Since CRM magazine released its debut issue in March 1997, much has changed in the world of sales, marketing, and customer service, the three pillars of the magazine’s coverage for the past 20 years. Technology has definitely made the lives of the professionals in each area easier and more productive.
It could be argued, though, that the tried-and-true elements of a winning sales culture have always remained the same, and they have little to do with software, hardware, or the latest technological innovation. To obtain new customers and retain existing ones, sales experts agree that organizations must cultivate a positive culture by gathering the strongest professionals they can and training them to perform at their best. Today, just as it was back in 1997, conditioning any sales team to succeed takes three basic elements.
1. Talent: Taking a Proactive Approach to Hiring
Experts can’t emphasize enough how crucial the hiring process is to top sales organizations.
You “need to invest the same kind of rigor that you do in your sales and marketing strategy into your recruiting strategy,” said Trish Bertuzzi, president and chief strategist at the Bridge Group, a sales consultancy, and author of The Sales Development Playbook, at last year’s Sales 2.0 conference in Boston.
“The best sales organizations are all over-recruiting, and recruiting is not a simple thing,” Kevin Higgins, CEO of Fusion Learning, assured attendees during his presentation at Sales 2.0. “It has a lot of steps.”
If you have a retention problem, he stated, you have to look at how you are finding, assimilating, and managing talent. Too many companies approach the subject of employee hiring with flawed logic.
A toxic mind-set can do serious harm to the overall culture of any sales team, argues J. Steven Osborne, CEO of Top Gun Sales Performance, a sales training services company. He says that many firms approach hiring in a Darwinist manner, hoping that their best salespeople will be the ones who last—a mistake.
This survival-of-the-fittest method not only presents ethical issues but also could be costly in the long run, Osborne warns. Those who hire indiscriminately and in great numbers, just to throw the newbies to the wolves, demonstrate an overall lack of concern for their employees’ personal and future development. Naturally, word will get out, and others will have second thoughts about working for such a company. In an age when people consult peer review websites such as Glassdoor, is the risk of bad reputation worth it?
“It is...critical that you have a Glassdoor strategy,” Bertuzzi emphasized. She singled out companies like InsightSquared, which has a 96 percent approval rating among employees, and Pixability, whose CEO, Bettina Hein, has a 100 percent approval rating among employees who have posted company reviews on Glassdoor.
NOT HIRING FOR A ROLODEX
Companies often mistakenly assume that if a sales rep has amassed many contacts, he’ll have a bigger prospect pool to draw from and thus be of greater benefit to the organization, Osborne says. Just because a candidate has worked at a large and successful company doesn’t automatically make him a well-connected or solid salesperson by default.
Sales professionals should always be on the lookout for new opportunities and prospects, but simply having a huge contact list isn’t enough. All too often, companies hire someone who seems to have all the key contacts but can rarely close the deal. “In reality, you have to start beginning to look at performance management,” Osborne says. “You want to first hire for attributes or character; you can always transfer knowledge” later, he says.
This might sound idealistic, but companies should think about hiring not based on what a person knows but on who she is. “The [attributes] I love the most are work ethic, discipline, determination, compassion, empathy, [and a] positive attitude,” Osborne says. And, like it or not, “those things are built inside of a person typically before they’re 20 or 25, and they’re tough to change. I can transfer product knowledge in a week.”
Jose Palomino, CEO and founder of Spyglass Selling, a sales enablement and training service from Value Prop Interactive, pushes for most of those same attributes when it comes to building winning sales cultures. He commends companies like Pitney Bowes, CEB, ADP, and many pharmaceutical companies, all of which prefer to hire recent college grads to avoid having to retrain them. In doing so, they also avoid what he refers to as the “I know, I know syndrome.” “If you hire...someone with too much experience, they think they don’t have to learn anything,” Palomino says. “A lifelong learner is what you want.”