Do you hire B2B sales people?
If you do, then which of the following two options would you choose?
a) the safe option – a mediocre sales person, but with existing B2B experience from your industry
b) the risky option – someone with a superstar attitude but without any B2B experience – only a B2C person who’s making the journey across!
DO YOU THINK that a sales person can make the journey from a B2C role such as retail, to a high-powered B2B role?
Have you met someone who started their journey at the age of 16 working in an abattoir, then joined the army and ended up driving trucks on the ice in Antartica, then worked for 10 years in a very prestigious cosmetics retail industry and finally made a fantastic transition into B2B and killed it. Have you?
Well I have!
Meet Jeannine Winiata my General Manager here at MyRecruitment+
Jeannine has successfully changed roles and industries several times, and I’ve collaborated with her to produce this list of key questions to consider when recruiting from different industries or environments.
We all prefer superstars from our industry – right? Easy decision to make – safe option – easier recruitment process and not much training required… I get it, we all prefer that!
But at some stage, we’ll all start to run out of superstar sales people who already have B2B experience in your industry.
So for those of us who are brave enough to recruit superstars without any B2B experience… what are the important questions they should be satisfied with before recruiting that person who’s making the Journey across the rough freezing mountain range?
Have they previously changed roles or industries, or moved overseas like Winiata, who has gone from driving trucks in Antarctica for the NZ military to selling cosmetics, to sales and leadership roles in packaging and now in SaaS (Software-As-A-Service)?
Does the candidate have the self-awareness to assess their performance and change their behaviour where required? Do they willingly listen to feedback and are they open to acting on it to improve their performance? These are important character traits for most candidates but especially for people moving from B2C to B2B. If a candidate doesn’t clearly demonstrate an enthusiasm and ability to readily adapt you should not hire them, no matter how strong their other credentials.
You’re going to have to train new recruits about your industry so you don’t want to train them also on basic sales skills. Be sure they know how to ask questions, explain the offer, handle objections and close the sale at a minimum. Check this by using role plays in the interview.
Candidates should also know how to handle sales administration tasks like setting appointments, tracking sales targets, updating a customer relationship management system (CRM) and providing reliable forecasts.
Equally important, do they have the right personality? As Winiata explains: “Some things are crucial. As soon as they walk in the door what’s your feeling? Is there an instant warmth and energy? That tells you a lot. Then look at their communications skills, how they talk and listen, whether they appear honest.”
Given the B2C sales process usually focuses more on convincing a buyer of a product’s features and benefits rather than building a picture of the prospect’s requirements, Winiata recommends assessing the consulting skills of candidates moving from B2C to B2B environments. Do they demonstrate an interest in the world around them and the industry sector in which you operate? Do they have the desire and the skills to consult with prospects and uncover opportunities to add value and make effective proposals?
When she transitioned to an account manager role at a credit business targeting electronics retailers, Winiata convinced the recruiter she could “bring my experience from working in a retail environment…that I could understand the issues that prospects had in their retail stores…and I could work out where my product could fit. It’s not a clichéd sales pitch, you must have an understanding of the client’s environment and explain how your product can add value.”
It’s critical the candidate has the intelligence required to learn quickly. S/he will have to become knowledgeable about your industry sector, and must research, learn and apply new knowledge to the challenges your prospects face.
Mark Roberge, chief revenue officer at HubSpot, was behind the marketing software business’s rapid growth from startup to a $100m revenue business. He says building a world-class sales hiring process was an essential part of HubSpot’s success, and that HubSpot’s sales hires must have the intelligence to become subject matter experts in their industry. As reported in this Harvard Business Review article, Roberge “has sales hires spend a month in classroom-style training but also doing what their customers do: create a website from scratch and keep that site populated with relevant content.” He says this gives new hires direct exposure to the challenges experienced by their primary clients – marketers charged with generating leads online. “As a result, our salespeople are able to connect on a far deeper level with our prospects and leads,” he explains.
Candidates from a B2C sales environment like retail or tele-sales often have a very structured timetable and workplace. They probably work in a team environment and have fixed start and end times each day. In B2B they will find less structure, and are more likely to be out visiting clients’ premises for some or all of the day. The change from a structured to unstructured environment can be challenging. Winiata drew on the discipline instilled in her during her military days to keep on track when she moved from retail to a B2B sales role. “Your first sales meeting of the day may not be until 10:30 so what do you do before that? You need self-discipline, resilience and structure to focus on work tasks and use your time efficiently,” she insists.
In summary, when hiring someone from a different industry you need to pay extra attention to the innate abilities that will help them acclimatise: adaptability, intelligence, curiosity and discipline. Be sure to ask searching questions about previous times where they made significant changes in their career or life. Make sure, also, to make thorough reference calls with past employers to check candidates’ versions of the truth. Recruiting staff is time-consuming and challenging but the rewards for investing the time are massive (and ongoing) so avoid shortcuts at all costs.