FORTUNE Small Business:

Why to be wary of commission-only sales staff

Hiring a salesperson on commission sounds like a cost-saver, but investing in your staff usually pays off in the long run.

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(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Dear FSB: What are the best sources of getting salespeople for my small business? Are there any commission-only sales firms out there, and can you recommend that route?

- Henry L. Rolfe, Rowlett, Texas

Dear Henry: There are commission-only sales firms, but experts say that might not be the smartest route.

"A small business depends on its unique culture and product, not just a commodity. There's something special about that business," says Aaron Ross, CEO of Blackbox Revenue, a San Francisco sales productivity company, who also counsels small business owners through the Small Business Administration's SCORE program.

"If you hire someone and you're not really willing to invest time and resources in them - and that's really what a commission-only sales person suggests - then you're missing an opportunity," he says.

Good sales people communicate to prospects whatever makes your company special.

"They're preaching your company's gospel, so you need someone who buys into the mission, someone you've spent time and resources getting excited," says Ross, who also writes a blog about sales.

Hiring commission-only salespeople may only look like a less expensive alternative to salaried employees, says Kimberly McCall, president of McCall Media and Marketing in Freeport, Maine - but in the end, it rarely works out that way.

"With the high churn rate of commission-only sales people, providing a position where there's an equitable base and a reasonable expectation to succeed is probably less expensive in the long run," she says.

Commission-only sales people who are just in it for the money "are the ones who will bail out first if hard times hit," says Ross.

Also, it's tough to find quality commission-only salespeople, says Jo Prabhu, a member of the staffing management panel of the Society for Human Resources: "They're becoming a dying breed. Sales reps change industries, jobs and locations. Today, it seems everyone wants a more secure type of position."

Depending on your business and your competition, outsourcing your hiring to a recruiter may not be the best option.

"You really have no control over whom you're getting," Prabhu says. In fact, the best resource for finding sales people is often your own network,

"Start within your industry. It all boils down to 'Who do you know?'" says Prabhu, who is also the owner of 1800jobquest, a Long Beach, Calif.-based healthcare and IT placement firm.

"Social networking websites for grownups, like, can be really effective ways to network," McCall says. "You can post a job there and put it out to your network and know that people who read it are going to be tied to your industry."  To top of page

How do you recommend Henry find salespeople? Should he hire a commission-only team? Share your advice here.

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