If you want to hire top sales candidates, you must recruit based on talent, skill, motivation and attitude.
Once again, the UK is heading into a recession.Inflation is breaking new records every week. There’s no end in sight to the misery in Ukraine. Austerity cuts are looming, and consumers are tightening their belts. With all this as a backdrop, businesses are braced for a bleak economic outlook.
When this happens, I get reflective. It colours the conversations I have with my Melting Pot podcast guests. Take for example my recent interview with Rob Chapman, founder and co-CEO of Firebrand Training. This is his fifth recession in 22 years. And yet he’s not feeling any trepidation. We talked about the things he would do differently this time around. In previous recessions, he regretted cutting back on PR spend. Since then, he has always maintained this spending, even in the toughest times.
This made me think. What advice would I give a CEO starting a new business or scaling an existing one right now? What would I have done sooner during the recessions I’ve lived and worked through? For me, it’s one thing. Hire top-level sales talent. Here’s why.
There are various transition or inflexion points in every business’ growth journey. Moments when the size of the business necessitates a radical change in approach. The one I come across most often in the companies we coach happens at around 100 people and a £10 million turnover. At this point, the CEO needs to be the CEO and nothing else.
But often, the CEO is the company’s number one salesperson. If you’re nodding your head, this needs to change. Hopefully, you’ve done the hard strategic work. You’ve identified a profitable core customer with a specific problem you can solve better than anyone else. You’ve put in place the products and services. And you can see the opportunity. Don’t get held back by a lack of time, ambition and application. You need new, transformative sales talent to make your growth plans a reality.
And why is hiring new sales talent a good idea during a recession? Because most of your competitors will be going into a savings mentality. The opportunities exist if you invest in good salespeople during an economic downturn.
Here’s the thing. If you and the rest of your executive team think of yourselves as a £10 million business, that’s where you will stay. Go out and find someone who will think of you as a £100 million company. It’s all about belief. Your products and services probably don’t need to change. What needs to shift is your mindset.
Take my experience with Peer 1. Our average order value was $249 a month when I arrived as MD. By the time I left, it was $2,000 per month. The largest customer, though, was $1m a month, and the core customer wasn’t the $2k average it was the high-growth cohort spending north of $10k a month. The lego bricks in the back end didn’t change. What changed was our faith and belief that we could win the bigger deals. And that came from recruiting a new, talented sales team.
At Peer 1, we knew we needed to find a whale hunter. Someone who was used to landing bigger deals. We hired Roland Breadner for his background working in a software business, selling to bigger customers who were also likely to buy hosting. We landed our first big deal with Debenhams through Roland to handle their eCommerce business. And once we had this under our belts, we had a case study that we could use to target other big eCommerce customers.
This was one of those pivotal moments in the history of the company. It had an immediate impact. A rich new seam of opportunity had opened up for us, and Roland set a template for sales recruitment across the business. Most importantly, it shifted people’s mindset into believing we could win big.
It was staggering how quickly Peer 1 grew after this success with Debenhams. Finding salespeople who drove up our average order value made a massive and rapid difference to our trajectory. Our conversion rate didn’t need to change. And they didn’t need to generate more sales opportunities. They just needed to target deals ten times bigger than the ones we usually made in our industry.
On the whole, these deals were no harder to win. They didn’t take much more time. But they were the key to fast growth.
Roland was used to chasing deals this big – they were his bread and butter. He understood the huge value he could create. He expected to win these deals, which is what he did.
Once we’d recruited Roland into Peer 1, we deliberately decided to maximise his time doing what he did best – selling. We said to ourselves, ‘We’ve hired this expensive resource. What can we do to ensure he’s fully supported?’ He didn’t want to waste time on designs, prospecting or putting orders into the system. Every minute of every day, he wanted to be in front of influential new customers. So we paired him up with a dedicated Sales Development Rep and Pre-Sales person. This relieved him of any admin.
Together, they formed a dream team and built a reputation in eCommerce, specifically around Magento Enterprise. They became the ‘go-to’ experts for hosting this specialised software in only two years. They eventually went on to win all 24 of 24 of the available deals in a year from winning that first deal. Magic!
So effective were this team that, after I’d left Peer 1, they were poached as a unit to go and do the same thing for Rackspace.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Avoid falling into the trap of thinking talented salespeople are attracted by commission. I’ve written entire blogs on this subject. What attracted Roland to Peer 1 was the opportunity to have influence and respect. We were a smaller company offering him a chance to make a big difference.
With commission, you’re not incentivising efficiency or championing an exciting new process. You’re saying, ‘I’ll pay you per sale, any sale.’ If you’re not careful, you’ll encourage them to sell the wrong stuff to the wrong people.
Instead, hire talented people motivated to be the best sellers they can be and only incentivise them to sell to the best fit for your company. Your sales should be driven by your proposition – to seek out high-value customers with the problem your company solves.
Without a doubt, Roland was looking for somewhere he could be ‘top gun’. He wanted to be the number one salesperson in a company going somewhere. And Peer 1 was that company.
Another huge advantage of hiring talented salespeople is their effect on your existing sales team. Either they’ll up their game, or they’ll decide to leave. Either option is a win for you.
Your new sales talent can be a model for your sales organisation. They can see the way they work. They’re likely operating at a higher level, holding different conversations. This can be inspiring. Suddenly, the horizon shifts and the bar moves. Your existing people may have thought they were shit-hot. Now they’re not so sure. Again, it’s all about mindset. The team must start believing they can push the dial and aim high.
Finally, a cautionary word. There’s a pitfall you need to watch out for. One of the frequent challenges we see in our clients is as their deal values increase, their margins go down. Watch out for this and keep measuring profitability by customer as you grow.
To maintain your profitability, you need to position your business as an expert in what it does. Expertise commands a premium. This was why we focused on Magento Enterprise at Peer 1. We knew this business was more profitable. With our existing hosting contracts, we were seen as vendors, but when it came to Magento, customers sought us out for our knowledge. This was how we maintained our margin and grew exponentially. In five years, we went from zero revenue to £30 million. Pretty stratospheric growth for a small company!
Dominic Monkhouse is a proven architect of business growth with a demonstrable track record. As managing director, he scaled two UK technology companies from zero revenue to £30 million in five years. Since 2014, Dominic has worked as a CEO and executive team coach, helping ambitious CEOs and their leadership teams reach their full potential and achieve sustainable growth. He is the host of “The Melting Pot with Dominic Monkhouse” where he talks with some extraordinary thought leaders, fellow business authors, and CEOs to absorb their wisdom. Dominic is the author of F**K PLAN B: How to scale your technology business faster and achieve plan A, an exciting blueprint for cultural change and business transformation.