3 Common Sales Recruitment Mistakes Costing Time & Money

Lockdown has given most of us time to pause and reflect on our current career choices. 

As the market opens back up and business continues to improve, expect an increase in top sales and sales leadership professionals leaving their current employers for more fulfilling career opportunities.  We’re seeing it happen already in select industries.

Whether you need to replace an unexpected resignation or are proactively moving to strengthen your sales team, it’s important to avoid three common recruitment pitfalls that dash any hopes of a timely and productive hire.  Especially in today’s business climate.

Before embarking on your next sales recruitment campaign, take a few minutes to ensure your hiring team has considered and agreed upon the following.  Doing so could save weeks in recruiting time and thousands in lost sales.

Mistake #1

Unrealistic hiring expectations.

The experience sought after by most employers for mid-to-senior level sales roles tends to be as follows – in the same or similar industry, a history of achievement and promotion, contacts to leverage in-territory, positive attitude, right culture fit, genuine interest in the company and role, etc.  Simple.

While it may not seem too much to ask for, it’s worth considering a couple of things to ensure you’re not setting yourself up for disappointment.

Firstly – to your knowledge (rough estimate), how many prospective candidates might there be for this role?  In other words – the competitors you’d consider hiring from, how many sales people with the experience you require, do they employ in your market?  In our experience, 20% of your relevant talent pool will be A-grade and 5% or less will be best-fit (i.e. have the combined experience, want and culture fit to make a significant impact).  So, you generally need to work through a pool of 100 to find a quality shortlist of 3-5.  If it’s likely the talent you’re after is extremely limited or does not exist, it’s better to address this reality up front and adjust your recruitment strategy or expectations accordingly.  

Second point to consider – is what you’re offering enough to motivate an accomplished sales professional to leave the security of their current position?  Not just money – challenge, career development, culture, etc.  And how well can you evidence this in the interview process?

While it is common for salespeople to move between competitors, the best rarely make lateral job moves (BDM role to BDM role).  When they do, typically, it’s on the promise of significantly increased earnings, fast-tracked career advancement, the ability to work in new areas and/or work/life flexibility.  This has become less common too due to the effects of COVID, with existing stability and security currently outweighing the unknown of a new employer for many. Most are sceptical of promises made in interviews and no one wants to risk jumping from frying pan to fire in the current climate.

If your hiring team is expecting to secure top, industry-experienced sales talent but are unwilling / unable to offer something compelling, it may take much longer than anticipated for circumstances to produce the right candidate (i.e. a competitor closing down, a falling-out with management, etc.).  More often than not, months go by before hiring managers eventually pay more to attract the right talent or sacrifice on ideal experience in order to fill the role in-budget.

And that is especially true today.  Many businesses were forced to shed “dead wood” early in the lockdown but, restructure or insolvency aside, none were quick to part with the proven revenue generators you’re likely after.  That said, there are opportunities for some.  COVID has exposed a number of poorly-run businesses.  If your organisation is standing out, currently, as well-run and well-positioned to aggressively take market share, etc., that’s compelling in today’s talent market – you’ll likely find a number of top sales professionals open to exploratory discussions.    

To save yourself the pain of coming full-circle, take a realistic view and clearly identify your likely talent options by considering the following questions up-front:

  • How large is our ideal candidate pool?
  • How compelling are we as an employer for top passive sales talent in today’s climate?
  • Are we prepared to offer what it takes to secure proven revenue generators in our space?

If any of the answers raise concern, consider the following:

  • What experience is absolutely necessary to be considered?  Why?
  • What’s our ceiling in terms of base salary package and total earnings with commissions?
  • Where are we willing to sacrifice in terms of experience to fill the vacancy in budget?
  • What additional experience is advantageous but not a necessity (nice to have but would still hire without)?
  • Our top performers, where have they come from?  What is it about them that makes them stand out?  Does this affect our must-haves / nice-to-haves in terms of experience?
  • Are we clear on and comfortable with our new target candidate profile?
  • Are all hiring managers in agreeance?

One last thought here – while it may seem ideal to hire an accomplished, industry-experienced sales professional, employing candidates with similar traits as top performers from lesser roles or other industries often prove the best value hires in the long run.  These individuals are typically highly-motivated, energised by the new challenge and willing to accept considerably less to establish themselves in a new role or industry.

Mistake #2

An ineffective recruitment strategy.

