Hiring Strategy For the Right Salesperson: Sales Connections vs. Sales Behaviours

hiring strategy business concept
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When it comes to a hiring strategy, the majority of companies approach it from the angle of buying access to another companies contacts and pipeline. They are looking for a person who can step in and hit the ground running immediately.

A few weeks ago, a company approached us about hiring a B2B salesperson for a company expanding into our country. The executive was entrepreneurial with a good run-rate in other countries; now looking for rapid expansion in this new market. They sell a niche product to a niche market.

The discussions around profiling the ideal person quickly shifted to finding a person with experience selling within the niche, a passion for the product and a good network of connections. Their view is that they are buying those connections which will generate sales quickly.

The strategy is sound in theory but is that the best way to hire a new salesperson?

The Connection Sales Hiring Strategy

Companies desire to hire a salesperson with a strong network, and book of business is not uncommon. It would be the opening position for more than half of the B2B sales recruiting enquiries we receive. Who could blame someone for wanting to hire a salesperson who can hit the ground running and generate sales immediately? It can work, but often there are more challenges than planned for with this approach.

For some industries where relationships are paramount, and there is a limited turnover of decision-makers in buyer organisations, it is a good strategy. For instance, the construction or industrial industry where product knowledge is vital, and connections take a long time to earn their trust in supplying major contracts. Attempting to send in a person with little to no product knowledge is a foolish strategy.

However, there are other sectors that are less static, and the buyers change regularly. The connections have little value as they are here today, gone tomorrow. The replacements can have allegiances with your competition, and you often find these sellers following the buyers to their next role. Hopefully, it is a role that requires your products and services. So connections are not as important as the other skills of building new relationships with the changing buyer audience.

Then you may be in an industry, such as the medical industry, where procurement processes of open tendering and preferred supplier selection committees to select suppliers based on merit and therefore neutralising the value of relationships.

At the end of the day, when a salesperson changes jobs, the relationship may be of value to open the door, but it certainly won’t assist in closing business unless the offering is superior to the competition.

We recently observed a construction business hire a person based on their connections and book of business. Seemingly a great hire, the company considered the new hire would influence buyers to shift to their offering based on the depth of the relationship. Just six weeks later, the book of business was gone, and companies were asking that the salesperson did not call again. They considered the change of representing one company, then moving to the competitor being a conflict of interest. That is when connection hiring fails as a strategy. True Story.

When you narrow the criteria for hiring, you are restricting the pool of potential candidates. The more niche the product and market, the more difficult it becomes in negotiation. The playing field shifts and you have created a candidates market, and they are savvy enough to recognise this. You will place the candidate in an enviable position of having the upper hand in negotiating things such as compensation. You also have the issue of cultural fit, and you may have to sacrifice on a few things as you simply have no choices.

Connection hiring has some benefits but only in specific business situations where the longevity of the relationship matches the buyer’s longevity at that particular company.

The other type of hiring that many companies need to consider is a sales behavioural hiring strategy.

Sales Behavioural Hiring Strategy

Another hiring strategy, developed through our experience in hiring, is based on sales behavioural profile. Working with over 11,000 salespeople and sales managers over 30 years, profile hiring has worked more times than connection hiring.

For many companies, deep domain knowledge of products is not necessary. The products may be well known, simple to use or selling to an audience of experienced buyers and applicators. In some cases, the role may come with a product support expert shifting the focus to sales behaviours.

Sales behaviour is the skill set you are buying when you hire a salesperson.

So, what is sales behaviour, and how does it work for your company?

Sales behaviour is the individual’s traits – their competitiveness, ability to manage themselves and influence others. It can be their resilience, confidence, perseverance and sense of need to win. These intangible traits are the underlying talent of highly successful salespeople. They allow sellers to create luck for themselves, capitalise on opportunities and make good judgment.

They rise about direct product experience and connections as you open the doors to hiring people with similar industry experience with other products. The selling process is similar, the deals sizes and decision-makers similar and they can bring a new level of sales professional to your business.

We have hired people that were experts in selling major accounts but with little to no product experience. They were masters of navigating accounts and using internal resources to back them up as they made their way through the businesses meeting with key decision-makers. They build relationships within their new environment and have honed skills in developing new business.

One of those hires was a young man who was career-minded and determined where he wanted to be selling. His background was working in industrial, and he made the shift to professional service-related industries. It was a winning move taking well-honed business development skills to an industry that often struggles to sign new business. In a short period of time, he had outsold the top people in the firm. True Story.

We have seen this type of shift happen countless times. Where possible, we encourage companies to take on a different profile of the person that will add significant value and skill to the company and create a motivated individual who is a rising star. With the right sales behaviours, they excel in different roles and bring fresh thinking to your business to support growth.

The upside of a hiring strategy based on sales behaviour is that the talent pool is considerably larger than hiring based on connections. An employer is better positioned to hire someone who fits the compensation plan and more importantly, fits the employer’s values and culture, which is the primary basis for a long and successful relationship with a sales hire.

Connections vs. Behaviour?

Every company hiring situation is unique, and sales managers will know whether their sales team members have to have the industry experience or deep domain product knowledge to be successful.  But in our experience, more often than not, industry experience and connections are not the determining factors in who is the top seller in a sales team. Sales manager taking the risk of approaching hiring from a different viewpoint can benefit from having more people capable of delivering sales goals.

If you would like to discuss your specific situation and the new sales environment, please reach out to us to organise a zoom conference or telephone conversation.

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About the Author: Adele Crane

A leader in Implementation Consulting.
2020 – Top 100 Magazine – Australian Business Professional. CEOs and Managing Directors have relied on Adele Crane to solve challenges with the performance of their sales and marketing since 1990. Her consulting experience in delivering results in 90-120 days is unprecedented by any other known sales and marketing consulting professional in the world. As an author of 3 acclaimed books, appearances on major media, and publications in USA, NZ and Australia, Adele’s experience brings fresh thinking and contemporary practices to business.