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How & When To Hire Your First Salesperson

So, your business is growing and it’s time for you to have someone else to wear a few of those many hats you’ve been wearing……..yes it’s time to hire your first sales person. But the question is how and where do you find a good one? After all, as a small-business owner, you can’t risk putting a dent in your reputation with a poor salesperson on the frontline.

Who you choose to bring on board to fill this role is such an incredibly important decision and I strongly suggest you start where you shop. Start paying attention to the good salespeople you encounter when you’re the customer. What is it they’re doing that makes you want to do buy from them, makes you feel like a valued customer or leaves you with the feeling that you have a had a positive experience and would buy from them again? Learning to recognize good salespeople will help you when it comes to making the right appointment for your own business.

How Soon Is Too Soon?

How far in advance should recruit your first salesperson? That’s determined by the complexity of your service or product. If it will require a significant amount of product training, it’s probably wiser to hire early – maybe 3 months in advance. Hiring sooner rather than later gives your new salesperson (Executive/Manager or whatever title you chose) the chance to familiarise themselves with the market, gauge interest, and build relationships with new and existing customers.

Sell The Product Yourself Before Hiring

I wouldn’t hire a sales person if you have not sold your product or service yourself.  If you don’t feel like you fully understand the product and its market how can you expect somebody else to? It’s tempting to want to hire someone to figure it all out for you, but you should be wary of this approach. Sales people can’t tell you how to improve your product so that it’s sellable, they can only sell a product that is ready to be sold. You should know the pitch first so that you can tell them how to do it.  After all, this initial training will form the basis of how your business sells as the company grows (plus it will be impossible for you to evaluate the new person if you haven’t done it yourself).

Finding The Perfect Fit

Your first salesperson will set the tone for the rest of your sales structure as your business grows. That’s why it’s important to hire thoughtfully and carefully.  Be ready to ask the candidates questions that will give you the answers you’re seeking. If you don’t get the right answers, you don’t have the right candidate.

Here are a few characteristics and skills you should look for when searching for your first salesperson:

  • Industry experience: In addition to solid selling experience, the successful candidate should also have experience working in your specific market.
  • Startup experience: Working in a startup is very different from working at an established company. You should be looking for somebody who is used to the chaos and the fast pace that inevitably come with an SME.
  • Self-reliance: Sales people selling at large companies are likely to have had a wealth of resources at their fingertips – insight, marketing material, trainers, coaches……the list goes on. A salesperson in your business may not have these luxuries and needs to feel comfortable wearing multiple hats and getting things done on their own.
  • Ability to scale business: Does the candidate have a track record of growing business for a specific product or service?  You will need to ensure that they have proven experience during the interview process.
  • Familiarity with buyers: Look for someone who has sold to your target buyer in the past, not necessarily your clients but in terms of industry and company size.
  • Culture fit: As an SME it’s vital to get the right cultural fit.  If this person doesn’t gel with the company culture, it’s going to make working together more uncomfortable so make sure that they are the right ‘fit’ for your business.

Hire Someone Who Can Fill Your Current Needs

If you’re selling a £500 a month product, hire a sales person who loves selling in small increments. Don’t hire someone who loves big negotiations as in time this is likely to become an issue for them.

Get A Second Opinion

In addition to your own interviews, ask somebody else that you know who has experience of hiring sales people to meet with the candidates.  Consider your business contacts, you could ask your business investors or somebody you know who has already hired and built up their own sales team from scratch.  

Spread The Word

Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth.  There is still a lot to be said for finding good people (not only within Sales) through word-of-mouth recommendations. After all, people are unlikely to recommend friends/colleagues unless they truly feel that they are capable of performing the job at hand.  Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for a strong salesperson, including your Clients.  If they’re fans of your product, one of them might even be interested in coming on board (although always be wary of non-compete clauses in people’s contracts as these are very common in the Sales world).

You’ll Never Feel “Ready”

It’s like starting a family; you will never feel ready to hire your first sales person, particularly if you don’t have a Sales background. The whole situation can feel incredibly daunting. Don’t fall victim to the “chicken or egg” mentality of “I know that if these activities and tasks are executed, I’ll be able to reach my target revenue and growth levels. But I can’t execute those activities without a sales person in place, and that’s going to cost me….”. At a certain point, you have to treat hiring as an investment.  You’re unlikely to see any ROI for a few months after you have recruited your first salesperson but waiting is likely to hurt your business more.

theHRhub is the ultimate online support service for startups and SMEs. We provide software, templates, expert advisers, a community forum and up to date news and views – straight to your tablet or mobile device. Find out more here


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New Ruling About Private Messaging: Do You Want To Be known As Snoopy?

