The HBR Advice You Need Your Competitors to Follow

Astonishingly mediocre advice.

In their February 1, 2016 article on HBR - Hiring Star Salespeople Isn't the Best Way to Grow, Frank V. Cespedes and Jacco van der Kooj argued:

"You see Pareto’s Principle applied to sales all the time — the top 20% of a sales force produces 80% of a company’s revenues and margins — and it’s applicable in a variety of sectors. In B2B contexts, for example, rep performance in similar territories often varies by 300% between top and bottom quintiles, and in retail stores selling productivity typically varies by a factor of three to four.  So it’s no surprise that a company’s usual response to stalled growth is to hire more stars. Not_including_sales_hiring_as_a_dominant_strategy_is_bad_business.jpg

There are a few problems with the hire-stars approach, however. First, there are only so many stars to go around since everyone is fighting over the same candidates.  Second, even if you do manage to hire stars, their unique skill sets may not be easily portable."

Rather than focus on finding and hiring top sales stars who are few and far between and may not work out anyways, the authors suggest, "If companies want to scale, they need to improve their sales processes.

That, my friends, is mediocre advice. This is sound advice for average companies who accept second place.

Properly-scaling a company requires the best sales talent in concert with the best sales process strategy.

One strategy without the other is a sentence in mediocrity.

Companies who intend to scale AND expect to stay competitive, seek continuous improvement opportunities in both their sales talent AND sales processes. Yes, improved sales processes can multiply the typical sales team's effectiveness. But the sales process multiplier is magnified significantly when star salespeople are using them.

This is a dual sales maximization strategy. 

Improvement of sales processes is just as essential as identifying sales stars. 

Each strategy depends upon the other. Each strategy magnifies the other's multiplier effect.

  • Sales processes will NOT be maximized without star salespeople using them.
  • Star salespeople will NOT be maximized without solid sales processes.  

Your competitors from hell are focusing on BOTH strategies. They are not favoring one strategy over the other.

One strategy without the other is not playing to win.

A sales star is not a sales star.

Furthermore, the authors stated,

"Even if you do manage to hire stars, their unique skill sets may not be easily portable. Research indicates that there’s good chance that a star at Company A won’t be a star — or even productively relevant — at Company B."

Excuse me?

The world of sales is not middle school where everyone gets to be a star just by fogging a mirror. 

If I hired a sales star in a prior sales role and they are unable to sell in a different sales role, then by definition they are not a sales star in the second role. A sales star account manager is probably not going to be a sales star outside salesperson. This is practically a law of the sales universe.

In fact, a sales star in one role is often a complete dud in a different sales role. If the experience, education, Behaviors, Motivators, Acumen, and Skills necessary to sell in a given sales role do not exist in a particular sales candidate, it is quite unlikely they will be a sales star in that role.

The only way to know if a sales candidate or existing salesperson has the capacity to be a sales star is to complete a sales hiring scorecard to see how they score.


The real problem isn't lack of star sales talent. 

The real problem is a limited sales hiring mindset.

There aren't enough sales stars to go around because few companies adequately invest to go beyond the low-hanging fruit competitors pursue.

Few companies are willing to step up by investing in a sales recruiting strategy that actually accomplishes their star sales hiring needs.

Pursuing sales stars is an expensive investment that pays profound dividends. Yet few companies step up. Few companies commit the kind of resources necessary to get the sales stars their competitors' budgets miss.

Instead, so many in HR, sales management, and the C-suite lament, "There just aren't enough sales stars to go around."

Play to win.

Few CEOs and VPs of sales play to win when it comes to maximizing sales talent acquisition and sales processes. In fact, most accept mediocrity just like their competitors.

Those who do play to win realize the power of the dual strategy of relentlessly pursuing true sales stars and deploying the best possible sales processes.

Hiring star salespeople coupled with using the best sales processes is the best way to grow sales.

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