Every quarter we run an informal dinner bringing together 12 to 15 sales leaders to openly discuss their challenges and share their best practice and industry trends with their peers in a relaxed environment over some nice food and wine. Here’s a roundup of key discussions:

Tread carefully when changing commission structures

Around the table it was apparent that changing structures within bigger organisations, especially from the Tech industry, was not uncommon and actually expected by their sales teams. However, 75% of guests said they wouldn’t change their commission plans because it was one of the biggest reasons why they lost sales people. Changing the rules can be met with resistance and could encourage your best people to explore opportunities elsewhere. If you’re faced with the challenge of changing your commission structure how you manage the change is key. Set expectations way in advance that changes are being considered, explain why and what’s happening moving forward so there’s no surprises.

Take a more flexible approach to hold on to top talent

One guest was dealing with someone who had problems with punctuality and didn’t know how to approach the issue because although they were late for work and for meetings regularly they were hitting their targets. Whilst a few guests felt it was unacceptable, in the current market where it’s so difficult to find and retain good sales people who can hit target we should take a more flexible approach. Talk to them and uncover the problems. Are they scheduling too many things too close together? Do they need some coaching with time management? Or are they struggling to manage home and work responsibilities? How flexible is your approach?

You can’t rely on your product alone to attract sales people

Two guests selling very different products discussed how they attract sales people – one selling ‘sexy’ software and the other less ‘sexy’ hygiene products! Whilst selling an exciting product may make attracting people easier initially, how can you keep them motivated? You can’t ignore all the other factors that will help you retain your best people such as offering lucrative bonuses, structured training programmes and creating a positive and motivating culture. What makes your company a great place to work?

Look for initiative at interview stage

Great sales people need to be self-starters and find ways to sell to new and old customers. In large, structured companies there may be lots of support but less so in smaller businesses and sales people need to be able to stand on their own two feet. Initiative is critical for generating leads and if a potential sales candidate can’t demonstrate this trait they, and in turn your business, are going to miss out on opportunities. During interview, one guest will set a presentation task with three minutes notice to see if they can think on the spot and see how they deal with the situation. How and when do you go about identifying initiative?

The recruitment fee is a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of getting the wrong person

The true cost of a bad hire goes far beyond recruitment. Not just the money lost from salary and training expenses but the impact the ‘wrong’ person can have on team morale and the opportunity cost of not having an effective salesperson on territory for the time it takes to get a new hire up to speed. One guest said it can take them up to 12 months to break even on a hire and longer to see any ROI so they know how important it is to get it right from the start. Take inspiration from your current sales superstars so you know the exact skills and behaviours you’re looking for. And don’t focus too much on experience, as one guest pointed out something they have done in the past but now they’re focusing on what they want to achieve over the next 12 months.

Determining recruitment success is a challenge

One guest felt 2 out of 3 successful recruits wasn’t good enough but many guests disagreed and felt they’d be delighted with this number. Be realistic with your sales managers and don’t be too harsh if someone doesn’t work out. Set expectations with them and think about how they might feel when they’re not successful. Could it have been because of budget, their background, the process or were they under pressure to hire? Determine why you missed out to help improve chances next time. The risk of whether you’ve got the right person or not is always there but investing in their training and development from the start will help with retention. Realistically what does recruitment success look like to you?

Acquihiring could help you get your hands on the best talent

With fierce competition for top talent and companies struggling to find the right people some companies are considering other channels to help them grow. Acquihiring refers to buying out a company for the skills and expertise of its people rather than for the products/services it supplies. Whilst most guests hadn’t heard of this concept, one had successfully gone through the process recently. It can give you access to talent you may be struggling to attract and integrating a skilled team that already works well together could help accelerate your business. Whilst risky and costly if all else is failing consider this model.