IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Your Sales Mileage May Vary

With advance planning, you can improve your odds of making a quality sales hire the first time out. But even preparation is no guarantee of success. By Curt Hicks

In 1984, I talked my employer into buying me a PC. And that was it: I was bitten by the technology bug. So I went into the IT business. In 1993, I joined Center for Computer Resources. The company had gotten its start selling computers and training to small business owners, and then branched out into networking and Unix and lots of other things. It lacked focus. So in 1995, we made the decision to focus 100 percent on Microsoft and became a "Partner" one of only 11 in Michigan at that time.

In 1997, I became president and, with my partner, bought out the company. Our marketing at the time consisted of Yellow Pages ads, which were used primarily by people who called with computer problems that we would fix. But we couldn't grow the company by waiting for the phone to ring.

So I hired our first salesperson. Unfortunately, all the things I needed to do before I hired the person I learned after I hired him--like having a clear job description and defined expectations.

Metrics, I learned, is also key to the preparation. How many cold calls will be required? How many appointments? How many quotes generated? This model can be fleshed out over time, but don't wait nine months to realize the person can't sell. If a certain number of calls are not made each day, you'll never get X number of appointments, X number of quotes, or X number of deals. Use that model and refine it as needed.

As a general rule, the ratio of calls to appointments is about 20-to-1, appointments to quotes is probably 3-to-1, and quotes to deals is 2-to-1. But as the saying goes, "Your mileage may vary." You have to understand the metrics as they relate to the product you're selling, your geographic market, and the skill level of your sales reps.


The big issue is commissions. Commissions motivate salespeople's behavior. You can pay 100 percent commission or 100 percent salary or something in between, but you have to look at the salesperson you'll likely attract with your offer. We use a 50/50 split, which we decided on after calculating what a fair living wage is for our market. You'll also have to decide how your sales rep will draw against commissions--a person needs to make a living while getting up to speed in a new job.

Expect to do some training on your unique selling proposition as well as on your tools and processes. How will you track and report sales metrics, generate quotes, and get leads? Will you use solution selling or the Sandler selling system? Once your sales rep is up to speed, he or she might need overall sales training, or maybe some help only in certain areas, so be prepared for all situations.

It's also important to "trust but verify." We ran into situations in which the data looked good, but the sales weren't there. Our rep was able to manipulate the database but not deliver the results. It's also an unfortunate reality that salespeople can sell you just like they sell everyone else. It's helpful if people you know also know your potential hire.

Finally, keep searching for sales talent, because the good reps become available when they're ready, not when you're ready to hire. Maybe it won't be the opportune time to bring someone on, but when you find the right star, take advantage of it--and make decisions about the rest of your staff as required.

Curt Hicks
Center for Computer Resources

Location: Metro Detroit

Established: 1981, gained equity 1997, purchased outright 2003

Number of employees: 25


Company Focus: Networking, managed services, Infrastructure as a Service (we manage on-premise equipment as well as host some technologies in our data center), and break-fix. We have some healthcare focus since we're reselling an electronic medical records solution called gloStream, which is driving some managed services opportunities.

Favorite part of my job: I don't get to turn the screwdriver like I used to, but I'm very proficient in Microsoft Office, the ConnectWise tool, and the company's workflow, and I like to use technology to streamline our processes.

Least favorite part of my job: Human resources issues

Words of wisdom: You're not going to hire someone just like you. Get over it. Use a clear job description and metrics, and hire someone who meets those.

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