How Competitive Do Your Salespeople Need to Be?

Playing football in high school, I was elected to All-Conference First-String Offensive Tackle and All-State Second-String Offensive Tackle.  The offers rolled in and school visits were scheduled with NCAA Division I schools.  Being from Illinois and because it was close to home, the first stop was Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, which was a Division I program back then.

I remember touring the stadium and workout facility and having visions of grandeur as I did. That was until we went into the varsity locker room and I was introduced to the starting quarterback whom happened to be taller and bigger than me.  I told my Father on the trip home that college football was not in the cards for me.  While I was talented and deserving of the honors, I realized that being part of a team recognized at the time, and still is, as one of the best football programs in the state had earned me some of that recognition,.  I was not Division I material and I could not bring myself to play for a Division II or II team which I viewed as having programs that could not meet the standards established by my high school head coach, Bob Reade.

Looking back, I now understand why the NCAA has different levels.  It allows more athletes to compete and today, some Division II football teams give the Division I teams all they can handle.  We all understand that a Division III athlete would have a tough time competing at the Division I level but we don’t consider that business also has different levels of competition.  We just say, “We’re in a very competitive marketplace,” and leave it at that.

Winning and losing and the science behind that are topics important to me, mainly because of the work we do at Performance Group. Companies engage us to recruit for their sales positions… every position from VP of Sales to Account Managers.  Usually, these companies are in very competitive environments and because of that, determining if the person we are recruiting is capable of winning deals if they were representing our client is a critical evaluation we have to make.

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Is Your Applicant a Division I, II or III player?

To ensure you are hiring a person that can win deals, first analyze how competitive is your marketplace.

Clients all tell me they are in the most competitive market, selling the most competitive products to the most difficult customers.  While this may be true… just like in the NCAA… there are different levels of competition.

Here are a couple of questions that will help you determine what level you are at:

  1. When your customers are considering whom they can buy from how many suppliers can they choose from?  You may have product exclusivity in your market but don’t overlook competitors that offer, or claim to offer similar products because your customer will consider them.  Don’t forget companies online.  So, how many suppliers can they choose from?
  2. When you are competing in the final stages of a deal, on average, how many companies are being considered?
  3. Do your customers need or want what you sell?  Choose one of the following:

a. Do your customers need your products in order to conduct their business?

Again, everyone tells me that everyone needs what they are selling. Save that pitch for your sales meetings. To illustrate my point, consider what a parts manufacturer may need. Two things they will need are steel and machine tools.  They need these things everyday in order to be in business.  They don’t need the latest greatest machine tool.  They may want it but that is different than needing it.  Ok, now do they really need what you are selling?

b. Do you have to sell the need for what you sell?

The reality is that you probably do both “a” and “b” so consider what a salesperson is required to do majority of the time.  As an example, we have a client who is a machine tooling distributer and manufacturer. While they want their salespeople to sell the custom tool solutions that they can manufacture, the majority of the time they are filling orders for tools they distribute… something their customers need each day so, their answer would be “a.”

The level of competition in your marketplace is the measure of the resistance your salespeople will face.  The higher the resistance, the more sales skills and strengths are required in order to effectively execute.  Once you are clear on the level of resistance your salesperson face, you are better equipped to determine the applicant’s experience and track record competing at that level.

To determine their competitive experience, you first have to consider the resistance they face selling in their current role.  Consider, as an example, a soft drink distributer that needs to fill a route sales position. You have two applicants, one selling RC Cola and the other selling Coca-Cola.  The RC Cola person receives more resistance than the Coca-Cola rep.  An RC rep trying to convince a store manager for more shelf space than Diet Coke encounters a lot of resistance! Determining the resistance level the soft drink distributer’s salespeople encounter helps determine which one to recruit.

Next, consider what competitive activities they have been involved in. This is where experience matters. It does not matter if the competition was in the arts or in sports.

You need to know:

  • At what level did they compete?
  • Where they first string, first chair, lead role?  If not, why not?
  • What did they learn?
  • Do they hate to lose or like to win?
  • Do you do the best that you can or whatever it takes?
  • Who was their best coach and why?
  • Who was their worst coach and why?
  • What did they do when they lost?

It is one thing to ask these questions, it is another thing to know how the winners in your industry answer these questions. Do you know?

Don Yaeger was a guest on my BizTalk radio program.  He’s the Associate Editor at Sports Illustrated and a national best-selling author.  He commented on the mental toughness all the great athletes that he interviewed had.  He stated “If asked the question ‘Do you hate to lose or like to win?’ without exception, every one of them would state ‘I hate to lose.'”  If you hate to lose, and you do lose, you’ll spend nights trying to figure out why you lost and you’ll get in position not to lose again.

He also stated that “If you ask top-performing athletes whether or not they do the best they can or whatever it takes, they will always respond ‘Whatever it takes’,” because “Whatever it takes” means you’re eliminating any excuses why you didn’t have a top performance.  You can’t blame it on the competition.  You can’t blame it on the arena.  You can’t blame it on the weather.  The most competitive people are drawn to the most competitive games and businesses.

To evaluate if they can execute selling for you, I would suggest using the Objective Management Group’s Confidential Sales Candidate Screening Assessment.  It is the only assessment designed to determine if a person can execute selling for you.  It also factors in sales resistance.

I recently recruited a person for a client and after just ninety-days on the job she stated she loved it.  Why? She was being challenged to compete at a higher level in her industry than her previous positions.  She is the only women attending the conference and she has had to learn how to hold her own and gain the respect of her peers.  During these initial ninety-days… while learning a new technology, a new company, a new sales process, new products and services… she also closed three new deals and has ten in the pipeline.

How competitive do your salespeople need to be?

For more resources on recruiting, download these BizTalk podcasts:

Po Bronson: Top Dog:  The Science of Winning and Losing

Don Yeager:  Greatness: 16 Characteristics of True Champions

Eric Herrenkohl:  Hiring A Players

George Anders:  How Industry Leaders are Finding Top Talent