Here is a problem I have seen developing in sales over the past 10 years – shorter attention spans in salespeople having to deal with longer sales cycles.

First, some background from a quick American Management Association:

Whenever I teach students, I tell them, “Your chance of being successful has gone up exponentially because all you’ve got to do now is actually try to pay attention for more than five minutes.”

Ok, that is disconcerting.  You can see where this is going.  The integration of the Internet into our lives has provided prospects with a unique ability to research your company, and more importantly, your solutions.  We often talk about how prospects approach your sales team today.  The prospects have probably been to your website, at a minimum, and have pursued social media information regarding your company and solution.  The prospects are well-informed.

The control of information used to be a tool of the salesperson but no longer.  Instead, the salesperson has to focus on being a guide to the prospect.  The Internet’s ability to dispense information has moved many transactional sales to automated orders.  Think Amazon here:  people do their own searching, determine the “best” solution, and then place their order without any human interaction.

Salespeople now have to nurture these types of sales.  More often, they have to move towards complex sales and their longer sales cycles.  There is a certain type of salesperson who struggles with this long-term, relationship sale…the classic High-D hunter.

High D’s are quick-pace, aggressive and, well, not relationship-driven.  They are task-driven and short which makes them powerful in new business development roles.  It does not make them powerful at relationship sales.  If more sales are moving to a relationship base, what will happen with these classic hunters?

I think we are observing a fundamental shift in sales.  The classic hunter is either adapting to a modified hunter with relationship-sales focus or they are slowly exiting the sales world.  I am seeing this first-hand during phone screens and during face-to-face interviews.  The High D hunters are learning to temper their drive to mold into the modern day sales world.  Those that successfully make this transformation will survive this new world.

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The labor market is tight today as you assuredly know if you have been attempting to fill open sales positions.  The issue in sales runs deeper than that as you are typically attempting to find strong sales candidates.  “Attempting” is the key – many hiring managers are unsure of selecting the strongest salesperson.  How do you know they will be successful?  Are they the right candidate?  Can they sell?  Will they sell?

The issue gets compounded by the fact that most sales leaders do not spend their days hiring salespeople.  In fact, most of them complete those activities on an infrequent schedule in the margins of their day as needed (hopefully not often otherwise that is a different problem).  Hiring is the least practiced skill of most sales leaders.

So what to do? The first step is a paradigm shift for most hiring managers.  If you are not consistently hiring salespeople, you probably default to the age-old approach of hiring salespeople from your industry.  This approach is perceived to be safe.  The thought is that someone from our industry understands it and will ramp far quicker.

Fair enough except for one important point.  Will they sell?  That’s not a flippant question, the real issue is whether you are hiring an external candidate who will successfully sell for your company.

Sales hiring is the one area I see where companies worry more about the experience than the skill.  A talented salesperson has sales skills.  Those sales skills hopefully are combined with experience from you industry.  If you have to choose, always choose skill/talent over experience.

The reason is simple – it is far easier, and faster, to teach someone about your “stuff” than it is to teach them how to sell.

In this tight market, strong sales candidates are at a premium.  Adjusting your approach will open up other less traditional candidates to your candidate pool.  This adjustment is critical in this present market.

The key is to find transferable skills.  I once ran a search for a large company in which we found a candidate from a tire store…not kidding.  Upon phone screening him and learning about his role, he was using the same skill set required by my customer’s sale.  The skills were transferable.  Of course, we assessed the candidate, too.  He had the right skills and a strong assessment.  My customer pushed back a bit, but eventually they decided to hire him.  That gentleman has skyrocketed up the corporate ladder and is next in line to take over an entire division.

There are techniques for finding strong sales candidates with transferable skills.  We have a process designed to find them and confirm their abilities and determine their fit to your sales role’s requirements.  This approach opens up your candidate pool which is most valuable in this tight market.

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