Good salespeople are a major asset to any business. Yet they are few and far between - research by Cranfield Management School suggests that 90% of sales staff struggle to make an effective pitch. Tom Whitney finds out how to identify and recruit good sales specialists
"First-rate salespeople are focused and can target potential customers effectively," says David Thorp, director of research and professional development for the Chartered Institute of Marketing. "They understand which customers have the money, authority and need to buy from them.
"They also build strong relationships with customers, which is key to customer retention," he continues. "It is worth investing the time and the money in getting good staff, as they will be able to add much more to an organisation's bottom line than poor sales staff, who can be a liability."
Essential sales skills and qualities
Good salespeople tend to have a number of qualities in common. "Buckets of enthusiasm are essential in a salesperson, together with a massively positive outlook - the glass must always be half full," stresses Thorp.
"You need someone who is instantly likeable and good at building relationships and persuading people round to their point of view," he continues. "Salespeople also need to be problem solvers. They have to be able to listen to clients' needs and address them.
"You don't want someone who is too pushy, or does not match the client to the product or service, or who looks no further than one sale."
It is essential any new recruit understands your particular sales strategy. The person who excels at one-off sales, for example, will not necessarily have the patience to build long-term relationships with valued customers.
Sector knowledge and industry contacts are also desirable, since these will allow a new recruit to step into the role quickly and confidently.
Finding the right salesperson
"Asking your existing team members if they know of any potential recruits can be a good place to start," advises Thorp. "But you can also use a combination of newspapers, trade magazines, specialist recruitment agencies and websites."
Approaching possible recruits who work for customers or suppliers is not advisable, since this may well damage your business relationships. Poaching from competitors can also appear a good move, but may well hurt your reputation.
If you use a recruitment agency or place a job advert, be clear about the key skills, qualities and experience you are looking for. Good applicants will take the opportunity to demonstrate their ability by your requirements directly.
"If salespeople are half decent they should be able to present themselves well," notes Thorp. "If you interview someone and your first impression is that you don't like them, the chances are your customers won't either.
"You have to find other ways of sorting the good from the bad, too," says Thorp. "Look for a track record and follow an interview format that tests for a thorough understanding of the sales process.
"Remember, good sales staff will not only grow the business by increasing sales, but will do it in a much more cost-effective way," he concludes.