How to Equip the Human Resources Team to Hire the Sales Talent You Need

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree
and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
– Abraham Lincoln

11 June 2020

Your company will be in regular need of sales talent. Whether you work for a high-growth start-up or your company is treading water in an obsolete sector, you will be recruiting soon. Perhaps you need to replace the retiring Chief Revenue Officer, scale after investment or close gaps created by revolving millennials.

What you want to avoid is your current breadwinners being distracted from revenue generation – even if recruitment is part of their job descriptions. You should ensure HR is equipped to shoulder the lion’s share of the burden so that the frontline of business development does not lose momentum.

The sales team will need to engage in the process to create a brief that will attract and define talent and to select from the best candidates.

HR and Sales are two different animals; loosely, nurturers and builders as opposed to hunters and conquerors. HR will be selling a career opportunity to salespeople and must be given the script and the tools to do this by salespeople. We believe this is a critical and overlooked strategy.

We suggest the Sales and HR Team define the brief together to establish the coordinates and perimeters of a success search.

Equip HR to Solution Sell the Role

In your context it may be an employer’s market (it isn’t in ours). Regardless, a good sales candidate will have multiple options. You have to “solution sell” the opportunity to them via the HR frontline. HR may not expect to have to sell aggressively to candidates so you must hand them the script and elucidate the sales perspective so that they can woo and close the right candidate.

Clarify the advantages differentiate this opportunity. What would entreat the best candidates to risk leaving their current roles?

    How good is your product? How does it compare in terms of price, reputation and utility? What sort of investment does your product development have? A great product is the wind on your back if selling – incentivising to candidates.
    What growth is realistic in terms of market penetration? This will mean cash and opportunity for sales candidates. Is the company positioned to do well and why?
    Salespeople move to greener pastures. The HR team should be able to articulate why the role is a good long-term prospect for the candidates in terms of promotion and package. Why should the best candidate take this position and not the one with your competitor?
    Salespeople are motivated by many things – ambition, challenge, growth, success, their families, etc. and compensation is really just symbolic of this. It quantifies motivations. What is the very best basic package HR is authorised to advertise and discuss? Include benefits, pensions, LTIPS, shares, accelerators, car allowance, etc. Particularly whether commission is uncapped. From the offset advertise with a clear salary for the best engagement from talent. We know this can create some squeamishness for good reasons, but an advert without salary has no power of attraction unless you’re a household name. This will also eliminate those out of price range. Sales salaries may seem rather generous to the HR team but this must be considered in the light of the market rate. If you’re paying less than your competitors HR are going to have to work very hard to present you with an average shortlist of candidates.
    Companies have distinct sales cultures and it is important to define this so that candidates can self-eliminate and so that HR is equipped to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sales leaders may not always be the best at seeing this (as they may have inadvertently created the culture) so HR should ask the wider team and review exit interviews. Data-driven outfits can’t hire cowboys and unstructured ones shouldn’t hire processors. Glassdoor may give some insights. Is there clear vision and strong leadership? Do people leave the office on time? What are the positives and negatives of the company culture as experienced by salespeople? If you need hardy and unoffendable workaholics that is a tricky sell, but if you know you can’t hire thin-skinned, low energy overthinkers that is a reasonable requirement. We don’t believe in sugar coating sales roles. If it is chaotic due to high growth or post-acquisition redundancies, a salesperson will still see the opportunity there.
    Is the sales operation considered critical in the wider scope of the business? Is there investment in teams, systems and processes? As painful as CRMs can be, salespeople want to know if they’ll be working with strong brands or inheriting a legacy of indecipherable excel data (i.e. free reign).
    Sales rarely attracts lazy people. It attracts those who are stimulated by challenge. What are the key challenges of selling in your context? Is the geography wide, the product new and the prospects happy with their current providers? We’ve found salespeople often have high levels of (deserved) self-efficacy; they believe they will cope and flourish in adversity. HR can pitch the challenge. Salespeople can also smell sugar-coating so presenting key challenges will also add credibility to the process and opportunity.
    What objections could arise from great candidates? HR will need to know what they are and be briefed on the path across them. Help to define the opportunities hidden in the objections. You can’t persuade persuasive salespeople, but you can proffer a different perspective. Perhaps it is a declining sector, but a strong brand with $10m invested in product innovation and a recent acquisition under the belt. Perhaps the sales floor is demanding but as a result it is an outstanding experience in the eyes of future employers.

Define The Candidate

Once you have defined the pitch and the angle, you need to define your candidate with HR and distil these requirements aggressively to ensure non-essentials don’t get in the way of a good search. Help HR to rigorously search for the ideal candidate but screen using your absolute non-negotiables.

  • How many years of experience in sales or sales management?
  • Selling what? B2B or B2C? Sophisticated subscriptions or transactional low value simple products? Does this really matter?
  • Selling to whom and in what sector? Is this essential? What are near neighbours to this? What would be the ideal companies they would have worked for?
  • Low or high-volume sales? What sort of ground to they need to have covered in the past? Did they close three large clients or 700 smallish ones? Do they need speed or stealth? Could they learn a new pattern?
  • What sort of revenue were they responsible for? Is this important? Could they close the same number of higher value deals? Can they demonstrate success?
  • Have they worked for/sold to SMEs or enterprise companies?
  • Were they handed qualified leads or did they have to track them down themselves?
  • Were they supported by a magnificent sales outfit or keeping their head above water in organisational Armageddon?
  • What proportion of new business and recurring business did they work with? Is this business development / account management split important?
  • How many people did they directly and indirectly manage?
  • Do they need a university degree? (Probably yes for very tailored B2B sales pitches, but otherwise maybe not?)
  • What parameters of job stability are acceptable to you? 3 jobs in 6 years?

We think that a great salesperson can transfer their skills to most contexts, but what will you not compromise on?

Who do you really need in your team? Homogeny is bad for business and culture – BUT there will be shared traits that the successful salespeople in your company have. What are they? Conversely, who hasn’t worked out and why? This will give HR key insights into the many variables at play and your non-negotiables. Let HR know who the top performers are and where they came from.

From all of this you can work out your absolute priorities and the order in which they fall. This will help HR to make decisions on the hundreds of candidates they attract without hoovering you in. Our priority in sales placements is always, always good tenure. Yours may be something else.

Instruct HR to ignore spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in CVs. It doesn’t denote sloppy work. But, if CVs are a pain to read they should be discounted – it signals low empathy and communication skills. If there are no numbers around targets, KPIs or revenue it is not a good sign. Salespeople should know (and lead with) their numbers.

Briefing and training HR in sales hiring will pay untold dividend and create a powerful alliance that could make or break a company particularly as the talent landscape changes.

Add any other comments you may have do get in touch with us in the comment section below!