It’s that time of year again. The new sales budget has been distributed, and it is ultra-aggressive. Our minds race as we try to figure out how to achieve these all-important targets. We consider the variables — sales productivity per account executive, selling additional services and solutions, more net new business, increased client engagements, and sales headcount.

It becomes apparent sales headcount takes center stage, as a consistent force of revenue producers is needed to make it happen. Now comes one of the top challenges facing our industry — 87% of sales teams are today understaffed. 

Let’s explore how we get to a better place and have better control of our destiny.

The current situation tells us there are major challenges here. For one, the cost of sales turnover is extremely high. Next, too many sales organizations lack an effective and repeatable recruitment and selection process. In addition, some sales leaders view staffing as a burden.

When we look at the most successful sales organizations, we find a common thread: Leaders do not create a work environment for their motivation. Rather, they create a work environment for their team’s motivation.

 The value of a full staff cannot be overlooked. Perhaps the time is now to embrace a profound mantra: I must have a full staff. If so, here are some benefits:

• Teams are more likely to achieve revenue targets.

• Knowing you are always on the lookout for top talent keeps your sales team members working harder.

• It increases a manager’s personal confidence to lead.

Let’s make some sense of this. To attract quality sales talent, it is best to build from strength and put much-needed blocks in place:

Plan – A written plan filled with timeframes, direction, and KPIs.

Process – A structured approach detailing the pillars of management: recruiting, training, and coaching.

Passion – Keep in mind the number one responsibility of a sales leader is to inspire people to want to work for your company. We would be wise to see recruiting as being on a mission. Anything less is a serious compromise.

Let’s consider building a people bank. This is defined as a select number of people with whom you’ve already had brief discussions who could be candidates for a job opportunity who already have a job. It is like growing a sales pipeline, as this will drive accountability. Just imagine putting a metric in place. Here is an example: Sales manager to secure and complete a minimum of two interviews per week during the entire fiscal year. This is doable and will lead to improvement.

Let’s help the sales leaders who believe it is too hard to find good talent by deploying these strategies:

• Let your best customers refer successful salespeople. Keep in mind they have sales professionals calling on them every day.

• Seek out locations where high-energy, long-hour employees can be found.

• Utilize the three-foot rule — everyone who comes within three feet of you is a prospect — and engage in meaningful conversations often.

• High-quality people attract other high-quality people. In other words, leverage others to meet people of interest.

There is value in creating a formal interview process. The steps include:

• Analyze a resume looking at the stability of the candidate, positions of increasing responsibility, key phrases such as new business development, B2B sales, consistent performer, solutions, and services. In addition, locate any gaps in employment history.

• Prescreen phone interview – Approximately 10 minutes to see if they are likable and have some type of presence. This will save you valuable time.

• Plan and conduct a formal face-to-face interview. Get the best candidates on the calendar for a next-step interview in the coming days.

• Review and evaluate using a scoring system.

It is time to drill down on a worthy and repeatable interview process. Research tells us that too many sales leaders have never been trained in face-to-face interviewing.

Consider a five-step interview process:

• Open the interview – set expectations.

• Gather information – ask behavioral questions.

• Process the interview – dig deeper.

• Close the interview – outline next steps.

• Evaluate and compare results with fellow managers.

Doing the necessary research and committing to a solid communication strategy during the interview process will help. Here are some points to consider:

Research candidates on LinkedIn (does the resume match the profile?) Also, conduct a Google and social media search and see what may be of interest.

Send a formal email invite to all candidates with pertinent interview information. Note: Best candidates will respond that they are looking forward to the opportunity. Question those who do not. 

Do candidates follow up with the hiring manager in writing after the initial interview? Top candidates will and should.

Ask the candidate to go to your website and learn what makes your company special and different prior to your interview. As the interview opens thank them for their time and have them share what was learned. If they did not find time to do the necessary research, it is not worth your time to proceed.

