"We have a sales problem so we are going to hire a salesperson."
This is a mistake I have heard over, and over, and over, and over again from the consulting firms and agency owners I advise.
The owners have a decent business going, but they can't seem to get sales figured out.
So they go out and find some hot shot (and most often expensive) salesperson to come in and save the day.
I can honestly not tell you of a single time I've heard this work...
Instead, there is a different approach to hiring a salesperson. In this article, I am going to share that with you and explain how I have approached this at Lead Cookie.
A salesperson will not fix your problems
If you are not making consistent sales right now, then hiring a salesperson is most likely not going to fix that.
Yet this is the mental trap that nearly every entrepreneur I speak with falls into. Especially the ones who would say, "I'm not good at sales."
There are several reasons that this is the case.
1)You most likely have a value proposition problem
Most people, I'd say, who make this mistake don't really have a sales problem. Instead, their problem is deeper rooted in their value proposition or positioning.
They hire someone to take over their sales, only to realize after months of wasted time and money, that they don't even know what they are selling or what makes them different in the first place.
2) A good salesperson needs structure
If you have a sales problem, then you probably don't have a dialed-in sales and lead generation process. That means you are throwing this new salesperson into this huge ocean and saying, "Swim dammit!"
Imagine hiring a COO for your company, but everything you do was completely custom and it all existed inside your brain... that COO would fail because they were never set up for success in the first place.
If you want your salesperson to succeed, they need structure, and you probably are lacking that at the moment.
3) Lead Gen & Sales are different
There is a difference between saying, "We need more leads" and "We need to close more of the deals we have."
Yet many entrepreneurs don't separate the two problems and they try to hire a unicorn salesperson who will fix it all. When you are looking to bring in any support, make sure you understand if you are looking to fix your lead gen problem or your closing problem.
A different approach to hiring and scaling sales
Instead of hiring a salesperson to fix your sales problem, I propose a different approach.
First, build a robust sales system on your own.
Second, replace yourself in that system.
This probably isn't what you wanted to hear, but it's the hard truth of the most successful route forward.
You see, when you try to hire a salesperson without having a robust sales system in place, you are setting them up for failure.
Think about this... if you can't make enough sales on your own as an entrepreneur, how do you expect a new outside person to come in and fix that for you.
How I hired out for sales at Lead Cookie
For 18 months, I sat in the sales seat at Lead Cookie. It was literally the final role that I ever delegated off of my plate. During that time, I was diligent about systematizing, optimizing, and documenting every aspect of what I did.
Over time, this turned into what became the Lead Cookie Sales Playbook:
These blog posts I've made public are only about 1/4th of the actual playbook I wrote to set my new salesperson, Isaac, up for success.
When he came into the role, he had a crystal clear path on what to do, what to say, and how to close a deal.
Within 1 month of starting his training for this role, Isaac was already closing deals on his own.
Within 1.5 months, he was closing deals without me even being present.
Isaac was not hired because I had a "sales problem".
Isaac was hired because I had a well-refined sales system, and I was tired of being the one who was constantly sitting in the seat taking calls and running the process everyday.
Notice that key distinction in how sales was approached.
Sales was working, and I simply replaced myself.
The average entrepreneur I talk to says, "Sales is not working, so let's hire someone else to fix it.
It's on you to master and fix sales
Now, at this point some of you are saying, "Well that's great Jake, but you are really good at sales. What about the rest of us who aren't good at sales?"
Well guess what...
It's time you get good at sales.
Seriously, sales is not some magical ability bestowed upon a select few, and hidden from the rest of the world.
It is a skill, and it can be learned.
How do you learn it? Read a ton of books.
Off the top of my head, here is the list of sales books I can recall reading throughout my life.
How I raised myself from a success to a failure in sales
How to win friends and influence people
Influence: The psychology of persuasion
Selling to Big Companies
Sales Management Simplified
Million Dollar Consulting
The Sales Acceleration Formula
The Challenger Sale
80/20 Sales & Marketing
The Ultimate Sales Machine
Zig Ziglar's Secrets of Closing the Sale
The Little Red Book of Sales
From Impossible to Inevitable
Never Eat Alone
Made to Stick
And there are certainly more I am forgetting...
There is nothing magical about me that made me good at sales. Instead, everything that I do with sales is simply a culmination of synthesized knowledge from all of the books and resources I have consumed over the years.
And the best part... Sales expertise has now become an asset in my entrepreneurial arsenal.
Seriously, sales and marketing has become so straightforward and simple to me that it is rarely the problem that I face in business.
Instead, as an entrepreneur I struggle with processes, systems, project management, leadership and everything else surrounding business.
So today, I consume tons of resources on these topics to consistently improve my game and become stronger in these areas where I have not focused.
For you, operations may be a piece of cake but sales may be hard.
Don't neglect sales, because it is an essential skill.
Instead, start investing the time to learn it yourself.
Spend 10 minutes per day studying sales and marketing.
And then apply what you learn to your business as you improve your sales process.
Do that day after day and you will see improvement over time.
Understanding the different sales roles
The other big mindset problem that most agencies and consultants have when hiring a salesperson is that they look for this salesperson to fix all aspects of their sales problem.
This is another huge mistake as agencies and consulting firms are most often selling their own expertise. That means it's often unlikely that the CEO will ever be out of the sales seat entirely.
Instead, you want to look at splitting up your sales roles into smaller sub-roles. This approach is something I originally learned from Aaron Ross at Predictable Revenue. (Remember what I said about lots of reading)
In sales, there are 3 core roles as it relates to your agency or consulting firm.
Lead Gen - Someone to handle outreach to new leads as well as field all inbound leads
Closers - These are the people who close the deals.
Account management - These are people who service customers and keep them happy and upsell them for an ongoing basis.
As an agency or consulting firm, you want to focus on getting the lead gen & account management roles off of your plate first. These are the things that are easier to hire for and often contain much less financial risk.
Closing on the other hand... that is hard. Often, for a consulting company, closing involves demonstrating expertise, authority, and often high-level strategic consulting that will help you win that deal.
As a result, many large consulting firms still have the Partners close their biggest deals, even when they have hundreds of employees. This is because it takes that level of finesse and expertise to close deals at a high level.
When you are thinking through your sales problem, look first to get lead gen & account management off your plate.
Account management can be fixed with a strong internal hire.
Lead gen can often be fixed by hiring out a full-time prospector or hiring a lead generation firm like Lead Cookie.
Source: Predictable Revenue
Do you have a sales problem? Or a lead problem?
Now that you understand the various sales roles within an organization, I would challenge you to consider the following questions.
Am I not having enough conversations?
If yes: Then you need to hire someone to help you with lead generation
Do I have plenty of conversations, but am struggling to keep up with all of the sales opportunities we have on our plate?
If yes: Then you may need to move into a place of hiring a closer to replace you or support you in sales as you have become a bottleneck for the company.
Getting clear and understanding this key difference of where the problem lies should give you clarity in how to move forward with hiring a salesperson at your company.
What has been your experience hiring a salesperson?
This article was written because I have heard the story too many times: "We hired a salesperson and they didn't work out."
For those of you who have tried to hire a salesperson...
What has worked for you?
What didn't work for you?
What did you learn?
And for those of you who did succeed: Share your story.
Leave notes in the comments below as I am curious to hear your experience.