Use the Force

Your sales force, that is, because you can't just sit there waiting for customers to find your Web site. You have to go find them.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the June 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Only a few years ago, some experts were predicting salespeople would be displaced by the New Economy. Netpreneurs have learned the hard way that a Web site alone doesn't bring in customers; now many are turning to traditional sales forces to pass the word about their products or services.

"The best way to build long-term customers is with a well-trained, well-motivated sales force," says Dave Donelson, president of Sales Development Associates Inc., a management consulting and training firm in West Harrison, New York, and author of Creative Selling (Entrepreneur's e-books), found exclusively at "A Web site might introduce someone to your product once; but after that, you have to go after [people]. That's what a sales force does. There's no substitute for it."

Testing, Testing
When interviewing potential salespeople, Dave Donelson, president of Sales Development Associates Inc., a management consulting and training firm, suggests asking these questions:
  • What's the most important skill a salesperson should have? And why?
  • What company is your biggest competitor in your present job? And how do you compete with them?
  • What's the best sale you ever made?
  • What are things you do to improve yourself?
  • What's in it for us if we decide to hire you?
  • Describe an ethical dilemma you faced. What did you do about it?

"It comes down to the basics," says Michael J. Doyle, 43-year-old chair and CEO of Salesnet, a Boston firm that analyzes companies' sales processes to benchmark current ones, identify areas of improvement and codify their best sales practices. "Flashy hype doesn't always translate into good products," he notes, "so working through traditional mediums to make distribution deals is the best way to reach customers." Salesnet provides an Internet-based tool that offers sales professionals a proven and customized sales process, optimizing selling efforts and driving a more efficient sales cycle.

E-commerce does offer new means of distribution, though Donelson doesn't think it changes the characteristics that netpreneurs should be looking for in their salespeople. "Selling is selling," he says. "And I don't think dotcom sales forces should differ much from brick-and-mortar [ones]. It depends on the product you're selling and who you're selling it to. If you're selling a retail product like clothing, you [should have] a salesperson who can make a quick assessment of what the customer needs. In a complex sell, like software or insurance, the process is going to take longer. That means you're going to require a salesperson who has the persistence and patience to make multiple calls on the same person."

Traditional sales forces are especially important for B2B companies. "Selling on a B2B basis is going to take at least 12 contacts between the salesperson and the customer before a sale occurs," says Donelson. "You can't make those 12 contacts just by having a Web site."

Tenacity aside, Doyle says successful dotcom sales forces need a combination of skill sets. "Those who've sold through traditional methods also need to understand the Internet and how to think out of the box. With sales force automation, companies can instantly connect their sales teams worldwide to share information such as automated reporting, calendars, scheduling. Deployment speed is quicker when you mix new technologies with traditional products or services."

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