Six Strategies to Win the War for Sales Talent

As you probably know, at SalesForce we are big fans of LinkedIn, and in particular, the numerous groups that we are members of. One of our favorite groups is Sales Gravy, a tremendous web-based resource for sales professionals that posts a wealth of online resources, including sales jobs, networking opportunities and white papers.  This blog is a portion of a more extensive article on sales hiring trends for 2011 and was posted here with the gracious permission of the publishers.

During the recession, most organizations slashed sales recruiting budgets to the bone. Along with these cuts, budgetary decision making was taken away from line-level sales recruiters and moved higher up the chain of command. Lower budgets forced sales talent sourcing teams to reduce or eliminate people, tools, and sources they had previously utilized for sales recruiting.

First and foremost, business leaders must come to the realization that the market for sales talent has changed. They must step back from strategies necessitated by the recessionary economic pressures and come to grips with the brutal fact that their sales sourcing teams are ill-equipped to compete for sales talent in the new market paradigm.

To take advantage of the growth opportunities presented by the improving economy, businesses must have fully staffed sales forces in place. Here are six strategies we recommend now that will help you win the war for sales talent:

Increase your investment in sales recruiting

In a recovering economy sales staffing must be a priority. Take a close look at your current sales recruiting budget and answer these questions:

  • Is your sales sourcing and recruiting team positioned to be aggressive and flexible in the increasingly competitive marketplace?
  • Is your sales recruiting team staffed correctly?
  • Are the right sales sourcing tools in place?
  • Is decision making authority in the right hands so that your sales recruiting team can be nimble in the face of change?

Focus on brand awareness

Employer branding is critical to attracting top sales talent. The best salespeople want to work for the best companies. Your brand lends credibility to your sales career opportunities, attracts passive candidates, and helps seal the deal when your candidate is faced with competing for offers. Employment branding goes beyond just a logo on a job post. It is a comprehensive strategy designed to send the message that your company is the best place for salespeople to work. Consider:

  • Graphic banner advertising
  • Content placement (articles and blogs)
  • Social media pages and groups
  • Sponsorships of college programs
  • Sponsored webinars and seminars
  • Viral videos

Develop and utilize layers of recruiting sources

In the down economy most companies consolidated sales recruiting sources in order to cut costs. While a necessary evil in a cost reduction environment, this strategy has dire implications in a competitive sales talent market. As the competition for sales talent ramps up with the improving economy consider adding layers of sources that get your career offering in front of as many potential salespeople as possible. Multiple sources improve your probability of getting in front the right sales candidate at just the right time. Sources include:

  • General employment websites
  • Niche employment websites
  • Executive recruiters
  • Search engine PPC ads
  • Social media
  • Email blasts and newsletters
  • Career fairs
  • In house career events

Get creative

In a competitive market, it pays to stand out from the crowd. Brainstorm creative ways to catch the attention of active and passive candidates. Don’t be afraid to try something new. One of our clients, for example, is sponsoring a year-long webinar series designed to attract more women to their sales team. The webinar series features well-known women authors and sales experts who discuss issues important to women sales professionals. At the conclusion of the webinar, systematic “candidate nurturing” encourages participants to engage and learn more about our client’s career opportunities. What can your sales recruiting team do that is different?

Step into the shoes of the salesperson

The head of HR for a major food services company told us, “I don’t like your website. It should be more professional.” We responded, “We didn’t build Sales Gravy for HR VPs, we built it for salespeople.” Three weeks later this company filled both of their open National Account Manager positions with candidates from Sales Gravy. The fact is, salespeople, love our website – more salespeople visit Sales Gravy each month than all of our competitors combined. Why? We stepped into their shoes and focused on what was important to them. Does your sales recruiting team do the same?

  • Does your advertising connect with potential sales candidates?
  • Do you filter candidates in or filter them out?
  • Do you make it easy for candidates to apply?
  • When candidates reach your career site do they want to apply?
  • Does your employer branding speak to the needs of salespeople?
  • Does your positioning and messaging carry an emotional hook?

Never forget that elite salespeople, like elite athletes, have plenty of choices. When you look at the world through their eyes your recruiting team will gain the winning edge in the sales talent war.

WOW candidates

We heard the phrase “Wow the candidate” from a Vice President of Sales Recruiting and it made sense to us immediately. Most companies invest between $250 and $1000 just to get a single sales candidate in for an interview. With this level of investment on the line (not to mention the soft cost of time invested by recruiters), it is imperative that your hiring team put the best foot forward with potential candidates.

The WOW factor during the recruiting, interviewing and on boarding stage can have a profound impact on your organization’s ability to close the deal with top-level candidates. WOW factor also plays an important role in employment brand building. Never lose sight of the fact that salespeople hang out with other salespeople. Should a salesperson have a poor experience in the hiring process you can bet that she’ll tell everyone she knows. Does your organization WOW sales candidates?

  • Does the hiring process progress quickly and smoothly?
  • Do you provide impactful pre-interview collateral?
  • Are candidates welcomed by hiring managers into a comfortable environment?
  • Is the ongoing communication between multi-level interviews?
  • Are candidates who are not hired provided respectful communication that leaves them with a positive impression of your company?
  • Do you conduct post-interview surveys of hires and non-hires to gauge and improve the candidate experience?

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