A Typical Set of Requirements for a B2B Sales Role …

We want someone with drive, who can influence, who takes the initiative, who hits the ground running, works well under pressure, inspires other people, can problem-solve, strives for excellence, wants to be of service to others, focuses, sees ahead, thinks creatively (outside the box), walks in the other person’s shoes, shows great awareness, tackles the task enthusiastically, wins the respect of colleagues, takes ownership… and who thinks work should be fun!  

This is a cynical but true summary of what businesses expect from a B2B salesperson – and the list doesn’t even include the skills-related requirements. There are very few people who check this many boxes in any walk of life. It’s no surprise that there is an acute shortage of B2B salespeople qualified to do the job the business needs done. And it’s why attracting or developing the right calibre of sales talent is a huge challenge for growth and scaling firms.

The Good News for Growth & Scaling Businesses

Even – very – large firms struggle to attract the calibre of salesperson they need. That’s how difficult sales hiring is. In HR and Talent Acquisition departments, sales is the poisoned chalice of recruiting. It’s why nowadays as many as six agencies might be working (for free) on a single sales role, feeding the insatiable appetite of the corporate ATS (Applicant Tracking System). Equally, in the recruitment agency world, sales roles are at the top of the “difficult assignments” list. It usually takes far less time and effort to recruit a new CEO than it does to find the right salesperson. If you are a growth or scaling company, you are not on your own!

It’s no surprise that there is an acute shortage of B2B salespeople qualified to do the job the business needs done.

The Bad News for Growth & Scaling Businesses

The bad news is that bigger companies get to the best people and the best salespeople first. They usually pay better, offer a less risky career proposition and provide personal development paths beyond blood, sweat and tears. SMBs in general are at the back of the line when it comes to attracting talent, because better resourced larger firms get there first.

It usually takes far less time and effort to recruit a new CEO than it does to find the right salesperson.

The Answer Lies in Sales Leadership and not Salespeople

More sales is often associated with more salespeople. It’s why companies end up with five or six salespeople and no sales manager. You add a sales person so you logically add sales. That formula usually runs out after your second sales hire. Many firms keep hiring salespeople, when they should be hiring a professional sales manager and leader. The longer they hold off, the longer they are delaying growth and scaling or missing it altogether. Professional sales leaders (managers) attract better sales talent. Good people want to work for good people. Talent attracts talent. Professional sales managers can turn good quality people into the level of salesperson you were trying to find in the open market. This point is really relevant to SMBs, because it means they don’t have to compete with larger firms for off-the-shelf talent; they can grow their own. You don’t have to be a “big” firm to grow your own sales talent. But you do need a sales leader who is from the premiership ranks.

What Great Sales Leaders Do

Traditional sales managers “motivated” and checked up on salespeople. They rallied the troops, rode shotgun and quickly got back to the desk, where “admin” was waiting. The modern sales leader operates at a higher level, before they go interfering in sales calls or filling in HR reports.

  1. The build a simple, rigid system for measuring progress. Call it a measurement architecture or a performance measurement framework. If someone is suited for sales in terms of the talents needed, they will thrive in the framework. If not, they will quickly leave.
  2. They create a solid sales culture with performance-improvement and individual, self-regulated development as guiding principles (and not a “happy chappy”, bell-ringing culture).
  3. They have a pattern of light coaching – that is not mind-numbing counselling.
  4. Smart sales managers hire against a narrow role description and look for counter-intuitive talents that personality and cognitive tests manage to spectacularly miss.

You can read exactly how they do all this here.

Many firms keep hiring salespeople, when they should be hiring a professional sales manager and leader.