Within industrial distribution, I believe the single biggest differentiator you can have is a high performing sales organization. While corporate cultures and business models vary from company to company, leveraging a team of superstar sales people will go a long way toward separating you from your competition. If you want a sustainable, value-added competitive advantage, assemble a group of inspired sales leaders, train them, and put them to work.
Coveted Behavioral Traits
Here’s a list of ten inherent attributes I believe reside within all high-performing sales people:
- Committed to the customer – Makes every account feel like they’re the one (and only) customer: Think customer-centricity on steroids.
- Mild-mannered, yet firm – Personable with moxie when confronted by adverse circumstances.
- Tenacity – Maintains consistent, reliable focus on the account base despite any challenges.
- Emphasis on face-to-face meetings – Leverages the fact they’re an outside sales person, and not a desk jockey.
- Exceptional listening skills – Talks less, hears more.
- Works with an abundance mentality – Believes “There’s plenty of business for everyone, especially me.”
- Doesn’t sell on price – Price selling is for amateurs. Big leaguers sell value.
- Embodies a competitive edge – Realizes that he/she is the reason the account is successful.
- Passion for the business – This can’t be faked; either they care or they don’t.
- Highlights hidden value – Touts benefits beyond price.
Less Important Behavioral Traits
Some other attributes hiring managers may emphasize that, for me, are less significant:
Age – Legal issues aside, don’t get caught up in the age (or lack thereof) of a candidate. Younger, less-experienced people can be eager learners who evolve into solid sales associates quickly. Similarly, astute veterans can be reliable and composed, dutifully serving as the stalwarts of your sales team.
Education – Just because candidates have an associate’s degree from a seemingly unrelated area, it shouldn’t preclude them from consideration. While preferring candidates with formal, advanced training and/or degree, don’t get hung up on the prerequisite that someone is either a degreed engineer or a business major.
Energy level – Just because some people are more plodding and methodical doesn’t mean they won’t be good at sales. Remember the tortoise and the hare – some sales jobs require a sprint and some require a marathon. Pair the energy level of the salesperson with the energy level required for the territory. “Laid-back” doesn’t typically play well on Long Island, nor does “aggressive-intensity” usually work down in Macon, Georgia.
Pedigree – Whether a Rhodes Scholar or an online degree recipient from West Southern Utah State, getting hungup on pedigree usually means you’ll overlook other more important attributes. As my wife says, “I’ve met plenty of MBAs that should get their money back.” Some silverspooners can’t get out of their own way while grinders from more modest backgrounds are just waiting to be given their opportunity to strive and shine.
Hire Slow, Fire Fast
Take your time when making a hiring decision, and pay close attention to a candidate’s list of references. You should feel confident with whom the candidate considers an ally. LinkedIn and/or your Rolodex will contain contacts you can approach as part of the vetting process. The company he/she keeps is a key data-point to validate (or refute) their chances of successfully joining the team.
On the other end of the spectrum, if a current sales associate isn’t performing well, put them on a formal performance plan sooner rather than later. And if it comes down to it, dismiss them quickly and move on; delaying the inevitable does everyone a disservice.
Don’t just fill an open slot. Be purposeful and thorough in your process. Talk to numerous constituents: multiple candidates, current team members, personal references, other business associates, etc. I like to interview candidates three distinct times in three varied environments (on-site, off-site and restaurant) to better grasp their totality. Also, for at least one interview, plan to include a current member(s) of your existing team and assess the collective group dynamic.
Trust Your Gut
In the final analysis, don’t ignore your gut-feel toward a prospective hire. Whether good or bad, your intuition is probably spot-on. Ask yourself: how will this person fit and contribute on our team? Will they align with the territory and grow with our business? Are they better than my current worst sales associate? Remember: you’re hiring for the long-term.
Successful distributors differentiate themselves through their front-line associates working daily in the field. A high-performing team is exceptional at both defending the current customer base and closing new business. Clearly defining (and following) a consistent set of parameters when constructing your sales organization will translate into profitable, top-line growth. In addition to hiring and managing manufacturer rep groups,
Jeff Guritza is Business Development Manager for M.K. Morse Company. He has developed largescale direct sales teams across several industrial markets. Prior to establishing the North American distribution channel for U.K.-based Europower, he assembled and led the telesales channel at Applied Industrial Technologies.