A Sales Manager’s Perspective on Recruiting

People Lined for workIf you have ever sat in a sales meeting, the following is probably familiar: The sales manager expects his or her team to make a certain number of customer contacts every day, and this number is usually higher than the number of contacts the salespeople want to make. The sales team retorts in the same way every time, “It is quality, not quantity, boss.” Who is right? Well, they both are.

That’s why we spend so many hours and resources training salespeople to be more effective with the contacts they make. But in sales you must make more contacts with prospects than the next person, and you need to skillfully navigate your interactions with these contacts for maximum benefit.

I work with many small- to mid-sized businesses. During a recent recruiting engagement, a client told me that he used to run a single ad and receive 50 resumes if he was lucky and screen out most of them until he was left with 10 to 20 potentials. Eventually, he would meet with about five or six of these candidates. He would have one mediocre or poor candidate at the end of this process and hire that person. Unfortunately, these people would seldom work out and he would be back to performing the same failed process over again.

Since most small businesses can offer only mildly competitive compensation packages and need the best talent money can buy, they have to find talent that is both enthusiastic about the opportunity offered and also has the qualities needed to achieve a high level of performance. This, in essence, is the best of both worlds — great talent at an affordable price. Finding this person requires either getting very lucky or a hiring process that dramatically increases the likelihood of success. This process is complicated and requires much training to carry out. If I had to choose one activity to immediately improve my results, it would be to follow the sales model approach to recruiting. Let us break it down to demonstrate how this works.

Step 1: In sales you need to identify your most likely prospects; in recruiting you need to create a pool of candidates. Just as in sales, not all of these prospects will be great, but you need to have enough good potential prospects to start with in order to figure out which ones are the great prospects.

In recruiting, you need a plan to attract the largest number of candidates who may meet your requirements for a high achiever. This will never be achieved by placing a single job ad on Craigslist.com. Invest a little in posting your ad in as many sources as possible, a minimum of four major job boards or aggregators and as many industry-specific job boards as possible. In addition to job boards, you will need an internal referral program and a social media campaign. The goal should be to attract 300 applicants for one job opening.

Step 2: If you curb qualify every prospect in sales, you will drastically reduce your pool of potential customers. In sales, call or knock on every possible door because you never know what you will find on the other end. Recruiting works the same way; everyone who is a potential A or B or even C candidate must be contacted to determine his or her potential. Of 300 applicants, you should look to speak with 50 to 100.

Step 3: Great salespeople qualify their prospects early in the process by asking great questions that engage potential customers. When searching for talent, we also need to qualify our prospects. You only do this by asking great discovery questions while getting to know your candidate. This both engages the candidate and also gives you control over the decision as to whether the candidate is a fit, as opposed to allowing the candidate to make this decision.

A typical successful sales funnel often looks like this:

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You need to make 100 prospecting actions to get 10 potential customers (warm leads). Over a period of a week, you have 50 warm leads, and from that group, one or two become customers.

A successful recruiting funnel looks like this:

To find a diamond-in-the-rough candidate, you need 200 to 300 potentials. Of these, you need to speak with 20 percent to 30 percent. From these contacts, you can come up with 20 to 30 likely high-performing candidates who you can carefully scrutinize through interviewing and assessment tests. This hiring strategy enables you to identify who really is the best candidate for the job.

Unless you have a black book of highly qualified candidates who meet all of your specifications, you’ll have a difficult time finding a true top performer. Hiring great people is the same as finding great clients. Just as in sales, not every prospect is gold, but sift through enough of them and you will find your shiny nugget. One ounce of gold in your hiring efforts will often produce more success than you can imagine; it’s amazing the impact a top performer can have on business or a business unit.


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14 Comments on “A Sales Manager’s Perspective on Recruiting

  1. Thanks Fletcher. A through and thoughtful article. If a company wants to hire top-performers in sales, in may not necessarily require top pay, but it does require top SOMETHING(https://staging.ere.net/2013/02/15/recruiting-supermodels-and-a-tool-to-help-you-do-it/), and not just the self-deluded entitlement-hype of an owner, sales manager, or marketing head.

    Maureen is right- instead of spending a large amount of money posting you could do something much more focused and cost-effective. For $225, you can get up to 225 resumes from CB Monster, DICE, and sourced from the internet. You can also pay the same people $100 for the phone number and/or emails of up to 100 LI profiles (you provide or they provide), and then $1/ found contact.


  2. Fletcher,

    Thanks for the article, good stuff. Practical and to the point, and puts numbers on the issue to give an idea of what is necessary and why. I’ve been in those sales meetings myself, the dichotomy between quality and quantity isn’t one that needs to exist, but it does provide a convenient out for people who lack one or the other. It’s the results that matter.

    If you’ve got the results then you’ve got the right mix of quality/quantity. If you don’t, then you don’t. Generally speaking I’ve found good sales managers will use such metrics to push even their high achievers for more, but will not apply arbitrary metrics to them as the end all be all of how they are assessed. Unfortunately, you do need benchmarks, but if they’re treated as too informal people ignore them, and if they’re given too much weight they overshadow true performance. It’s a very skilled manager who can walk that line.

  3. Fletcher

    Your article depicts the very madness that most sale leaders repeat over and over – wasting their time and the applicants time performing rituals of screening resumes – setting up and conducting phone screens and essentially rejecting 90% of the raw materials their process produces. Ugh!

    Prospectors panning for gold used filters in the process to eliminate all the excess rocks efficiently so they could identify the nuggets effectively. Thats why we invented SalesGenomix. What you describe is the insanity we hope to disrupt.


