Entrepreneurs have a certain set of characteristics and skills that often make them very successful at sales but, at a fundamental level, entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs who can sell, but they are not salespeople.  When I have asked entrepreneur/business owners about what qualities they are looking for in hiring their ideal salespeople, what I typically hear are:

  • I want someone hungry
  • I want someone self-motivated
  • I want someone who is adaptive and can figure it out on the run
  • I want someone both very smart and creative
  • I want someone who is a team player
  • I want someone who I can build a team around (leader)

Guess what?  This description of an ideal sales person is really a description of the entrepreneur themselves!  It is the description of an entrepreneur, not a salesperson.  While there are going to be exceptions, the vast majority of journeyman, successful salespeople:

  • Have limited ambition
  • Need direction and focus
  • Are not great at figuring a sale process on their own and need information about the sales process defined for them
  • Tend to be focused on themselves and less interested in doing things to advance the business or even their career beyond what benefits them directly and immediately
  • Aren't great team players
  • Are often lazy
  • Have limited creativity and like to work within a defined procedures and bounds
In short, salespeople and entrepreneurs tend to be different personality types.  This gap between entrepreneur's dream salesperson and the reality of what is in the salesperson marketplace leads to trouble over and over.  Inevitably, entrepreneurs find salespeople that are either:

  • Like themselves who end up becoming competition to them (since the salespeople hired are entrepreneurial) by leaving to start their own businesses, or
  • Too expensive to hire, too demanding and too impatient, or
  • Employees who will, inevitably, fall short of the entrepreneur's expectation because they are not as ambitious, not as creative, not as smart, not as self motivated and not as hungry as the entrepreneur.


Entrepreneurs need to understand this and manage both their hiring process and their expectations accordingly.  They will not find people as smart as they are.  They will not find people as self motivated as they are.  Stop looking!

What is needed first and foremost is a sales process that can be executed by an employee of reasonable and hire-able qualities and performance.  A sales process needs to be built that is realistic.  It has to be able to be executed by people the company can afford, can find and can be trained and that are not the dream candidate of the entrepreneur.  The dream candidates are either too expensive to hire or just don't exist. 

This may be the biggest hurdle that small companies have in getting to the next level.  It is the transition of the company to one that runs on defined and realistic management processes and systems rather than just the will and efforts of the entrepreneur.

Often, transitioning to using management processes and systems means a company needs to "dumb down" or simplify the entrepreneurs sales process to something more easily described, taught, executed and managed.  For example, when the entrepreneur is doing all the sales him or herself, maybe sales reports, notes and a CRM system aren't really necessary because the entrepreneur can keep track of opportunities and is naturally very good at following up.  Once a company begins to have to manage a sales team made up of those who are less self motivated and are generally lower skilled than the entrepreneur, more formal systems and management protocols are going to be inevitably necessary.

In hiring, entrepreneurs need to develop a hiring and training process (as part of the sales process) that balances supply and demand.  Supply is what kind of candidates are available.  There is no point spending time writing job descriptions for candidates that don't exist at what the company can afford to pay.  Demand is the aptitudes, experiences and performance history that are needed.  If the company can't find candidates that meet the requirements it must also consider changing the sales process and thus changing the skills necessary to accommodate the candidates that are, in fact, available.

I can't write this article without reflecting on hiring successes and failures that I have made in hiring sales people and lessons from the best sales processes and teams I have seen over the years.  The best sales processes are repeatable and scalable sales processes that allow a company to grow its sales team and sales results by just upping their level of investment.  They just need to add bodies through their hiring process, add training resources and desks and then they will get a predicted number of sales people who emerge as successful and a predictable number of sales people that will not make the grade and a predictable bump in sales.