Smart people in sales are a problem. They have expansive brains, intellectual curiousity and strategic depth. They are quick to spot the big picture solutions for clients. Internally they are a system police, fantastic on urging the fixing of the sales structures and suggesting necessary improvements. With Excel macro skills to burn, they can transform a simple spreadsheet information capture into a formidable machine. They are not what we need in the sale’s team.
We need "good hustle" from our salespeople. Not "hustle" in the sense of tricking clients into arrangements to secure a big commission or a fat bonus. "Good hustle" is about focus on getting commitments from buyers to proceed, that will benefit the buyer, because it will improve their business. This is usually not about long-term massive interventions but about the practical improvements that can be executed quickly, that produce an immediate outcome. Getting the client to that point of agreement requires energy, lots of energy.
That energy is needed to make the phone calls to follow up on leads which come through to the website, from advertising, ad word campaigns, social media outreach etc. Also, contacting potential clients we have met at networking events, seeking referral clients and selecting prospective clients to be contacted through cold calling. This is not exciting work. It is less thrilling than working at the 30,000 foot level, overviewing vast swaths of client territory. What is needed is the exact opposite – meet, propose, meet, follow up, meet, gain commitment, follow up, follow up and further follow up. This is down and dirty in the trenches, just digging, digging, and more digging.
Dull "grunts" in the sales army are not much help either. Clients need more consulting skills from salespeople than ever before and that requires intelligence, analytic ability and clarity. Smart people have these attributes in full, but they tend to become bored with the "grunt" aspect of sales. Digging the trench is not as exciting as planning the complete reworking of the client’s revenue producing systems.
The reality though is we need smart people who can hustle. They are motivated to serve the client and are equally motivated to sift through a lot of potential clients, until they find a good match for the client need with their company’s services. As we say in sales, "you have to kiss a lot of toads before you find the handsome prince or beautiful princess".
Finding and developing motivated toad kissers is not that easy. Smart people love to work on complex problems. Companies have the same problems with their engineers. They have to give them a diet of complex problems to keep them mentally stimulated and engaged. Smart salespeople are the same. The issue though for leaders is that everyone is pretty busy already. Holding salespeople’s hands is usually outside the sales leader’s job description. Sales demands a huge amount of internal motivation and hustle energy. You cannot inject the latter into staff; they have to produce it themselves.
Dilettante as a descriptor has come to have a pejorative nuance to it, but it does describe a lot of smart people in sales. They are cultivating an area of interest in sales without the real commitment. The real commitment includes doing all the dull digging and toad kissing required to find and satisfy clients. They often feel that is boring and below them. They typically seek the big transaction, the killer deal that breaks all the records. They want to start at the top and work their way up from there. This is why they are a problem for leaders and why they can burn up a lot of management time. Keeping them on track away from shiny objects, glitter and bright lights takes up time which could be better spent elsewhere. It is a dilemma – balancing the needs of smart people with the reality that unglamorous work is the core basis for sales success. If we get it wrong, we pay a double penalty – they don’t produce fast enough and when they leave in frustration, we have to start again and find their replacement. Time, money and stress are all required, which in fact are additional elements we shouldn’t have to be bothered with.
So when selecting sales people for the team, it is absolutely necessary that we find that right balance between big strategic thinking and "good hustle", between macro and micro skill sets and between textbook smart and street smart.
1. Look for salespeople with a good dose of street smarts about them
2. Ask questions about sales back office systems and see if their eyes light up
3. Check that their work habits include lots of unexciting "grunt" activity