November 9, 2018

When onboarding salespeople, the biggest mistake that startups and young companies make is in looking for a unicorn. What’s a unicorn? Well, for our purposes, it’s not the mythical beast. But it may as well be. Here’s why it’s a mistake.

A unicorn is something I hear about often. People will say: “Ali, I want a guy or gal that’s been in the industry for 20-30 years! They’ve got to have all the contacts and know exactly what they’re doing. They should just come in and sell for me. I also want them to bring in their Rolodex, with all those contacts and leads!”
I nod and smile.

These people may as well start a journey to find an actual unicorn. Or the Fountain of Youth for that matter. A salesperson of this caliber will not be onboarding or joining a startup as an employee. It won’t happen. Why? Because they already own their own business or will be starting their own business shortly. And that business becomes the competition.

Fantasy vs. reality

While those people exist, they’re not looking to work for you. They’re not looking to work for your $65,000 salary. For one reason or another, if that person is not able to start their own company, they’re going to command, at the very minimum, a quarter-million-dollar salary. Maybe more. More likely, the commission structure, the entire compensation package, the equity, and the bonuses will add up fast. You’re looking at a full compensation package of well over half a million. So, yes, in that scenario, this person would take your business to the next level. If you had the half million though, you would probably already be there. This is the nature of the paradox and why the unicorn chase is a waste of time.

Here’s reality

Most companies end up hiring what they think is a unicorn: a crotchety old man whose first sale was a brand-new colour TV, and who can’t seem to land a job anywhere. He also seems to think that this young startup is going to be his next victim! He comes in and announces: “Oh! I know everyone in the industry and I know how it works! It’s all relationship-based. Just start me at an $80,000 salary, and I’ll bring you in all the deals.” What follows will be a demand for an aggressive commission structure.
This story always ends the same, I know because I’ve seen it. After close to a year, the salesperson has produced nothing. No unicorn. No fountain of youth. No pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The reason why they wanted the aggressive commission structure was so if they accidentally sold something, they would be compensated for it. Their pitch to you is: “I’m used to making a quarter-million. But for you, I’m going to settle for $80,000 or $60,000 as a base salary.” You know, because he’s doing it out of the kindness of his heart. It just doesn’t make any sense. What that person is really doing is looking to get their monthly expenses covered. That person has no intention of really doing what they said that they would do. If that person did have the connections they claimed, they would be tied up with golden handcuffs in a particular company. The reason why you got the whole speech was because they saw you as an easy target. And you fell for it. Trust your instincts.

What’s the solution?

My solution is to stop looking for unicorns. Look for people who believe in your company’s mission. Look for people who are genuine. They believe in the message that you bring and want to achieve the goal that you have created for yourself. When you bring in these types of people, they will not have the required sales skills, techniques, abilities, and knowledge to be able to effectively navigate a sales cycle and close the deal.
But that’s okay! That is the easy part. The hard part is finding someone with the drive and passion. If they have that foundation, the rest will follow. Learn to identify this type of person and realize their potential. Then, with time, patience and training, they will become an effective salesperson and thus start helping you.
I’ve said it time and time again. You want to onboard someone with little to no sales skills. This way, you are not onboarding baggage and old habits. You are working with a blank slate. They don’t come in thinking: “well, back at my last company this is the way I did it. This is the right way.” They don’t come in with that crap that you have to “undo.” Instead, they come in looking to learn your system and your process.

The person you need must have empathy and must be coachable.

Prioritize those two things. If they have empathy, that’s vital because a sales cycle is based on emotion. No empathy=no sale.

There is always an emotional trigger and an emotional response. In fact, that’s how you get somebody to initiate an action and close the deal. If you’re faking your empathy for the person or situation, your prospect will know. Finally, you need them to be coachable. This is simply necessary so that they can learn. If they are not willing or receptive, they will not service your company well. If they are coachable, they can learn how to sell.

Sales is easy. Sales can be trained. Sales skills can be learned.

Have a proper system and process. Onboard that young, green and hungry sales person who wants to learn and teach them! Show them what a sales cycle looks like. Train them in the techniques and ineffective communication. Make them understand how to really listen and ask the right questions. Furthermore, show them what the full sales cycle looks like, from start to finish. All of this onboarding can take as little as four to eight weeks. They can be operating at 60-80 percent efficiency within that eight-week period and continuously get better and better going forward. That is how you build a long-term, sustainable sales team. These are the type of players that you want to recruit, attract, and hire. Not that unicorn who comes in and says, “I know everybody and everything.”

If you choose to disregard the above and continue the epic unicorn quest – you will be searching forever.

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Thanks for reading!

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