Retooling the Sales Force

The executive team of a company whose sales force we recently evaluated wanted to ‘retool’ the sales force. Their salespeople were comfortable selling into one of the three markets on which they needed a presence, but not the other two markets. The executive team wanted to know whether it was easier to hire new salespeople or to develop the existing salespeople.

Generally, it’s always wise to develop the people who are already in place, but there are exceptions. Those exceptions include:

  • When the existing salespeople aren’t trainable (no incentive to change);
  • When the existing salespeople have so many weaknesses that development could take years instead of months;
  • When the existing salespeople are unwilling to sell into a different market;
  • When the existing salespeople are unable to sell using a different approach(for example – a consultative or solution based approach instead of a transaction orientated approach)

If the conditions under which a company should hire rather than develop are clear, why do so many companies defy logic and attempt to develop the people who aren’t getting the job done? I posed the following question to this client last week: ‘If it was another company’s sales force and you didn’t know the salespeople, have long-term relationships with them, strong feelings about them, pride over your previous decisions or the hope that they would eventually succeed, what would you tell the other executive team?

They were unanimous in their conclusion that if it was another company’s sales force, their suggestion would be to retool by hiring new salespeople. They finally realized that their initial decision to retool via development was not going to work out and acknowledged that they made the decision with their hearts instead of their business minds.

Retooling can be implemented by either development, recruiting or a combination of both but it is crucial to evaluate the sales force first. Then you can learn whether the existing salespeople are candidates for development, whether they can execute the new strategies, how much development is required and what the development should entail.