At the heart of a successful sales force is the selection of effective representatives. One survey revealed that the top 27 percent of the sales force brought in over 52 percent of the sales. Beyond differences in productivity is the great waste in hiring the wrong people. The average annual turnover rate for all industries is almost 20 percent. When a
rep quits, the costs of finding and training a new rep, plus the cost of lost sales, can run into the high five figures—and a sales force with many new hires is less productive.10
In selecting sales reps, the company can start by asking customers what traits they prefer in salespeople. Most customers want honest, reliable, knowledgeable, and helpful reps. Another approach is to look for traits that are common to successful salespeople. Charles Garfield concluded that supersales performers exhibit risk taking, a powerful sense of mission, a problem-solving bent, care for the customer, and careful planning.11 Mayer and Greenberg noted that the effective salesperson has empathy, the ability to feel as the customer does, and ego drive, a strong personal need to make the sale.12
After management develops suitable selection criteria, the next step is to recruit applicants by various means, including soliciting names from current sales reps, using employment agencies, placing print and on-line job ads, and contacting graduating college students. Selection procedures can vary from an informal interview to prolonged testing and interviewing. Although test scores are only one information element in a set that includes personal characteristics, references, past employment history, and interviewer reactions, they are weighted quite heavily by such companies as IBM, Prudential, Procter & Gamble, and Gillette. Gillette claims that tests have reduced turnover by 42 percent and have correlated well with the subsequent progress of new reps in the sales organization.
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