Hire The Player, Not Their Numbers
So I was chatting to a friend last week who is currently unemployed due to COVID and, after a few bad moves, has been struggling to get recruiters to look beyond the lacklustre sales numbers on his CV. "Great salespeople can sell anything" seems the common viewpoint.
We started talking about what makes a good salesperson and how the judgement on their ability seems to lie purely on their previous numbers.
So let's hit the analogy button.
Thierry Henry. Arguably the greatest footballer to ever grace to English Premier League, right? He scored 284 league goals in his career, become invincible with Arsenal, won the World Cup and Euros with France and was a four-time golden boot winner.
He'd be your elite sales guy, right?
Wrong. You would never have hired him.
You'd have taken one look at his sub-20% strike rate for Monaco and Juventus (in particular) and deemed him "unable to score" (/sell) on account of his numbers.
So why did Arsenal sign him?
Well...they looked beyond his numbers on paper and instead assessed whether they thought he had the core skills, both physical and mental, to perform within their environment. Did he bring what they needed to the table, was he coachable and did he have, most importantly, the potential to be elite?
On the reverse, look at Fernando Torres. More than a goal every other game for Liverpool had him pegged as an elite talent. Analogically, he'd smash his sales numbers and gone directly into accelerator territory and he wasn't half bad at Atletico Madrid before that.
So in many ways, this story should've been the other way around. If you're really a good footballer, you should be able to perform at any club, right?
Wrong again. Fernando Torres didn't fail at Chelsea because he suddenly became a bad footballer overnight. It was just the wrong move for him. When Jose Mourinho joined Chelsea, his brand of football was to park the bus and make them next to impossible to beat. To do so, he shrunk the length of the Chelsea pitch (it remains the second shortest in the EPL, behind Sheffield Utd), compressed the action and hired big, athletic physical players like Didier Drogba, John Terry and Michael Essien to suffocate the opposition. Here's the problem. Whereas Drogba liked the ball into feet with his back to goal, Torres' game was about getting in behind the defence...yet suddenly there was no room to get in behind. Whilst I fear we're getting off-topic, my point is hopefully clear - building a great team and them being successful isn't just about pure talent. It's about building a team that matches your goals (pun intended), who can thrive under your specific tactics and works well together.
If your product sells best pushed quickly and aggressively, hire a team of absolute animals on the phone. If it's more of a challenger sale, hire industry experts who can build trust and educate the customer over time.
The other obsession I hear from recruiters is; "were they just in the right place at the right time?"
By that, they appear to be asking whether the person is actually talented, or did a unique set of circumstances dictate their success?
I guess this is a little like the top scorer in the Dutch Eredivisie every year, who like clockwork has a single 30+ goal season, bags a big-money move and then looks like absolute tosh at his new club.
Yes, Vincent Janssen, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Afonso Alves and Mateja Kezman, we're looking at you!
So, perhaps the key here is more about longevity. When you look instead at those who perform at an elite level in multiple seasons, like Van Basten, Bergkamp, Van Nistelrooy....they didn't turn out bad. So instead of judging somebody role by role, perhaps we should instead be focussing more on consistent performance year on year. One swallow doesn't make a summer, after all. But don't forget, Thierry Henry spent six seasons being mediocre before he became the player he went on to become....so it's not always that simple.
I remember feeling a little like this myself when I sold a platform to the lower-end of the market for many years. I felt like I needed to make the "big-money move" to a top team and start selling at Enterprise to validate whether I was genuinely any good or not. It's all very well being a star striker at Scunthorpe, but can you do it in a European Cup Final at the Bernabeau?
The result? I found that whilst I was no Henry, I could definitely hang at that level. I was a Dani Carvajal or a Toni Kroos.
So what is my point with all this?
When you're looking for sales staff, I urge you not to obsess over the bad sales year at X firm or the hooky track record over a few years. Instead, take time to understand what is important to you and your customers, identify potential and then scout those potential employees mercilessly. Follow them on social platforms, ask around about them, go to a conference you know they're talking at or offer to mentor them so you can get under the skin of who they are.
But most importantly, think about the tactics you're going to play and the kinds of players who will thrive in that environment. After all, simply signing big-money players who performed incredibly elsewhere isn't always the answer if they don't fit your tactics....
...just ask Roman Abramovich
WRITTEN BY ED HALSEY
Any opinions expressed here are my own and not the views of any of my employers. They are personal views based upon a 15-year career in insurance across underwriting and sales roles at mainstream insurers, consultancy firms and technology providers.