How to Close Like a Pro

Despite what my insightful colleague Dr. John Sullivan says in his recent article on job offers (Why Candidates Reject Offers, 1/21/02), improving your close rate is not about taking surveys. It’s about improving your selling methods, and gaining a better understanding of exactly what is motivating your candidate to act. If you recruit for salespeople, you’ll get the analogy in this article immediately. If you’ve ever read a competency model that describes the difference between the best and worst salespeople, you’ll understand why surveys don’t matter. Improving your close rate?? or the likelihood that a candidate will accept an offer?? is dependent primarily on the quality of your selling skills. For the sake of brevity, let’s assume there are only two types of salespeople. As you read these descriptions, categorize yourself as one or the other type:

  1. Transactional sales. For some products and services, price, quantity, and delivery schedule are the primary determinants of the sale. Examples of this include commodities (e.g., boxes), catalog products, PCs, and airplane tickets. These products can’t be customized, so the delivery and service surrounding the offer becomes as important as the price. First impressions, developing relationships, and assertiveness are common traits of effective salespeople for these types of products.
  2. Solution sales. Other products can’t be bought out of a catalog; they need to be customized. A house interior, a telecommunications network, and an advertising program are examples. For customized products, price is less important than the salesperson’s ability to conduct a thorough needs analysis. Being able to effectively walk the customer through all of the possible product scenarios to craft a perfect product offering is what the best solution salespeople do. This requires insight, persuasion skills, extensive product knowledge, and an ability to conduct a detailed cost-benefit analysis.

Both types of sales processes are necessary to be a great recruiter, but when you’re closing a top candidate you need to be extremely effective at the solution sales process. Top candidates have different needs than traditional candidates. A good recruiter must be able to determine what these motivating needs are and then position the job as the fulfillment of these needs. To better understand this principle, consider the difference in needs between top candidates and traditional candidates:

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  • Traditional candidates. These are people actively looking for another job. They are not as discriminating, and they will accept a comparable job?? since the primary need is to get another job and get back on the payroll. Salary, benefits, and geographic considerations dominate their decision process. A transactional sales approach is perfectly acceptable for this type of candidate.
  • Top candidates. Even if the person is actively looking, this type of candidate always has multiple opportunities. They are looking for careers, not jobs. Their objective is to obtain a better job, or the best job, among competing alternatives. They’ll base their decisions on the growth opportunity, the challenges, and what they’ll be learning, doing, and becoming. They want detailed information, and they will discuss it with their friends and family members before accepting an offer. Compensation is important, but only as part of a whole package. Great recruiters need to be able to conduct a needs analysis to determine what these motivators are, and then craft a package that makes sense.

Transactional selling is not an effective means to recruit and close a top candidate. Solution selling techniques are required. This is where so many recruiters?? and salespeople?? fall short. You can’t sell a custom product through the Yellow Pages. If you want to improve your close rate, don’t take a survey?? become a better solution salesperson. Five Steps to Using Solution Sales Techniques in Recruiting Here are five things you can do the next time you talk with a candidate to better understand his or her needs:

  1. Understand the job. The candidate will be seeking your advice about the job. Make sure you know what it really is. Ask the hiring manager what the person taking the job needs to do to be successful. Get three to four big projects (e.g., lead the installation of the new CRM system, improve the accounting system, develop reusable software code for project X). Make sure these projects are important, and start them with action verbs (build, create, implement), not passive verbs (be responsible for, have).
  2. Discover core candidate needs. When you talk with a candidate, ask her what she’s looking for in a new job. Then ask why having this is important. Getting a candidate to explain why she wants a bigger job, more money, or whatever, gets at her core beliefs.
  3. Conduct a thorough performance-based interview. Make sure you get detailed examples of the candidate’s top three to four major accomplishments. Spend 10 minutes on each one. The candidate will then see you as a thorough and professional recruiter. This is critical to establishing an advisory relationship with the candidate.
  4. Create an opportunity gap. As you describe the job to the candidate, clearly point out the gaps or stretch points. This is what the candidate will do, learn, and become if they get an offer and accept the job. The best candidates need at least a 20% stretch in a job, or a faster growth rate. Money will then become secondary.
  5. Test all offers. Never make the offer until you’ve tested it first. The form of a test is something like this: “What do you think about an offer of $90,000 if we could get this approved?” Once you make the formal offer, the process becomes a transaction, and solution selling is no longer effective. So delay the formal piece until the candidate accepts all the terms. You want the candidate to tell you what she’s thinking. She won’t once the offer is in hand. Be careful here, or everything you’ve done to get to this point can fall apart.

Offer Careers, Not Jobs If you want to become a better recruiter and a better closer, become better at solution selling. This requires that you know your candidate’s needs and abilities early in the process. This way, you can position the job opportunity as the perfect career solution. If you know the job and conduct a thorough interview, the candidate is more likely to consider you as a trusted advisor. The weakest salespeople in any industry tend to push discount pricing to close the deal. Many recruiters also have this reputation. The best salespeople?? and the best recruiters?? create value in their products. The best recruiters know how take what might appear to some as an ordinary job and make it look like a great career.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).

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