Recruitment involves Attraction, Selection and Retention. Get any part of that wrong, and then you have to start again. The measure for getting it wrong is transparent. The measure for getting it right requires focus, structure and time; your time.

According to Oxford Economic reports 2014, the cost of hiring a person is more than £25,000. This figure considers the 28 weeks it takes for an employee to become fully productive. However, it does not look at salespeople, who are far more costly if you start to include mobility costs and impact on the market share and customer loyalty.

Other reports I read which have been shared by the CIPD include data on how the market has impacted upon recruitment and retention. The spring of 2019 showed that in some industries more than others, recruitment is getting more difficult due to availability and job security, on the whole, seems to be improving. A third report I read was on the behavioural science of recruitment and selection. Information from these three reports and my own experience of working with managers and leaders, compelled me to write this little article which I hope will help sales managers with the common challenge of recruitment;

1. Always Be Recruiting. (Attraction)

One of your top priorities is to be able to recruit effectively. Just as your salespeople have a pipeline of customers, you should be building your database of recruits and have a pipeline of potentials. Use all the tools available to you. Recruiting is also about the image you portray to potential candidates. You don't know when and why a person might be looking at your organisation's social media presence, but we do know that over 70% of graduates will look at your social media before they look at your website (Institute of Sales Management). So if you don't think that your company social media posts are painting the right picture out there, then take ownership of helping to portray an organisation that will attract the right fit for it.

If you are using an agency to help you to attract the right people then challenge the agency to providing you with the data you need to see if your advert needs improving or changing. Ask for stats on searches. How many people looked at your ad but then applied for another similar job. Ask them how their search engines work, what are the search algorithms they use. If you are paying for their services agencies will more than happy to answer your questions on all of these. Though, If you don’t ask …

2. Know the role you want to fill. (Attraction)

I know this sounds ridiculously basic, but you might be surprised how often I speak to managers who haven't read the job description or updated it before seeking a new person for the role. Another scenario is when a manager knows they want someone to fill a gap, and they decide a title first before knowing what the actual responsibilities are. Responsibilities come with a list of tasks and tasks should be measurable. You can't assess if a person can do a job if you can't measure task achievement. By knowing the tasks, you will have an understanding of what skills are essential to achieve the tasks. List the skills and prioritise them according to the job description. What is genuinely negotiable in terms of competency and what is a must.

3. Network

There's a famous saying in training: You can train skills and teach knowledge, but you can't train or teach attitude (at least not to adults). So wherever you go its always a good idea to keep your eyes and ears open for people with a great attitude who you think you could train to be great salespeople. You don't always have to have someone with experience. Sometimes your not hiring so much experience as you are bad habits. So be mindful and use your networks to know who is good at what. If you spot someone, find out about them and keep them on your radar. You have to scout for talent just like a football manager would.

4. Have a structured Selection process

Once you have your job description and skills required, you can start to identify the best tools and approaches to test candidates. For sales, one of the essential skills is influencing skills. This competency can be tested with exercises and interview questions. Know which you want to use and then add an easy marking system. Sliding scale marking systems are okay so long as the range is not too great. Keep it simple such as "very competent" "Development need", or "Not demonstrated". The simpler it is to mark the more consistent the marking will be especially where more than one assessor is involved. I would also suggest you add a section which allows you to consider how nervous a candidate is. Be prepared to retest a skill that you feel might have been missing due to nerves. A structure is important and it should have layers to it. Be prepared to have to take candidates to further levels if you need to be sure.

5. Make your selection process relevant and non-biased

Make the selection process marry the job. If you are recruiting a telesales person, perhaps you should conduct your first interview on the phone to test the essential customer skills. When you meet them face to face, you can check their ability to work with the team. If you are recruiting a field sales person, then meet them on the road and become the customer for the first part of the interview. Hold it in a hotel and see how well they interact with the hotel staff. Spill something and see how they take control of the situation. Start a disagreement and see if they can influence you to think otherwise. Many sales managers have a casual conversation with potential candidates but don't have a clearly defined objective for the 'chat'. So no real objectives tied to skills testing and therefore nothing to measure at the end of it. It generally falls to feel.

6. Don't settle for second best and don’t be biased with your choices

Many times Sales Managers will feel pressured into deciding on a candidate and often they will accept second best simply because time is against them. They are losing presence in an area, and the competition is moving in. All I can say to that is that if you do all of the above all of the time, you wouldn't be under pressure. You would be able to take your time and continue to seek until you know you have the right person, not hope you have the right person.

The behavioural report tells us that there are biases in the selection process, which I have witnessed. Managers will try to find someone either like themselves or like someone else in their team — not the best way to find the best candidate. I'm sure if you compared two top salespeople, they will probably have different styles and approaches that work for them and not necessarily for each other. Besides you want varied types of skills so the whole team can learn from sharing best practices. Another bias that resonated with me was "must have done the role before" one. Let's not assume that only people who have been salespeople, can sell well.

7. Invest in an induction program

An induction program is not another word for the introduction. It's the name given to a process that nurtures a person into a role. It is the investment you make into making sure the person you have just hired will be able to take ownership of the position they have been hired to fill. So the length of your induction should reflect the complexity and importance of the role. If you think it's essential to make sure the candidate can fulfil their responsibilities well, then work with a training expert and get the induction process right!

The induction is the single most costly training plan you will implement, and if you try to save money and especially time spent on it, you will lose money in the long run.

8. Set realistic timescales

Your induction program should align with your probation period. Therefore you should have clear milestones that you would expect the right candidate to reach over specific periods. Take your recruit from crawling, through cruising and then walking independently within a realistic benchmarked timeframe. Each milestone should have an expected level of competency and commitment that is realistic and achievable for recruits. These measures must not be confused with the full target KPI's. Your training expert will be able to work these out with you.

9. Have an exit process

I have heard on several occasions that exit interviews 'don't work'. Perhaps that might be the case but only in the same way as a CRM doesn't work or any other tool or process doesn't work. Tools such as an exit interview are only as useful as their implementation by the user. So if you have had a bad experience or haven't tried it yet, please give it a go: the interviewer should not have any relationship to the interviewee and should not have had any previous dealings with them. If you have an HR function, then you will already be abreast of this. The interview should take place somewhere away from the interviewee’s regular working area/office. The discussion should comprise of questions to help you to learn the real reasons for the person's decision to leave and therefore provide you with what actions you might need to take after that to avoid future failings if there are any. Notes from an exit interview coupled with your notes from recruitment interviews can help you to understand the type of characters you might be looking for, and it will improve your recruitment techniques.

10. Learn about hygiene factors

Keep documented accounts of each candidate that you hire so that you can look back at where it went wrong or right. There are genuine reasons for people leaving a company. If you think your sales people leave for more money alone then you might want to study Hertzberg’s 2 factor theory, where he explains that there are a number of variables that can cause enough dissatisfaction in an employee to motivate them to leave. However he also says that there are ways to motivate employees to enough to counteract some of those factors, and money is not the answer. If you do have people leave due to better money elsewhere perhaps your recruitment process is looking for people who just want money. Perhaps your incentives have all been money orientated from the outset not implementing any other way to recognise an individual breeds a familiar behavioural pattern. You created the monster so why be surprised when they go for more money elsewhere.

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