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How to Hire Your First Salesperson

Are you getting too much business to handle yourself? Here's how to find a salesperson that'll support your growing startup.

The majority of small businesses fail in their first five years, not because of the product or service, not because of poor accounting practices, but from lack of sales. So, your business is growing and it's time for you to have someone else wear a few of those many hats you donned when you began; you've decided to hire someone else to handle sales. How and where do you find a good salesperson? After all, as a small-business owner or startup, you can't risk putting a dent in your reputation with a poor salesperson.

I strongly suggest you start where you shop. Start paying attention to the good salespeople you encounter when you're the consumer. What is it they're doing that makes you feel good about working with them? Learning to recognize good salespeople is the most important first step.

When you find someone who's especially good, compliment them. You might say, "You know, you have a really nice way with people." Salespeople love to be recognized.

Then, try to open the door to conversation about whether or not they're happy at their current place of business. "I'm curious--are you reaching your goals with this company?" If they are, again, praise and congratulate them and thank them for their service.

If they show any hesitation at all, offer your card. "My company is in a growth mode and we're looking for a strong salesperson. If you think you might be interested to know more, here's my card. It wouldn't be right for us to talk now, while you're working. Just contact me at your convenience." Then smile and walk away.

This conversation shouldn't take any longer than it takes to complete a typical transaction in that store. Otherwise, you're being disrespectful to that merchant and unethical, and a good salesperson won't want to work with someone like that.

Other ways to find a good salesperson are:

  • Word of mouth. The more typical ways of finding good salespeople revolve around word-of-mouth recommendations. Tell everyone you know that you're seeking a strong salesperson:

    Tell your clients. If they're fans of your product, one of them might even be interested in coming on board.

    Tell your suppliers. The people who call on your business are in sales and know many others. There could be someone good they know of who's just burned out on the product line they currently represent and need a change. This is an especially wise method for finding good help because your suppliers won't recommend a dud. Their reputation with you would be ruined and they might lose your business.

    Tell your banker. When your business succeeds, so does theirs.

  • Want ads. If you resort to placing an ad in the newspaper, be very clear about the person you're seeking. Include the words "self starter" or "highly motivated." Let them know what your product is. It's a waste of time for you and them if you generalize. Your business might be a boutique, and without mentioning that in your ad, you might have salespeople from the automotive industry apply. Also, tell them what time of day to contact you. You don't want them calling during your busiest time of the day.

If possible, have potential candidates drop by with a resume or to fill out an application. You want to see how they present themselves as soon in the process as possible.

If you're having them call, pre-qualify them on the phone. Ask about their past experience. If they're working in sales now, why are they considering a change? Ask what in your ad most appealed to them. Remember: You're trying to find someone who'll love your product enough to share their conviction with others. That's a key element in sales.

The biggest mistake most employers make in hiring interviews is to talk about the business too much. When you're talking, you're covering a topic you already know. What you want to do is ask a lot of questions and get the candidate talking so you can find out if you can work with this person, if they have good experience, if they're reliable, and if they can express themselves well.

Hiring, as with any other aspect of business, isn't something you want to do without putting some thought and preparation into it. Be ready to ask the questions that should give you the answers you're seeking. If you don't get the right answers, you don't have the right candidate.

Tom Hopkins is world-renowned as "the builder of sales champions." For the past 30 years, he's provided superior sales training through his company, Tom Hopkins International.

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