors open. Sales recruitment has always been a major category for Kemper Associates, and I must say that we are very successful in helping clients in this category.

Oftentimes, clients will ask us to find them a salesperson who has a “book of business” or a “rolodex.” Of course, this is sign language for finding them a salesperson from a direct competitor. While this is a widely used strategy, especially in the world of technology, we can’t help but question it..

While placing sales people continues to be one of our top efforts, I am particularly concerned when I see clients more interested in short cuts to “buying” business than in growing their own sales force and developing healthy sales they can call their own year after year.

When a sales manager asks us for a salesperson with a “book of business,” or asks us to recruit directly from a competitor, what he’s saying is that he’s looking for a salesperson with pre-existing contacts. The expectation is that someone who has already sold into desired accounts will be able to bring in instant business to the new employer.

These employers want someone who doesn’t need to be trained in their products. After all, if they’ve been selling against them, they should know the products. They want someone who has all the names and access to buyers and good enough relationships with these buyers that RFBs and orders will follow swiftly. Yes, it’s taken for granted.

When you hire this salesperson, he introduces and sells your product quickly. So no ramp-up time, no muss, no fuss. Just instant sales. Somehow, this always leaves me a bit uneasy. Here are three reasons why:

1. Most salesmen are bound by a one or two-year non-compete contract, as they should be. He/she will not be able to bring those “instant” sales we all dream of.  He’s got to produce sales the “old fashioned” way: with brains and lots of shoe leather.
2. From the perspective of the target accounts, the salesperson’s sincerity is now suspect. What would you think of a salesperson who calls you one week selling for ABC Meetings Company and six months later, calls you from XYZ Meetings Company, a direct competitor?

If you bought from the salesperson the first time, you are completely baffled. What has changed? Wasn’t this salesperson standing behind his first product and company? Why is he offering you a new, different and competitive solution? Did you make a mistake the first time? It’s very confusing to the buyer and does nothing but call the salesperson’s integrity into question.

In terms of providing a short cut to instant sales, it may have just the opposite effect. Now the salesperson must explain why he’s suddenly jumped ship to a competitor, and despite the open door that his rolodex represents, the closed sale may not be forthcoming.

3. From the hiring manager’s perspective, there’s a credibility problem as well. A salesperson who can easily rationalize a switch to a product and company that he’s been selling against may not demonstrate the kind of loyalty you’re looking for in the long run. Sure, it’s nice to bring in somebody who’s up to speed, but if this person’s willing to leave a direct competitor to come to you, you better believe that he won’t think twice about leaving you for the next better offer. It’s just a question of time or a few dollars.

All that said, this doesn’t mean that hiring from a competitor is never a good idea (even 007 said, “Never say never”). There may be legitimate reasons for a quality salesperson deciding to leave his company and go work for a competitor, such as a more comprehensive solution, a better technology, more opportunity career wise, etc.

But in general, if the motivation behind the hire is to capture his book of business rather than capture him, it tends to do more harm than good, and may only bring somebody on board who in the end you don’t really want. As someone counseled me so long ago, “Remember, if someone will steal for you, they’ll steal from you too.”

At the end of the day, the best way to fill a sales position is to hire a quality candidate, period. Hire the best, all-around salesman you can find first. Hopefully from your basic industry or an industry close to yours. But look for and hire for the sales record. You’ll be surprised; to a top-flight salesman, the required product knowledge, and target companies will come along very quickly.

See you here next month for our article “Time to upgrade your sales force.”

Philip Kemper is Founder/President of Kemper Associates, a 34 year old Chicago-based national executive search firm, specializing in Permanent and Contract staffing for Trade Shows and Exhibits, Staging and Equipment Rental, Business Meetings and Events Production, Video, Training and Incentives and more .His more complete bio is on LinkedIn at: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/philip-kemper/2/795/308/ . You may view Kemper Associates’ web site at: www.Kemperassociates.net , and contact Phil with questions or comments, and employment needs at: Kemperassoc@hotmail.com, or his private phone line: (312) 944-6551.

Posted in Employment Corner
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