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Salespeople Wanted

The rules for prospecting apply to customers--and your sales force.

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Q: How do you find good salespeople for a growing and profitable small business?

A: The same way you prospect for customers. It occurred to me most business owners seeking candidates for their sales force don't approach it the same way they would when prospecting for customers. But your business is built by your salespeople who are actually your first and best customers. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Create an image. Business owners spend a lot of time and money creating materials and a marketing image to impress their customers. The same time and effort needs to be put forth on marketing materials presented to sales candidates. What opportunities do you offer to salespeople? Do you use endorsements from your current salespeople to attract future ones? What's your image? Have you created a buzz in the marketplace regarding working at your company? A buzz comes from the mouths of your current team and your customer base who broadcast your good news to the world.

Qualify your candidates. Remember, you qualify prospects before they become customers. The same rule applies with the candidates you interview. Qualify first by asking important questions. Don't hire the first person who walks through the door. And don't sell them on your company until later. Let them sell themselves first. Once you get some important questions answered, you can begin presenting information. Don't sell the candidate on working for your company. All the selling should come from the candidate.

Set goals. Top salespeople spend at least two hours a day prospecting. Business owners and sales managers need to apply the same amount of time to finding the right candidates. How many salespeople are you looking for? The old rule that it takes 100 calls to get one yes still holds true. So get specific and figure in the times each day that you'll work the territories. Business development for candidates must become a habit. Even if you have some solid salespeople right now, situations can change overnight. If you never prospect for them, suddenly losing a key salesperson on your staff will cost you time and profits. Never put all your eggs in one basket. Consistent goal setting and prospecting for staff keeps your company secure no matter what changes occur.

Work the territories. Where are the territories that are ripe for prospecting? You need to designate them. The following centers of influence can help get you thinking about where to go:

Chamber of commerce

Community service involvement (either not for profit or for profit)

Social relationships from church, school, volunteer work or health clubs

Industry-related events and trade shows

Referrals from past customers

Advertising in a specific, targeted magazine or newspaper

Internet postings on your Web site

Referrals are always your best source for finding qualified candidates. But referrals come about when business owners make their needs known to customers, friends and family. Each day make at least 10 calls to those folks and ask them to keep their eyes open for qualified salespeople. It's really as simple as picking up the phone, composing an e-mail or making a passing comment to your friendly grocer. Once your spheres of influence are aware of your needs, you'll be surprised how many choices will be presented to you.

Danielle Kennedy is an authority on selling, developing a peak performance attitude and winning customers for life.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.