Even during these uncertain economic times, we believe it’s a realistic point of view — especially to those sales leaders who apply certain best practices when attracting and retaining the best sales talent.
Following every business downturn, companies realize they need to grow the top line to survive. When CFO Magazine asked subscribers in June 2011, “Which job functions are most needed at your company right now?” the sales function tied for first place along with skilled professionals (electricians/plumbers). Manpower’s 2011 Talent Shortage Survey showed that sales professionals were the second-most difficult skills to find. Clearly, the high beam headlights are now turned on sales leadership to increase sales and save the day.
But just look at the challenges those high beams reveal. A 2011 study by CSO Insights reported that 35% to 45% of sales reps fail to meet assigned sales targets. If you’re the head of sales, these results are a fast track to becoming an endangered species! It is estimated that of the nearly 15 million sales-related jobs in the U.S., 26% will turn over this year. That’s a 26% error rate — and nearly all of it, whether desirable or undesirable, is scrap and waste. Manufacturing, with their Six Sigma metrics, would find that intolerable. So should the sales function tolerate that? Maybe these metrics are just the tip of the iceberg.
Talent trumps all other leversWe asked dozens of front-line and senior executive sales leaders to suppose they had only one thing they could do to increase the odds of making quota. What would it be? The answer was unanimous: Finding and keeping the best sales talent wins the game. The team that gets and nurtures the most “A” players wins! End of sentence. And most added a very strong exclamation point.
We don’t like to argue with success or experience, however, we also believe that the team who makes fewer unforced hiring errors wins the game. The SalesGenomix message is that you can be nearly 100% assured of building the best sales team and yielding those above-average revenue results if you apply a rigorous process to building and maintaining your sales talent pipelines using our 7 habits.
Habit 1: ABR — Always be recruiting!Our overarching premise is a simple one and something sales leaders have always instinctively known. It is the context in which the 7 habits are executed.
To explain it, we’ve borrowed from David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross. In the movie version, Alec Baldwin plays sales leader Blake who chides his team with the mantra, “ABC: Always Be Closing.” We offer sales leaders a similar notion, but ours is, “ABR: Always Be Recruiting.”
I first learned this lesson while at Xerox, in the Chicago branch. A fellow sales manager had made a superstar hire in Minneapolis, and I remember asking him, Where did you find that guy? Was he from an external recruiter, our own HR group, an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal? “Nope. Found him in a hotel lobby standing in line to check in.” What? You must be joking! He smiled. “Nope. I know one when I see one, so I asked him what he did and he told me. I told him what we did and we exchanged cards. That was more than a year ago. I’ve been nursing him along all this time. He finally got dissatisfied with his current job and today he’s my Numero Uno.”
Habit-Forming Action Step:
The lesson learned for me was that I had to think of recruiting like a good salesperson thinks of prospecting. You always have to keep your ear to the ground and be looking for the next hire.
With that and our other 6 habits, you will keep the talent bench strong and not suffer the consequences of unexpected turnover. Here are more of our suggestions for frontline sales managers and sales recruiters for attracting, retaining, and managing the best sales talent around.
Habit 2: Engage and partner with your sales recruiters.Many sales leaders have told us that their relationship with internal and external sales recruiters was strained. Why? Sales managers complain of a trickle of candidates, many of whom are not qualified and therefore a waste their interviewing time. Sales recruiters we’ve spoken with are likewise dissatisfied with the responsiveness of sales managers. The managers postpone interviews, don’t communicate promptly when a good prospect appears on the radar, and can’t articulate exactly what they’re looking for in a top performer. Scheduled interviews are changed with little warning. And most managers prepare for interviews with about as much rigor as they prepare for lunch: “Hand me the resume, let’s get started.” Unfortunately, many sales leaders and their recruiting partners also cling to an “abundance” recruiting mindset and process. Even though there’s a scarcity of supply, they believe there are plenty of rock-star salespeople out there, “So we’ll look for them when we need them.” (Remember Habit 1? Always Be Recruiting!) All these issues speak to a lack of precision in both expectations and recruiting processes.
Habit-Forming Action Step
Add more communication, attention, and precision where it’s needed in your internal processes and you’ll turn your recruiting efforts around. Your HR staff can’t help unless you routinely reach out to collaborate with them. If you don’t talk to your HR support team at least once a week, you are underusing a resource that can lead to your success. Get involved in establishing mutual service-level agreements (SLAs) with your recruiters so you can hold them accountable and they can hold you accountable for results.
Habit 3: Inspect what you expect.
You’ve heard it a million times: If you can’t or don’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Recruiting — unlike call activity, forecast updates, or expense reports — isn’t something due on Friday at 5 o’clock. In the best situations, it’s examined at least quarterly. In the worst, not until turnover forces the issue.
The lesson here is like the Fram oil-filter ad slogan: “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.” Sales managers often ignore a daily recruiting routine because “I don’t need to. I have all my territories filled.” Sales leaders make this assumption at their own peril. Turnover happens when you least expect it and generally when you are least prepared for it. When you inspect what you expect, you know what the sales talent pipeline looks like and you don’t get caught off guard when your best rep walks in your office with a smile — and resigns.
Habit-Forming Action Step
Set up weekly or monthly recruiting pipeline reviews that use probabilities to determine where you are in your sales process and where the candidate is in their buying process. Good players have options, and you need to consider recruiting a half-buy, half-sell process.