Since UK government reports consistently identify a skills shortage in sales, the cost and time involved in recruiting salespeople is often a cause for concern. The impact of failed recruitment is even more depressing. When you add the hidden costs of damaged customer relationships and lost opportunities to advertising costs, agency fees and management time wasted, questions have to be asked about how this risky endeavour can be managed.
Applying new sales resource is a five-stage process:
- Resourcing decision and review of options
- On-boarding (induction)
- Review and evaluate
Let’s start with the decision to recruit. If recruitment is expected to be difficult, other options should be explored. There are contract sales organisations and agencies that can provide temporary or interim salespeople. There is always the possibility of “temp view to perm”. The big brands in the temp field attract excellent staff, and can provide useful advice.
If recruitment is the right answer, the objective is to maximise the pool of suitably qualified candidates.
DO encourage current team members to use their personal networks. Their word of mouth recommendation for their employer will never be wasted. This is a very useful supplement to advertising and/or agencies.
DO ask for a personal statement about why the applicant is applying for this particular job. It can provide valuable insight about the amount of homework they were prepared to do, and about their expectations.
DON’T write an ad that misrepresents the company or the job. If the job requires a lot of internal negotiation, don’t let the applicants think they will be with customers 24x7.
DON’T exclude potential stars by over-specification, such as must have 10 years experience of selling xyz packaging machinery into the xyz FMCG sub-sector. If you require very particular knowledge, engineers or marketers in that field might be able to transfer into sales.
Now let’s turn to selection. Once you have shortlisted in an objective way (drawing upon expertise from sales and other functions):
DO use more than one method. Assessment days that include role-plays, teamwork scenarios and psychometric tests as well as interviews will give a much more rounded view of applicants.
DO involve the people that the applicants would be working with (e.g. in role plays). It is very useful to have their view.
DON’T rely too much on references. Many companies these days will only confirm dates of employment.
DON’T forget to take notes about how selection decisions were made. You will need them for future reviews and to give feedback to unsuccessful candidates.
You have now made an offer to a super candidate, and s/he has accepted. Hoorah! But it could still go badly wrong. The “on-boarding” (also known as induction) of new recruits into the sales team needs to be well-planned and well-implemented.
DO have a plan with measurable objective and timings that the applicant understands; (explain the process at interview). On-line training can help with speeding up on-boarding.
DO coach to imbed the knowledge and attributes taught in training sessions. Make sure that the trainee has reflected on their learning and can apply it.
DON’T adopt a “sink or swim” approach. It wasn’t a reliable test for witchcraft and it isn’t a reliable test of a new employee’s future value. They will make mistakes, and the impact of those mistakes on them and the company can be minimised if they have been well-prepared and supported.
DON’T waste time if the recruit proves to be a square peg in a round hole at the end of the probationary period. It is sad for both parties if a mistake has been made, but it is best for the career of the salesperson for them to move on quickly to something else.
Even if the recruitment has been a roaring success, don’t forget to hold a review to reflect upon why it went well, so those elements of good practice can be built on next time!