The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
You’ve probably heard that wise Chinese proverb before. In the business world, the best time to start recruiting was before you had a job opening, but the second-best time is now.
If you're a hiring manager, recruiter, or HR professional tasked with recruitment and selection for a sales team, your number one priority involves making sure you have the most talented people in the right places on your team. There is no doubt that matching talent to a task in this way will determine the success, or failure, of your sales organization.
I understand, it’s hard to think about planting trees when you’re sitting in the shade. But waiting until you need to take action… well, by then it’s often too late.
At that point, the hiring process quickly turns into a frantic scramble of job postings, resume piles, and praying that the perfect candidate finds you and FAST!
There’s no time to effectively search – and most likely the person in charge of hiring is also picking up the pieces where that sales rep left off, trying to keep their accounts afloat.
This chaos will often result in the hasty hiring decisions of people who are “good enough for now” but lack the kind of natural talent that will really grow the company.
The never-ending, vicious cycle continues.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bench of talented candidates, all patiently waiting to come work for you? Already interviewed, references checked, ready to go?
The most effective clients we work with have created just that. I think of it as the biggest separator between those that are great recruiters and those that aren’t.
Want to achieve better results? You have to change your mindset from, “I’m sorry, we don’t have any openings right now.” To “We are always looking for top talent to join our team – let’s go ahead and talk.”
The Talent Bench
As I mentioned, recruitment can’t start when someone leaves. It's a never-ending process that eliminates the need for the hasty hiring of lackluster talent and saves you time and money.
Recruitment needs to be happening every day as a part of your weekly activity. Even if you think you have the “perfect” staff in place, you never know when that will change. Your business may grow which will drive you to need an additional seller. Someone might unexpectedly take a position elsewhere. Or even worse – one of your current sales reps might plan to stay but perform below par! Strong recruitment ensures that you don’t have to settle for a disappointing performance.
When you fill the bench with quality, talented candidates, you are always prepared with someone ready, willing, and able to join your team when the opportunity arises.
Highly talented salespeople usually have a pretty successful career already so they aren’t looking for a job. You have to find them and you need to give them a reason to talk to you – even when you don’t have an immediate opening.
Plan to sell them on your company which can take time, and make sure you have these conversations consistently. Waiting for an opening will backfire because it is tough to convince a stellar talent to come over on your timeframe.
Finding quality candidates is easy when you look in the right places. Here are a few best practices:
- Talent loves talent, and a great place to start is with the talented people on your current team. Ask them for referrals and if your company doesn’t have an employee referral program with a monetary incentive, create one.
- Find networks of people in sales that are great lead sources for you.
- Ask your clients for impressive reps in the market that they think highly of and learn why.
- Search LinkedIn for profiles of salespeople in your industry that stand out. This will prevent you from having to choose from a stack of incoming resumes.
Like with almost everything else in life, if you have a smart, effective, repeatable process, you will see greater and more consistent results.
You’ll want to build the process that works best for your organization, but I’ll share a good one that has proven results for me. Expert tip: don’t skip steps!
By the way, here’s why I especially like this process – it eliminates the personal bias that is often the underlying culprit behind bad hires.
Most good recruiters will agree that your lens becomes foggy when interviewing someone who has a sparkling personality – you don’t see their true talents clearly. You also can have what many call “glare” if you have a lot in common – like you went to the same high school or college, or you grew up in the same neighborhood.
Just because you share these common experiences, does not mean they will be the right salesperson to perform in your job. Always begin with a clear understanding of who that person is at their core and how they are innately wired to behave. In other words, know their talents.
Then Follow These Steps
1. Analyze the Job and Spec It Out
Before you consider who you might interview, put the open position under the microscope and examine it carefully.
For example, when hiring an Account Manager, you will want to ask yourself which accounts you will assign, how much new business development you will expect, and the kinds of expertise you will need.
