4 Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring Promotional Products Salespeople (The Path to $10 Million, Part 4)

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Exponential sales growth requires recruiting, getting the right people “on the bus.”

The phrase “on the bus” comes from Good to Great by Jim Collins, a book that Forbes magazine ranked as one of the most influential business books of the past 20 years.

Jim’s team interviewed 1,435 good companies, examined their performance over 40 years, and featured shared principles from 11 companies that grew from good to great. “Getting the right people on the bus” was a principle of recruiting success woven through each of the great companies studied. Collins stresses that the “who” precedes all other business decisions, “before tactics, before technology, before business ideas, before everything.”

Since the promotional products profession is a sales driven business, how do promotional products distributorships recruit the right salespeople? To answer this, we first must abolish a few prevailing myths that prevent success; we’ll call them “the four e-myths”:

 

E-Myth #1: The Experience Myth

 

If you speak to successful promotional products distributors about hiring salespeople, you’ll discover that many prefer candidates without experience in this business. Why? Experience is rarely a direct route to success.

When distributors hire a salesperson from another distributor company, what they are typically hiring is both the person and the network. They erroneously believe they are buying a book of business which is only sometimes successful because promotional products customers are more like annuals than perennials.

“Annuals” are plants that bloom and die in one growing season, they then need to be replanted each year; “perennials” are plants that have only been planted once and come back every year.

The industry-experienced salesperson they are recruiting is demonstrating their ability based on history. The rep might have the same clients as last year, but those clients might not have the same budget and the same projects, so the rep must “replant.”

Distributors who recruit heavily within the industry think (or hope) that they are buying perennials: customer relationships that were planted once and come back every year.  Every promotional products professional knows that January 1st is a new growing season.

Some distributors believe that the more industry experience a distributor has, the faster that salesperson will succeed, not so. One crucial aspect missing from an experienced salesperson’s resume is the support they had which helped them succeed. There are no independent success stories in this business (see myth #4, the lone wolf), and, if there are solo success stories, they are almost always sub $250,000 in sales.

It will save you a lot of time and misery if you understand that, when you are hiring a salesperson, you are not hiring for experience or their network, you are first and foremost, hiring for their ambition, their eagerness, their talent, drive, determination, and grit. Mark Zuckerberg feels the same way:

 

E-Myth #2: The Extrovert Myth  

 

In Dan Pink’s book To Sell is Human, The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, he wrote: “The conventional view that extroverts make the finest salespeople is so accepted that we’ve overlooked one teensy flaw: There’s almost no evidence it’s actually true … one of the most comprehensive investigations, a meta-analysis of 35 studies of nearly 4,000 salespeople, found that the correlation between extroversion and sales performance was essentially zero (0.07, to be exact).”

But neither are introverts the answer. Instead, what Dan Pink suggests (and what studies have proven) is that successful salespeople are ambiverts, ambidextrous people who are both, “a little bit extroverted and a little but introverted.” These folks are more effective because ambiverts can adjust to any situation. If they need to listen more, they return to their introverted nature. Likewise, if they need to buckle down and get through a major research project for a customer, they can, or if they need to be outspoken, ambiverts know “when to speak up and when to shut up.”

The promotional products business, at its core, is a consultative business that is transaction based but purpose driven. Every transaction is the result of some purpose the client is trying to achieve, so skills like listening and problem solving become more important than convincing and converting.

 

E-Myth #3: The Everything Myth

 

The third hiring mistake is hiring salespeople because they can sell anything. Successful salespeople are rarely good at selling “everything.” In the promotional products industry, what this translates into is a rep who actually tries to sell everything. When you examine the most successful promotional distributors, you’ll discover that they eventually focus on market niches. This means they develop teams to focus on these specialties and then recruit for talent, initiative, and drive. Sales specialties are a learned skill, so, when you hire salespeople, you seek intangible traits like curiosity, self-learning, adaptability, and focus.

 

Hiring E-Myth #4: The Ego Myth

 

Another hiring myth is that people hire for the wrong type of ego. We are all familiar with the bad ego, an “inflated feeling of pride in one’s superiority to others.” It goes without saying, this type of ego is disastrous. But sometimes we’re enamored by that ego we’re interviewing, we’re impressed by the accomplishments and the confidence. But this type of personality is rarely successful in the promotional products business. As mentioned in myth #1, there are no lone wolf hunters. A successful promo professional is someone who is independent but who values interdependence. They work well within a team. Team players help grow a more valuable, long-term business and help build a better culture of collaboration and growth; a lone wolf only looks out for themselves and can destroy a distributor’s culture.

But there is a good type of ego. A very successful entrepreneur once told me, “I don’t hire people who want to make more money, I hire people who have an ego.” He went on to explain that people with the right kind of ego are less motivated by money than they are by winning: they have something to prove, they want to succeed. This drive and determination usually leads to money. If salespeople are attracted solely on the basis of money, they will leave solely on the basis of money.

Those who are driven by good ego will suffer the lean years to get to the more fruitful years. In the promo business, this adaptability to seasons of success and failure is a crucial trait, as lean years can hit even the most successful sales reps, even after years of tremendous growth. But they survive because their motivation is intrinsic and internal. You can’t replace drive and determination with dollars.  

All the traits we’ve been discussing -talent, initiative, drive, curiosity, self-learning, collaboration, eagerness, determination, and grit- blends into the type of salesperson who is not a pushy, demanding, and outspoken egomaniac but rather, someone who is simply responsive, helpful, and humble.

Jeffrey Gitomer, who trained thousands of salespeople, summed it up best: “Great salespeople are relationship builders who provide value and help their customers win.”


For additional resources check out our Guide to Growing Your Team and Three Critical Roles in a Promotional Products Distributorship. Also, this post is Part IV in our series “The Path to $10 Million.” Previous posts include 7 Questions That Help You Focus and Find Your Personal Path to Success, 3 Critical Roles in a Promotional Products Distributorship: The Architect, the Sales Driver, and the Nurturer, and The 5 Stages of Business Growth


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