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Insights into the Art of Hiring and Sales with Peter Cotton

October 05, 2023 Peter Cotton Season 4 Episode 135
The Dead Pixels Society podcast
Insights into the Art of Hiring and Sales with Peter Cotton
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Ever thought about the art of successful sales and recruiting? Join Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society in this conversation with Peter Cotton, the brain behind Best Sales Talent in Massachusetts. We'll explore Cotton's incredible career progression, starting from selling greeting cards as a child to being a part of a Fortune 500 company. We cover the golden era of the photofinishing industry and understand how it led to Cotton's transition into sales recruitment. Hear first-hand expert commentary on how the current job market is leaning towards candidates, and why the idea of a sales career is catching the fancy of the younger generation.

Cotton shares essential interviewing techniques for employers. He discusses the importance of a detailed job description, the pitfalls of personality-based hiring decisions, and the drawbacks of DIY recruitment processes. Gain insights into the anatomy of a successful salesperson and find out why most upper-level job opportunities aren't listed anywhere. Tune in to our enlightening conversation with Peter Cotton, as he offers invaluable insights into sales recruitment and the ever-evolving job market

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Hosted and produced by Gary Pageau
Edited by Olivia Pageau
Announcer: Erin Manning

Erin Manning:

Welcome to the Dead Pixel Society podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. Here's your host, gary Peugeot. The Dead Pixel Society podcast is brought to you by MediaClip, advertek Printing and IP Labs.

Gary Pageau:

Hello again and welcome to the Dead Pixel Society podcast. I'm your host, gary Peugeot, and today we're talking to Peter Cotton of Best Sales Talent in Massachusetts. Peter actually began his career in the photo industry, but we're not here to talk about that. First, peter, just say hello and tell us a little bit about how you got started in sales.

Peter Cotton:

Hi Gary, it's a pleasure to be with you. Gee, I got started in sales at a young age. My dad was in business all of his life and I used to tag along with him when he'd make client calls, dinner time stuff. I just remember sales from being a very young kid selling greeting cards Okay, that's three-corner kind of thing. Yeah, I moved up from that newspapers and then I eventually got a job when I was 13 working in a men's clothing store. I was a stock boy but I watched the salesman and how they handled customers. I learned a lot there. And when I graduated from college even though I wanted to get into photography somehow I actually met the fellow who was the sales manager for GAF at the time and he hired me to be a salesman. That was the first professional sales job I had working for a Fortune 500 company.

Gary Pageau:

For those who may not remember, can you talk about GAF in that time period? They were a pretty big player back in those days.

Peter Cotton:

GAF had their own film for a long time. In fact they have the first film pre-Kodak. I guess, if you could say, the photo finishing industry is very far into most people today. They don't know about film because everything is digital. Back in the old days, as they say, you would shoot pictures with a camera and you'd send them off to a photo finisher to have them completed and developed and printed into photographs. It would take you a week. Instead of that instant gratification of a digital camera, what we would do. We had 19 plants in the United States that developed the film and printed the images. We had hundreds of thousands of roles of film going through a day. It's incredible how much business there was. It was the heyday of the photo finishing business. Back in those days the most popular film format was 126, which was a cartridge that fit into a Kodak Instamatic camera. That was represented about 85% to 90% of the film that we processed.

Gary Pageau:

But you didn't stay there forever, and we're not here really to talk about the old days of photo finishing, but we're here to talk about sales and sales recruitment, which is what your business is now. Why did you transition to that business?

Peter Cotton:

As I mentioned, my dad had been in his own business all of his life, being free person, so to speak, and being on your own and not having to answer to anybody. It really appealed to me. A lot of things go on in corporate life that just aren't really great.

Gary Pageau:

You went from basically just out of school to a Fortune 500 company. That was a pretty big jump.

