Employers Focus on Hiring the Right Sales Talent

By Bill Leonard Aug 6, 2014
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A strong performance by the U.S. economy in the second quarter of 2014 seems to be intensifying employer demand for finding and hiring the best salespeople possible. And this increased competition for hiring the top-level talent is putting pressure on recruiters and human resource managers to re-examine their own sales techniques.

“Getting top-level candidates interested to work at your business is actually a sales job,” said Batsheva Chase, vice president of sales recruiting at Peak Performers Inc. in Santa Monica, Calif. “In recruiting, you truly are selling an organization and getting candidates to buy into the idea that they want to work there.”

Chase said that attracting and hiring the best salespeople often requires a high-energy effort, because most of these candidates thrive off high-energy approaches.

“I think salespeople are really drawn to someone who exudes high energy, and they seem to feed off that,” she said. “You need to be excited about the opportunity that your organization is offering and let that excitement show through.”

With an increasing demand for sales talent, employers should use every advantage at their disposal to attract and hire the best.

“There is always a demand for sales talent, because they are the ones who really generate the revenue for businesses,” Chase said. “The demand has definitely intensified over the past year, though it hasn’t reached the level of the 1990s. But it’s very strong right now, and employers are looking to strengthen their sales staffs.”

In many businesses, sales jobs often are considered the most important positions, according to Dennis Connelly, vice president of business development at Kurlan & Associates in Westborough, Mass.

“Who you put into those jobs can actually make or break a company,” Connelly said.

Identifying and attracting the right kind of talent is a tough assignment for any employer, but it can be made easier with the right kind of approaches. Connelly believes well-thought-out ads for job openings are a good first step. Too often, employers create ads that are essentially “laundry lists” of job duties combined with the desired job skills and experience.

“The best kind of job ads reach and appeal to an applicant,” he said. “People will respond to ads that they can relate to, so it’s best to try and paint a picture of the type of job applicant you are looking for.”

One of the most surprising aspects of recruiting sales talent, according to Chase, is that many sales professionals don’t know how to market and sell themselves.

“You’d think with their personalities and abilities that they would be good self-promoters,” she said. “But, often, they don’t know how to talk about themselves and sell their own talents.”

Chase said sometimes it takes a bit of coaching to show candidates how to sell themselves, but she added that recruiters who use skillful interview techniques can determine quickly if a candidate is a good fit for an organization.

“Ask a lot of questions during an interview,” Connelly said. “You want to find out how they respond in situations and if they can think on their feet. Also, it’s not enough to ask about how many sales calls a person handles or how many clients they work with; you need to find out if someone has [been] closing deals. Talking about the deal is one thing, while sealing the deal is another.”

Phone interviews with salespeople are also essential in the process. Since most sales are transacted over the phone and online today, it’s vital to find out how applicants present themselves over the phone.

Connelly recommended using a five-minute phone screening as the first step in the hiring process. During this first interview, recruiters or HR managers should start by reading the ad back to the candidate, and then ask the applicant what they hope to earn in a new job. This is important because it can tell a recruiter immediately if an applicant’s expectations are reasonable and if the compensation is applicable to what the candidate wants.

“If you’re not even in the same ballpark, that will tell a lot and [reveal] if it’s even worth another interview,” Connelly said.

It is also important to learn if a candidate has any experience selling the type of products and services that your company offers.

“It’s really important to get the right fit, and, if you ask the right questions upfront, you can figure out pretty fast if the candidate is suitable,” said Chase. “I recruit and interview for a lot of sales positions, and I can determine in a few minutes if a candidate is going to be right for the company.”

Connelly said one of his techniques in the initial interview process is to put the candidate off by saying something like: “Thank you and we will contact you soon if we want to schedule an additional interview.”

The responses to this technique can reveal a lot about candidates, he asserted.

“One candidate that I did this to was obviously agitated that we were going to make him wait. His response was: ‘Do you know who I am, and that I earned more than $300,000 in sales commissions just this past year?’ ” Connelly said. “The next candidate I called said he was very impressed by the process and that he could see how it would be effective in screening candidates, and that he hoped he would get a call back.”

The key is getting a feel for how a candidate responds to being asked to wait, Connelly said. Similar situations happen when selling products, and someone who is impatient and maybe even rude could act the same way to a client.

Chase agreed that it’s a good idea to feel out candidates’ demeanor.

“If a person presents themselves well on the phone and is able to build a rapport with the interviewer, then that can tell you a lot about a candidate in just a short period of time,” she said. “The best and most viable candidates can show you who they are and really let their personalities shine through.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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