22 Dec 2008
In the end, business all comes down to selling. Someone’s got to do it, few like
it and even fewer are great at it.
A common mistake made by non-entrepreneurs is that entrepreneurs are good salespeople.
Some are, but by no means all.
So, for those of us who aren’t natural salespeople – or who need to get someone
else to do it so we can focus on growing our businesses – we need to hire the right
In this final podcast for 2008 Guy Kingston and John Richards offer advice from
their own experience about the dos and don’ts of getting the right person.
Recession – Time To Hire More Salesmen
It might seem crazy to be talking about hiring – yes, hiring – more staff in a recession.
Most companies are worrying about having to lay people off.
It might seem doubly insane, in one sense at least, to be talking of hiring in the
sales department of all places. After all, when you have to make cuts, you must
make them first of all in the variable costs rather than the fixed costs of a business
– and a properly run sales department should be the ideal example of a variable
cost. It should cost more when sales are high and less when they are low. Indeed,
in theory, the perfect sales department would be based entirely on commission so
that it would cost nothing if there were no sales, and expenditure would rise in
direct proportion with income.
The reality is that sales demand some prior investment. Even the best salesmen are
reluctant to rely entirely on commission. They know their value to a business and
are usually confident enough to demand a basic salary up front. The only people
prepared to work for commission only are the desperate. It is therefore one of several
paradoxes in sales that those who are most likely to be able to live on commission
alone are the very people who are most likely to demand more than just commission.
Since you do not want your business to be represented by losers – even losers who
cost nothing up front – you need to reconcile yourself to paying a basic salary
to your sales staff before they sell anything.
So, in practice, the sales department is not the variable cost that it should be
Yet it is still a cost, and in a recession, one should cut costs – right?
Not necessarily. A business should always be looking for opportunities to cut surplus
expenditure in order to maximise its cost effectiveness, and its competitiveness
in terms of price. This should be a constant discipline and it is obviously particularly
important in time of recession.
However, it should be equally obvious that it is false economy to cut expenditure
that is necessary for the proper operation of the business. After all, the only
business with zero expenditure is a business that is not doing business.
So simply reducing costs is not the correct response to a recession. It may be necessary
in the short term, but in the longer term it can only lead to oblivion.
The alternative to decreasing costs is increasing income. In fact, a good recession
strategy will contain elements of both.
Increasing income means investing more in sales. This may sound risky but it is
actually more risky to do nothing. In a recession competition becomes tighter. You
must fight harder for every customer. As business becomes ever more ruthless, you
must fight to keep your customers and to pick up any new customers who might still
have money to spend. To invest less in sales at such a time means losing customers
to those who invest more.
Remember that there are new customers to be found even in a recession. When a company
goes bust, its customers do not die suddenly of neglect. Most are still alive, still
solvent, and still spending. They will probably be looking for a new supplier of
whatever the fallen company provided. That is an opportunity for its competitors.
On the supply side, recession is also an excellent time to pick up experienced sales
staff from bankrupt competitors. Such people usually bring with them address books
full of former customers and other useful contacts.
Of course, spending more money on sales staff in a recession is a risk. Yet all
investment in business is a risk. Recessions do not alter the rules of the game.
They simply makes the odds tighter. Competitors become more competitive, and the
chances of failure increase – but so do the rewards of success for those who keep
© Agincourt Productions