When asked what management activity is most important to the success of a sales team, 97% of executive sales managers across the country cite the identification and acquisition of talent as either “extremely important” (or “important”) for their answers. It’s not surprising.
In my daily conversations and discussions with Executive Sales Managers, talent is always the focus of our meetings. Our attention and time are consumed by the people in our sales teams. This is for good reasons. This is not what I meant to suggest. In fact, it is quite the opposite. We must continue to look for ways to make our human capital more valuable. This is the essence of great sales coaching: incremental gains in performance. When it comes to the identification and development of talent, executive sales managers must recognize that a person’s ability, or, in other words, their potential, can hinder these gains. While we must all help our sales teams, you’ll get better results if your focus is on those who already possess the “right stuff.” The baseline talent is what determines a sales team’s potential production. Executive Sales Managers are responsible for this.
These are some of the best practices that I have seen others use with great success. Here success is defined as having the right sales talent in constant supply with little to no time for unfilled positions. Recognizing that you already know the value of high-performing associates in your sales team, I will not quote statistics on the costs of turning a sales employee or an open territory. I will refrain from quoting these figures.
ABR (Always Be Recruiting)
While 97% of sales managers agree that talent is essential, only a tiny percentage of sales departments have what I would call a “talent acquisition and identification culture.” Every day I meet with Executive Sales Managers and witness how acquiring and identifying sales talent is not a proactive process but a reaction to terminations and/or the need to grow. Many sales managers are not able to locate or have the ability to find recruiting opportunities at the best fishing spots. Ask your sales team: “If there is a termination tomorrow, do they have a list of candidates that you can contact immediately to start the recruitment process?” Calls to recruiters are not made until someone is lost from our sales team. Linked-In access is only accessed, and internal company emails are sent. Every Sales Manager should have several prospects pre-screened and identified. A good goal is to have every Sales Manager meet for lunch or coffee once per month with candidates who may be a good fit for your team. Now, take a look at the average time that territory remains open and determine if you can cut it by half. How much revenue would you be able to save if this were done?
You need to understand the type of talent that you are able to acquire.
There are many factors that can impact this. Your ability to attract and retain the best can be affected by market competition, compensation, company reputation, the quality of your sales coaches/managers, and your ability to hire the best. One time, I worked for an organization that stated they only wanted the best talent. They didn’t seem able to attract what I consider top-notch sales and coaching talent. Further investigation revealed that they did not have a program to train new employees, which would have allowed them to hire the best talent. They had to hire “people in the business” and preferred “industry experience” above sales, coaching, or leadership talent. They chose mid-aged salespeople who were happy with a $70,000/year salary. I haven’t met many mid-age salespeople with star talent who are satisfied with $70K/year. We suggested that we change the model to find a salesperson who is in their first job. Someone who has had sales training in that position and would like to earn more. To create an internal training program to teach the skills required so that “industry experience” was not a requirement for hiring. You can do both. You must be realistic and know who you are targeting.
Terry Pettit is the former NCAA volleyball coach and Sales Coaching Summit instructor who exemplifies this “experience” factor. He was told that he couldn’t win an NCAA championship when he began coaching Nebraska. The best talent went to California, UCLA, Stanford, California, and Hawaii. He was told that there wasn’t enough talent on the market. Instead of settling and not competing for national championships, Pettit redefined talent for Nebraska. Pettit quickly realized that skills such as speed and instinct, urgency, coordination, and competitiveness could not be taught but that they were possible to teach. In his first coaching rotation, five of his six starters were high school high jump champions in their respective states. They had no volleyball experience. He valued raw talent more than experience and created a dynasty.
Look for ways to improve your sales team talent. By the way, talent will always win over experience any day of the week except Sundays.
You are responsible for your acquisition and identification process.
This is not the responsibility of HR. It is your responsibility and that of all Sales Managers on your team. While HR may not have any goals or bonuses that require sales departments to fill all available spots with the best talent, Executive Sales Managers do. An executive sales manager told me recently that HR is a great help. But, they often get too busy planning for things like the holiday party. While this isn’t to say you shouldn’t work with HR, their role is administrative and is managed by the Executive Sale Manager. At the same time, some HR departments might be exceptions to this rule, not all.
A second important point that should be obvious but is often overlooked is that your lead recruiter, and most importantly, your sales team, is the face of your company. You want to attract the best talent. The person must be able to sell (assess the qualities of a great recruiter), dress well, and have a solid executive presence. It is easy to relate to people who have an attractive aura. Not only are they physically appealing, but also in a way that makes us want to know more about them. Your lead recruiter should display this aura.
Science-based assessments are practical.
Don’t let your naivety fool you into thinking that you can make better hiring decisions without an appraisal. Danita Bye refers to a University of Michigan study that shows that while interviews makeup almost 90% of hiring decisions and are only 14% accurate at predicting success, Danita Bye writes a similar newsletter article. It’s a shocking 14%! Talent Plus’ Dr. Susan Hirt reveals that structured interview science-based assessments have the best correlation with predicting job success. Research is forcing us to think about ways to make evaluation more precise and predictable. Sales managers need to continually refine their selection process for sales talent. Don’t let assessment tools be limited to identifying top sales performers. They can be used for any role on your sales team. Although they are not the only determinant of selections, these tools should make up 33% to 40% of the final decision. The remaining third is split between reference checks and personal interviews.
These are all factors that should be combined to produce a ratio of offer-to-acceptance greater than 90%. Your ability to coach your sales team, which is another critical component in maximizing your sales team’s performance, will determine whether or not your sales talent stays.