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A Man For All Seasons: How Transferrable Are The Skills and Experiences of Salespeople?

At the height of the dotcom boom in the late 1990’s (remember that?) one of my dotcom customers (thirty employees with VC backing and a high “burn-rate”) enthused to me about a salesperson he had just employed. This new employee was going to “set the world on fire”! He was going to “hit the ball right out of the park”! Wow!

Within three months he was gone and my customer was the best part of £75,000 poorer as a result and mightily chastened.

¿Qué ha pasado?

My customer was an early stage VC invested software and services company with one early adopter customer. The selling they needed to undertake was to acquire all new name business. Other than the early adopter, they had no customers, no accounts. It was all pioneering. There was no company infrastructure of which to speak: three founders, all technical, a sales manager, a secretary and the rest mostly developers and some project managers.

Into this, my customer had hired someone whose whole working life had been working as an Account Manager in a major blue-chip technology multi-national behemoth. He had an excellent track record with great interpersonal skills, deep domain knowledge and had always made and mostly exceeded his target.

His motivation for a change was to seek a fresh challenge; in this respect he certainly succeeded!

My customer’s motivation was to bring on board a “real heavyweight”; in this respect they also succeeded!

Here is a “fly-on-the-wall listen-in” to an edited conversation the new salesperson had with his sales manager.

New Salesperson (NS) “Who does our telemarketing”?

Sales Manager (SM) “You do”;

NS: “Who runs our marketing campaigns?

SM: “You do”;

NS: “Who develops our marketing materials and presentations”?

SM: “You do. You have a laptop with a full set of applications including a CRM and both office and mobile 'phones. You have a company car. You can walk over to our CTO if you have technical and/or product questions, what more do you need"?

I am sure you get the picture. He was completely out of his depth and comfort zone and my customer utterly non-plussed.

Conversely, another customer of mine, this one a large multi-national systems integrator, wanted to open up a new market. They decided to employ a new business “sales athlete”. They took on someone who had worked in a high-growth consultancy who was also looking for a fresh challenge. In this respect she, too, succeeded!

The challenge, though, was not the selling part; it was the, to her, stifling processes and bureaucracy. She landed up exclaiming: “what do you want me to do? Sell or fill out forms?”! She, as well, lasted not more than six months.

These are both tales highlighting that the “road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Nobody, neither employer nor employee set out with the intention of it not working out. For all, there were risks not to be taken lightly.

If this sounds familiar to you as an employer or an employee then what is the single most important lesson?

What about that, there is not a “Man for all seasons”; that there is not such a thing as a generic “great salesperson” devoid of context?

How would it be then, that, when hiring great talent, five key criteria were taken into consideration and tested by both parties, these being: critical reasoning, behaviours, motivators, skills and cultural fit?


If you are curious about this, register your interest by contacting me, John Busby, to discuss at:; + 44 7968 066 165

Copyright©2015 John Busby

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