There is no business without customers for its products or services. Customers cannot be developed without some sort of sales effort. A lone consultant must organize his or her time to devote a significant amount of that time to developing new accounts – selling. The larger the corporation, the better organized the sales effort becomes. Even in these very difficult times, your sales organization must continue to be active. Customers will remember who calls on them when times are bad as well as when everyone has money to spend.

So who makes a successful sales person? Sometime ago I participated in a seminar on successful sales techniques. People were categorized generally into three personality types – hunters, gathers and farmers. The “hunter” is the usual prototype for the sales personality. The person who charges into a difficult situation and will never take no for an answer. In general, this is true. Many customers, however, particularly many technical people who have purchasing authority, are “farmers.” These might be engineers who spend their entire careers involved with things not people. A powerful hunter might be too intimidating for this farmer. A more comfortable relationship might emerge with one who has a gatherer’s personality – one who is more moderate and accommodating.

Both hunters and gatherers can be effective sales people, but farmer types generally will never make good sales people. Sometimes in the area of technical sales we look for the engineer who has that technical expertise to be able to understand the technology. We figure teaching sales techniques will be easy compared to trying to teach the technology to a political-science graduate. If that engineer hasn’t the personal skills to deal with the wide array of customer types from general managers and purchasing agents and shop superintendents, he will fail as a salesman.

My own experience has convinced me that it is easier to teach the technical skills than to change the personality. A four-year bachelor’s degree is not a necessary prerequisite for a successful sales person. In many cases it can be an impediment. Team sports participation is a particularly good background. The person must show an aggressive personality and be someone you should feel very comfortable with during the first moments of the job interview.

Good sales people, even more so than most employees, are really motivated by money. The most successful programs involve paying commissions based on sales and shipments. Usually, there is also a base salary in addition to the commissions. Depending on the margins at which your products sell, the commission-to-salary ratio will vary. High-margin products should be sold with a high commission-to-salary ratio. Basically, these are the products you want to sell first, so pay accordingly.