Hiring an Online Sales Specialist

Filling this singular role requires a special process to pinpoint the best talent

By Mike Lyon | August 14, 2015
online sales-person using laptop-photo
By using the right hiring technique, you’ll save considerable time by getting the right person, right away.

Sales and marketing leaders all across the country have heard—or will soon hear—this request: You need to hire an online sales specialist, and he or she had better be great. Whether you’re creating this position, replacing an underperforming employee, or expanding your team, the online sales program is now a priority for builders everywhere.

Why? Because so many builders are seeing the huge opportunity to increase sales by improving the customer experience on the front end. Surveys show us, year after year, that if you send new leads to front-line sales, they often receive less-than-stellar follow-up. Last year, the Online Lead Response Survey we conducted in partnership with Lasso CRM revealed that 39 percent of the builders shopped did not respond via email to leads and 69 percent never called the lead.

The bad news is that most builders aren’t following up. The good news is that most builders aren’t following up. That creates tremendous opportunity for those who are following up with prospects and exceeding their expectations.

When you establish a position to manage all of these new contacts—combined with the right follow-up process—you will increase sales dramatically. Believe it or not, you’ll be able to instantly place yourself in the top 3 percent of builders nationwide.

Avoid Common Pitfalls

Start off by hiring the right online sales specialist. Don’t fall into common traps we often see:

  • Grabbing that admin who isn’t doing anything else and having him or her do it.
  • Turning it over to your marketing person.
  • Recruiting the same way you do for your sales team.

This role is the face of your organization—the first contact that many will have with your company. It’s not a salesperson in the classic sense. It’s also not a marketing person per se, and it most definitely is not an admin or support position. Your online sales specialist requires a unique set of skills in order to be successful. If you underestimate the importance, you set up the person and the position for failure—potentially dismissing a valuable role for your company because of poor hiring practices. Put as much effort into finding the right person as you would for anyone on your sales team.

Hunters vs. Farmers

Your typical salesperson has a classic hunter profile. Find the sale, kill the sale, drag the sale home, and triumphantly drop it in front of the manager. While he ogles the kill, the salesperson might say, “I did the hard work. Do your own paperwork.” (Can you tell that I’m a salesperson, too?)

Many salespeople claim they’re not detail oriented. When you talk about long-term follow-up, segmentation, lead scoring, and analytics, their eyes glaze over. That’s inherent with this species, and it’s why they excel in their sales role. A driver personality is rejection-resistant: The word “no” only motivates them to work harder on discovering what it will take to close the deal.

Conversely, the role of the online sales specialist requires more of a farmer personality. These kinds of people don’t mind cultivating a lead for months, days--even years. They don’t care where or when the prospect buys. Their job is to dig and patiently nurture potential buyers along the path to purchase.

“Finding new potential customers who have the ability, authority, and willingness to purchase” is an accurate description of this sort of prospecting. The primary goal is to deliver qualified traffic to the onsite sales team.

Finding a patient, diligent, and successful online sales spe­cial­ist requires finding someone who:

  • Is measured by a different set of metrics.
  • Understands marketing and sales and the importance of nurturing a lead as part of the process.

Now that we’ve established that you’ll need a professional with a distinct set of skills and personality traits, let’s look at the best way to find this person.

Use a Precise Search Process

With a targeted hiring process, you will be able to attract the top talent: not necessarily the ones with the most experience but candidates who are highly coachable and possess the greatest drive; who have a positive attitude and the ability to follow a process to convert prospects to appointments. Here’s how to reap the results you’re looking for by taking the time and using a systematic, defined process.

You already know the basics: Utilize all the job boards and hiring sites that make sense for your market. Post the opening and description. Then, make sure that you:

1. Conduct the entire interview process over the phone and email.

That’s how 99.4 percent of your customers will be interacting with this new hire. Measure responsiveness. Is the communication quick? If the person you’re interviewing doesn’t get back with you in a timely fashion, he or she won’t be fast at follow-up.

2. Send out a questionnaire to all candidates who seem to be a close enough fit. (You will be surprised how many never respond.)

How they answer the questions will be a great way to get a feel for their ability to communicate in writing.

3. With candidates who make it past this step, schedule a quick phone interview to explain the position and talk about the company.

Then, ask many of the same questions from the original questionnaire. Again, you’re trying to judge how engaging they are on the phone. Do they answer questions well? Are they likable? Don’t spend the entire call talking--get the candidate to talk to you.

4. When you hang up, wait for the candidate to send you a thank you email.

The process ends there for those who don’t. Have those who do take a profile test. We like the DISC profile (the letters stand for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness.)

5. When you receive the DISC, make sure you like the results before moving on to a second phone interview.

6. On this phone interview, role-play a portion of a call, with you as the customer.

After a few minutes, provide some coaching and see how the applicant responds to the feedback. How well did the candidate respond to feedback? Is she or he coachable?

7. After they send a thank you email, ask them to visit www.bombbomb.com, set up a free account, and send a video in which they explain why they would be the best fit for this position.

This allows you to see body language and facial expression and to observe comfort level with technology and video communication.

8. Only when you decide to offer the position should you meet in person. 

You may be thinking, “Holy cow, this is rigorous.” Abso­lutely. The process outlined above allows you to quickly filter through hundreds of candidates to get to the top five in no time. If they can’t follow this process, communicate well, and show you their best self, then they’ll never be able to follow a rigorous process with prospects. This approach is designed to allow you to observe the quality and quantity of their communication before extending the job offer. You’ll save considerable time by getting the right person, right away.

Recruiting isn’t easy. Too often the process isn’t systematic: We get a recommendation, have an in-person meeting, get a good gut feeling, make the hire, and hope it works out.

Don’t be left trying to figure out how to get rid of someone you’ve just hired. Take your time, follow this hiring process, and your next online sales specialist will rise to the top of a crowded sea of job candidates. What’s more, he or she will help you do better business.

Contributing Editor

Mike Lyon is president of Do You Convert, a company exclusively focused on online sales and marketing for home builders and developers. Write him at mike@doyouconvert.com.


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