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that employers can justify reading their workers’ online private messages.

An engineer in Romania asked the judges to rule that his employer had breached his right to confidential correspondence, but it was ultimately decided that the individual had broken the terms of his employment by sending messages on company time. Interesting, the ECHR commented that it wasn’t “unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours”.

Now of course, this raises some very topical issues for employers: messaging platforms like Facebook/ WhatsApp/ Twitter/ or whatever are very much part of our day-to-day lives and you’d probably be hard pushed to find an employee who hadn’t used one of these even within the past 24 hours.

We’re all more connected than ever, and these sites and apps put communication and distraction right in the palm of our hands.

Maybe it’s something that you’ve been concerned about before. After all, it’s your job to make sure that everyone’s performing to the best of their ability, and it’s not difficult to see how modern technology could easily sway your staff away from their roles and responsibilities. It’s worthwhile taking a little step back here though and thinking about the bigger picture. Does this mean that you can snoop on your employees, and access their personal conversations on a whim? No, of course not. Legislation and regulations aside, it would be a breach of their confidentiality in most cases, and it would certainly do you no favours in terms of creating trust and fostering good relationships with your team.

The value of a little common sense is often overlooked, and it certainly applies here. But that doesn’t mean that you should bury your head in the sand. If you don’t have a clear and considered approach to the use of social media and private messaging in the workplace, then you could be leaving yourself wide open for problems in the very near future. Not sure where to start? We can help. Here are some practical tips for ensuring that your business is prepared for bumps in the road:

  • Create a clear policy about the use of social media and private messaging in the workplace, and ensure that it’s communicated to all members of staff. This way, everyone knows what’s expected of them, and it’s easy to see when boundaries have been crossed.
  • Make sure that you cover not only what you expect from your employees, but also your own rights and responsibilities. If it’s not explicitly stated that you can access communications, then you should err on the side of caution and assume that this would be unacceptable
  • Be reasonable. Many employers allow some use of social media and online messaging in the workplace. Unless your staff are customer-facing and it could cause problems in terms of service, or there are safety issues to consider, then a degree of flexibility could serve you well. As long as there are boundaries in place, there’s often not really the need to enforce an outright ban
  • Recognise that this isn’t just an HR issue. When it comes to how your business handles data and information, you need to make sure that you’re taking a strategic approach that encompasses all the company’s functions. Could it be time to rethink your practices and procedures?

It’s pretty unlikely that this case will be the only one of its kind. In fact, the use of personal technology in the workplace is an issue that’s likely to rear its head, in some shape or form, for every single employer.


Know Your Values: Articulating Your Company Values With Honesty

If you’ve ever done an online dating profile you’ll know how hard it is to come up with wording that perfectly encapsulates all of your interests, personality, humour and everything else that makes you dateable. If you’ve gone a step further and dated someone whose profile you liked, you might have had a situation where the person is nothing like what they wrote in their profile. Unless the person is actually much better than you thought, this situation is not likely to be the basis of a long term healthy relationship – and if like one of my previous online dates might leave you looking for the nearest exit!

Writing down your company values is not so far removed from your online dating profile. And the last thing you want is to leave your employees bewildered or running for the hills. So let’s start by looking at a couple of sets of corporate values from other companies:

Company A

  • Communication – We have an obligation to communicate.
  • Respect – We treat others as we would like to be treated.
  • Integrity – We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely.
  • Excellence– We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do.

Company B

  • Stewardship
  • The Best People
  • Client Value Creation
  • One Global Network
  • Respect for the Individual
  • Integrity

At face value, there’s not really much difference between the core message of these two sets of values. You’ll probably have seen some of these at previous companies, or from your competitors. Now for a bit more information… The values under Company A are actually the corporate values stated in the 2000 annual report of Enron – the company behind one of the biggest bankruptcies of our time, run by a number of executives who were later indicted and imprisoned for their involvement in misleading shareholders and concealing the loss billions of dollars. The values under Company B are those of Accenture – one of the most successful consultancies in the world who regularly make the cut of the top 100 companies to work for. This is pretty staggering considering the similarities between the set of values and the reality of the companies they represent.

So what can we learn from these examples?

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

OK, so I know the title of this article is about how to articulate your values, but there are many ways to articulate yourself outside the written word. If you gave your significant other a written appraisal of their cooking you’d get a quizzical look at best, at worst you’ll be wearing the subject of your review. You’d probably be a bit safer by clearing your plate and finishing with a big “mmm”. Verbal, written and non-verbal actions/communication all form part of how you articulate yourself to those around you so you should consider all of these when you’re thinking about how to articulate your values to your stakeholders.