Peter Cotton:

Yeah, I went from sales to sales management with them. But there's a lot of politics involved. People make promises they can't keep and you get blocked promotionally for one reason or another and you can't get a raise. I would rather be in command myself. I was looking for a business to get involved with and oddly enough at that time, when I was in Pittsburgh as a sales manager, I met my then wife, still married today for 47 years she worked for Kodak. The two of us had sort of a merger, if you will. We got married and decided we were going to start our own business together. As a husband and wife team, we bought a franchise to manage Marie Kruder's International, which is now known as MRI Network. They had a division called Sales Consultants. I purchased the franchise for sales consultants in Rhode Island, who was the first state franchise the only state franchise, in fact Because it's not a big state. Right, you buy five little tiny counties and you got the whole state. I ran sales consultants at Rhode Island for 36 years. We were in the business, as I still am today, of finding and placing sales, sales management and marketing talent with our client companies.

Gary Pageau:

A lot of people talk about how different it is today to find people, recruit people, keep people. What do you think? Has it really changed? Or is it just kind of an ageism thing, where people are saying, well, that's not how it was when I was a kid, because it seems it's a little bit of both.

Peter Cotton:

Yeah, a lot has changed. I've seen a massive change in the time I've been in business. It's a candidate driven market right now. They're in control of what's going on Right. They're close to two jobs for every person who's looking for one Right. And companies are finding it very hard to find people because their competitors are snatching up the top people very quickly. They don't drag their feet, they don't take weeks to interview. And then there's also the quality issue. Finding really quality qualified candidates is very difficult.

Gary Pageau:

What about the sales career? Is that something that appeals to young people today? Because it's my perception that a lot of younger people don't want the risk related to sales Right. They want more of a secure environment. Are you seeing that as well?

Peter Cotton:

Not so much. I've seen schools pop up that offer sales as a course, and you can take many courses in salesmanship etc. Selling is a very attractive role for someone right out of college, particularly if you get trained in professional selling technique, If you have a good company behind you, if you can believe in the product. You like the product, you got passionate about it. You get a lot of benefits. You get a salary, you get maybe commissions or bonuses or both. If you're working for a big company and they expect you to go all around the territory all day long, they'll give you a company car.

Gary Pageau:

Right At a certain level. I mean people don't usually walk into the company car situation.

Peter Cotton:

Sometimes they do Depends on the company what they're doing.

Gary Pageau:

Do you think a sales candidate should look for something they're interested in as sort of a category or a product category, or should they just focus on their sales techniques?

Peter Cotton:

Well, you've got to focus on your sales techniques, regardless of what category you go into. You could probably get a lot more excited about something if you have a deep interest in it. I was very interested in photography, so that fit well. A lot of people look at companies differently today. They want to get with a leader. They want to get with somebody who's coming out with the latest and greatest products and services. Right, okay, that's appealing to them.

Gary Pageau:

So in the photo industry today, you've got your traditional camera stories, you've got your photo labs and people like that, and some of them have trouble recruiting, whether it's because, like you said, they're not seen as cool or something like that. How would you suggest that they recruit more sales staff or be better suited for salespeople?

Peter Cotton:

The retail side of the photo business.

Gary Pageau:

Yeah, yeah, retail, or the photo labs, for example.

Peter Cotton:

Well, there are no photo labs left?

Gary Pageau:

Well, they are, but they're very different than the photo finishers. You remember An?

Peter Cotton:

entire laboratory can be replaced by a machine the size of a large office printer.

Gary Pageau:

That is true. So, anyway, you're saying so, how would they go about retaining and recruiting salespeople? Well, what are the things they should be looking for, maybe outside of their own business?

Peter Cotton:

I don't work on jobs in the retail sector, first of all, okay, okay, good, okay, only involved in professional selling jobs. I would guess that it's from a management point of view. In order to attract and retain people, you have to be empathetic, you have to be a leader, you have to be passionate about your product and your service and you have to get people excited about it, enthusiastic about it, right, and if they are, they feel comfortable with you and what's going on. They'll join. And then, to keep them, you have to reward them and recognize them. In reverse order recognize them and then reward them.

Gary Pageau:

Let's say you've got. Let's say an employer has a candidate in the pipeline. What's the best way for them to interview the candidate? What are some of the ways they should approach that interview?

Peter Cotton:

Well, the biggest problem today is that most people don't know how to interview. The candidates don't know how to interview, no, the employer.

Gary Pageau:

Okay, so what do they need to know?