Spec it out. Make a list of the specific talents, skills, and experiences that a person would need to be successful in this position. Make it like you would a shopping list for the grocery store – not like a pie-in-the-sky “wish list;” write down the must-have items that are non-negotiable so you have specific minimum requirements to compare your candidates against.
2. Fill Your Funnel
Share your list with others so they can get a clear picture of exactly what someone will need to be successful in this job, and ask them for the names of people that sound like the right match.
Do this through email, LinkedIn, and other forms of social media. Use the nominator system in which you ask those you respect and trust to consider specific behaviors.
For example, “Who do you know who is extremely buttoned-up and able to handle highly complex accounts without making mistakes?” Or, “Who do you know who is highly persuasive and somehow seems to always get you to see things from their perspective?”
3. Initial Contact
When you reach out to your new prospective candidate, remember to state the behaviors you were looking for and the reason why you are calling them.
For example, “I mentioned to John Smith that I needed someone to join our team who was extremely buttoned-up, able to handle complex accounts without making errors, and highly persuasive. He recommended that I contact you because you are a natural at those things. I would love to set up a time to give you some more information about our company and get to know you better as well.”
Collect a resume if it feels appropriate but consider the resume as only one of many resources you have available during your selection process. It’s a good initial filter to help you sort through many candidates by looking at their past experiences, but after this initial step, you will want to begin looking closely for talent. Check them out on social media as well.
4. Initial Meeting and Phone Screen
This step is the beginning of your talent detective work and how you proceed will depend on the candidate’s level of interest.
If there's more information to exchange, or a comfort level needs to be established, a quick meeting over coffee or lunch is a good idea. The next step should be a sales talent screener – asking preplanned questions that help to uncover evidence of innate talent. I recommend that the structured screener be conducted over the phone to better eliminate glare.
5. Face-to-Face Interview
After the phone screen, jot down additional questions and areas of concern so you can formulate specific questions to address in this face-to-face interview.
Then, set up another meeting in-person to dig deeper and learn more. Ask open-ended questions that allow you to learn about your candidate’s patterns of behavior. Once you have a good understanding of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that have been consistent for them in the past, you will have a much better idea of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors you can expect in the future. People are “wired” at a very early age and how they behave rarely changes over time.
This is also a great opportunity to introduce other managers to your candidate and, if things go in the right direction, you should be prepared to address salary requirements and fit for the position. Although you will still be able to learn about their innate talents, this is an opportunity to gain information on their skills, knowledge, and experience as well.
6. Talent Interview
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.
A strong standardized talent assessment will ultimately determine if this person has the right combination and intensity of talents to be successful in your open position, provide a detailed analysis and hiring recommendation, and share specific information on the behaviors you should expect if you were to hire them.
The very best instruments will also provide you with actionable coaching strategies to maximize the individual’s abilities and help them to achieve maximum performance.
7. Talent Bench
At this point, you can either add the candidate to your talent bench or extend an offer.
Talent is everywhere. You just have to look in the right places. The larger your funnel, the better because you need to talk to a large number of candidates to find those select few with the specific talents you need.
It takes time in the front end, but it is much easier than speeding up the process, hiring the wrong person, and getting stuck in the hiring cycle when that person leaves (or is helped to the door).
Turning Talent Into Performance
It's amazing what can happen when you have talented candidates on your sales team.
When you have the right people in place, your sales organization will run like a well-oiled machine. You will exceed your goals and spend your time creating opportunities with your reps, instead of solving problems that don’t have anything to do with increasing revenue. Talented people want to learn. They want to be trained and coached, and most importantly, they come to work happy and ready to do their very best every day.
When you start with talent, you end with performance – and a very successful sales organization.
Lose sleep before you hire, not after.
There's very little to enjoy when filling an open position; it is a lot of work to do it right and it can feel nearly impossible if you are also trying to cover the job responsibilities of that open position at the same time. But you’ll thank yourself later for investing the time to ensure that the new hire’s talent and fit are a good match to your specific needs.