Recruiting Can Learn a Lot from Sales

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer November 30, 2016
Recruiting Can Learn a Lot from Sales

AUSTIN, Texas­—If recruiting teams are run like sales teams, with a strict division of labor and a reliance on metrics, then they are more likely to be successful, according to Jon Bischke, CEO of social sourcing and talent analytics software company Entelo, based in San Francisco. 

"The most effective recruiting organizations I have seen operate very similarly to the most effective sales organizations," he told attendees at the Human Resource Executive Talent Acquisition Tech Conference.

Division of Labor, Changing Roles

Bischke noted the increasing specialization of roles in sales over the last decade.

"In the past, the salesperson would do everything—prospecting, closing deals and checking in on the customers once the deal closes. They were end-to-end full-cycle salespeople."

Now, most sales organizations are starting to split the role into different categories, such as:

  • Lead generation, with a mandate to bring in new business to the company.
  • Account executives, responsible for turning the initial opportunity into a sale.
  • Client services or customer success, dedicated to maintaining the business relationship once the sale is done.

Modern recruiting is moving to a similar model, Bischke said. "Yesteryear's model was a full-cycle HR professional, responsible for hiring as well as post-hire duties. We're now seeing a lot more sourcers at the front of the funnel, the equivalent of your sales lead generation people."

Sourcers identify talent for recruiters to evaluate and select from, in cooperation with hiring managers. HR then focuses on onboarding, development and training after the hire.

In addition to splitting sourcers from recruiters, companies are adopting the notion of introducing more people with marketing expertise to talent acquisition teams.

"Rather than trying to retrain somebody that's been thinking one way about the industry for many years to think about it differently, bring in someone who does think about it differently and apply their knowledge to recruiting," he said.

Focus on Metrics

The most successful companies use recruiting metrics that very closely match the ones used by sales-driven organizations, Bischke said.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Benchmarking Human Capital Metrics]

Examples include:

  • The sales cycle equating to time-to-fill. "What the best sales teams have done is broken up the sales cycle into different components and figured out what the stages are and how long the deal sits at each stage. The employers with the top recruiting functions are doing that too, breaking down the various conversion stages in the hiring process."
  • The win/loss rate in sales being similar to the offers accepted/rejected measurement in recruiting. "Employers can see which sources of hire produce candidates that close at a high [rate] and which do not. That's something companies need to be attuned to in order to improve their overall acceptance rate."
  • Measuring activity. Lead generation sales people are measured by the number of customers they touch every day, through e-mails and phone calls. Strong recruiting teams do the same.
  • Predicting future flows. A head of sales can predict how much revenue each quarter will yield. The best recruiters know what their talent pipeline looks like and can predict how many hires they will make in a given duration. "Many companies don't have a clue how many people they expect to hire in a quarter or a year. If a [vice president] of sales said he has no clue how much revenue he expects to end up with, he probably wouldn't last long in that position."
  • The cost of customer acquisition in sales equating with the cost-per-hire in recruiting. Cost-per-hire can be further sliced across departments, jobs and lead sources.

The Power of Good Data

Similarities extend to the conversion funnel. Bischke explained that in sales, inbound and outbound leads are generated before being converted into qualified leads. A proposal will eventually be made, and the deal will be closed.

"There's a very similar dynamic in recruiting," he said. Recruiters either source candidates or contact applicants, and then send qualified candidates through a phone screen, an onsite interview, and a salary negotiation before a hire is final. "As you have more data and can sit down and have a conversation about the conversion funnel, where it's leaky and where you can improve it, you will be more empowered and have more leverage. If you understand how many hires you need, you can walk it back up the funnel and know exactly how many people you need to pour in to the top of the funnel. At a more granular level, you can find out how many people you need to pull in through sourcing, or how many you need through an agency."

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