Joining a Small Business with Big Business Skills? Why This Could Be a Disadvantage

If you run a small business and had the opportunity to hire a star salesperson from Big Brand Organization X, who brings in millions, you’d jump at it, right? They clearly understand the ABC’s of sales: Always Be Closing. Imagine what they could do for your company! It’d be like having Beyonce show up and perform at your birthday party. Or would it?

Skills Mismatches: Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The situation above isn’t hypothetical: it happens in small businesses all the time. I know one salesperson who worked for a large technology company, an established brand with instant name recognition. She was incredibly successful, and her stellar career made her piles of money.

Other companies heard about this sales wunderkind and wanted to bring her on board to achieve those kinds of results in their organizations. Smaller companies were particularly interested, salivating at the thought of someone who could “Always Be Closing” for them. One of these businesses succeeded in bringing her in.

Selling Air Conditioners with Heater Skills

The result? She bombed. What her new employer found out is that some salespeople can sell anything as long as there’s a big brand behind them. Maybe they have to overcome a few objections, but the bottom line is that most of the groundwork has already been laid and they’re selling to people who want to go with that big name company.

It’d be like owning one of two stores in Alaska: the first sells air conditioners, the second heaters. A monkey could sell the latter in their sleep. In a small company, salespeople are often faced with the task of selling the air conditioners, if you will. They don’t have the name recognition: no one’s ever heard of Small No Name Company Y. The brand can’t carry them, so they have to own the skills to overcome that tremendously weighty objection.

This salesperson didn’t have those particular skills. Her success with Big Brand Organization X did not translate to success at Small No Name Company Y.

And Yet Another Plug for Benchmarking!

If our No Name Business had a benchmark for this sales position in their company, they would have known exactly which competencies and behaviors that person needed to have and which motivators would drive high performance.

They could have assessed this “star” salesperson. So she made a ton of money with Big Brand Organization X. So she closed multi-million dollar deals. So what? They needed more quantitative evidence that this person had the potential to achieve the same results for their company.

The Takeaway for Small Businesses

If someone comes to your company from a large, name brand organization, you can do all the reference-checking you want. You’ll hear this person was a rock star, and that could well be true: in that big brand company. But you don’t know if they will be successful with your company. And what you don’t know can hurt you.

A better approach: ditch your ad hoc mess, and implement a tight hiring process. Instead of relying solely on resumes and (University of Michigan did a study a while back that 1:1 interviews were only 57% effective at hiring the right person) behavioral interviews, try:

  • Group interviews. Depending on your size and resources, involve more people in the interview process, such as the hiring manager, department manager, immediate supervisor, and an employee in the same type of role. Group interviews bring more voices to the table – and they can help you determine if candidates are a good fit not only for the job, but for your company culture.
  • Ask for specifics. Present specific case studies. “Here’s one of our most challenging client situations. Tell us how you would have handled the sales process in this kind of scenario.” Maybe if our Small No Name Company Y had asked their “superstar” candidate this question, they could have seen she didn’t have the requisite skills.
  • “Real World” Interview. Some large companies run candidates through various scenarios, sometimes with their potential peers. They might work on a mini-project, for example. Doing something like this, on your scale, will help you find out if the candidates can do what they say they can do.
  • Benchmarking! “In our company a top salesperson looks like ________.” Fill in the blank, but for crying out loud, start benchmarking your key positions. It is an unbiased look at the ideal candidate against which you can assess applicants.

I won’t leave you hanging: our salesperson went back to her old big brand name company. She is, once again, a top performer, and everyone is in awe. That’s fine. Just don’t hire her for your small company! With a tighter process – and, for the love of Pete, job benchmarks – you won’t make that costly mistake.