The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Recruitment Networking Not Finding Great Talent? How to Do It Right

networkingCongratulations to all those of you who have shifted your sales staff recruitment emphasis from advertising and job boards to personal networking. Networking sometimes produces more quantity (if that’s what you want) and invariably produces more quality, but only if it’s done right.

The age-old approach—I’m looking for a salesperson. Do you know of anyone who’s looking?—is the worst way.

It has two unforgivable, unsavable shortcomings:

  • It squanders the personal value of your network. Many of the people in your various personal networks care about you and their relationship with you. They’re a lot more willing than are strangers to do a little work on your behalf. But you’re not asking them to.
  • Your ask is vague and weak. It sounds almost un-serious. It suggests that recipients need not give your request any more attention than you did. You have an opportunity to make a very specific solicitation of candidates that will engage your network and prompt some of them to suggest candidates who meet your specs.

Finding great talent requires a bit more legwork. So you need specs. You need to know what you’re looking for. Will just any old salesperson do? (If yes, just head down to the state unemployment office; they have lots of unemployed souls there.) I thought not. Each time you search for a salesperson, the slot and the role are a little different, so the person you seek is a little different.

When you have an opening (and assuming there’s no one in your talent bank who’s qualified), build a spec sheet that’s pertinent to that specific sales role at that particular time.

Put your specs into the following three categories:


1. Talent

Talent describes those innate traits about a person that never change, the characteristics that you can’t grow if they’re not there and can’t drum out of a person if they are there. Start with your general sales talent expectations and then consider which specific talents may be especially critical this time around and which others may be a bit less important in this case.

2. Skills

Skills are acquired proficiencies, tasks the person has learned how to execute well. Again, you may have some basic skill expectations that pertain to every sales hire you make, but beyond that, and considering the nature of the account list (if any) or the type of account development work you expect, specify which other skills will be especially important for this hire.

3. Experience

What kind of experience (if any) do you require? Sales experience? Sector experience? And how much do you require? In general, we urge employers to go easy on experience; it is a much poorer guide to how well that person will perform on the job than most managers think. Raw talent is a better indicator, nine times out of ten.

That spec sheet becomes your guiding document throughout the recruitment and selection process. But we’re focused here just on improving your results using networking to recruit, so let’s focus there.

Now that you know specifically what you’re looking for, do two more things. The first is to prepare a one-page job description that is as specific as your spec sheet. Make the job sound very attractive to those candidates who fill the bill and very unattractive to everyone else. The narrower you keep the content on that page, the more you’ll see the quality of response go up and the quantity go down, two results you should welcome. 

The second is to write some questions that you will address to your friends and contacts in your various networks (email or social media or both). You want them to refer candidates, but you don’t want them to think about who’s looking (an adverse selection, for the most part), but rather who is uniquely qualified. Prompt them to think this way by asking them to think of people they know who display specific behaviors you’re looking for (usually talents, but possibly also skills).

For example (if these were traits on your spec sheet):

  • Who do you know who’s a natural at moving the sale along step by step?
  • Who do you know who can think of lots of ways to solve a problem?
  • Who do you know who you feel good about confiding in? 

So let’s put it all together:

  • Tell your network that you’re looking for a very special person for an important opening on your sales staff.
  • Ask them those behavioral questions—to jog their memory and to produce the right candidates.
  • Direct their attention to the attached one-sheet on which you’ve described the job in detail.
  • Ask them to either send that page along to people who might be interested or to send you the contact info of people who might be right.
  • Thank them.
  • And offer to help them in the same way next time they’re looking.

I can guarantee you that this method will take the Not Working out of Networking.

Talent is only a strength when the fit is right.