Selling is not for sissies. The implicit, constant rejection batters not only the emotions but the income. Facing a sale calmly, knowing that this week’s groceries are dictated by the whim of the individual consumer now in front of you requires a special character.

A good sales director can arm his people with dozens of clever phrases and useful tools, but for the premier sellers there is some spark that lies within.

To help sales trainers and directors decrease ramp-up time and turnover, the Mid-NJ ASTD presents the sales training special interest group, “Understanding Your Sales Channel Capacity” on Thursday, May 29, at 8:30 a.m. at Raritan Valley Community College in North Branch. Visit Speakers include Wilson Vega, president, Connecticut Business Systems Inc., and Scott Hudson, vice-president of sales and marketing, HR Chally Group.

Vega came on board Connecticut Business Systems in 1990 as a major account executive. Right from the start, he consistently exceeded a million dollars in annual sales, winning numerous Sales Rep of the Year awards. Taking over that firm’s Westchester branch Vega spent only a few months in transforming it into the company’s highest earner. Three years later, Vega stepped up to vice-president of sales, and won the Global Sales Leader award. He took over the presidency in the fall of 2002.

Both Vega and Hudson have demonstrated what the right individual in the right position can do for a company’s sales force. The questions then are, how do you find that right person and how do you inspire him with the right stuff?

Hiring accuracy. You can go online and find a totally free test that promises to ferret out the best hire among several employee candidates. As with most free items, you get what you pay for, and no more. Pre-testing is a well proven tool in candidate selection, but only if one gets the right test and the right testing company.

The best rule of thumb is to select a testing firm by service, not by price. Some firms have a one-test fits all approach, others tailor the test to the trade. If the employer finds it necessary to test for certain skills, obviously the tailored test is better. But if you are seeking a candidate’s inner character, the universal test may be able to concentrate further on these personal traits.

Some testing firms simply drop off a bundle of test papers and disappear. Others provide a full package, which includes giving the test, explaining it to the HR professionals, going over the results, and even follow up testing and evaluations on the new hires. While this later course may seem more costly, compare it to the cost of hiring a low performer, versus a high one.

If it’s a good one, the test will reveal the candidate’s true passion — how much he loves the process of selling. It will also show how well he works with the company team, and give the employer a warning as to how to handle his new talent.

Specifying strengths. Just because he’s a great showman who brings in the dollars, does not make him expert at all aspects of the selling process. He may not shine in the far less glamorous work of researching new clients, scripting the cold call, providing connection with his fir’s service and marketing departments, logging his records, and making follow up connections. Like everyone else, showmen sellers tend to concentrate on what they do best. They convince buyers. And too often, like the doctor who labors over a brilliant diagnosis then hastily scribbles off an unreadable prescription, showmen sellers consider all the work done when the deal’s clinched.

It then becomes the sales director’s job to break down the sales process and determine each of his staff’s strengths and weaknesses. Rather than hounding the top deal clincher to get his logs in and make follow up calls, it might pay to have an intern or new sales person accompany him and handle those tasks. Follow up can often be performed via a newsletter, compiled by one of the company’s better writers.

Instilling confidence. Everyone loves a nervous sales person — every consumer, that is. Seeing the sweat shine on a seller automatically signals “this man is desperate and I now have a negotiating edge.” It is one thing to say in the sales manual that sellers should appear calm and in control. It is quite another to take it to heart when it is your commission hanging in the balance.

Building another person’s confidence affords the manager few tools. One old and proven method is to give the sales force a little financial training, and work to imbue them with some fiscal discipline. Since commission selling is such a boom and bust career, individuals need to budget for family operating costs through the lean times. Knowing you have that survival cushion can make you feel that you want the sale, but don’t desperately need it.

A second source of confidence should constantly come from the product your force is selling. This goes beyond mere hyping them at team meetings. Sellers are masters of hype. Instead, they need to be taken into the plant and shown. They need to see the care, the design innovation, the creators, and the competitor comparisons. Employers cannot assume every sales person is pitching the company’s product because he believes in it. Many sell because they merely love selling and even view presenting a poor product as a greater challenge. Yet if the quality of the product is demonstrated, sellers feel more like providers than con men.

While there exist certain useful tools and techniques, selling remains very much an individualized art. It becomes the challenge of directors to provide their team not with a sales track, but with the proper environment and encouragement, then stand back and watch them launch.

— Bart Jackson

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