How The Sales Function Can Help A Firm’s Recruiting Efforts

“Recruiting is just sales with a crummy budget” is my favorite phrase in recruiting. Kind of funny, but also alarmingly true. Yet in most firms there is little or no interaction between the sales/marketing and the recruiting functions. What Is The Essence Of Recruiting? As a professor I’ve seen dozens of employment related books, most of which totally miss the mark. They see the most important element in employment as the selection (screening) process. Nothing could be further from the truth. The key elements in employment are finding prospects, qualifying (sorting) them and then in selling (convincing) them on the job and the company. And if you know anything about sales, the same 3 are the essence of sales:

  1. Find/attract prospects
  2. Qualify them
  3. Sell them

I often quote one of the founders of modern recruiting, Michael McNeal (who grew the Cisco recruiting machine). He once said, “I don’t know much about HR, I’m a marketing guy.” What a compelling view! Unfortunately, most recruiters come from HR, not sales. HR requires knowledge of laws, policies, and managing people resources, which are important but they are hardly the essence of sales. How The Sales/Marketing Function Can Help Reinvigorate A Firm’s Recruiting Effort Recruiting is paramount to the success of any firm. Rather that let recruiting be exclusively “owned” by HR, it needs to be a shared responsibility. This shared responsibility should include managers, employees, PR, marketing and the sales force. Managers can help by “owning” the effort and increasing the time they spend on recruiting. Employees can help through referrals. Marketing, PR and sales can help in two basic ways:

  1. Teaching managers and recruiters how to “sell”
  2. Direct action by the sales force and the marketing department

<*SPONSORMESSAGE*> Part 1 – Teaching/Advising Others How To Sell There are a variety of ways that the sales function can bolster a firm’s recruiting effort through great advice and teaching. They include:

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  1. Finding/Attracting Candidates
    • Help HR re-write external job descriptions into “opportunity” descriptions that excite job seekers
    • Advise employment on how to add customer service elements to the recruiting process in order to make it more “user-friendly”
    • Help employment build a competitive intelligence capability to identify what effective recruiting tools the competitors are using (and planning to use) against you
    • Advise employment managers on how to use (buy) sales “prospect” tracking programs (software) in order to track potential hires. Most HR applicant tracking software is weak compared to the well developed systems used by sales people
    • Teach manager and recruiters “name gathering” and “soft selling” skills that can be used at social and other non-recruiting events (conferences, wine festivals etc)
  2. Qualifying Prospects
    • Teach recruiting market research tools (surveys, focus groups and interviews) so we can identify what candidates want in a new great job (“triggers” to consider a new job)
    • Sales can teach employment to be more “data driven” and to learn from their failures/ successes when it comes to assessing (qualifying) whether a prospect is serious about working for us.
  3. Getting The Candidates To Accept
    • Teach managers how to “sell” the candidates during telephone conversations and the interview
    • Teach managers “closing techniques” to increase candidate acceptance rates
    • Give sales training to recruiters to improve their ability to sell and close candidates
    • Help employment managers build a competitive intelligence capability in order to assess what the competitors are offering (as they do in sales). Employment could then prepare comparison offer sheets so that mangers can better “sell the advantages of their job” to top candidates that also have offers at competing firms
  4. Branding Building a long term image outside the firm is essential for product success. It is also essential for recruiting. Getting external people to look up to a firm as “a great place to work” and as a company to “someday aspire to work at” is what employment branding is all about. Marketing/PR and sales can help employment build a firm’s great-place-to-work image by:
    • Advise HR and management on how to build a program for getting management and HR practices “written up” in key publications, so you become a “talked about” firm
    • Develop slogans and “WOW’s” (events and practices) that employees would want to tell their friends about
    • Help build a firm’s web page into a powerful, “I want to work there” selling tool
  5. Other
    • Do co-advertising (product & job). By realizing that staffing is part of the image development and marketing efforts of the organization, advertising can simultaneously “co-sell” the product and the job by including product job sales pitches as a minor part of most product ads (and vice versa)
    • Coordinate recruiting and PR events to ensure that both events build both the product and the firm’s “great place to work” image
    • Teach employment managers how “sales type” rewards and incentives can increase recruiter and employee referral efforts

Part 2 – Direct Help That The Sales Function Can Provide Most firms have a significant sized sales force. There are numerous things sales people can do on their own to aid a firms recruiting effort. They include:

  • Provide direct referrals (of potential hires) as a result of their extensive customer and travel contacts. Co-sell retail customers (both on the product and our jobs) so that they want to come work for you
  • Gather the names (and help recruit) top competitors’ talent at trade fairs and industry events
  • Competitive intelligence/name gathering of the sales people who are continually “beating you” so that employment can recruit them away

Part 3 – Convert Your Sales People Into Recruiters Sales people are aggressive and relentless in the pursuit of a “sale.” If you are really bold, try converting some of your sales people to recruiters. It works like gangbusters, IF you are willing to reward them financially at the same level as recruiters that they were getting as sales people. Since most recruiters are underpaid (and seldom are bonus incentivized), it is more difficult than it should be. Don’t even try converting most recruiters into salespeople (in order for them to learn sales). Most won’t go (and couldn’t cut it in sales anyway!). Conclusion Employment needs to think and act more like a sales function if a firm is to win the war for talent. Sales can teach recruiters and managers the best “sales” tools. They can also use their networks to provide us with the names of possible recruits. Having the two functions operate independently is a common but a tragic mistake. Sales can help add a little “attitude” to the recruiting function.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



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