Our recently published report The Biggest Challenges of Media Salespeople and Sales Managers turned up a finding that surprised nobody around here!
When media sales managers were offered a list of 14 challenges that might give them sleepless nights… 14 problems that, if even partially solved, would generate a big payoff, they voted more often for Finding great salespeople than for any other item on the list. Indeed, this #1 finisher scored more than half again as many votes as the #2 finisher. Here at The Center for Sales Strategy this stark challenge is both a frequent subject in our consulting work and a significant cause of growth for our talent services department. Those waiting with baited breath for the magic-bullet answer will be disappointed: In our experience, the keys to solving this problem are almost entirely strategic, that is, the answer is to be found in what the sales manager does every day rather than in a splashy new kind of recruitment campaign when a position opens up.
Among the everyday practices necessary are:
- Be a good place to work, so the buzz about you and your organization is always good. The media business is a pretty small club, isn’t it? Word gets out. Most people know which companies value their employees and which don’t, which managers are focused on growing their people and which others aren’t, which shops are characterized by teamwork and which are bloody battlegrounds. Reputations—good or bad—are earned. And they become your employment brand.
- Market your organization as an employer, not only as an advertising services provider. Some sales managers write a public blog that reveals their management style. Some enter “best place to work” competitions and win, place, or show. Some sales organizations select a local cause and generate a high profile while supporting that cause. Every good sales manager has prepared a personal management resume and lives up to its promises every day.
- Keep your eyes and ears open for talent. The sales managers who define him- or herself, first and foremost, as a salespeople manager understands they are always in recruiting mode—not because they have a revolving door, but because openings develop from time to time and good people are so hard to find. Strong sales talent is a rarity, a precious find, so the best sales managers are keenly attuned to sales talent nearly 24/7. They interview possible candidates every week.
- Maintain a real talent bank. If excellent salespeople are hard to find, then finding such a person fast, when an opening develops, is nigh impossible. A talent bank is a folder—probably both physical and virtual—stuffed with real candidates, people who have gone at least halfway through the assessment process and are still looking good. How long will a strong sales candidate agree to stay in your talent bank? That depends on how strong your employment brand is and how consistent and creative you are about maintaining their interest.
- When making a selection, hold out for talent; the wrong hire just reinforces the problem. And the wrong selection diminishes your employment brand, making the next hire tougher. Most sales managers are pretty good at inspecting a candidate’s experience; the problem is that experience is a surprisingly poor indicator of future success. A far better indicator is underlying talent, and sales managers are rarely effective at assessing sales talent without a reliable assessment instrument such as our Sales Talent Interview.