If you have a great product, market, business model, infrastructure and management then your fast track ‘wormhole’, from being a SME into a large company could well be by recruiting a team of high performance sales agents around the UK.
If you do not have the above infrastucture then you will not be robust enough to take the growth. This tends to mean turnover already over £1million minimum. CRM, leads provision, marketing, supply all in place ready to scale. Ideally, a proven sales system and approach, sales manual produced from what has proven to work. A sales system that can be duplicated along with a role model or two of someone that is high performing now. The first sales professionals are more challenging, as the one thing most experienced sales people want to see is someone proving it doing well now to talk to.
Sales agents offer you representation throughout the country. They carry no extra office costs. They usually don’t want basics preferring to take a larger share of the profits on the deals they close, so by only asking to be paid when they deliver. They typically bring years of experience and contacts that can readily be turned into deals. In return, they NEED a company that is well managed with support infrastructure and above all, they need a formula that means that a skilled sales professional that works hard can top a six figure income.
Usually you should focus, at least initially, on experienced professionals that can cover a certain geographic area for your company. These roles are great to recruit for because you can look at people and not be too concerned with their location. Normally, in recruitment any office based position immediately restricts the market as a candidate has to live within one hour commuting distance.
For a company developing a UK wide sales agent team there are guidelines that we have found by experience to make it work effectively. The first is to start off in one key area and to focus on 3-5 new people initially. The reason is whereas most companies want to grow fast, new people need to be trained, managed and shadowed which tends to tie up your current field sales experts. Once you focus on an area you will soon have more experienced people that can be used to help train and shadow new people. Usually, a natural team leader will emerge and take on this role on an ongoing basis. This is a safer strategy than recruiting a Manager from the start as they will already have proved themselves, have credibility and knowledge to help them guide new people. When setting budgets always allow for this override and perhaps for a Sales Director controlling the regional managers.
Pick a target area to start, rather than just take on anybody around the country. If you are installing, delivering or consulting with something it does mean long travels from your operational base. It also can mean a challenge for your current team to shadow new people. The key area to start will depend to a large extent on your business. Is your market opportunity better for whatever reason in certain areas? Often around your current office base it is a good place to start. Then there are the recruitment issues to consider. Bigger cities like London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow etc make a large population base and always make it easier. Secondly, there are parts of the UK whether it is easier to recruit sales people. Culturally people in the south tend to be more conservative, colder, until they get to know you. The more north you go it is acceptable and the norm for total strangers to talk to each other. The latter means that those more northerly find rapport building easier. Then there are pockets where the locals are just exceptionally good and natural sales people like Essex and Yorkshire. You also need to consider local economic issues. If the area is depressed you might find a keener attitude to work. On the other hand, a buoyant area might be better in terms of skills and experience of the potential recruits. The point in all of this is that there are many factors to consider in deciding the first target market.
Once you have developed strength in one geographic area, go for adjoining areas, where your team leader can develop new people. Then continue speeding up as you go. Ideally to go this growth route you should be ambitious. Actually once you have some good team leaders you will find one that is happy to move around the country and pioneer new areas for you. As a general rule, the best profile for a sales agent is older and more experienced executives. Younger professionals that are new to sales require usually too much training and daily management before they are productive. This is a role with a great deal of independence. Often though the older executive need not necessarily be from a sales background. Often other areas will have developed relevant skills with people or in with dealing with the type of person they will be visiting.
Expect drop outs and low performers at first. At our recruitment events or interviewing processes, people often do this as you are not paying basics, (assuming that is the case, it isn’t always). And you are not limited by office space, why not offer everybody the job? This is a logical but faulty policy. These people will be working alone and be the face to face contact of your clients. They are your brand as far as your prospects and customers are concerned. You will also need a support structure that has independents communicating in various ways with each other. This means they will relate as a team despite being very independent and judge their value. They want to be part of an elite professional quality team. The bigger the team grows you will find that it attracts people of a similar quality for a variety of reasons, therefore start as you mean to go on and recruit an elite by being highly selective.
You will need in place before you recruit an infrastructure to support field sales staff. Support can be categorised into three areas.
First is Administration. Your CRM reporting forms, how are visit notes and information from a prospect or customer recorded on your corporate database? What is the process for information requests, quotes or further information or contact? Under administration are all training and personnel issues. You need files on your people and records, contracts. You also need an induction and ongoing training and personal development programme in place.
Next is Marketing. What are you doing to provide leads? Normally there is a different rate of commission or company or self-supplied leads. What do you do to enhance the brand as well as producing direct sales leads? TV or magazine adverts, exhibitions, public relations, promotions, special events, referrals, incentives, prizes etc.
Communication is the most important but so often the one ignored the most. You need to communicate with your field sales personnel regularly in all media on all subjects if you are to have a truly high performance team. If you look at organisations that have excellled with remote teams the lessons are obvious. The ones that succeed spend a lot of resource on regular communication. You need to make them feel they are part of a bigger family and that they have a support network all around them. Other sales agents will be able to cover for them and offer mutual favours when needed. All sales people need to keep their motivation up on an hourly, daily, weekly and monthly basis. Working independently there is no one around to pick them up or bounce off the same way as in the office. Self-doubts sneak up on all of us. They will have people around them saying they cannot do it. They will receive rejection alone and will feel the pressure. On my next blog I am going into detail on a template to set up such a system.
However much support you give, people will drop out. They can be replaced quickly. More challenging perhaps are the low performers. They are clearly profitable on an individual basis but what are they doing to your team spirit and perhaps image, brand is a serious issue. You need to maintain an elite team and be seen right from recruitment to choose an elite and therefore make it challenging to be offered a position. Your key performance indicator should be rise in sales figure not number of agents. Increasing the number of agents fast should be done when your infrastructure is all tested and proven, allows scalability and core team are highly performing. That is the time to accelerate. As Einstein said. “Go as fast as possible but no faster!”