Don’t Fall for the Rolodex Myth

A job prospect walks into your office dangling a shiny object: her uncle’s best friend with
is the CEO of a company you want as a client. She says she has hundreds more contacts
like him in the industry, friends, friends of friends, and she’s sure she can create
opportunities for you.

Before you rush to draw up her contract, take a moment. Step back and think about
what tangible skills she’d actually bring to your team. The belief that the most important
factor in hiring a new B2B salesperson is the extent of their network in a given industry
is what I like to call “the rolodex myth.” Simply, it’s misplaced.

Don't Be Tempted By Their Network

It’s easy to be tempted by that shiny object, by the promise of a big client and a vast
network. But in reality, most people have very small networks. Studies show we can
really only maintain around 150 relationships at one time. Of a job applicant’s 150
connections, how many are really potential customers, how many have a need, and how
many are ready to take action on that need? Probably not many.

Even if a potential salesperson has a connection at an organization you’re targeting, the likelihood he or she is linked up with a key decision-maker is low. So, you’re left with a contact lower down in the organization. What are the odds that person has easy access
to a top decision-maker? Also, not great. What’s more, decision-making at most
organizations requires a consensus, a thumbs up from several leaders and buy-in from
those executing on a specific change. One contact at a company won’t get you all the way
to getting the deal closed.

In my first sales job, I worked in wealth management. One of first things us new sales
hires did was make a list of everyone we knew that could be potential customers. I made
my list, and realized that out of 75 to 100 people, I really only felt comfortable reaching
out to maybe five or ten of them as prospects.

So often, people think their network is the baseline through which they’ll get their first
few clients. But then after week one, after you’ve called everyone you’re comfortable
calling, you’re back to square one. One former colleague of mine had a wealthy cousin
that got him off to a great start, but with no leads from there, he quickly fizzled out. He
wasn’t prepared for the hard work of creating opportunities from scratch.

Know What You're Looking for in Your New Hire

This is a cautionary tale. If you’re not falling for that shiny object, not hiring for
contacts, then what are you looking for when it comes to new hires? You’re looking for
sales skills. You’re looking for someone who can build a sales machine, and constantly
generate new leads and opportunities with companies and people they don’t know. You
want a problem solver. That is what success looks like.

During interviews, ask questions about a person’s track record of building things from
the bottom up. Ask about their ability to recruit and train and coach. And get expert
opinions. For start-ups hiring salespeople, it’s always a good idea to get counsel from an
experienced salesperson who knows the right questions to ask a potential hire, and the
red flags to look for. Hiring the wrong person will cost you time and money and divert
your attention from growing your business. You want to get it right the first time.

So, as you hire salespeople for your startup (hopefully with the help of a seasoned pro),
beware of that shiny object. Don’t fall for the rolodex myth.