If you’re looking at what your corporate values should be you should first look at the values that are displayed by your actions. Do your executives aggressively chase new business or do you work on partnerships that might not result in a deal for months or years? Do you train people who are bad at their job, or fire them? When faced with a financial crisis do you tell all the staff or keep the image of serenity to avoid panicking them?

How you act in these situations will be a demonstration to everyone at your company of what you value and how you act. Often these behaviours are echoed throughout the organisation but sometimes they aren’t, which leads us to our next point.

Their Values vs. Our Values

The reason a lot of sets of corporate values don’t really hit the mark is because they don’t reflect the values across the business. If you have inconsistencies between what your executives value and what your staff value then the corporate values you articulate might not ‘stick’ in the way you might hope. Executives are different from most other staff in that they are well paid, have access to sensitive information and have the power to make their decisions a reality, so it’s easy to see how there could be disconnects between the groups.

The executives of the company need to take the time to understand what their staff value and what it is about the company that keeps them coming back each day. You could do a staff survey… but the best way to find out about staff values is to talk to people from across the business to find out their views. Like I said earlier, there is a lot more to articulating your values than writing them down.

If you’re confident that you’re all on the same page then the hard part is done, all that’s left is to (you guessed it) articulate them!

‘Living’ The Values

You might have heard this a lot but living the values is really the only way to keep them, well, alive. In practice, this means using your values to make important decisions about which business deals to take on, who you partner up with, who you recruit, how you decide pay rises… where your hold your christmas party!?

If you’re committed to having a set of corporate values then you should be ready to look at your policies to see if they reinforce or sabotage your values. For example, if you have a value of placing team achievement higher than personal gain, then a bonus structure that rewards individual achievement will encourage people to act in a way that goes against your values. In another example, if you have a corporate value of independence, you might decide to reject a lucrative business deal if it could lead you to become more dependent on another business for your income. These sorts of tough decisions are what will articulate your values to everyone inside and outside the business, and are the sorts of things that will set you apart from the competition.

And once you’ve done all that, please feel free to put them on a poster in reception.

For help and advice at every step of the employee journey sign up to theHRhub – the ultimate online support service for SMEs. Find out more about us here


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Reality Check: Special Forces Needed To Be The Ultimate SME

Losing at paper-scissor-stones this weekend meant that I was forced to watch ‘Special Forces: week of hell’, rather than my preference of Casualty (apparently medical procedures shouldn’t be made into entertainment I’m told).

A forces-related reality style show, 29 ‘contestants’ are forced to undergo tasks led by two members of the Australian SAS, Navy Seals & (my favourite) Spetznaz, with the goal of being crowned the ‘ultimate’ winner.

It frankly looked dire. Although I know some people harbour secret fantasies of being the hero in uniform, I’m not one of them. Short of including my brother’s Action Men in some of my games as a child, I have no experience or interest in the Forces. But five minutes in, I found it strangely compelling and abandoned my book to root for Miller, a female doctor who had put herself forward for the week of torture in the name of reality TV glory. The physical parts of this competition looked challenging enough but it was the combination of needing a strength of these in equal measure which reminded me of those needed in leadership and running a business, much more so than any other show designed to showcase the actual business world ( Apprentice anyone?).

Unlike a reality TV show, there is no singular ‘prize’ in business.

Unless there is a specific award, sale value or target of acquisition someone particularly has set their sights on, there is no single goal in business. And certainly not one shared by all. But the desire to ‘win’ is strong in most successful business leaders, even if the prize itself means different things to each. For most I know, money is not the main motivator to keep them going and neither is it as simple as a sale value, corner office or something as ostentatious as a jet. However all I have spoken to have a desire to be the best in their field, be it coming up with the ‘best’ idea, have the ‘best’ customers or be recognised for (in Tina’s words) “Simply the Best”. The main common denominator however is that most also have a more intense drive for competition than the average person on the street.

Any ultimate competition requires resilience

As you’d expect and is common in any reality-style formatted competition, tasks in Special Forces included the physical, mental and the downright humiliating. All of which are designed to test resilience. One scene saw the group being forced to kneel in front of their interrogators in the middle of the night to answer questions they had whilst another had them confused by conflicting requests from their commanders following a 12 hour physical exercise. These challenges are designed to intensify the emotions felt by the contestants and ideally sort the ‘wheat from the chaffe’ and sooner or later, someone opts out.