Peter Cotton:

Candidates do a great job interviewing, in the most part because they read everything that's available on how to interview, but employers don't do that for some reason, and they default to the kind of interview that they were given when they were looking for a job. Right, I would say the best thing that you'd be doing is using behavioral identification, interviewing techniques, which are questions that elicit more than a yes or a no or an opinion. Right, like if you ask somebody, where do you want to be in five years? That would be an opinion. Wouldn't make any difference how effective they'd be in their job. But if you ask them, tell me about a time when you had a difficult boss that you were working with. How did you handle it? Describe it to me. Right, tell me about a time when you I'm assuming we're talking about experienced salespeople now Sure, tell me about a time when you had a major account and they were going to go to the competition and you had a chance to save it. What did you do? Who were the people involved? What was the result? So it's asking questions about a situation, what action you took and what the result was that you obtained. This behavior is a pretty good indication of future behavior. Okay, so if a person shines in how they deal with people, how they solve problems and sell solutions, then you probably have a better candidate.

Gary Pageau:

So in some cases people employers like see somebody they like and just hire them or offer them a job or something. Other times they created position description and find someone to fill that. Which do you think is more successful Hiring the candidate you can create a job for, or creating position you can find a candidate for?

Peter Cotton:

You got to have the position first. If you hire someone just because you like them, which is a personality thing, what are they going to do when they come to work for you? Is it defined? Yeah, if it isn't defined, they'll be running in circles.

Erin Manning:

Right.

Peter Cotton:

Kind of like having your one foot nailed to the floor. Where are you going, Right? So if you had a job description, then you'd be able to match a person's skills against the job description. They have the skills they can do the job.

Gary Pageau:

Okay, because there seems to be like always from what I see in the photo industry there is a lot more of the personality.

Peter Cotton:

Yeah, that's because the photo industry is an incestuous one. Everybody knows everybody else. They all go to the same meetings.

Erin Manning:

Right.

Peter Cotton:

They all talk at cocktail hour and it becomes a buddy-buddy network, which is not the best way to hire people.

Gary Pageau:

So why is it so hard for employers to find people these days? Is it just because it's a candidate's market, or are they doing something, or what could they do better?

Peter Cotton:

They're not doing all the things they need to do. The do-it-yourself method is complicated. You have to write a job description, you have to post it somewhere on the internet or on LinkedIn or on Indeed or something like that or a niche job board and you have to sort through the hundreds and hundreds of resumes that come in that are absolutely not qualified for the job. But they saw the title, where they saw what the industry was, where they saw what the money was for the job, and they just apply even though they're not a fit. They know they're not a fit, but it's so easy to apply. All they do is see the job and they click it Right and their resume goes electronically. They don't even have to lick a stamp. So the employer has to deal with that and there's an awful lot of candidates to sort through and unless they know how to interview properly, they're going to miss a lot. If they take too long to hire, too many steps in the interviewing process, candidates lose interest. Candidates get picked off by another company who's hiring and moving faster. As I mentioned before, it's almost a speed process.

Gary Pageau:

Yeah, I've seen some of that criticism of the hiring process these days, where people there's an electronic process where you either apply online or fill out a massive amount of forms, which is just crazy.

Peter Cotton:

Yeah, and there's some instances, gary, on that point. Some places they say please upload your resume in PDF or Word, and then the next page in the website, job application, is a bunch of fields and it says please fill in these fields.

Gary Pageau:

Exactly.

Peter Cotton:

I'm doing the resume all over again. That loses candidates like crazy.

Gary Pageau:

Yeah, I wonder why systems are built like that. Because it does.

Peter Cotton:

It's built by software people and I built to hire. They're built to screen out.

Gary Pageau:

Right, so well, that's part of the thing. So then people go into they once they have a zoom now it's very common to have a zoom interview, right, right, and then there's always like it seems to be like for a higher level position there's two or three more steps. It seems to be like before an offer is made, where you got to meet everybody on the team and then you got to meet the next people up and the people below and everything like that. Does that really find the best candidate or is it just find the most persistent candidate?