The in-person interview must be planned out in considerable detail, much like a Broadway production. All employees should be made aware when visitors are on the premises. The process may include:

• A tour of the building, noting key stakeholders along the way.

• Welcoming the sales candidate by putting their name on your digital display. This is great for the ego and promotes positive feelings.

• Sharing the resources and tools that will be available to them in the role.

• A written job description (shared in advance).

• Team/activity standards.

• Employee testing.

• A panel interview.

• Covering the compensation model in detail for candidates that have earned the right. This should not be a surprise.

• Ensuring all offers are made in person, as this should result in a two-way conversation.

Next, let’s look at those attributes of the most impressive and successful people we have ever been associated with. It is the job of the manager to match these baseline attributes to those of each candidate.

Studies tell us the five key attributes of successful people are:

• The ability to follow direction.

• A high amount of self-discipline.

• The ability to work under pressure.

• Strong emotional commitment to succeed for self, team, and company.

• Comprehension and ability to learn.

Our focus can now turn to asking behavioral style questions, with the understanding that past behavior and performance is the best indicator of future behavior and performance.

These questions are representative of how a candidate would handle a real situation. It is for this reason these questions often start with “Tell me about a time when …,” Give me an example when…,” and “Describe a situation when… .”

Examples of questions for each attribute could include:

The ability to follow direction

• Please tell me of a time when you disagreed with your manager’s approach to handling a client issue. Did you follow their direction, do what you thought was right, or seek consensus?

• How can we empower you to make good decisions?

Self-discipline

• How do you keep organized?

• Do you set goals for yourself? Please explain.

• What parts of the sales cycle do you like the most? And the least?

Ability to work under pressure

• Describe your most challenging sales call. What made it challenging and how did you handle it? What was the outcome?

• Share an example of how you have handled a difficult client.

• What questions do you prefer to ask during the discovery phase of a sales call?

• Do you have a competitive nature? Please explain.

Strong emotional commitment to succeed for self, team, and company.

• Tell me what steps you took to prepare for this interview.

• Please talk about a new account you have opened and the research conducted. How did you approach the prospect? How did you secure the first appointment?

• Describe a situation where you had to learn a new solution or service.

• Give me an example of when you went beyond the call of duty to accomplish a goal. What drove you to take these actions? What was the outcome, and did you receive any recognition?

• What motivates you?

Comprehension and ability to learn

• How do you read people?

• Please share an example of when you sought to improve your knowledge base or skill set. What drove you to do this? How has it made you stronger?

• Give me an example of when you used your creativity to solve a problem. 

• What was the most significant mistake you have ever made? Did you learn from it?

As leaders, we must embrace the fact our major competition is no longer Ricoh, Sharp, Canon, megadealers, and local dealers that reside in our territory. Rather, our competition is the hundreds of companies competing for local sales talent.

As a best practice, we are seeing top technology companies create a sales recruiting process with a goal of 12 business days from pre-screen interview to offer. The closer we stay to this timeline allows us to choose and negotiate with top talent. The longer we go past this timeline, the more likely candidates are to bail out for other opportunities.

Think of sales recruiting as pursuing a major account. Here is why. Do they help us make our numbers? Yes. Do we take special care of them? Yes. Do we try to learn all we can about them? Yes. When things get tough, do we take the time to build the relationship? Yes. All because we know they are worth it.

In summary, effective recruiting is a prerequisite to the attainment and over-achievement of sales plans. It is the responsibility of management to create a work environment that inspires the best sales talent available to want the job. 

This can only be accomplished by deploying a well-crafted strategy catering to people and process, again like Broadway.

Having the ability to attract and retain talent requires commitment and a never-ending passion to give it our all.

The curtain is about to rise. It’s showtime. 

President and Chief Sales Officer at Coco Training & Coaching | Posts

Larry Coco is President and Chief Sales Officer, Coco Training & Coaching, a full- service recruiting, training, and coaching company serving the imaging industry, partnering with OEMs and dealers of all sizes driving organizational growth.