I have been a sales recruiter here in the UK for almost 17 years, working on a broad range of assignments in almost every area of industry. You can imagine that during my time, I have seen a number of changes and innovations in the recruitment world and watched the way the market has constantly had to adapt. In all that time, only one thing has remained the same: namely that good, proven new business sales people or “hunters” have always been incredibly hard to recruit. In fact I would say without doubt, the number one challenge for sales recruiters in the UK has always been that there are far more account managers or “farmers” on the job market looking for new opportunities than new business sales people.
We have all read about the death of cold calling and how it’s not needed in the digital age – yet the most in-demand candidates are still proven new business sales professionals who have the ability to win new clients. At the end of the day it is this talent that will bring the additional revenue and growth that every organisation needs.
To set this in some sort of context, at this point I would just like to give these two types of sales roles some general definitions:
A new business sales “hunter” is someone who identifies, prospects and closes business opportunities with new clients. They spend the vast majority of their time researching new target organisations, constantly building new relationships in order to gain an opportunity to pitch their company’s services or products and ultimately secure a sale.
A “farmer” or account manager is someone who spends most of their time working with an existing portfolio of accounts who are already familiar with the organisation’s products or services. They spend most of their time ensuring that the client is happy, spends more and doesn’t consider other alternatives. They are also expected to develop the client relationship and see where they can expand the level of revenue in the existing client base.
The demand for new business sales hunters has always far outweighed the demand for account managers and this has only increased in the last two years as the UK economy has started to recover to pre-recession levels. The problem is that the role of the new business sales person is not as appealing as that of the account manager. These are just some of the reasons why:
- Firstly, there is a high level of rejection and although new business techniques have become a lot more sophisticated, it is still hard to take when the customer says no!
- It is time consuming. Unless you have been in a role like this before, you will not have an appreciation for how much time, research, effort and sheer hard work it takes to get from nowhere to an opportunity to pitch.
- The higher element of risk. When a hunter joins a new organisation they have no existing business to build from. They have to develop everything from scratch and as I said earlier, it can take a great deal of time. Plus there is a lot of chasing down blind alleys and pursuing customers who waste time or simply can’t make a decision.
- After all these years I feel that new business sales people are not recognised enough compared to account managers. When you look at the risks and time element involved in making a new business sales role a success, organisations simply aren’t rewarding these people well enough. Any other rare commodity usually comes at a high price.
My conclusion is that although the position is of vital importance in any business, leaders do not understand or value it highly enough. In many cases they have never even performed the role themselves and cannot relate to what their people have to contend with in a competitive market. You need a particular type of personality for a new business sales role – people have to have a unique combination of emotional intelligence, drive, resilience and courage to succeed. I feel a radical shift is required in the way new business sales hunters are remunerated and rewarded. Companies also desperately need to revise the approach they take to attracting and retaining this talent. I would welcome your thoughts on this.
John Corfield is an Associate Director with Austin Benn in London.