Your Ideal Rep

Edition: August 2001 - Vol 9 Number 08
Article#: 1038
Author: Repertoire

NAPLES, FL--Sales is the least understood, but perhaps the most important part of American business today.

According to Howard Stevens, founder and president of the H.R. Chally Group, Dayton, OH, success in sales isn't easy. In fact, only one in 15 people who think they want to be salespeople actually succeed at it.

Stevens made his comments at the recent Annual Management Conference of IMDA, the Mission, KS-based association for specialty sales and marketing organizations. His company – Chally – provides employment profiling and sales research services. It also produces the Physicians' Office World Class Sales Survey, which is published in Repertoire biennially.

According to Stevens, workers fall into one of four categories:

•The ''A'' people, who have natural talent for something, such as sales.

•The ''B's,'' who are bright people, almost always college-educated.

•The ''C's,'' who are your honest, hard working but not particularly gifted or creative individuals.

•The ''D's'' and ''F's,'' who are the poor performers, the kind of people whom employers should avoid altogether.

The A Team

''A's'' have natural talent for something. Usually that talent is very focused. In other words, the ''A'' person is great at one thing, but inept at many others. For example, Michael Jordan, the basketball star, couldn't hit a curve ball on the baseball diamond. He'll never be a great golfer either. Likewise, a runner who is great at, say, a 26-mile marathon might fall over himself trying to run the 400-meter dash.

That's why the secret to building successful selling teams is to select people with a natural talent and passion for selling. Once you have them, keep in mind that while a manager has little success at motivating such people, it's not too hard to de-motivate them, by failing to show respect, appreciation or trust. (''Salespeople are like entrepreneurs, except without portfolios,'' says Stevens.)

Natural salespeople are also intuitive. Nine times out of 10 they were poor students in college.

The ''B's'' constitute about 20 percent of all job applicants, says Stevens. They are bright, ambitious and politically astute. They learn by studying and through experience (as opposed to simply having a natural talent), and they are focused on self-advancement, regardless of what they do. In fact, says Stevens, ''B's'' usually don't care what they do, so long as they are being challenged and moving up.

''C's'' might be described as the ''salt of the earth.'' Loyal and honest, they put forth a consistent effort for their employers. ''C's'' often consider their jobs a means to an end, such as weekends fishing or evenings with the family.

Once ''C's'' are trained and given clear directions on what's expected of them, they just keep on going, says Stevens. And therein lies their drawback: The longer they move in one direction, the more difficult it is for them to change. That presents problems for employers who want to push their companies in new directions.

The ''D's'' and ''F's'' constitute the bottom 25 percent of job applicants, says Stevens. At best, they seek the easy way or shortcut to success. At worst, they're dishonest. Their need for status and approval usually exceeds their level of competence.

Stevens' simple words of advice? Don't hire ''D's'' and ''F's.'' Watch for telltale signs; after all, these people didn't become ''D's'' or ''F's'' overnight. They've exhibited these characteristics in the past, and inquisitive employers can find proof.

More advice for prospective employers: Limit the number of ''B's'' you hire, regardless of how bright and good they look. The reason is simple: Your organization has only so many upper management slots to fill.

Ideally, hire as many ''A's'' as you can, provided their experience and skills fill a need in your organization.

Recruiting the ideal rep

Unlike marketing, administration, finance and general management – all of which can be learned – sales is a talent-based skill, says Stevens. You either have it or you don't.

That said, there's no such thing as a generic salesperson. Different salespeople have different strengths, and the smart employer matches those unique strengths with the job at hand.

For example, when a product or technology is brand new and likely to be accepted only by early adopters or pioneers, it is best sold by a super-closer, someone who can sell a vision, says Stevens. He calls this a ''high-tech, low-touch'' sell.

When that same product or technology hits the fast-growth stage, it might best be sold by a ''consultative'' salesperson, that is, someone who can help the client implement a system. It calls for a ''high-tech, high-touch'' sell.

Next, when the product or technology has penetrated the market and attracted competitors, it calls for the classic relationship seller, someone who is skilled in ''low-tech, high-touch'' selling; someone who takes care of his or her customers.

Finally, the lowest-tech commodity products might call for something as simple as telemarketing – the lowest-tech and lowest-touch kind of selling there is.

How does the employer recruit for each type of salesperson?

•Super-closers are always scanning the horizon for new opportunities. They don't necessarily have to be familiar with the medical products market to be successful in the field.

•If you're looking for a ''consultant,'' get help from a recruiter or school.

•The best source for good relationship sellers are your customers. Ask them who they like. Chances are, you'll have to track down the top relationship sellers. They are usually loyal to their employer, unless something has caused them to be dissatisfied.


Hiring the best salespeople for your company calls for common sense, says Stevens. For that reason, when interviewing, do the following:

•Define the results you're expecting from the candidate.

•Identify only the four or six most important skills needed to produce the desired results, then match them with those of the candidate.

•Identify why an ''A'' candidate would want the job, keeping in mind that most ''A's'' like autonomy and dislike paperwork.

•Use the 30/30/30/10 rule. That is, rely on the candidate's background and experience for 30 percent of your decision; on tests or other objective criteria for another 30 percent; on a structured interview for 30 percent; and on your gut for the remaining 10 percent.

•Remember that sales talent is inversely related to school grades. In other words, the kid who graduates with a 4.0 from MIT probably knows very few people and learns primarily through reading – not the ideal attributes of a successful sales rep. Conversely, chances are the poor student knew everyone on campus and is an expert in handling objections, since he or she probably had to respond to quite a few from his or her professors.

Avoid these mistakes when hiring a sales rep:

•Using yourself as an example. If you were such a great salesperson, says Stevens, you'd still be selling. Instead, you're managing.

•Evaluating the candidate's personality instead of his or her job skills. Keep in mind, says Stevens, that most salespeople are poor socializers.

•Failing to research why the candidate failed in his or her last job.

•Relying too much on the general ''good guy'' criteria. If you hire on that basis, says Stevens, you probably won't get much more than a general ''good guy.''

And after hiring, keep these things in mind:

•Customers who know their rep by name and can spell it are 90% more likely to increase their purchases through that rep.

•The most common customer complaint is lack of consistent personal contact.

•True sales talent can't be taught.

•Don't ask a ''hunter'' to be a ''farmer.'' In other words, good prospectors aren't necessarily good relationship sellers.

•Finally, don't expect salespeople to be politically astute about the management of a company. They do one thing well – sell. And that's it.