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Blog: How to Replace Your Best Salespeople

By Bridget McCrea

If a recent NAED survey is any indication, somewhere between 10-25% of your sales reps will no longer be on the payroll come 2020. While seven years may seem like a long time off – too much time, in fact, to focus on this exodus – think back to 2006 and it literally seems like yesterday, doesn’t it? Rather than wait until the last minute to shore up one of your firm’s most important assets, why not start today?

The issue of dwindling sales representatives shouldn’t be ignored. According to the NAED’s Electrical Distributor 2020, talent shortage is the electrical distributor’s biggest challenge. The survey revealed that 73 percent of distributorships will lose up to 25 percent of their sales forces by 2020. Of the largest group of distributors (those with 1,000 or more total employees), 50 percent of them will lose between 10-25 percent of their sales forces. When asked what it would take to be successful over the next 10 years, 18 percent of firms plan to focus on recruiting, training, and retaining talent.

A portion of those efforts should focus on top-performing salespeople who consistently bring home the bacon, says Steven Rosen, a sales management coach and president of Toronto-based Star Results. “If you’re not consistently searching for and bringing in top salespeople,” says Rosen, “you can’t grow your firm’s sales volume and maximize its territories.”

Identifying Great Candidates
In most cases, Rosen says top-performing salespeople make up the top 10 percent of candidates being considered for the job. Identifying, recruiting, hiring, and grooming this top echelon of reps requires a systematic approach, says Rosen, and a plan that’s implemented well before any current top performers hand in their 2-weeks’ notices. Knowing what a company’s current top performers look like, what their backgrounds are, how they act, and what their key competencies are can help a distributor come up with an ideal profile to aim for.

Individuals who are enterprising, people-oriented, and focused on achievement tend to rise to the top quickly in a distributor’s sales organization, according to Rosen, who tells companies to create a systematic process for identifying these people as they either 1) come through the front door in search of a job or 2) make their way up through the company. Once identified, the individuals should be trained, mentored (by current reps who are on top of their games), and groomed for future positions long before 2020 comes along.

“Make sure you have the right training in place to develop the key, trainable skills that these reps will need to move into the top spots when called upon,” says Rosen, “and that your sales managers are ready to serve as good ‘coaches’ and support structures for the reps as they learn the ropes.”

Create an Effective On-Boarding Process
Dirk Beveridge, the Chicago-based founder of the wholesale distribution summit UNleashWD, says that when top performers depart, the industrial, organizational, customer, and strategic knowledge collected over the years usually goes with them. This can present major challenges for the distributor that doesn’t prepare in advance for the exodus. To avoid this problem, Beveridge tells companies to establish “on-boarding programs” that are both proactive and strategic.

“The key is to move away from the reactive, ‘Oh no, someone has left and now we need to fill that territory fast!’ stance,” says Beveridge, “and into one that identifies individuals and enlists them in 90-day-long on-boarding programs before the current salesperson leaves.” The on-boarding programs should be divided into four phases: opportunity identification (helping the candidates understand customers); product and service training (what the distributorship sells); administration (tools that are in place to help reps sell); and the sales process itself. The latter is particularly vital in today’s competitive electrical market, says Beveridge.

“Electrical distributors historically have just sent people out there, hoping that they know how to sell and how to operate within the rules of the organization,” says Beveridge. “A better approach is to actually define the sales process and wrap your training and coaching around that process. This enhances the speed and magnitude of the sales process and stokes better sales performance.”

Editor’s note: Come back to tedmag.com Friday for hiring tips and training advice for your new salespeople.

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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