We recently spoke with Thomas Williams, a MillerHeiman affiliate and owner of Strategic Dynamics, a sales training organization with a healthcare focus. Thomas has a long history in sales and has also seen things from the other side, working as CEO of a hospital in the US for several years. One of his specialisms is in assessing sales skills.
62% of companies consider themselves ineffective at onboarding new sales hires
Recruiting and onboarding costs for salespeople are high. Knowing how to hire the right salespeople can make a real impact to your bottom line. A couple of things came up in the course of our conversation - particularly in terms of what to look for when hiring a salesperson - that we thought would be interesting to share with you.
Do technical sales roles require technical people?
First off, for technical sales roles should you hire technical people and teach them to sell, or hire salespeople and teach them the technical side?
‘There’s two schools of thought. Let’s take healthcare as an example. Some of the MedTech organisations have their own sales academies internal to their organisation. With that structure they’re looking for people with very strong sales skills and then they teach them the clinical side of the business. For example, if they were selling in the operating room, they will actually have a mock operating room in their corporate facility and they’ll walk them through all those types of procedures and products. That’s one school of thought.
The other is to hire specialists such as nurses that really know the particular area they are selling into. So you might hire nurses or a respiratory therapist, those type of allied health professionals that are experts in that particular field, and then they’ll teach them the selling skills. It really just depends on the company and what their mentality is as to how they go about doing it. I’ve seen it done both ways in my career.
Personally, I prefer to hire sales professionals, teach them whatever clinical side is needed and support them with specialists where it’s necessary. A sales pro is better equipped to move the process along.’
Assessing sales suitability before hiring
The second thing that came up as a result of this was the need for proper skills assessment - preferably before you hire somebody.
‘I’m really big on assessing salespeople to find out whether they’ve got the skills, the make-up, if you will, to be successful. I look very carefully at desire, commitment, the soft skills as well as the hard skills you need to be good at in sales.
You must be able to communicate well. You have to be someone who wants to get out of bed in the morning and work hard. You need the desire to win. These are the types of things that you’ve got to have in a great salesperson because you’re not going to win every deal, you’re going to lose a lot, and you’ve got to be able to handle rejection.
I’m always big on using those assessment tools before you hire somebody. Otherwise you just put bodies in positions, they’re not successful, you have turnover and then you’ve got no sales coming in, and you have to go back, recruit, hire, onboard and ramp up somebody to production when you just should have done it right the first time.
Develop a profile for the person you’re looking for according to what they’re going to sell, assess them and only interview the people that meet that profile and that will be successful. That may not be what most HR professionals want. They may want to go and do an initial telephone screen, but if you think about it any good sales rep is going to be convincing on the phone. It doesn’t mean they are a good candidate for that position. In the interview you’ll be able to pick out surface qualities - their appearance, how well they speak, whether or not they look you in the eye. What you don’t know is the desire, the commitment, the sales aptitude. That’s where an assessment tool can help you decide whether this is a good candidate for the type of challenge you’re putting them into.’
Assessing an existing team and their training needs
How can people apply this thinking to their existing team?
‘If you haven’t done an assessment of your sales team then everything is gut level. You might think you need training on how to handle objections, or how to negotiate. Without an assessment, you won’t know for sure and you could be wasting time and money and not getting real results. Training should be tactical and specific - it’s not a panacea, nor will all of your team necessarily need the same skills training. If you feel like your team is struggling, it’s definitely worth doing an overall assessment to figure out where the problems lie.’
Thanks so much to Thomas for sharing the benefit of his experience! Thomas has a new book, The Seller’s Challenge: How Top Sellers Master Deal Killing Obstacles in B2B Sales, which is available now.
If you enjoyed this interview, check out our interview with HubSpot’s Ben Cotton for his insights on Sales Enablement.