I bought my first brand new car yesterday. I bought a Volvo S60. But before I bought the Volvo I spent several awful days looking at cars. I hated it.
Any of the salesmen (they were all men) could easily have discerned that I hated looking. I just want to pick one, feel I chose the right one and then get it over with. The first nine or so salesmen did not let me buy from them.
One young man led me over to a Honda and immediately starting talking about torque and a few other things he was quite interested in. I listened for a couple of minutes and then told him I was not interested in that and asked if he would like to know what I was interested in. Over our test drives I learned a lot about torque.
Several were nice and fairly friendly but none made me feel like I wanted to buy a car from them. The young man at the Nissan dealer was the worst.
With a house full of kids, I have driven station wagons or SUVs for 15 years. I was unsure whether to stick with that or make a switch. On a quiet afternoon I asked the young Nissan salesman if I could test drive the Rogue, Murano, Altima and Maxima. He told me “You can’t test drive four cars. We do not allow it.” I asked why not and he had some reasons around not putting miles on the cars. He asked me to choose which one I wanted to test drive. I replied, “The Rogue, the Murano, the Altima and the Maxima.” We stared each other down for a few minutes. Hint to sales people – if you are in a power struggle of any kind with your prospect, you just lost. We test drove the Maxima. It is a great car and I really liked it. But I was so annoyed I could not buy it. I did not test drive any other there.
I left with the Maxima first on my list but unable to commit. A friend had suggested Volvos so I headed to the dealership next door, feeling super irritated. Another young car salesman walked over and asked if he could help me. I took a deep breath since I did not want to deal with another salesman, but knew I could not test drive a car without his help. I asked him how many cars I could test drive. He looked at me for a second and asked me what I meant. I told him about the Nissan salesman. He laughed and said he was here until 9:00 and I could test drive every car on the lot.
Even though I was irritated, he was calm and relaxed. He did not say a lot to me, just listened. He did not try to fix what happened at the Nissan dealer or sell me a car. He just listened. I was not sure I wanted to test drive, so we just talked for a few minutes until I was in a more relaxed frame of mind. Then he said his first real sales thing: “Since you came all the way over here, why don’t you just sit in this car and see if it is something you like.” I sat down. I liked it.
I wanted to get purchasing a car over with and Vaughn Kline was the first person who seemed like he could actually help me. For those of you in sales situations, this is what Vaughn did right.
If you want to sell, create yourself as someone people want to buy from. Don’t come from “I have to sell something.” Come from what is this person interested in? What does this person need? How can I help? People who need to buy something want to like and trust the person they buy from.
Question: What do you think selling is? What are your experiences with salespeople?
At the Firm Owners Conference of the National Court Reporting Association, I held an afternoon session on marketing court reporting firms. We discussed the ideas various firms had for marketing to law firms. Most of their questions dealt with hiring a professional business development or sales person to represent their firms in the marketplace. More than 20 firm owners stayed after the session to discuss their sales people or plans to hire new sales people.
At Ingenuity, we generally call this professional sales person the Director or Manager of Business Development rather than a sales person because, in most cases, the main goal is to open new relationships and support those relationships until prospects are ready to buy. Directors of Business Development (BD) typically:
Sometimes this person also closes sales, but most of the time the actual service providers are needed to close a professional service sale.
Sometimes this person is a relative novice in the industry and may have lighter duties like setting up meetings for you or staffing your tradeshow booth. Many times business developers are already heavy hitters and can use their own contacts to gain entrance, develop a relationship and close the deal. Generally the second type is very expensive, well into the six figures of compensation.
The first hurdle is finding the right person. You definitely want someone with sales motivation, which is usually either money or achievement. A more technical or less people-oriented person will not make that one last call or meet with one more person on a Friday afternoon. In sales, that last call is the call that matters.
In addition to looking for some successful sales experience, look for a person you would want to buy from. Credibility and interpersonal skills are more important than subject matter knowledge. Any bright-normal person can pick up enough information in the subject area to ask good questions. The twin elements of credibility and talent are harder to find.
If I were hiring for this position, I would first look at all the people who sell to me. Regardless of what they sell, I would talk to the ones I enjoy buying from. Then I would send out an email to all my friends, asking who they enjoy buying from and trust. The professions are too small a niche to require the exact experience. Stealing a few good sales people in one niche area prices all firms out of the market.
