Getting the edge in professional selling

Proficient and capable salesmen are difficult to find and even harder to hold on to. The cost of recruitment is significant. We have recently calculated that it is costing upwards of 15% of annual salary to get an individual on board. Consider the subsequent costs of training, administration, provisions, uniforms, and all the other charges and levies associated with keeping a new employee for one year and one can understand the need to get it right first time and to bring individuals on board who will amortize those up-front costs by staying for more than a year or two.

Perhaps I am being a little unfair but it seems to me that millennials have little interest in winning a good job. I am continually frustrated by individuals who turn up for interview ill-equipped to answer any questions about our company and unable to provide any answers as to what they can contribute or why they would like a job with us. Their attitude seems to be, “Show us what you are willing to pay and we’ll decide if we want to work for you or not!”

Increasingly, we now look to professionals to fill our sales positions. We believe it is necessary for our sales engineers to have sufficient technical knowledge so they can understand how our products work and accurately explain to our clients who, for the most part, are also engineers. Product knowledge training goes some way to getting our people up to speed, however, those who have a solid technical background find it considerably easier to comprehend and absorb product knowledge.

Our sales executives must also understand “product application.” Clients want to deal with people who understand their problems. They increasingly expect sales executives to come up with innovative solutions. Our client base wants to discuss problems with engineers who really understand their situation. So we have discussed two basic requirements for sales engineers. They must have good product knowledge and an understanding of their client’s situation.

Selling is not for everybody. It requires self-discipline, tenacity and hard work to become successful. Sales managers look for sales staff with basic qualities. Gregarious, determined, hardworking personalities are well-suited to a career in sales.  Yet even this is not enough. No matter how hard a salesperson works, a constant stream of customers saying no to his products or services will quickly lead to demoralization.

The realities are that hard work and a positive attitude are not enough. Our sales executives must be able to sell products against strong and aggressive competitors. Without exposure and mastery of the correct skills and behaviors to use in a sales interaction, our salespeople will fail to meet targets.

So the last component for success is a clear understanding of the sales process and how to use it to influence a sale. Research shows that there are specific skills and behaviors that are used to enhance sales effectiveness. Quality sales training programs teach these skills.

To put all of this in context, I have newly hired engineers who are untrained and inexperienced in selling. It will take time to teach them the products and product application. I have a couple of sales engineers who come from other disciplines (nursing, chemical engineering, etc.) Fortunately, they have been with us long enough to have assimilated both product knowledge and selling skills. Nonetheless, they still find it difficult to see when faced with highly competent engineers who require technical explanations. Lastly, I have a couple of senior engineers who know both products and product application. However, neither of them are commercially oriented.

To build a strong sales team, I need all three elements. If I can’t achieve this at the time of recruitment, then training and experience will have to be gathered over time. As I say, the cost of recruitment is high. We pay good salaries and benefits; we just need to make sure we get some return on investment by knowing what we need, who we are hiring and by taking steps over time to fill the gaps in technical, sales, and application knowledge.

Terence Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines.  He is an accomplished sales consultant, and currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.