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June 1, 1999
Wanted: A Few Good Sales Reps
By Susan Helen Moran
In an executive suite in downtown Chicago, John Shave, the 33-year old president of
Globalcom Inc., an integrated communications provider (ICP), paces across the floor
analyzing 1998 W2s, stack rankings, sales reports and personality test results of a
prospective sales employee.
Shave is not alone in his vigilance when hiring salespeople. As telecom service
providers expand their product offerings and coverage, many executives are adopting
rigorous hiring practices, which–along with vigorous training, management and retention
practices–are essential components in growing and building a sales force.
"In the past, we could teach a salesperson about long distance.
Shave says the personality employment-screening test, developed by an independent
consultant, helps cover questions he may forget to ask in an interview. Candidates who
pass the test go into the field with a top Globalcom sales rep for three days of pounding
the pavement, selling multiple telecom products to downtown Chicago businesses. Then, the
candidate must jump through personal interview hoops with Globalcom’s director of sales,
operating manager and Shave himself.
Once hired, the pressure doesn’t stop. New sales reps must meet a preset quota within
the first three months or they’re out.
"[Our approach] may seem tough and abrasive, but I have Qwest [Communications
International Inc.], Frontier [Corp.], Teligent [Inc.], Allegiance [Telecom Inc.] and
about six other major carriers to compete with," Shave says. "[Unlike AT&T
Corp.,] I’m doing this all without half a billion dollars sitting in my operating
And his strategy seems to work. Presently, the 18-person sales team is writing upwards
of $130,000 a month in new business for Globalcom. Shave expects to grow the force as the
carrier continues its metamorphosis from an agent to a reseller to a facilities-based
carrier offering multiple telecom services, including high-speed Internet access and
advanced data services.
For most telecommunications carriers, attracting good reps is difficult. Referrals from
inside the carrier, professional recruiters, job fairs, college campuses and Internet
postings all are avenues taken by today’s telecom sales managers to find good salespeople,
says Cathryn DeMartino, vice president, Executive Search Division, the Lucas Group,
Vince DiBiase, chief sales officer at ICG Telecom Group, Englewood, Colo., prefers
hiring from employee referrals. ICG has two direct sales forces, which sell local dial
tone, high-speed dial tone access to the Internet, long distance, frame relay and digital
subscriber line (DSL), among other things. Its commercial sales team of more than 175 reps
sell to small and medium-sized businesses, while its 32-person national account sales
force sells to Internet service providers (ISPs). ICG covers several city markets in
California, Colorado, Texas and elsewhere and owns a total of 29 switches.
When an ICG sales rep recommends a former colleague for a sales position with ICG, and
that former colleague is hired, DiBiase pays the rep a $500 finder’s fee. "Also, you
have a team thing going on there where you may not otherwise," he says.
In addition, DiBiase uses his five inside recruiters and many outside recruiters,
including more than 10 in California alone. A candidate will interview with three sales
managers and ride along on sales calls with ICG reps for two half days. "People tend
to be more open with sales reps than with a manager in an interview," DiBiase
explains, adding that the field trip promotes a sense of responsibility on the part of the
ICG rep to show the candidate the ropes when hired.
DiBiase prefers to hire reps with telecom backgrounds, but finding them is difficult in
the shrinking telecom and sales labor pools, he says. "We are accepting less
technical reps these days–guys in the copier business or the office-supply business with
sales backgrounds," he says.
Globalcom’s Shave requires at least one year of telecom experience and an understanding
of the "cold-call nature of the business" from prospective sales employees.
In comparison, at least 80 percent of the reps hired by CIMCO Communications Inc. have
telecom experience. "We feel [our] salespeople must already understand the
industry," says Bill Capraro Jr., CEO of the Oakbrook, Ill.-based reseller. "We
are doing voice and data integration and our sales is a lot more technical these days. If
you are just doing voice, you could probably get away with hiring sales reps without a
telecom background," he says. CIMCO has about 35 direct salespeople and 15
integration specialists. "In the past, we could teach a salesperson about long
distance. Now, there’s too much to teach," he says.
Not all telecom sales managers agree that telecom experience is a top priority in
hiring, however. Tom Sterbenc, senior vice president of retail sales and customer service
at Vienna, Va.-based Cable & Wireless Inc., believes that the skill set needed to sell
today’s telecom services is about the same as a few years back. "The human
relationships stay the same. You sell yourself. You try to understand your customers’
needs. The marketplace and setting has changed in an unprecedented way, [but] I don’t
think you need a ‘higher type’ of person to sell the new products. The same [types of]
fine sales professionals can still do the job."
Traditionally, 21st Century Telecom Group Inc., Chicago, required telecom and sales
"We recruit at the state colleges and smaller private colleges, [looking for
Other telecom managers emphasize the need for caution when hiring potential direct
On the rare occasions that ICG’s DiBiase hires directly from a college, he makes the
CIMCO’s tactic: recruit at colleges that have telecom study programs. CIMCO managers
Carriers are focusing more attention on technical and sales training than they did in
ICG also has raised its training hurdles recently. New reps are given a
About three to six months after initial training, ICG managers re-evaluate the reps and
At Globalcom, after a similar one-week classroom training course in Chicago, reps from
As part of training, CIMCO’s Capraro believes that managers must teach their reps to
For every three appointments, Capraro expects one sale. It’s a tremendous amount of
To retain sale reps, carriers must be prepared to offer good salaries, among other
For reps right out of college, salary plus commission at 21st Century totals around
ICG pays its associate account reps a base salary of $25,000. With commission, it’s
The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates an increase in
Paying residuals–a small percentage of the customer’s ongoing payments–motivates a
Money isn’t all-important, carriers say. Company events and outings, such as playing
Telecommuting and tuition reimbursement also are among the common perks. Others are
Susan Helen Moran is a writer and independent consultant based in Oakton, Va. She
Read more about:Agents
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