Peter Cotton:

It's probably a combination of both, not so much persistent, but patient would be the word. The problem with that, you know, as I said before, is there are too many steps in the process. They can't all be looking for different things, they have to be looking for the same thing. So if they coordinate their efforts, maybe even have a panel interview, have two or three people sit in on the interview at the same time, because to ask somebody to come in for an interview and then he leaves or she leaves, and then they invite him back a week later and then they invite him back another week later, you know it's a lot of back and forth into the office. It's a waste of time and the time in between people lose interest.

Gary Pageau:

Right. So what do you think about panel interviews? Are those valuable really, or is this just more of a way for management to make it seem like they're getting more people involved?

Peter Cotton:

It depends on how it's done. But if it's done in a friendly, casual kind of way, it's a lot more comfortable. I've seen panel interviews that are very rigid and they are stern and they're tough in their questions and it's like the person's put on the firing line. That's not a way to hire somebody. But if it's a good conversation where you can elicit the information you need to determine skills, talent, desire, that's a big part. If you don't have the desire to do the job, they'll never do it well. So if you can elicit all these things through a good conversation with multiple people involved, you get a lot more accomplished at the same time.

Gary Pageau:

So what are the top traits that you think an employer should look for in a salesperson?

Peter Cotton:

Persistence, ability to handle objections and overcome them. I have a word, it's called spizzering them. It's a combination of a lot of things, but it comes down to desire, spunk, an attitude of positivity, hunger. There's a whole bunch of things that go into a salesperson being a hunter or a farmer, of course, but they have to have a good attitude about life, about people. Most important thing is their ability to handle rejection. You don't get a yes on every call.

Gary Pageau:

You don't get a no on every call. So when you're assessing that as a potential employer, how do you feel that out? Because that's a character trait that may or may not be apparent on the resume or even in the first interview.

Peter Cotton:

Never on the resume. It couldn't possibly be.

Gary Pageau:

I deal with rejection.

Peter Cotton:

well, it's more a situation of asking the right questions. Again behavioral identification questions to elicit skill traits not traits, but talents. How the person answers the questions, their delivery, will tell you a lot about them and whether or not they even enthusiastic. You'll learn to do that. It takes time to assess talent in people and do it effectively. I've been a recruiter for 47 years. I can't even begin to imagine how many people I've interviewed by phone, by Zoom or in person. Every one of those interviews is different. You learn something new about people in each instance. Some people shine, others don't. Just the way it is.

Gary Pageau:

So what are the traits of, let's say, you're hiring for a sales manager position like somebody's going to manage a sales force? It's different than a sales person. What are the traits you're looking for there?

Peter Cotton:

Well, if you're looking for traits, you first have to look at the experience. Where have they been a sales manager before? If you're hiring somebody who's a salesman and promoting them to a sales manager in a new role at a new company, that's very difficult. It's going to be a big downer to the sales force because you didn't promote anybody from within. Right Now they're going to be managed by somebody who doesn't know their business, their industry and he's going to be the sales manager. It doesn't fly very well. But if you're interviewing somebody who has sales management experience and you want to have them become a sales manager with you, I would look for leadership skills, the ability to motivate people, a track record where they've taken a team and done well with them. They haven't had a lot of attrition, where they've increased revenue or increased profits. You got to look at the track record to see if they're good.

Gary Pageau:

One of the ways that people are finding jobs is through recruiters. As an employer, how should a relationship with a recruiter go? It should use the same one every time, or have a team of recruiters you use, or what do you think is the best way to manage that process?

Peter Cotton:

I think an employer who develops a relationship with a professional recruiter who trusts them because they've given them information on what they're looking for and the recruiter listens and he presents candidates who have those types of skills. He does a good job. They should go back to him because they don't have to reinvent the wheel on explaining who they are and what they do. A recruiter should be looked at as a consultant and as an extension of the company, because a recruit is going to go out in the marketplace and rave about this company, about how good they are and what a great place it is to work and have a great opportunity that they're looking to fill. It should be looked upon as a consultant. It should not be looked upon as a transactional agent like an employment agency was the word I'm looking for. I guess A recruiter is many steps above the agent who works in an employment agency. Those people are called career counselors or counselors. They don't counsel anything.

Gary Pageau:

So on the other end of that is, how do candidates work with recruiters? Because there's another relationship there. I mean, the recruiter is working on behalf of the employer, but the candidate needs to have some sort of skills there too, some sort of appeal there.

