It hardly needs stating that the success or failure of a business often depends heavily on the effectiveness of its sales people. Yet many companies in the U.S. are losing out because they are not adequately investing in sales force recruiting, hiring or training.
A national survey carried out by DePaul University's Sales Leadership Program has revealed widespread neglect of some of the most basic facets of sales management practices.
Although the majority of the 302 firms surveyed said their businesses depend heavily on sales or marketing, the research found that most firms spend little time interviewing sales candidates while only a third can quantify the cost of hiring them.
They also continue to select staff on the basis of personality traits rather than real aptitude for the job, while only one in five take any steps match talented people to jobs.
To make matters worse, just four out of 10 firms even have formal training programs for sales staff, with training in smaller firms dominated by short, on-the-job sessions.
"This survey shows why companies are finding it difficult to hire and keep the best sales professionals," said David Hoffmeister, director of DePaul's Sales Leadership Program.
"Companies slashed their recruiting and training budgets in the 1980s and '90s to cut costs, and now they are not spending enough time and money to find and train good sales people. Given the fact that many veteran sales professionals are Baby Boomers who will be retiring soon, firms that want to stay competitive should start making greater investments in hiring, recruiting and training their sales forces."
Most of the firms in the survey use the traditional base salary plus commission formula for compensation, but Hoffmeister argued that profound changes in the attitudes of today's savvier customers mean that they should consider alternative ways of rewarding sales staff.
"Customers are unhappy with sales people who are motivated by commissions to sell to them rather than serve them," he explained.
"Firms need to think about reshaping their compensation practices so that sales people are rewarded for partnering with customers rather than for sales volume alone."