Once you have a clear picture of the talent you’re looking to recruit, consider these two points as a next step –

  1. How are we most likely to access our target candidates and convert them into applicants?
  2. What is compelling about our opportunity for the right candidates… what is it about our role / offer that would motivate them to apply?  Is this message prevalent and clear throughout our recruitment campaign material (ads, career site, etc.)?

Both of these points seem fairly obvious, however, it’s common for employers (especially SMBs) to post less than engaging job advertisements onto Seek, LinkedIn or industry association job boards as their main recruitment activity and hope for top professionals to apply.  With over 70% of working professionals open to moving for the right career opportunity but not actively applying to roles online, it’s easy to see how limiting this approach can be. 

As a general rule of thumb, the more open you are in terms of experience for your sales vacancy, the more likely you’ll have success with job board postings.  However, if you’re after a very specific skill-set, better quality of candidate (i.e. the top 20% of sales talent) or are recruiting in an area with limited talent supply, then a proactive and highly-targeted headhunting approach is typically needed.  Again, you’ll need to work through a pool of 100+ to find your shortlist of 3-5.

With that, factor in longer timelines for filling the role.  The search typically takes 2-3 weeks to produce a quality shortlist, 2-3 weeks to go from interviews to offer, then 4 weeks from notice period to start date.  All up, you’re likely 2-3 months from inducting your new hire.       

However you choose to invest in this proactive recruitment process (i.e. leveraging your networks, employee referrals, engaging a specialist recruiter, LinkedIn InMails, etc.), the sooner you begin the less selling time you’ll lose.    

Mistake #3

Letting it slip down the priority list.

Identifying, sourcing and engaging the talent you need can be challenging, time consuming and expensive.  With all that’s gone in to producing that shortlist of qualified, highly sought-after candidates, it makes sense for your hiring team to be well prepared and ready to interview. 

There are a number of pitfalls at interview stage that have sent many an employer back to square one, throwing weeks of recruiting time and lost sales opportunities out the window.  Instances like waiting too long to confirm first interviews, scheduling interviews many days into the future, hiring decision makers travelling / not being available to interview, waiting weeks between first and second interviews, un-structured / un-professional interviews, not courting high-fit applicants, delayed hiring decisions, delayed presentation of written offers and employment contracts, a general lack of urgency with top talent, etc.  All of this is typically due to one or all members of the hiring team placing the interview / recruitment process low on their priority list. 

Now, there are competing priorities in every business.  If you’re serious about securing top sales talent, however, you’ll need to treat suitable candidates through the interview process the way you’d expect yoursales team to action a hot lead. 

Here’s some of what separates top sales employers from the rest when it comes to interviews –

  • Everyone knows the interview process from start to finish and their role in it
  • The interview process is structured and aimed to be completed within 2-3 weeks from first interview (sooner, if needed, to compete for top talent), with target interview and offer dates set in advance
  • All hiring managers are prepared to make room in their schedule at short notice to interview, if competing for stand-out candidates
  • All know how candidates are being assessed and are able to do so objectively
  • Hiring managers treat all candidates with respect (i.e. are prepared for interviews, on-time, mentally present, ready to positively represent the company, able to provide feedback post-interview, etc.)
  • At some stage, top candidates are courted (i.e. get the chance to meet the team, made to see how joining would align with their career and personal objectives better than alternatives, etc.)
  • Hiring decisions are thoroughly considered but prompt
  • Verbal offers are followed up by written offers and contracts within 24-48 hours
  • Start dates are organised for within 1-2 weeks of offer acceptance, when possible

Above all else, progressing top talent through the hiring process to offer acceptance is a top priority shared by all when actively recruiting.

A Final Thought

Each pitfall above can set back recruitment efforts weeks, if not months.  Hopefully some of what was shared here will help you to hire more efficiently and, ultimately, to accelerate sales sooner.

One last thing…  Do your recruitment efforts occur only when there are immediate hiring needs?  If so, you may want to consider establishing and promoting your employer brand in anticipation of them.  It’s a relatively small ongoing investment that could save weeks in additional recruitment time and provide a leg up on your competition.  The window is closing however.  Proactive employer branding will become more of a necessity by all in the very near future as professionals become more accustomed to passively “shopping” for their next employer (ahead of their need to find work) and enjoy more transparency in their search.  How?  We’ll aim to share more points on this in a future post.

ReillyScott helps B2B companies drive sales growth through a mix of specialist recruitment and consulting.

www.reillyscott.com.au | 1300 160 007