Matching your Salespeople to your Customers


A couple of years ago, one of our clients asked us to help them expand their local sales team of three into a national sales force of 35.

After just a few months Kevin, one of the first recruits, was failing to meet all his monthly targets.  Everyone had a £2.4 million annual sales goal, or £200k monthly. But Kevin hadn’t managed to make a single sale.  He was, however, “working on several big proposals.”

The Sales Director was convinced Kevin should be replaced. He wanted people who would “hit the ground running” and never look back.  He also didn’t care if they stayed with the company or not; he just wanted results fast and believed that if they stayed two years, that was the most you could expect.

On our recommendation, Kevin completed several sales assessments.  Compared to his colleagues, Kevin’s selling style was very different. He was much more “laid back” than any of the other salesmen. He was also more of a team player than 90 percent of his colleagues. These behaviours were interpreted by his managers as a “lack of competitive drive.” 

And, that wasn’t all.  While the rest of the Top Performers were more than happy to just go into client meetings virtually completely unprepared, Kevin insisted on preparation – dotting all the “I”s and crossing all the “t”s – he didn’t want to be caught off-guard.

What management failed to recognise was that Kevin’s customers were government departments and NHS trusts, which traditionally often have very long sales cycles with cumbersome and time-consuming tendering processes. The key decision makers aren’t owners and entrepreneurs, but employees in non-profit organisations, and while the projects are often large and expensive, the sales process requires patience and tenacity. Kevin was the perfect man for the job.

Convincing the Sales director to be patient with Kevin, especially if Healthcare and Local Government were to be part of their client portfolio, required all our powers of persuasion! Kevin just didn’t look like the typical salesperson and the director was finding it hard dealing with him. But, in our opinion, that was fine, because Kevin's clients weren’t typical clients for the company either.

Month after month went by, and Kevin still hadn’t closed a single sale. His director was becoming increasingly impatient. The year-end passed. He hadn’t brought in a single sale, but insisted that two of his ten proposals would be signed “any day now.” 

Kevin was right. In the first quarter of his second year, Kevin closed two deals worth £3.1 million. Within the next six months, he closed another £1.9 million in new business.  Kevin was the right man for these customers, but only because management was willing to match the right salespeople to the right customer. In that second year, Kevin was the most successful salesperson in the company. Yes, he had lots of noughts in his monthly columns, but he did manage to reel in the big ones where it counted – the bottom line.

His success was good news…and bad. Kevin was identified as a Top Performer and transferred to another division where the manager needed his help. They were performing very poorly and needed immediate results but, as you might have guessed, Kevin failed miserably. Kevin isn’t a “turnaround merchant”, and management wasn't willing to wait for him to make a sale in one or two years. Not only did Kevin not make it in his new position, but he left the company to work for a business whose niche markets are in Healthcare and Government.

The company had the right man in the right job but, failing to understand his unique talents, they transferred him into a position where he was almost bound to fail. Understanding the type of salespeople who can sell to your customers is a critical first step in hiring Top Performing salespeople. But like most good things, the “magic bullet” is a little more complicated than just understanding your customer.

How effectively salespeople will sell is affected by many factors, including what drives and motivates them, as well as their behavioural style.


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