How to Hire, Train and Manage a Salesperson for Your Cannabis Company

by Bart Schaneman

Salespeople can make or break your business – especially in the world of cannabis, where the path to a successful close can be different than in other industries and first impressions are immensely important.

When hiring a sales representative, it’s important to remember that you’ll be sending this person into the marketplace as the face of your company. These people will be pitching your product or service to growers, retailers and others.

So it’s crucial this person reflects your values, your type of product and your corporate culture. If you’re selling medicinal products to dispensaries, you want a sober-minded sales rep who focuses on the health benefits of your products. If you’re selling high-potency concentrates to an adult-use shop, you might want a former budtender or extractor who can speak to the customers’ experience.

Industry executives agree you need someone who’s a born salesperson. You’re looking for experience, but you’re also looking for innate characteristics such as self-confidence, a propensity to strike up an easy rapport and an ability to convey the value and benefit of what that person is selling. It’s easier to train someone about your product versus teaching that person how to sell it.

That person should also be aggressive, personable, self-motivated and have a great work ethic.

“Hiring good salespeople is a very tough thing,” said Ben Wu, president and chief operating officer of Santa Ana, California-based Kush Bottles, which sells packaging and supplies to cannabis companies. “Because ultimately these are salespeople. If you can’t talk yourself into a job, you’re probably not a good salesperson.”

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Andrew Kerklaan – president and founder of Dr. Kerklaan Therapeutics, a medical marijuana topicals company in Marin, California – wants a determined go-getter.

“Someone who’s ready to knock on lots of doors and possibly face ‘no’ a bunch of times but can get up the next day and do it over again,” he said.

A long track record of sales success is one good indicator. On a personal level you want someone who is confident and won’t get rattled by rejection.

Kerklaan also likes someone with cannabis industry experience, but those people are hard to find in such an emerging business. The next best attribute, he said, is sales experience in another industry. Kerklaan has had luck with hires from the pharmaceutical industry.

“Sometimes a person is a bit disenchanted with the whole pharma industry and what they’re selling there,” he said. “So they’re very keen to get involved with the natural products.”

Persistence, commitment, passion and follow-up are all key characteristics of a good salesperson, said Mark Friedman, director of sales and marketing for MedPharm Holdings, a Denver-based company that provides cannabis-based pharmaceutical products.

“I’m looking for sales experience first, cannabis experience second,” Friedman said. “I feel like a good professional salesperson can be taught about products more easily than you can teach someone to be a salesperson.”

For the Kush Bottles sales staff, Wu is looking for one of the same characteristics that any mainstream business would want: professionalism.

His company has been around since 2010, and it’s moving away from the idea that a candidate who is familiar with cannabis will make a good salesperson.

Instead, Wu wants someone who works hard and understands that “this is a large industry that’s growing exponentially every day. Having a desire to learn is critically important.”

For instance, Wu has salespeople on staff who do not use cannabis but take an interest in it by reading up and watching videos.

“They do really well because they’re able to relate to cannabis producers and processors,” he noted.

Wu also wants people with professional sales experience who can demonstrate self-discipline and make quick decisions on the spot. He looks for people who can tactfully tell a client no when presented with a circumstance that might have a negative outcome.

What type of circumstance do you want to avoid?

“A salesperson can walk into a shop and a guy offers them a hit or an edible and pretty soon that salesperson’s day is derailed,” Wu said.

And he’s looking for candidates who understand they have sales quotas and that time is money.

“We need to stay active and we need to push and have that sense of urgency,” Wu said.

WHERE TO LOOK

Kerklaan has found candidates through cannabis staffing agencies, online sites such as LinkedIn and by mining his personal network and the contacts of his staff.

“We’ve had some good success with Craigslist,” he added. “But I would say word of mouth has been the most successful.”

Friedman likes to post opportunities on LinkedIn and Facebook.

In particular, he’s had success with the Facebook page Colorado Badged Network, a site for registered marijuana industry workers in Colorado.

He also posts on the employment-related search engine Indeed.com and the staffing agency Vangst Talent Network.

Wu posts job ads on LinkedIn and Kush Bottles’ Facebook and Instagram pages.

Kush Bottles also has a careers page on its site. But word of mouth works just as well.

“This industry still continues to be pretty well connected internally,” he said.

HOW TO TRAIN

Dr. Kerklaan Therapeutics has new hires accompany veteran salespeople during their visits to retailers.

The more experienced sales reps show the new hires the company’s systems and procedures, such as proper regulatory paperwork, product selling points, new dispensary on-boarding procedures and the order-tracking software called CannTrade. The reps also introduce them to clients. Afterward, the new hires are trained on the company’s customer relationship management system.

“It’s a matter of training them up to our brand and our procedures,” Kerklaan said.

At MedPharm, Friedman views the training process as a key problem area for businesses.

“That’s where most people fall down,” he said.

Friedman likened the training process to drinking from a fire hose for the first 60-90 days.

This period has potential downsides for the company.

During this time, for example, current customers may slow purchases or stop them completely until the new rep is proven. There also may be situations where a customer liked the previous rep and stops doing business with the company. This can take time to reverse.

To combat such developments, Friedman set up a program where expectations and sales performance goals such as quotas are detailed in the first week. Weeks two through eight include classroom time with Friedman, where he goes over sales tactics as well as homework assignments and field and event training.

He also has one-on-one meetings every other week with the reps in which they discuss struggles and what they can improve on. In addition, Friedman conducts collaborative weekly sales meetings with the whole staff where people share challenges and the solutions they’ve developed.

Wu also recognizes that training is vitally important to the success of his sales team.

In recent years, Kush Bottles has invested more money into training its staff.

“We invest a lot in training our salespeople to get them up to speed,” Wu said. “We want that sense of urgency, but we don’t want to throw them into the fire and watch them flounder.”

During training, Wu emphasizes to his sales team the necessity of focusing on compliance, given its importance within the cannabis industry. He tells them that not adhering to compliance standards could jeopardize the entire operation.

HOW TO MANAGE

Kerklaan’s company is expanding – with products in about 40 dispensaries in California – so he’s very involved with the day-to-day sales activities as the business grows.

“We’re in the early days here, so I’m still pretty hands-on,” he said. “I like to be interacting a lot with (the sales reps).”

He receives official sales reports via email.

“But I like the personal update through text or phone call to share the win, to check in,” Kerklaan added.

Friedman considers himself more of a coach than a manager.

“I’m not a micromanager,” he said. “I don’t need to know where they are every moment of the day. But I do want them planned and focused on what they have do that day.”

Friedman does communicate with his salespeople closely. He expects to see a salesperson’s schedule for the day in his inbox by 9 a.m. He reviews it to see what the rep wants to get out of the market – for example, what each individual’s sales goals are for the day.

At the end of the day, he asks: “How did it go today? What were your struggles? What can I do to help you?”

Wu uses the quota system with his salesforce.

He isn’t only evaluating how much money a salesperson is bringing in, but he also notices any revenue-driven activities, such as networking with clients, site visits and seeking out new customers. The sales staff submits reports he can review.

Wu also monitors how quickly his reps follow up with clients. His staff uses an integrated CRM system that provides visibility on sales rep activity. Having that visibility on sales activity and follow-up is critical for any organization, Wu said.

“Ultimately, we’re a metric-driven company,” he said. “You have to measure yourself with metrics.”