by Tom Siska
March/April 2012 – As published in The Commercial Factor
“The Perfect Salesperson” is right up there with a lot of great mythical creatures such as Bigfoot, Werewolves, the Platypus, Dracula, the Loch Ness Monster, the Okapi, Mermaids and Komodo Dragons. And like some these mythical creatures, the perfect salesperson can actually exist. Which leads us to the question most often asked of me, “What are the characteristics that make the best salespeople”? And like most answers in life, it ends up with “it depends”.
Understanding the Situation
While I’ve met a perfect jerk and a perfect idiot (you two know who you are), I’ve never met a perfect person. I have met people who were perfect for a specific task. People certainly have found themselves to be in the right place at the right time (I wish someone would let me in on that). But I’ve never seen anyone that was truly perfect for all situations. There are a rare few that actually come close. I’ve met them. I’ve even worked with them. However, one cannot build a successful sales force by assuming that they’ll turn up every needle in every haystack. The key is to understand how your company interacts with sales and what characteristics would give a salesperson the best chance to succeed given your firms approach to new business.
To illustrate this point, I want to start by explaining the opposite. Most every factoring company has, at one time or another, hired a salesperson who was very successful right up to the point when they agreed to your job offer. Then, almost like magic, the seemingly beautiful prince of a salesperson performed like a frog. The hiring authority usually assumes that they were lied to when they inquired about the failed salesperson’s past record. Because there is no way someone could be that successful somewhere else and not be a star now.
Well, in fact, not only is it possible, but it is sadly, probable. The chances of two situations being exactly alike are zero. So it is a sure thing to assume that circumstances are going to be different with every new hire. When interviewing, it is obviously important to probe and examine the candidate’s personal characteristics. It is less obvious to also probe and examine the previous job characteristics. For you may find that some of the reasons for the salespersons’ good results are in part because of the way their present employer conducts their business. And if you don’t do business that way, you cannot assume the same good results will follow. There are decidedly two polar approaches to sales in commercial finance. One is to have the salesperson’s role be part of the overall credit process. In this model, the salesperson is responsible for not only developing leads, but also for the initial underwriting of the transaction. Every aspect of the company must be laid open and analyzed. The prospect’s competitive position must be understood as well as the long term trends within their industry niche. Management’s projected business plan is scrutinized to determine if it is realistic and their backgrounds are examined to confirm that they have the experience to deliver the plan. The salespeople will even present the loan request to the Credit Committee.
The other school of thought is to have the salesperson kick up the dust and present as many opportunities as possible for the credit department to independently process. The prospect must be sized up to ensure that it bowels of the credit is not necessary. Still, a complete underwriting package is essential to determine the commitment on the part of the applicant as well as to make the underwriting process as efficient as possible. But rather than spend time on analysis and other credit functions, the salesperson is encouraged to get back out and create more deal flow.
Clearly, the first situation would demand a more “Type B” personality. A methodical approach is necessary to perform all of the steps with the requisite thoroughness of an initial underwriting. Conversely, the second approach is more suited for a “Type A” individual, where staying active out in the marketplace is more desirable. Realistically, few finance companies subscribe to either extreme. But it is important that your approach to sales matches the candidate’s traits or past experience (especially if that past experience was successful).
When examining large sales forces, one will notice that both Type “A” and “B” personalities have succeeded and failed. There are no guarantees in life, so a seemingly perfect fit will not always work out. And on the flip side, some people have an amazing ability to adapt “given the right circumstances”. When dealing with people there are seldom any absolutes. And there are always more variables than simply the salesperson’s personality type and the companies approach to sales. There’s the competition for one. There’s also the personality type of the sales manager. And the underwriters. And the Credit Manager. And let’s not forget those rare few salespeople that seem to do well no matter their employer.
Nevertheless, what you’ll find is that the odds for success are better when the “right” personality is chosen for the given situation. And if that salesperson has had past success “in circumstances similar to your firm’s”, the odds get even greater. For while the Perfect Salesperson may just be a myth, perfect failures are not. They are real, and unfortunately, plentiful. Hiring is all about stacking the odds in your favor. The better you recognize the “fit”, the more successes you will have.