Q: I'm struggling to find great salespeople. How can I improve my results?
A: Many sales bosses are encountering the same problem as you are. However, your personal bias and definition of what makes a great salesperson could be the real obstacles to hiring one.
Great salespeople aren't born; they're made — but they're made a long time before they show up on your doorstep. In Malcolm Gladwell's bookOutliers, he writes about people needing 10,000 hours of concentrated practice at something to be truly expert in it. Many of the attributes of a great salesperson are soft skills that are learned and imbedded in people's psychelong before they even contemplate a career in sales — things like a genuine empathy forpeople, a deeply rooted interest in and satisfaction derived from helping others, curiosity, a positive attitude and resilience in the face of adversity.
However, these are also not easy things to uncover in the interview process, and theyoften transcend the characteristics most recruiters look for in salespeople, such as extroversion and gregariousness.
So, to improve your recruitingresults, I recommend addingsome science to your selectionprocess. Find a psychometricassessment tool that will identify the key characteristics andtraits required to succeed in yoursales environment (here at the Canadian Professional Sales Association, we offer our members Profile International products)and give it to your top sales performers. The typical cost per test is around $200. Use the results to create your firm's "sales DNA profile," which will give you a benchmark for all future hires.If you do the job right and commit to the process, you'll selectmore hires who have what ittakes to be great sellers for you.
It's a lot better than picking someone based on a well-written resumé and your gut instincts.
— Harvey Copeman, president and CEO of the Canadian Professional Sales Association in Toronto.
Q: Where can I find financial assistance for growing my export business?
A: There are many federal, provincial and even regional funding initiatives that can offset some of the costs of developing an export market, such as tariffs, regulatory compliance, packaging, labelling, translation and travel. Some programs offer loans that are "conditionally repayable," and often a percentage of the funds provided must be matched by the recipient.
Of particular interest is the Export Express Credit program from Export Development Canada, which offers unsecured loans of up to $50,000 with repayment terms of up to two years. No pledge of assets is required, and there's no penalty for early payback. The loan is available to qualifying Canadian exporters with at least two years of operating history and less than $5 million in revenue.
The Business Development Bank of Canada has another noteworthy program. Its Market Xpansion Loan provides up to $100,000, with a repayment period of up to eight years, for use in a number of specificexport activities — among them, trade-show attendance and the purchase of additional inventory for export.
Given the special nature of these EDC and BDC programs, however, you can expect to pay above-average interest rates.
Also, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade offers funding for export-related research, commercialization and the formation ofinternational partnerships. For instance, its Going Global Innovation program covers up to 75% of eligible non-R&D expenses, such as travel and the development of legal documents.
— Pernille Fischer-Boulter, president and CEO of Kisserup International Trade Consultants Inc. in Halifax.
Q: Is Skype a serious communications tool for business?
A: Skype allows you to place and receive "phone" calls online for much less than your phone company charges, usually without any difference in quality. Skype software is available as a free download for Macs and PCs, and its subscriptions start at just US$2.95 a month, which gets you unlimited Skype calls to landlines and cell phones anywhere in Canada and the U.S. (Skype-to-Skype calls are free.)
However, Skype has several great features that provide benefits beyond lower telecom costs:
• Video calling: If you have a reliable Internet connection and aWebcam, you can place videocalls to other similarly equipped Skype users. The video and audioquality are excellent over high-speed connections.
• Call recording: With the help of third-party Skype software such as Pamela, a Windows-based program that costs less than $50, you can record and play back both voice and video calls easily.
• Conference calling: With Skype, it's a cinch to create a group of contacts and add anyone, including Skype non-users, to a conference call. There' no need to fumble around with bridge numbers or costly conference-calling services.
• Screen sharing: Skype facilitates remote collaboration by allowing tandem users to show eachother whatever is on their computer screens, from new product designs to PowerPoint presentations.
Add it all up, and Skype is a very serious communications tool for business — at a price that's no joke.
— Amber Macarthur, Toronto-based co-founder of MGImedia.ca and author of Power Friending, a book on social media for business.
Q: I'd like to conduct an employee survey. What potential pitfalls do I need to consider?
A: Employee surveys can be an efficient and low-cost method of collecting data that can help you improve staff satisfaction and the working environment.
However, conducting an effective employee survey is not as easy as one would imagine, and any mistakes you make can be detrimental to your firm.
You must manage staff expectations up front, then meet them during and even after the survey process. (That is, you have to turn the feedback into action.)
You need employees to be open and honest in their survey replies, so gain their trust and understanding up front. Tell staff why you are conducting the survey, how it will support corporate strategy and what you will do with the feedback. Ensure confidentiality, perhaps by hiring a third party to manage the survey from end to end, so that all staff will feel safe participating and can qualify their responses with verbatim comments, which often provide valuable insight. Try starting with shorter surveys to build your staff's comfort level.
Finally, develop a thorough communications and follow up plan, knowing when and how you will share the outcome. If you unnecessarily delay delivery of the results, for instance, then employees might speculate that the overall feedback was negative. Or, if managers aren't coached on delivering the results and how to handle staff's response to them, employees will receive an inconsistent message that creates confusion and mistrust.
One more thing: be wary of surveying fewer than 50 employees, as such a small sample is unlikely to generate reliable data. Instead, consider conducting focus groups around specific issues with the help of a professional facilitator.
— Carmine Domanico, president of Cristal International, an HR-strategy consultancy in Brampton, Ont.
Q: When should I start preparing for the HST in B.C. and Ontario?
A: Now! While the legislation that would bring the harmonized sales tax to B.C. and Ontario has yet to be passed into law, there's little doubt that they will. HST has many effects for which companies in Ontario and B.C. need to plan, and you might need to act even if your business is not located in one of the soon-to-be HST provinces.
Effective July 1, 2010, all goods, services or real property presently subject to GST will be subject to HST of 12% in B.C. and 13% in Ontario. However, as of May 1, companies that sell long-term service contracts will have to collect HST on the portion of any contract that straddles the HST transition date (e.g., a one-year golf-club membership that's sold and starts in June).
Accommodating the HST changes will, at the very least, involve making pricing decisions and adjusting point-of-sale, accounting and accounts payable/receivable systems. There will be cost and cash-flow considerations, too. This is especially true for companies that sell HST-exempt goods and services, as they will have to pay HST without being able to claim the input tax credits that are accessible to businesses that do collect HST. Effectively preparing for HST transition in advance will allow companies to ensure they are claiming the appropriate tax credits and that they maximize any tax-saving opportunities.
The HST will also affect GST-registered companies located outside Ontario and B.C. that sell into those provinces. That's because in the GST/HST system, the onus is on the vendor in an interprovincial transaction to remit the necessary taxes to the government.
In any situation, failure to collect or properly account for thenew HST could result in non-compliance penalties. Companies that don't remit HST in a timely manner will also be subject to interest charges on amounts owing, even if their inability to pay is the upshot of their own accounting errors or failure to collect the tax.
The rules surrounding the HST transition are complex. That's why it's important to work with a professional who can help you understand the rules, set up the proper systems and take advantage of opportunities to minimize the impact of the HST.
A business adviser can help youperform a diagnostic analysis, establish priorities for necessary systems, process changes and help you minimize cost and cash-flow impacts.
— Jeff Llewellyn, president and managing director of corporate finance at Myers Norris Penny LLP in Calgary.