The unspoken sentiment is that this is no longer a ‘business’ problem but a Sales problem. That profit raking salespeople come automatically. What the business soon realizes is that a sales team is a different kettle of fish

“Sara, have Sales do that thing where profits go up.”

So the CEO, in a cartoon strip, instructs his personal assistant. That caption captures the truth (and predicament) many businesses recruiting a sales force find themselves in.  The more, if they have been sustainably getting along with walk-in clients or, like a Sacco, a captive market. Irrespective though, in an increasingly competitive world, sooner or later, a growing institution finds itself in need of a sales force. And so, the recruitment happens and the targets are given based on the business’s Microsoft Excel sales projections. After all Sales will “do that thing where profits go up.”

Sales problem (Profit Raking Salespeople) is a business problem

The unspoken sentiment is that this is no longer a ‘business’ problem but a Sales problem. That profit raking salespeople come automatically. What the business soon realizes is that a sales team is a different kettle of fish from say, the administration or finance teams. The people (sellers) and the processes (selling) are not in harmonious compatibility with the business’s systems and structures.  

Profit Raking Salespeople

This adjustment period frustrates both the business and the salespeople. The business keeps complaining of hitherto non-existent and continual costs like airtime, transport and training. And, escalating and amorphous costs like commissions. All this while contending with a wild card group of people (they are too different to be called staff) who walk in and out of the office. And who generally don’t fit the eight to five mould, and whose attention span is unbelievably short. It’s like trying to fit wild animals in a zoo.

Ignoring incubation

You see, nowhere, in the Excel projection was an incubation period factored in. It was assumed that the salespeople would immediately “do that thing where profits go up.” And this is the first thing any business venturing into direct selling should brace itself for. That there must be an incubation period where both business and sales find a working relationship. The other revelation for the business is that the sales people don’t hit the ground running because the product knowledge shared has not been tested outside the ‘zoo’. When it is, the salespeople learn to adapt it to suit the market. They learn how to sell benefits (say, looking fashionable), thus standing out from the crowd. Not the features (short sleeved shirts) which is what they were taught in class (internal sales training) and every competitor has anyway.

Adjustment period

This adjustment period can be too steep for most sellers and bereft of a business support structure they don’t take off. Or, as in most cases, they fall away (via dismissal or resignation). This period is one where the turn over starts churning and frustration further builds. For many organizations it takes months, even years of the foregoing for them to accept that building a sales force is a marathon, not a sprint. Looking at sales recruitment and management through the lens of a desk job is a recipe for failure. The business must be ready to invest time and money before Sales can “do that thing where profits go up.”

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