How do you pick the right salespeople?

Ted Cowen

Question: It seems like I’m besieged on all sides by salespeople with what sound like great ideas to help “sell” my  products. How do I decide which to use? The money available for advertising is limited.

Answer: Those decisions are tough but also very necessary in a business. A good salesperson will make it tough by presenting all the potential benefits of their thing. But this is where the time spent in preparing the business plan will pay off. The immediate decisions should really be made based on the research, study and evaluation of the planning process. The only things that can change that are failure of the plan or a significant shift in the marketplace that calls for rejigging the plan.

In an aside, I have noticed that I was being sounded out by a worker for a decision that the “sounder-outer” should be making. I learned to shift back by asking questions about the observe or judge part of the observe, judge and act trio of decision-making. This can be effective in getting subordinates to do their homework  before a conference.

It reminds me of many years ago, when I wasn’t sure of the background or maybe even the politics of a company, I would visit my boss’s office and go over my projects by reporting the problem and my suggested solution.

This allowed a short discussion so if there was something I’d missed or that my boss objected to, I could still correct it. Over time, I learned his values and gained confidence in my decision-making. Soon the visits were to report problems with the decisions, “just keeping you informed of what I’m doing,” and later it was “just so you are aware of actions taken” sort of meeting. The communication was good, and it also avoided my boss being blind-sided by one of my decisions.

But back to your question. This would  be the advantage of the planning process, where many of these options might have been discussed and investigated.

The conceptual elements of the marketplace would have been addressed in the planning process so that the objectives will take into account much of what the salesperson is trying to “sell.” In the organizing phase of the business plan, the strategies would have been researched, evaluated and  selected. Probably, one would have even looked at the tactics to be used to accomplish these strategies.

That’s really the benefit of the whole planning process -- looking at all those possible options and evaluating those most likely to accomplish the objectives. If the salesperson is bringing to the table things that have developed since the plan was made, or even things that were not considered, it still makes it easy to take the information back to the planning table to be weighed. However, to jump in with a change before the full evaluation can be foolhardy.

Our instincts are usually right because they are based on experience, research, evaluation and education. On the other hand, impulses can be based on likes, dislikes, prejudices or fear. It’s important to sort this out before wandering from the plan.

Ted Cowen is a counselor for Northern Illinois SCORE, a volunteer organization that offers free, confidential mentoring, coaching and counseling to existing, new and future businesses and low-cost workshops to entrepreneurs and small-business owners. E-mail or go to