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Hiring Your First Salesperson: How to Pass the Torch

Four ways to let go of the sales role and forge a good relationship with your new hire

In the early days, you handled finance, production, shipping and marketing. Oh, yes -- you were the lone salesperson, too. All of this went along with the title of president.

As the company grew, you hired people to replace you in areas like marketing and finance. Through all the personnel changes, though, you continued in the role of sales representative.

Recently, you hired the company's first dedicated sales representative. Employees and members of your executive roundtable group encouraged you to do so -- and, though reluctant, deep down you knew it was the right move.

Surprisingly, giving up the position of sales representative has been far more difficult than you anticipated. How do you let go of your former responsibilities and forge a good relationship with the new hire?

1. Be realistic.
This new salesperson is neither owner nor president. They aren't taking over the company; they're assuming your responsibilities in one key area only. They are an employee who comes to work each day.

Yes, you can and should expect them to work hard and show loyalty to the organization. If you've hired a money-motivated sales representative, they will come in early and stay late to get deals closed.

They won't necessarily share your level of passion. They have neither the financial nor the emotional investment you've made in the organization. Avoid disappointment by adjusting your expectations for the new salesperson.

2. Set goals.
Forget about what you might have accomplished in a fiscal year from a sales perspective. Think about what's reasonable to expect from your new sales representative in their first year with the organization.

Talk to peers and advisors, executives at your company and the salesperson. Set minimum standards for their productivity. As an example:

Sales Goals
Sales activity Q1 Q2
Appointments 12 36
Product Demos 8 24
Proposals 4 12
Closed Sales 2 6

If the goals prove to be too easy or too aggressive, make adjustments periodically. Do everything you can to help the sales rep hit these targets.

3. Don't hog all the large accounts.
Whether it's ego ("no one else knows what Account XYZ needs but me") or fear ("if we lose that account it could be disastrous"), many company presidents continue to act as the sales representative for the largest accounts. With a few accounts it might make sense. But in the majority of cases, you should be turning these customers over to the new sales representative.

It's normal to be apprehensive about trusting someone else to call on these valued clients. To ease your nerves, accompany the new salesperson on the first few calls and then hand them the reigns when you feel they are ready. Check in with the customer from time to time to ensure that everything is going well.

But do turn most of the accounts over. As president, you should be acting as the ambassador of your company and networking at the peer level. It's not the best use of your time to remain involved in all of the day-to-day selling.

4. Meet, but don't compete.
Resist the urge to compare their progress with yours. ("You've only closed two accounts since you've been here? When I started the company, I closed five accounts in the first month alone.")

Conversations like these demoralize salespeople. Given the product knowledge and industry contacts you might have had before starting the company, they may never be able to top your early successes.

Instead of starting a rivalry, establish yourself as a mentor for the new salesperson. Call or stop by and ask them how their day is going. Inquire about the progress they're making with a new prospect. Offer support and advice if they're struggling to set an appointment or close a sale with a particular company.

As the leader of the company, the salesperson knows that you know what you're talking about from a product and market standpoint. Share your considerable industry expertise with them in a constructive way that works for you both.

The new salesperson knows they are replacing you in a sales capacity. Understandably, they'll be somewhat uneasy about this. Give the salesperson all the assistance, praise, constructive criticism and information possible. They will appreciate the effort to help them succeed and pay you back with solid sales production.

More from Suzanne Paling: How to Set Sales Goals for Employees -- Start new reps on the right foot, and raise productivity with existing staff.

The Accidental Sales ManagerThis article is an excerpt from the book The Accidental Sales Manager available from Entrepreneur Press.

The Accidental Sales Manager Guide to HiringSuzanne Paling is the principal consultant of Sales Management Services, a consulting and coaching firm in Boston. She's the author of The Accidental Sales Manager, published by Entrepreneur Press. It was a finalist for a Best Books 2010 Award from USA Book News and a bronze medalist at the Axiom book awards. She is also author of The Accidental Sales Manager Guide to Hiring.

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