When Acquiring TOP Sales Talent, DON'T rely on HR.

Updated: January 24, 2011

When asked which of the EcSELL Institute's 6 Pillars is most critical to sales team success, 97% of Executive Sales Managers from across the country indicate the Identification and Acquisition of Talent as "extremely important" or "important". No big surprise.

Here are a few best practices I've used and observed others using with significant success. Success is here defined as a constant flow of the right sales talent, with minimal time during which open positions are not filled. I will defer quoting statistics of what it costs to turn a sales department employee or the cost of an open sales territory, acknowledging you already have a keen understanding of the value of long term, high performing associates on your sales team.

ABR (Always Be Recruiting) Although 97% of Sales Managers agree on the importance of talent, very few sales departments have what I would say is a "talent identification and acquisition culture". At EcSELL Institute we are in contact with Executive Sales Managers every day, and we witness firsthand that identifying and acquiring sales talent has not been proactive, but most often a reactive response to a termination and/or a need to expand. The preponderance of those in sales management roles haven't identified, nor do they consistently have recruiting lines in the water at the best fishing holes. Ask your sales management team the question "If you have a termination tomorrow, do you have a candidate or list of candidates identified whom you could contact to immediately begin the recruiting process?" It is not until we lose someone on our sales team that calls go out to recruiters, Linked-In is accessed, internal company emails are sent, and so on. But every Sales Manager should make it their duty to have several prospects already identified and to some degree pre-screened. Something to shoot for is that every Sales Manager has lunch, coffee, or drinks once a month with a prospect who might be a fit for your team. Right now, measure the average time a territory stays open, and see if you can reduce it by 50%. If done, how much would you save in lost revenue?

Understand the type of talent you can acquire Whether you know it or not, you may be limiting the quality of the talent you attract. Many factors are at work here. Compensation, market competition, your company reputation, and the quality of your existing sales coaches/managers can all impact your ability to attract and acquire the best. I once worked with an organization that said they wanted only the best talent-- period. However, they didn't seem to obtain what I would consider top-notch sales and sales coaching talent. Further investigation showed they didn't have a new hire training program that allowed them to bring on board the best talent. Because of this limitation, they instead had to bring on "people in their business" and they sought "industry experience" over sales, coaching, and leadership talent. They settled for mid-age sales folks who were content with a $70,000/year plan. I have not encountered many mid-age sales people with spotlight talent that are satisfied with $70K/year. Our recommendation was to change the model and look for a sales person who was in their first sales job, someone who already had sales skills training in that job and would love a chance to take a bump in earnings. Or to create an internal training program that taught the skills needed so "industry experience" was not a hiring requirement. Or to be really cutting-edge and do both! Be realistic, and understand the demographic you need.

To illustrate this "experience" factor, consider Terry Pettit, the retired NCAA volleyball coach with the highest all-time winning percentage, and former EcSELL Institute Sales Coaching Summit Instructor. When he started coaching at Nebraska, he was told he could never win a NCAA championship because the best talent went to places such as UCLA, Stanford, California, and Hawaii. He was told there was not enough available talent in the market. Rather than settle and not compete for national championships, Pettit instead redefined talent for the Nebraska program. He quickly determined that talents such as speed, instinct, urgency, coordination, and competitiveness were not teachable, but that volleyball skills could be taught. So at one time early in his coaching career, in his starting rotation, five of the six were high school high jump champs in their respective states, with little volleyball experience. He took raw talent over experience and created a dynasty.

Understand your sales department talent limitations and look for ways to remove or raise your lid. By the way, at the EcSELL Institute we'll take talent over experience every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Take control of your identification and acquisition process This is not an HR responsibility; it is your responsibility, and the responsibility of every Sales Manager on your team. HR doesn't likely have goals and bonuses tied to the sales department having all spots filled with the greatest talent, but Executive Sales Managers certainly do. When I recently asked an EcSELL Institute member if HR was a big help, his response was "they are when they want to be, but too often they are too busy planning for other things such as the company holiday party." This is not to suggest you don't partner with HR for assistance in the process, but their role is administrative in nature and managed by the Executive Sales Manager. Some HR departments may serve as exceptions, but not many.

Another point of importance that should be obvious, but that few think about or act upon is that the person who is your lead recruiter is the face of your company, and certainly the face of the sales department. Make sure the "face" will attract talent. This person needs to be able to sell (assess for the qualities of a great recruiter), should dress well, and must possess a strong executive presence (please listen to EcSELL Institute's January 2011 sales management webinar for more on this topic). We can all relate to meeting those people with an "aura" that is attractive, not just physically but in a way that make us want to learn more about that person. This aura should be exemplified in your lead recruiter.

Science-based assessments work Don't be naïve and think you can select better without an assessment. In a related newsletter article this month Danita Bye, one of EcSELL Institute's Pillar Partner, references a University of Michigan study which reveals that interviews account for almost 90% of hiring decisions, but were found to be only 14% accurate in predicting success. 14% stinks! We certainly can't operate the EcSELL Institute on 14% accuracy, and we hold our members to a higher standard as well.

At our fall Sales Coaching Summit, Dr. Susan Hirt from Talent Plus displayed a graph showing that the highest correlation to predicting job success is the use of structured interview science-based assessments. At our upcoming 6 Pillars of Sales Productivity Workshop, our members will hear from Anthony Cole who utilizes the assessment tools developed by Sales Coaching Summit instructor Dave Kurlan, the founder of Objective Management Group. Like most everything else in our world today, research is causing us to look hard at ways to make assessments more accurate and predictable of success. The two EcSELL Institute Pillar Partners mentioned above I strongly believe are at the top of their game. Their respective organizations are continuously refining their science and approach to the selection of sales department talent. And don't think for a minute that assessment tools should be used only to identify top sales performers; utilize them for all roles on your sales team. These tools are certainly not the sole determinant of selection, but should account for approximately 33% of the decision. The other two thirds split between personal interviews and reference checks.

Put these pieces together and, speaking from experience, your offer-to-acceptance ratio should be over 90%. Whether or not your new sales talent stays and performs then becomes up to you and your team's ability to coach, which is another critical component of maximizing sales team.

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