News and advice for software sales professionals and employers.

3 Things I’ve Learned from Hiring 1,000 Sales Professionals

Happy New Year sales leaders!

As we begin 2018, I am writing to remind you that in this new year, you have an opportunity to put in place some logical new year’s resolutions related to your sales leadership function. I will propose a few ideas related to recruiting since that is my world and recruiting should be at least one-third of any sales leader’s job.

  1. Have the same “pipeline mindset” when recruiting sales professionals that sales reps have when trying to sell their products.
  2. Know the value proposition of your opportunity: Sales professionals evaluate opportunities similar to how we evaluate purchases of any product, so its important to know the selling points of your company and your opportunity, to be ready to articulate them, and to have them in writing so your recruiting support can share them as well.
  3. Create a defined process for every stage of hiring sales professionals, including how and when to make an offer. Sales reps are very sophisticated buyers, so you need a sophisticated sales process to hire them.

First, I implore you to change your thinking about recruiting for your team from a mindset of “we have one open position to fill” to “we are always trying to recruit top sales professionals to our team, whether we have an opening or not”. Yes, this creates some complications if you identify an excellent candidate and you technically do not have an opening. Yes, this will sometimes compete with much higher priorities when you do not have an opening. And yes, you will hear complaints from the people responsible for identifying these candidates when they know there is no open position for which to hire a great candidate you may encounter. The bottom line is: recruiting sales professionals needs to become more of a “pipeline mindset” similar to how salespeople approach their own funnel. This is especially true for any sales team of decent size in the same geography, who based on natural turnover end up hiring a handful of sales professionals in the same location with the same background every year.

This is a scenario I see over and over again: a hiring manager seems to hire a new rep in the same location about once per 60 days (6 per year), but 30 days after the last time they filled a position they have no interest in hearing about a top performer who is currently exploring other opportunities. Inevitably the top performer lands another opportunity, and 1-2 weeks after that I get a call from the hiring manager saying that they have an opening and need help filling it. Had the sales leader interviewed that same candidate two weeks prior and there appeared to be a great match (but no opening), there is a significant chance they could have the position filled the same day it officially became open.

Candidate pipelining does make sense for every sales leader and every position, but this is something I strongly urge you to evaluate. If it does make sense in your situation (especially if you fit the criteria of managing a sales team that sits in one location that sees some turnover every year), making this adjustment can put you in a significantly better position than your competition when it comes to hiring top talent. In this case, when I reference competition I am talking about other sales leaders who might hire your ideal candidate.

Next, I would like to encourage you to not only know the selling points of your position and your company “cold”, but write them down and help your HR/Talent Acquisition team understand them as well. You are in a better position than anyone in HR/TA why salespeople specifically might find your company and your opportunity appealing. This is basically your job opportunity’s “value proposition”. This is something that needs to be written down and shared with your HR/TA team so that they can approach the market with “sizzle” instead of “I have a job, are you qualified, and do you want it?”.

In the sales world, this includes things such as: how the current reps are doing, the growth of the company over the past 3-5 years (either in terms of revenue growth, customer growth, or both), and how the product or service competes in the marketplace. I find this is something typically shared by the sales leader later in the interview process, but it can be incredibly difficult for someone to generate candidates in the first place without those key sizzle points.

In summary; know the sizzle of your job/company, write it down, explain it fully to whoever is helping you source sales candidates.

Having a process for interviewing and hiring does not have to be hyper-complicated, but it should be defined and clear. This includes:

  • How many steps in the interview process (2 minimum, 4 maximum is my personal opinion)
  • What is the ideal # of candidates to interview for an open position (my opinion: interviewing 3-4 people per open job is ideal, but never hesitate to hire the first person you see if they are the right one, and never hesitate to keep interviewing if you have yet to find the match)
  • What to say and what not to say (per #2 in this article, be prepared to articulate selling points of the position/company, do NOT tell the person if they are the leading candidate or the only candidate in the mix)
  • How and when to make an offer.

Once you’ve decided who you want to make an offer to, ask one or all of these questions before making the candidate aware they are your choice:

  • Do you feel you know enough about us and the opportunity to make a decision at this point?
  • Based on what you know, are you able to rank this opportunity against any others you are looking at?
  • We are likely to make a decision on who to move forward with within the next couple of days. What is your timetable for making a decision?
  • After those questions, then you can move on to a conversation about compensation.

If you believe salary/compensation may be an issue, you may want to preface the salary discussion with a reminder that several candidates are competing for this position—and that salary will be a factor. How you address salary initially should depend on how much the candidate makes now. If they make less than your desired range, ask what they are looking for.

If they make at the high end of your range or above it, tell them where an offer likely would likely come in. Remember, it is still hypothetical at this point. Such as “if we decided to move forward and make an offer, it likely would be about ___.”

If you decide to go with this particular candidate, and he/she agrees that the salary range works, tell them that you intend to make an offer. Remind them that there are other candidates and if they are on the fence, please be honest and not cut others out of the loop only to decide that they have second thoughts. When the start date will be three weeks away or more, be sure to arrange a meeting with the candidate within two weeks of him/her signing an offer letter (call it lunch, or whatever you want). We have found that 95% of the time when a person accepts an offer and then changes their mind, the start date was greater than two weeks away.

I hope this information was helpful to my fellow sales leaders, the war for talent seems more intense than ever!