  4. Personally I recommend to my clients to use our sales tests to screen candidates early in the process. Depending on the position these can be completed prior to even speaking with anyone or after a short phone screen. If screening many candidates it is important to have other screening tools like the behavioral, attitudinal, competency, and skill tests we provide at the Hire Talent.

    This funnel if executed effectively takes about 20 man hours to screen up to 500 resumes/ applicants.

    The more in depth interviewing takes a little longer but your are dealing with high caliber candidates at that point so time spent is worth it.

  5. @ John: Thanks for the info-mercial.

    @ Fletcher: ISTM the most important tests for a salesperson are
    1) How much did you make last year?
    2) How often did exceed quota last year?

    Also, it’s been my experience that good/great salespeople are easy to find, and very hard to get. If a sales rep is in a basically functional and stable money-making environment, you’re going to have to offer them a lot more money to leave and come to you.

    Happy Friday,

  6. Keith,

    I do agree with you about your basic screening “test”. From my perspective that is only the very first step. Several other factors play a key role in deciding a great productive fit. If attitude, retention and behavior problems are unacceptable in your organization there will be far less capable sales people available to choose from.

    Secondarily, yes the really good ones are already making a lot of money. But most companies need fresh talent who hasn’t made too much yet. Finding sales talent in the right price range who is also highly capable and will be a great sales person is a whole different strategy than answering the question do you out perform your peers every year.

    In the real world companies need A players who fit unique roles, defined by compensation, ability, attitude and more.

  7. Are you being paid to recruit people or to generate revenue for your company? You mention in your response to Keith the issues that are important to you, but what do you have to offer that would make this attractive to someone who is knocking the skin off the ball. Testing, in my opinion, is a waste of time. If you want a process that works, try performance based hiring and topgrading. A few “A” players will radically outperform a group of “B” or “C” players. Flexibility and adaptability are keys to obtaining quality people. Championship caliber teams are not built by volunteers.

  8. @ Fletcher. Thank you. ISTM that if someone has great numbers, usually anything short of open, illegal activity is tolerated for high producers, and sometimes even that. Look at the “banksters” making millions off selling stuff they were betting against.

    As far as “young and hungry” folks- I frequently recruit for them. While the numbers and circumstances c are different, if they happy and making lots of money in a stable environment, you’ll still have to offer the best ones a lot of SOMETHING to leave.

    “In the real world companies need A players who fit unique roles, defined by compensation, ability, attitude and more.
    In the real world, most companies CAN’T GET A players, because they aren’t and never will be A companies, and the smart A players know this.”

    @ Edward: Well said. I think it’s possible that it may make economic sense in a lot of cases to set up a “spaghetti factory” where you hire a bunch of newbie sales people who are stupid, naïve, or desperate enough (as I was when I started in recruiting) to work for their pathetic outfit, give them minimal or no training, and recognize that almost all of them will fail miserably, but a few will do well enough to help make you money. Most companies need to realize that with help (as Fletcher and others t provide) they may be able to “box a little above their weight class” (a 55th percentile company might be able to get 65th percentile people), but it won’t transform an ordinary featherweight into a championship heavyweight.

    BOTTOM LINE: Don’t expect excellence on the cheap (for most things).

    Happy Friday,


  9. Top grading is very effective but it still needs to used in conjunction with other tools an techniques. Top grading requires a skill most interviewers don’t have, aren’t willing to learn or practice. Testing is a tool to help you identify great candidates (if used properly) and to protect yourself from making a poor hiring decision even if you are a great interviewer. The right combination of assessments can deliver a powerful objective profile of a candidate, that can be used to top grade more effectively.

    Assessments are a non emotionally charged way of asking 200-300 interview questions in 30-60 minutes.

    Also the finer details of top grading, in particular, the ability to identify top talent in respect to pay, demographics, job duties, career growth, etc is very difficult to master for most hiring managers. Assessments help tremendously with this.

    As for me I sell proprietary assessment tools, coach clients on how to become better interviewers and recruiters, and do contract recruiting for fun! There is no single answer to this age old question of how to find, and select the best talent. Rather there are many tools and techniques that need to be used together to execute great hiring decisions.

  10. Fletcher,

    Even with all the assessment tools we have today, 80% of the people who were hired last year never met the goals and objectives that were discussed during the interview. Most managers do not like hiring or firing people, so they will probably not become proficient at either. The crux of the problem is that most managers do not know what they want to hire. There is no performance goals that are established prior to interviewing. Everyone is addicted to job duties and responsibilities in the job descriptions. In my opinion, too many people have been promoted from being an individual contributor into a management role and have not obtained the tools they need either from an educational perspective, training or mentoring program. Recruiting and interviewing are non revenue generating activity handled by people who are not equipped. The sales manager’s focus needs to be on generating revenue, not sourcing, recruiting and interviewing.

  11. “The crux of the problem is that most managers do not know what they want to hire. There is no performance goals that are established prior to interviewing. Everyone is addicted to job duties and responsibilities in the job descriptions.”

    Could not agree more. I’ve been pushing the performance based hiring method for a long time now, and this is the primary issue with getting it done. Most people are happy to be paid to spin in place trying to catch their own ass than actually set a goal and manage towards it. As recruiters we’re often in the position of trying to pull this out of the hiring manager. And with sales people especially I’ve found getting straight answers is a damned PROCESS in the worst sense of the word, with the managers and the candidates.

  12. @ Edward and Richard: Well-said.
    I believe that unless you have a very narrowly-focused and easy-to-achieve set of goals and objectives, you won’t be able to find a large percentage of hires who will be able to meet them.


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