Save for hopefully never being hoiked out of bed and asked to explain your business plan to an interrogator, business owners can feel under similar pressure, albeit over a longer period. The startup to millions in months stories are few and far between. And although most start-ups have a 5 year plan scribbled somewhere, many appreciate that – provided they make it past the first year of trading, where half of UK businesses fail – the journey will often be longer than that and that resilience is critical in achieving this success. To do this, it is vital they boost their chances by being physically fit and healthy in order to be better equipped to deal with the pressures which come their way. And it is no coincidence that most leadership and management development programmes start with a focus on ‘you’ and how you can look after yourself before anything else.

Regular review of team strengths and the competition are needed

In the war room on ‘interrogation night’ the team of assessors dissect each section of the exercise, watching the behaviour, actions and communication (verbal and non-verbal) of all, to highlight where the team are holding strong and where the opportunities to weaken them are. The reality is that in a business, regular reviews of a team’s behaviour should also be the norm as well as keeping a watchful eye on the competition. You need this awareness of both your own and your team’s strengths in order to have the right game plan. And you need to see where the risks are with your team too. One contestant on the programme was jettisoned for having a bad attitude and believed to be on the borders of aggression (after 12 hours of interrogation, can this be a massive surprise??) and one of them simply opted out as they’d decided it that hours of sensory deprivation just ‘wasn’t for them’. Likewise in your company, you need to keep a close eye on the motivations and engagement levels of your team. A team member who has lost their mojo can be as damaging as losing out on any deal to the other side, if you let it slide.

It was indeed Miller who triumphed with the prize. And very well deserved too. I don’t imagine that Special Forces pulls the audience numbers which the British Bake Off does, but not having any interest of either the rise and fall of soufflés or Mary Berry’s blow dry, I found it infinitely more appealing. Producers of these shows are masters of creating the story and should perhaps think about doing one which follows 10 start-ups. Dragons Den might appear to fill this gap, but as everyone in that situation knows, getting the money in is only the beginning…

We’ve got something great coming your way shortly to help you boost your business: with or without millions in VC backing.

Until then, take the first steps in finding out how great HR can help your business by signing up for Free membership at theHRhub.

theHRhub is the ultimate online support service for startups and SMEs. We provide software, templates, expert advisers, a community forum and up to date news and views – straight to your tablet or mobile device. Find out more here

Image credit: Special Force Sniper Shot

Sitting Behind A Desk All Day Can Be Stifling. Is There An Alternative For Your Team?

Assuming you have passed Blue Monday without your good intentions being derailed, you’ve probably already been considering your own health and fitness this January. But have you thought about your employees? If you want your team to be firing on all cylinders, then it makes sense to consider how you’re enabling them to live a healthier and more balanced life. When it comes down to it, encouraging your staff to take care of themselves can have many business benefits. If you want a productive and present workforce, there are several things that you can do. Here, we explore your options:

Rethink Workplace Traditions

Everyone deserves a little bit of cake on their birthday. Annual treats are unlikely to do anyone any harm. But when your workplace traditions include fried breakfasts on Monday mornings, pizza during Wednesday meetings, and beers on Friday evenings, the impact can quickly mount up. Rather than taking away existing provisions, think about how you could put a more positive spin on them. Could you encourage staff to bring in their own healthy bakes?  Could you reward completed projects with fresh fruit platters? Or invest in a juicer & let people create their own unique blends?? Creating new traditions could be just what your employees need.

Get People Moving

It could be argued that sitting behind a desk all day is a pretty unnatural state for a human being. Of course though, operational constraints often mean that to a certain extent, you’re stuck with more sedentary ways of working. Small changes can make a huge difference, so don’t overlook them. Encourage staff to walk to their colleagues’ workstations instead of sending emails. Daily stand ups are common in tech teams, but try extending them for all meetings? Not just to give people’s circulation a boost but also would likely cut down the amount of unnecessary time in them. Or how about introducing standup desks? Too often, it’s easy to fall into the trap of getting stuck with existing routines, when alternatives are simple, low cost, and highly effective. When’s the last time you considered doing things a little differently?

Create A Friendly Sense Of Competition

People often love a challenge at this time of the year. You can use this to your advantage and encourage good behaviours whilst also encouraging individuals to collaborate towards a goal. You could divide your workforce into teams, and set a milestone, with a reward for whichever group gets there first. It could be miles walked (steps can be tracked by numerous apps: Steps, FitBit, Runkeeper), pounds lost, or something entirely different.

Think about the common goals of your staff, and how you can incorporate that. At first thought, you may think that the health and wellbeing of your employees isn’t really your responsibility. This isn’t the case though. With workers spending more and more time in the office, many would consider it a moral responsibility for businesses to ensure that some kind of balance is achieved. Also, the business benefits can be plentiful when you get it right.

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