Recruitment and selection of salespeople - Marketing Management

Salespersons vary in accordance with the product/service to be sold and the nature of the selling situation. We set out four key elements in a typical sales job description:

  1. Responsibility The representative is responsible directly to the sales manager.
  2. Objective To achieve the annual sales target across the product range in the area for which the salesperson is responsible as economically as possible and within the limits of company policy.
  3. Planning To be familiar with company policy plus the ability to plan and achieve defined objectives within the limits of that policy. To submit a periodic plan for a specific territory to higher management.
  4. Implementation To act as a link between customer and head office; organize travel itinerary effectively; develop skill in selling; maintain and submit accurate records; gather market intelligence and report this to head office; assess potential of sales territory in terms of time available for visits, outlets for company products and activity of the opposition; protect and promote the company image; protect the company’s business by avoiding unnecessary expense; be a good team member, and set a good example by maintaining loyalty towards superiors. Many customers do not see representatives of companies with whom they deal other than the salesperson who calls on them, so frequent changes of representative can have an unsettling effect on customers and their ordering habits. In a sense, the salesperson is the company ambassador. It is reassuring for the customer if the same salesperson calls regularly to build up a good working relationship, for the salesperson’s role is important in upholding the company’s image and for building trust. The salesperson is relied on to provide goods that are suitable and to supply them when required at a fair price.

Because of the differential performance between ‘good’ and ‘average’ sales staff, which Jobber and Lancaster contend may be as high as 30 per cent, it is important that the right type of person is selected for the job. Their research finds that nearly 50 per cent of sales managers find recruiting good sales staff difficult. For this reason, what might normally be regarded as a human resource issue is highlighted here, because salespersons are the conduit through which revenue is generated for the company. Recruiting and selecting sales staff sales (staff recruitment) requires a systematic and ordered approach for reasons of:

  • checking that all duties are covered;
  • enabling selection decisions to be made;
  • providing criteria against which to appraise performance and identify training needs;
  • giving motivation as the salesperson knows the job’s limits and opportunities;
  • providing basis for the advertisement.

The job description should include information like: job title; job location; job objectives; person to whom the successful applicant will be responsible; subordinates (if any); duties of the position; evaluation of performance and remuneration. The job description needs to be drawn up on the basis of a job analysis which includes the personnel profile of the type of person required to fulfil the job description, setting out qualities, skills and experience that an ideal salesperson should possess. Quantitative factors such as age, experience, qualifications, intelligence and health are easy to identify, but character traits such as willingness to work hard to achieve results; perseverance; interpersonal relationships; loyalty; self-reliance; empathy; persuasiveness; flexibility and resilience are difficult to assess on an application form, so these are best assessed in an interview setting. Some salespeople expect to be rewarded directly by results and this type of person is best suited to a position paid on a commission basis, or part salary, part commission. Straight salary jobs suit people who feel security is more important than risk taking.

During the 1990s many financial product salespersons were remunerated on a commission-only basis. In selling products such as pensions and life insurance schemes, the inducement to sell in return for high commissions resulted in many inappropriate schemes being sold to unsuspecting customers. This is termed the ‘pensions misselling era’, the effects of which still impact on the financial services industry. As a result of this, new legislation was introduced and some financial services companies were removed, while others now have substantially modified remuneration schemes to replace those that were based on commission only.

Selling jobs vary in the degree of social status they confer. Door-to-door selling is perceived as ranking low, and generally selling positions do not offer much scope for the exercise of power. Jobs involving detailed specifications, like selling drugs to doctors or dealing with architects, are more suited to specific personalities. The importance of competitiveness depends on how the company views the selling task and some introduce a spirit of competitiveness by running sales contests. Desire to serve is a trait that salespeople should possess.

A personnel specification for a sales job may include factors that are difficult to appraise and assess in a candidate. Lancaster and Simintiras8 conducted research from the point of view of salespeople. This indicated that the best efforts by salespeople do not always lead to performance maximization and factors like role clarity and social interaction with management can lead to greater job satisfaction, rather than simply financial reward.

As the nature of the selling job itself changes so too must our ideas about the qualities and skills we are looking for in the salesperson. In particular we must be careful to dispense with what many feel are outdated preconceptions of the effective salesperson such as for example that they should always be extroverts or have ‘the gift of the gab’. Piercy and Lane9 have suggested that the role of selling has changed from being based on ‘conventional transactional sales activities’ to one of strategic customer management.

In turn this requires new types of sales skills and activities and hence different attributes in the salespeople we are seeking to employ. Elements of sound sales recruitment are to provide continuity of representation in individual territories and economy in generating sufficient applicants for appraisal. A source of recruitment is the company’s marketing department as such people have a thorough grounding in the company’s methods, products and policies, so if they have the right temperament they are likely to be successful. Another is through recommendation from friends, customers, employees or educational establishments. The obvious source is through the press and through the company’s website. ‘Short-listing’ is an important stage of selection when potential candidates are called for interview.

The interview should be structured using an interview record form. It consists of questions that explore work history and personal details. The interview should begin by informing the candidate of the purpose of the interview and the time it should take. A detailed explanation of the job should be given and the candidate should be allowed the opportunity to ask questions. Next, questions should be asked about the candidate’s present or last job, widening out into a detailed questioning of the candidate’s work history and ability to perform the job that is vacant. Some companies favour group interviews where short-listed candidates are requested to attend at the same time. They might be asked to discuss a specific subject or topic that is sometimes controversial. Human resource and sales staff might be brought in to listen. Each senior staff member is usually assigned a particular candidate and the staff member assesses the candidate by means of a rating chart. The group interview is usually followed by a conventional interview.

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