A close friend and seasoned sales rep who’s currently looking for a new sales gig seemed flustered and distracted during a coffee meeting last week. I asked him, “What’s on your mind?”. He shared a story: “I’m on an interview this morning with a prospective new firm and the hiring manager – who was in fact the CEO – asks me within the first 10 minutes of the interview: ‘So, how’s your Rolodex?’ You have no idea how much this pissed me off”.
I can relate. It’s a lot like how a woman must feel on a first date if a guy asks as soon as they sit down “So, after dinner are we going back to your place or mine?”. In keeping with this provocative analogy – there’s nothing inherently wrong with that guy’s intentions – we all know they are pretty common. The issue was really more in his approach. Sure, he may have wanted a specific outcome, but he would likely been more successful if he had waited until after dessert to bring it up!
The same applies in the Sales Rep Hiring process. Follow me here. I swear this will make sense.
In the case of the date scenario above, the guy clearly wasn’t looking for a wife. And in the case of my friends frustrating interview, my hunch (I’m likely correct) is that the CEO wasn’t looking for a long term sales person either. He was looking for a pot of new warm meetings. Not a good approach.
First – for the purposes of this inquiry let’s call this The Rolodex Hire – I firmly believe that hiring a salesperson simply on the merits of their Rolodex can be a sign of a very shortsighted organization – or a sign that the hiring manager either has never been a salesperson or they have and simply have little respect for the underlying value of the sales process.
Here’s why: The hiring company is basically communicating that they are only interested in buying your relationships – which for most top sellers are the fruit of literally decades of time, keeping promises, building trust & value – not to mention money, invested in airplane travel, hotel stays, drinks, dinners, golf outings, baseball seats and the like. More important is the investment of one’s integrity, ones’ word, solving problems, fixing screw ups and creating meaning from madness; the things that the best sales people know is their real job anyway.
A sales rep’s Rolodex is the precious cumulative fruit of their sweat and labor. Asking a sales person to simply bring all of that over to ‘my company’ for a salary and a commission is big ask – and can be easily perceived as an arrogant and out-of-touch requirement without the additional offer of a long term commitment and partnership. “Why would I just bring all of my hard earned 20 years of hand-built reputation over to your firm for a salary and a bonus? Is that a truly equitable value exchange? I think not. Make me a partner. Give some REAL equity. Make an equitable commitment to ME in exchange. Have something super valuable and useful for me to sell.” ‘ The Rolodex Hire’ makes practical sense – but it demands respect. Anyone in sales understands the value of one’s network -and knows that it should be respected – not just exploited.
Also, there is another shortsighted component to this: Once any rep’s Rolodex has been exhausted, it’s over. If a rep has a solid list of contacts – trusted buyers with a solid proven foundation – there are still numerous mitigating factors that go into a sale independent of the relationship: timing, budget, organizational and technical conditions notwithstanding. So, a Rolodex is not a guarantee. But it’s a great start for sure – and the one of the most valuable things that a seasoned sales person brings to the table. The hardest part of any sale is building trust. A built-in trust network is worth its weight in gold. So, I can totally understand a company’s desire to hire someone who has a built in network of trusted buyers. But the key is to be upfront about it. Let the sales rep candidate know what you are really looking for: fresh meetings – not a long term relationship. That sets the table more honestly and also provides for a better targeting parameter for your HR department and a more honest and ultimately successful outcome for all parties involved.
But, here’s my second and more salient point: What I think most companies NEED (not want) are relationship BUILDERS. What companies really should hire – aside from a rep’s established buyer base – is an ABILITY to CONTINUALLY BUILD a buyer-base – not just exhaust the one that they have already built. The best reps come equipped with both an established trust network AND an ability to build one in real time. And I’ve seen time and again, that the ability to establish, grow and extend networks of trust is an attribute that is far more advantageous for a company to look for than simply the size of a reps existing network.
So, for Sales Reps: When interviewing, look for these signals: When the hiring manager(s) ask a lot of questions about your rolodex or network, beware. This is a one-night stand situation. So, navigate accordingly. If they want to ‘buy’ your relationships, make sure they know the value of your relationships and determine:
- Is their product or service worth an extension of credit from your network?
- Will this product or service maintain / sustain your current reputation among your trusted rolodex network?
- What is that worth? (That’s how you negotiate your rate)
For Hiring Managers: Do you need a slew of new meetings immediately or a long term sales rep who builds a book of business over time? Make sure you know before you meet with candidates.
Oh, and wait until the check comes before you ask about their network.