I’m not a hockey fan. My husband is, so I’ve seen a game or two in my time. (Go Jets!) A lot of parallels can be drawn between sales teams and sports teams, and today I want to focus on the concept of the “farm team” and how it applies to building a sales team. For those of you who are also not hockey enthusiasts, a pro hockey team has the support of a junior team that maintains a roster of conditioned players that can be pulled up to their “A” team when there is a need and the time is right.

A common misconception is that lead generation, (or demand generation or appointment setting), is the “farm team” for your sales team. However, Lead generation is not sales. The skills required to be great at it aren’t the same as the skills that make a great sales rep. So when you are creating a “farm team” of lead generators that you hope to one day turn in to great sales reps, you can compare it to taking a team of great basketball players and inviting them to play “A” level hockey. Yes, they are elite athletes, so some of their skills will be transferrable, but they are never going to be great hockey players.

As we have built our team over the last year, we have learned a lot about what makes a good lead generator. We have grown our team from four to twenty, and like many new bootstrapped SMBs, we did it on trial and error. This year, we wanted to start eliminating the error and find the “magic sauce”. I too believed once that a sales rep’s skills would transfer beautifully to lead generation and vice versa.

We first started noticing the huge differences between sales and lead generation when we tried out different comp models. We offered new team members a choice of two different comp plans – a higher base with no per meeting variable compensation, or a lower base with a per-meeting performance incentive. The lead generators that chose a base salary were consistently providing good meetings. Their numbers weren’t always out of this world, but the meetings that were scheduled were quality.

The lead generators that chose the lower base plus a bump for meetings would schedule more meetings, but their meetings had an above average number of no-shows and cancellations, plus we would regularly receive feedback from clients that was less than positive. The meeting was okay, they would say, but it perhaps didn’t meet one of the most important qualifiers as identified at the outset of the program, or the contact had no authority to make a decision.

We noticed most of the time, the people who chose the variable comp had sales experience, while those who chose the less volatile comp plan were not. We started weighing “previous sales experience” less heavily in our searches, and started looking for things like long term, steady employment records at jobs that paid significantly less than this one.

The second thing we noticed was the difference in numbers stacked against attention to detail. We could have dynamos that dialed 150 calls an hour or we could have excellent, concise notes with follow up calendars strictly adhered to, but we couldn’t have both very often. That’s when we started looking for people who worked in roles that required repetition and attention to detail. We stopped looking for telemarketers. Our turnover went down.  Quality control went up. Clients started commenting on the changes. They voted with their dollars, and they sent over referrals.

So, now we sort of knew what we were looking for, and our theory on sales and lead generation being very different roles was now a deeply held belief. We were getting better at eyeing it on a resume, but we weren’t really able to quantify it by anything other than “gut feeling” until we started working with a company called ClearFit.

ClearFit took my theory, nodded their heads and added science. Or magic. Or something. They showed me that my hypothesis was correct, and they gave me a list of traits ranked in order of importance for the role I was looking to fill. Being attracted to a variable comp plan is a trait that ClearFit helped us define as Risk Tolerance. Sales Reps have it, and good lead generators have much, much less of it.

Hundreds of dials a day? That’s a trait ClearFit identified as Drive. Sales reps have a lot of it. Excellent notes and follow ups? That’s called Organization, and great lead generators have it in spades. However, Organization is not on the sales rep profile wish list, and Drive doesn’t crack the top five for lead generators.

So how do people with no Drive succeed making cold calls? Easy. Again, thanks to ClearFit, we understand that good lead generators have a trait called Service Orientation. They’re invested in the success of their team, their company and their clients. If making 100 calls a day is what it takes, that’s what they do. Lead generators are invested in the success of all stakeholders on a project. They take leadership well. (It’s the second most important trait for a lead generator!) They closely resemble not sales reps, but (dramatic pause) customer service reps.

This brings us back to the “bench”. Want to create a killer lead generation team? Start looking at the people in your organization who are providing amazing customer service and exceptional help desk support. They are your lead generation bench. Instead of taking your best lead generators and making them into okay sales reps, why not create amazing lead generators? That’s right – create them. The thing lead generators need more than anything else to be successful is leadership. Then take those incredible lead generators and pair them with your best sales reps to create a high performance, unstoppable sales machine.

I’m not going to preach, I’m grateful for the misconception. This misplaced “bench” belief system may be the exact reason lead generation companies like ours have been so successful. Many SMBs add a sales rep to their team expecting them to go out and get leads. The sales rep quickly loses steam, and ultimately they leave to find a role more suitable. Other companies hire sales reps that can find lots of opportunities, but can’t close any of them (they were probably lead generator personalities). Both of these types of companies eventually come to us to talk about getting more qualified leads for their team.

For your reference, the most desirable profile traits for a sales rep are these:

1. Drive

2. Influencing Others

3. Risk Tolerance

4. Recovery From Setbacks

5. Takes Leadership

The most desirable profile traits for a customer service rep/lead generator look like this:

1. Service Orientation

2. Takes Leadership

3. Consideration for Others

4. Organization

5. Stress Tolerance

If you want to learn more about ClearFit, you can find them online at www.clearfit.com. If you want to learn more about how we help IT companies grow by increasing their sales, you can call Tracie Orisko at 204-572-5072. To learn more about hockey, I can’t help you.