Peter Cotton:

If a candidate wants to develop a relationship with a recruiter, it precedes the first phone call. It might send the recruiter information on something that's happening within the industry, for instance, they may touch base, asking for a connect through LinkedIn. But when they do talk to that recruiter they have to be honest with them about where they have been, what they're doing and where they want to go. The recruiter will do his best to help them. Not all candidates who come to a recruiter will get placed. Recruiters place less than 5% to 10% of those people who come in.

Gary Pageau:

That's low yeah.

Peter Cotton:

Yeah, because most recruiters are spending their time recruiting people who are in the job now, happy, productive, well-of, not looking for another job, but we're going to recruit them away to a better opportunity. We start that conversation off with if I could show you an opportunity that would improve your life, would you be interested? Or something along those lines. I don't want to give away my secrets. A good candidate will respond to that. So recruiters mostly place people who aren't looking for a job. Those are considered applicants and those that aren't looking for a job are considered passive and those are recruits.

Gary Pageau:

Okay, so you're actually as a recruiter, you're actually looking for people who may not be actually actively looking for a job.

Peter Cotton:

That's the most important role of a recruiter. Wow, okay, that's how we fill jobs without those in the marketplace already. Yeah Right.

Gary Pageau:

Yeah. What percentage of jobs in the type of positions you recruit for the upper level or even public right or even people are even aware of? Aren't most of those jobs not even listed anywhere?

Peter Cotton:

Correct. Most employers don't want to let the competition know they've got a weakness somewhere. I'm talking about sales jobs, right.

Gary Pageau:

Sure, sure, sure yeah, specifically yeah.

Peter Cotton:

You don't want to open territory to be blasted all over the marketplace. So your competition goes in there and snaps up your company, your accounts. So, yeah, you keep it under the rug, so to speak.

Gary Pageau:

So discretion in that relationship between a recruiter and the employer is key, right, correct? Yeah, I mean, that's pretty impressive. So what do you think the outlook is over the next couple of years for the employment trends? Are we still going to be looking in this, the sort of valley we're in, where people are just looking for people to fill spots, or do you think that's going to dry up or compress or be more like it traditionally was? Are we, is this something we're going to look at forever, or is this the new normal or what?

Peter Cotton:

When you say traditionally was, you're talking about an employer market, right? Tons of people applying. Well, you got to ask yourself why are there tons of people applying? They're all out of work Right Now. If you were a company who had a sales force and you had accountants and you had bookkeepers and you had warehouse guys and truck drivers, where are you going to cut? First, when times are bad, You're going to cut your sales force.

Gary Pageau:

No.

Peter Cotton:

That's the worst thing you could do. Right, right, right. So if you've got a salesperson on the market out of a job looking for a job, you got to ask yourself how good is he? Right, because if he was really good, they wouldn't have let him go. That's the employer market. Yeah, right, so I don't think it's going to be much different. There's going to be, and there's continuing to be, a gap between the number of people available to fill jobs. Right, period, because the baby boom is over. Younger people are waiting longer to get married, they're having fewer children, colleges becoming so astronomically expensive, a lot of people are going to trades or they're starting a career without a college education. Right, so the number of people that are going to be qualified to fill positions is going to continue to drop. That's going to be harder and harder for employer to find people. That's why recruiters come into the picture. They could do the job.

Gary Pageau:

So if someone wanted to reach out to your company to learn more, where would they go?

Peter Cotton:

They can go to our website, which is bestsalestalentcom. Or, if they wish to contact me by phone, my number is 401 737 3200. Don't be confused by a 401 area code. That's just Rhode Island, even though I'm in Massachusetts. It's a VoIP telephone. I can plug it anywhere and be in Rhode Island.

Gary Pageau:

Well, thank you, peter, for the trip through the past of early photo finishing, but also for your expertise and your sales recruitment talent. I appreciate you sharing that with us, and best wishes.

Peter Cotton:

Thanks, Gary. It was a pleasure to be with you.

Erin Manning:

Thank you for listening to the Dead Pixel Society podcast. Read more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at wwwthedpixelssocietycom.

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