Older Sales Pros Rock

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By Mary Lloyd

Experience makes a massive difference in a sales effort-on everything from calming an irate customer to anticipating and avoiding a costly shipping problem. Treating older sales professionals like the treasure they are-and providing adequate training to keep them on the cutting edge-can pay off big time.

It's easy to ignore the old pros. Most of them get the job done without a lot of fanfare and drama. Some companies count on them without even realizing they have the expectation. Then, when times are tough, they "thank" these work horses by laying them off because "they are going to retire in a few years anyway."

You can capitalize on that stupid thinking to give your own company a better advantage if you make a conscious effort to snap up senior sales talent when you come across it. Yes, it most likely will involve retraining these people to sell your product, but that's a part of the process no matter who you bring onboard. The things you will not have to train them in are a better assessment of their value:

They already understand that focusing on the client is the key to sales success. You won't have to explain that texting while speaking to a customer is inappropriate. You won't have to coach them to chat with the person whose order they're working on rather than with the co-worker nearby. You won't have to help them learn that the better you satisfy a client this time, the more likely the repeat business becomes. And they don't just "know" these things because they learned it in a marketing class last semester. They know them because they've thrived by selling that way for decades.

They respect the need to solve the problem. It's human to hope a problem just goes away. In sales that can be a disaster. Older sales pro hears the problem the first time. The solution they try might not be an instant remedy, but they are at least focused on making things right. A younger sales person sometimes does nothing even after they become aware of the problem because they don't know what to do. If you want to make an older sales pro super-effective, make sure they know about every single option you can offer by making sure they get product and service updates every time something changes.

They are wiser about how to deal with difficult customers. The idea that the customer is always right may be a bit too Pollyanna, but dealing effectively with a demanding or misinformed client will always be a big part of doing the job well. Knowing when to let tempers cool, when to offer the olive branch, and when to hold the line are all essential to an effective sales effort. Older sales professionals have already developed those sensitivities.

They understand how sales works. Sales is a lot harder than it looks and when you first start out, there is often an expectation that you make one call and get the sale. Not so fast. Older sales people know how to curry a relationship and build rapport without becoming an obnoxious intrusion. They've been around long enough to know that their goal-to sell the company's products-has to mesh with the customer's goal-to make their own business succeed. Listening, offering solutions that go beyond selling the product, and passing along time-honored but still relevant tips all help with achieving that mutual success. Older sales professionals possess a ton of information that's not available on the Internet-or anywhere else for that matter.

OLDER SALES PROS KNOW A LOT. But that doesn't mean you should assume they know everything. The dumbest thing to do is retire them early to deal with budget problems. The second dumbest thing is to assume they don't need training and new challenges. Denying them those keys to success because "they are just going to retire in a few years" is like not doing the routine maintenance on a Maserati.

It's also important to realize that "technology" is not an impossible hurdle for older sales pros. It usually becomes intimidating when it's poorly taught and the need to employ it is not well explained. Boomers are the second largest group of bloggers (behind moms). They are taking over Facebook like a horde of locusts. They can learn what you need them to do on the computer and with peripheral tech gadgets. But your instructors need to be competent at teaching the material to this kind of student.

Older sales pros are a find. Bring them onboard and be ready to be pleasantly surprised.