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Everyone knows the tried-and-true business axiom: Grade-A managers hire Grade-A people while Grade-B managers hire Grade-C people. The logic is simple; weaker managers hire less competent people because they don’t want competition or conflict. Stronger managers look for people who are competent and motivated people who are able to catapult their organizations to higher levels. 

But is there such a thing as hiring out of your league? Is it impossible to hire talent that, for lack of a better description, are simply too good for your organization? The manager of a AAA baseball team may be the best skipper in any dugout, but he’ll never have the buying power or the draw to attract Major League talents such as Dustin Pedroia, Josh Beckett, Jason Bay (yes, I have a bias for the Red Sox. Sue me.)

That was the mentality of Jay Kirby, an owner of Troubadour, a Houston-based security and telephony integrator. While Kirby believes his business is head and shoulders above his local competition, he believed that he was relatively restricted to looking for talent from his local pool and certainly not beyond his level. When it came time to look for a sales leader, the notion of pulling in someone with national experience and out of a vendor’s shop was simply out of the question.

But Kirby was giving advice by a mentor, “go out and get the person you want” for the job that needed to be done. He reached out to Bob Layton, the Midwest sales manager for Cisco Systems, the guy who managed direct and partner relationships. What he wanted was leads for sales pros that could help Troubadour grow. His criteria: He wanted someone like just like Layton.

“That’s when he said, ‘why don’t you hire me?” Kirby says.

The idea came as a shock to Kirby. Never in his wildest dreams did he think that a company such as Troubadour could attract and land a significant talent. For Layton, though, the attractiveness of Troubadour came down to one of lifestyle and career opportunity.

“I got to the point where I thought I had to make a change,” Layton says. “It came to me that I was going to have a wonderful and rewarding job [at Cisco] or I would have a chance to take control of my career.”

Conventional wisdom holds that those who work for vendors will always work for vendors, with a few exceptions. There are numerous examples of vendor sales executives that have either reached the top of their ladders or retire into the channel. For example, Harvey Najim started his company, Sirius Computer Solutions, in 1980 after a lengthy and rewarding career at IBM. Many solution providers have graduated into the vendor ranks, too, such as Tiffany Bova, who ran a VAR and then went on to run channels at Gateway. But relatively few vendor executives make what some consider the backwards trek.

The recession and a highly competitive vendor world is changing the conventional hiring equation where a solution provider can, in many cases, attract the talents of someone like Layton. Compensation is often an issue, but the disparities between what a vendor such as Cisco pays sales executives and what a solution provider can afford is not too great. This is especially true for salespeople since they’re paid largely on sales commissions and goals—the more they sell, the more they make for themselves and the company.

But it’s more than just the recession that’s changing this equation. It’s often a matter of lifestyle choices. Advancing through the vendor ranks often requires extensive travel, frequent relocation and ferrous competition for fewer higher level jobs. Going to work for a solution provider comes with the pressure for performance, but not the same pressure to constantly move and travel.

What Troubadour has discovered is that you really don’t know what kind of talent you can get until you ask for it. Kirby echoes the lesson of “go get the person you want” to his peers, because the world is no longer divided between the Major Leagues and the AAA farm teams.

“My mindset has changed dramatically,” Kirby says. “Going forward, we’re going to be looking for great people because we have the ability to attract top talent.”

Lawrence M. Walsh is vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider. Read his research reports at [CI] Perspectives.

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