For court reporters in particular, it would be very smart to hire from the two groups of people who generally buy from them. I would hire a legal assistant or paralegal who wants to try something new or an attorney who has been successful and has real contacts. Just be sure they are the type of people who like to reach out to new relationships, which is not so common in those fields.
In accounting, most BD people come from commercial banking. In law, it is all over the map. I’ve seen a few successful professionals with technology sales backgrounds.
One of the big questions at the Court Reporting Owners Conference was about retaining good sales people since other firms just offer more money. In quite a few professional service firms, we have watched the new business development person either leave within the first year or be fired within the third year for lack of sales.
There are several reasons people leave in the first year. The most important is that real sales people like to see results right away and professional service sales usually take longer. Real sales people are generally motivated by money and achievement and neither of those may be forthcoming early in this job. You may have to match some stiff offers from other firms to keep a good business development person from jumping ship.
However, sales people also like a lot of attention, something most professionals are not used to giving. The retention approach I would take is attention and love. Meet with your salesperson at least once a week and review new contacts, successes and needs. This personality type (I am one of them) needs more compliments and attention than most people who choose a more technical profession. Resist this at your peril.
The other reason most sales people fail at professional service firms is that the professionals are quite sure no one without their technical knowledge—accounting, law, court reporting or whatever—can properly sell a job. Without those professional skills, they think that the sales person should not be put in front of clients, referral sources or hotter prospects. If you think this way, your business development person will not succeed.
Instead, I recommend introducing your business development person to all of your great clients and referral sources. You could make this person Director of Business Development and Client Service. The good ones, with a habit of going deep into their relationships with people, will also help you retain clients and gain referrals.
The value of a business development person is a deepening of relationships and trust with people, not a demonstration of subject matter expertise. Since you are investing in these relationships they are building, consider a non-compete agreement. It can take years for these relationships to pay off
— and in the meantime you are paying them to build the relationships.
We all know that relationships take some time to develop, so I would offer a higher base and lower commission for one year, adjusting it over three years to at least 50/50. I would be clear with my new hire about a large part of the job being on commission and I would be generous with what constitutes a new sale. Being territorial with your own contacts does not support their success or the firm’s in this competitive environment and it will not keep them loyal to you.
There is one warning: You will probably start with a fairly generous commission system and if you get a good business development person, he or she may far exceed what you expect and possibly take home a paycheck larger than yours. This is not the time to adjust their commission structure, but a time to chant “abundance, abundance, they are making me so much money!”
My father, who is one of my best business mentors, once had a sales team raking in the money, as much or more than he was making at the time. He readjusted their commission structure down. They all left soon after even though they were still making a lot of money. No good salesperson handles this well. They like you to set the goals and then compensate them accordingly for meeting or exceeding them.
It may take as much as three years for a professional service sales pipeline to develop. However, it is hard on the firm to support a person who will not work out for three whole years. In accounting, we look for the sales person to bring in at least five times their cost by the end of year three.
In the first three months I would look for someone who is avidly learning about the field, asking questions and developing strong relationships in the firm. By month six, I would like them to introduce leadership to a few new people and go out on several (5+) appointments per week, attend tradeshows and professional association meetings. For the first year I would measure more on efforts than results. I would ask them each Friday how many calls they made, about the meetings they attended and progress they made.
One thing I have seen weak business development people do is make a million excuses about what they need from the firm to accomplish great things. They need this miracle database and a sharp assistant and this software, ad nauseum. While professional tools leverage scarce time, good business development people work on their tools and contacts at the same time. They can do the job while they build the infrastructure.
I would also be careful of people who are very eager to take on internal projects like marketing or HR. These people should be more focused outside the firm. If you do not have a marketing person, hire one or hire a marketing firm to get the necessary support done. Keep their eyes on the new client prize.
For most of us, hiring someone who is focused solely on sales is a brave new world. We are going to make some mistakes. Consider it a collaboration in the short term. Give this person as much information as possible, include him or her in client meetings and provide updates on firm goals.
Trust your instincts. While very few will bring in a huge new client in the first six months, pay close attention to what they are doing and how you respond to them. The only way to build up a base of knowledge about the brave new world of professional business development is to take the plunge.