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How to Hire, Train and Retain a Superior Sales Team

This past Summer I worked with a couple of my Skyline peers in creating a training session to help recruit and retain great sales consultants (in our case, Exhibiting Consultants).  In a tight labor market this can be especially hard to do and even more so in a unique industry such as trade shows that requires specialized knowledge about marketing, design and trade show logistics.

In this post I summarize tips for those looking to hire and retain new quality sales employees.

Success starts with attracting and recruiting the right talent.  Before anything else you need to determine what your company culture is, key skills you are hiring for and how you will communicate this during the recruiting and hiring process.

At Skyline Sector 5, we divide our key hiring requirements into 4 categories:#1) Culture – In the words of Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Hires must be able to fit in with the company culture.  If not, their efforts will go towards trying to change it.

#2) Talent – You want someone who has demonstrated the right skills and attitude for the job and can speak to them and ideally share references.

#3) Energy – A sales consultant needs to be able to follow through and to provide consistently high customer service.  Energy is something that is inherent in people, it can’t be taught and it is nearly impossible to develop.

#4) Experience – For many businesses this is the primarily focus during the hiring process; however, I believe it is the least important of the 4.  Bringing on someone with relevant experience can mean less training time is needed upfront, and they are more likely to understand the demands of the job going in.  But that being said, I have found that experience has its biggest positive impact in the first few months, and after that honeymoon phase is over is typically when shortcomings with the other 3 categories start surfacing.

Culture + Talent + Energy = Rock Star!  Adding Experience to that formula puts icing on your Rock Star cake, however that’s where hires can become very expensive.

Loy Cantu from Skyline West Michigan had great advice: Hire for aptitude and attitude … not necessarily experience.   He says: “Hire people who have a track record of Personal not Sales Success – All our consultants are mature, self-assured individuals with strong family relationships.  They are fun, achievement-oriented people.  I think the saying “Nice is the new cool” describes them best.

The other two requirements that I think are especially helpful when you have a customer focused company and sales team are:

  • Seek people who Love to Learn and are highly educated with a Marketing focus.
  • Look for someone who is well organized with creativity and good communication skills.

TrainingRegardless of who you hire you will need good training to ensure your new hire can optimize their contributions as soon as possible.  Beyond the standard HR and computer system training you will need to help your employees learn the basics about how you approach the sales process, understanding your client needs and demographics, and what your expectations are from them.

  • Ensure they participate in standardized interdepartmental training so that they can understand how the business works a whole, not just their piece.
  • There is no substitute for good Sales Management.
    • Provide new AE hires a desk location next to the Sales Manager.
    • Role playing, scenario training, mock sales tours, mock quotes and discovery meetings are essential.  They must prove that they have developed the skills needed to get in front of your clients before they earn the right to do that.
    • Have them present industry research of competitive product or companies to the team so they can become familiar with the industry and add value in a consultative sales environment.
  • I recommend not having them call clients/prospects for the first 3 months
    • You can’t shortcut the process, it takes time to develop quality.
  • For training of complex or important duties, I recommend the following 5 Steps of Delegation
    • I do it
    • I do it, you watch
    • We do it together
    • You do it, I watch
    • You do it

Not using this method may initially save time in training, but often that time savings is eaten up in dealing with errors, complaints, fixing problems…

Offer them industry and sales training outside the office between 3 to 9 months after they start.  This shows them you care about their development and want to invest in them.

If they participate in training with someone else it allows them to build connections and get a broader perspective.  This helps them become more successful but also helps with employee retention.

Set up weekly Meetings with them.  Have them listen and contribute during weekly Sales Team learnings (win/loss presentations).  Even if that contribution is just asking questions or sharing past work experience.  This will help them stay engaged during the training process.

At Skyline Sector 5 all employees (including Account Executives) participate in weekly or bi-weekly Level 10 (L10) meetings.  These meetings are based on a principle from the book Traction by Gino Wickman. Some of the basic principles of L10 meetings are as follows:

  • The meetings are held on a consistent day, time, and place.
  • They are held even when all members can’t be present.
  • The meetings include touch points on Quarterly Goals, and To Dos, but the majority of time is spent on processing the most important issues in an IDS manner. IDS stands for Identify, Discuss, and Solve.
  • At the end of the meeting it is rated by all to see if it was worth their time. The best meetings rate a 10 out of 10 (hence Level 10 Meeting).
  • Reporting and metrics are critical to the sales function. The basics of our sales reporting include:
    • Sales Funnel Reporting
      • All known deals weighted by their stage and probability of closing
    • Sales Activity Report (calls, meetings, rankings, quota achievement…)
      • We call this the KMF Report (Keep Moving Forward)
    • Top Deals Reporting (budget, close date, delivery date, status & next steps)

RetentionCompany Culture is often the reason that employees choose to stay or leave a company.  According to Forbes “Money alone may be enough to attract a candidate, but it won’t keep an unsatisfied employee around long.”

Some key points:

  • Ensure you have defined and communicated strong company core values.
  • We share that we want to be a growing & forward-thinking company
  • Foster a sense of belonging within the sales team and within the company as a whole
    • Develop a team mentality within the group.  Celebrate each other’s significant milestones and victories.
  • Provide direct access to company leaders.  Set up periodic meetings so they can connect, ask questions and provide feedback.
  • Unlimited earning potential.   If sales reps meet or exceed their goals, they should not be limited in their commission.
  • Offer flexibility to work remotely and manage their own hours as long as results are achieved.
  • Good benefits are very important especially to those who have families to care for.

 As Scott Price from Skyline New Jersey puts it “Show your employees you trust themTreat them like professionals”  This means that you should allow for independence – flexible hours (family needs, part time, work from home).”

Finally involve your broader team in both the hiring and training process. Also, be sure to ask your new hire questions and get their perspective on things.  They are more likely to be invested if they feel they are contributing.  Can they do some competitive research?  Share some perspectives from their generation or make suggestions based on what they learned at other companies or through their education.

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Jeff Meade
About the Author

Jeff Meade. is the President of Skyline Sector 5 in Arlington, TX. After completing his MBA with an emphasis in Management Accounting from Loyola University of Chicago, Meade’s career path centered on accounting and finance positions at prominent organizations such as KPMG and Sunbeam. Joining forces at Skyline Sector 5 in 2004, Meade oversaw the accounting, services, and operational aspects as Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

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