A growing and concerning trend I have observed in recent years is the lack of skilled salespeople we have in Australia. The craft of the true salesperson has grown to be a vibrant, sought after and respected vocation. It is also a skill set many businesses lack, particularly in the area of new business or ‘hunting’ as it is sometimes termed. Across the industries we recruit in, including but not limited to manufacturing, we are struggling to source quality people with a desire to be successful in sales. When it comes to finding people with the ability to open initial engagement and build lasting relationships with key stakeholders, we are falling short. Are we witnessing the death of the salesperson?
Now to be clear, I am not talking about the rise of online sales or the consumer. Nor am I talking about business commoditised purchases made through quick email inquiries and online ordering. It’s the lasting, business development, relationship-building, client management skills I have seen diminishing in recent years. I think we all know the gift of the gab has gone. The ‘cold call’ also seems to have disappeared, with complex business to business sales requiring long-term bespoke solutions catering to specific business needs. A good salesperson will interact with key stakeholders, gaining insight through the client’s eyes of the value they need created. They do this with interest and empathy in such a way as to genuinely understand the client’s situation, presenting potential solutions or providing referrals to those who can. These are the attributes that are hard to find.
Bridging the sales gap
So, what do you do if you have determined this is a gap in your organisation? You have two options.
You can develop internally, and there are many online resources to help you get there such as The Business of Trust, The Sales Natural and Sales Masters. Or, you can go through the process to recruit. There are two categories to be aware of, and at times clients get these different requirements confused, particularly when they are interviewing.
- Business Development with new clients, sometimes referred to as Hunters, with the skills of initiating contact and:
- a track record of opening doors
- proven methodology.
- Account Management, which involves managing and growing relationships. These people are referred to as Farmers and can demonstrate:
- a track record of growing revenue in existing clients
- growth of strong relationships with key client stakeholders over a number of years.
If you recruit these people, using our culture-fit recruitment process or not, the key steps include:
- Define the role and exactly what you want done including the cultural environment the person will be working within. Also understand exactly what you are offering the person. It is a competitive marketplace and they will want better benefits and opportunities than what they currently have (and they don’t have to be financial)
- Define the person specification including the needed competencies and behaviours
- Interview your potential candidates – no matter how you have sourced them, to determine if they have the repeating patterns of behaviours you require.
I have recently been undertaking a recruitment assignment in Singapore seeking an APAC Sales Executive for a client. I am amazed how many people particularly enjoy the thrill of opening doors to new clients and engaging stakeholders to understand their business and add value while building a relationship. This is in a market of complex capital equipment with long lead times and having to deal with a range of stakeholders. While everyone I have interviewed will obviously not be successful, the level of enthusiasm and demonstrated skill and track record from the candidates is a surprise compared to an Australian shortlist.
So perhaps to improve our skills base locally, we need to ensure the people we attract into sales roles can think outside the box and are passionate about relationship management. As outlined in this article on Sales Hacker, “The most successful salespeople are creative and think about unique ways to solve problems for their clients. They come up with novel ideas when most people form the same conclusions. Top performing salespeople look at things differently. Their brilliant analytical skills enable them to offer different solutions that others normally don’t see”.
With quality salespeople in such short supply, focusing on the skills and attributes you are looking for and taking the time to better understand the type of salesperson you need will help you filter through your applicants to find the right person to open new doors for you and grow existing opportunities.