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The Global War on Sales Talent

How to Hire and Retain Great Sales Talent

Do not demand accomplishment of those who have no talent. Do not charge people to do what they cannot do. Select them and give them responsibilities commensurate with their abilities.” – Sun Tzu, Great Chinese Military Thinker

We cannot blame our sales managers if this thought is lost on them. Sun Tzu had written these words 2500 years ago in an essay “The Art of War” and moreover it was in China. But it is wonderful to note that how appropriate and useful are these words in today’s business world, especially in sales.

Improved legislation from the WTO and other international trading organizations have facilitated smoother trading relationships between economies. With the crumbling of protectionist barriers today’s business world has become truly global. It makes sense to hire the best possible talent to succeed in a competitive business environment that transcends national boundaries.

Businesses would admit without much hesitation that often their hiring decisions have proved too costly for them. At times they have hired “sales personalities” and found that they had only posited faith in a popular myth. Wrong hiring decision costs much more than actually estimated by sales managers. Unsuitable and incapable sales staffs do not only impede growth of the organization, they drag it back. It takes two years to rectify the problem of hiring the wrong sales person. If hiring the right sales persons is difficult it is a challenge to retain them on a long term basis.

It is possible to hire and retain the best sales talent. The following steps would help a great deal in that direction.

  • Attract the Best Talent: Whether hiring locally or globally the challenges posed are similar – how to attract the best talent. Offering the best possible compensation and perks as well as an encouraging work environment will create a premier pool of applicants. The challenge is to separate the suitable from the unsuitable. From posting the advertisements for filling up sales vacancies to the final handing over of the employment letters, organizations should plan everything to hire the best possible talent. They should know where talented sales achievers would look for a change of job. Campus interviews are good if raw talent is the target. Referrals from dependable employment agencies and current employees work well in the case of experienced hands when the referring parties know the exact nature of job expectation of the sales position.
  • Creating the Right Profile: The desired profile of the candidates should be created by observing the current lot of outstanding sales performers hat the organization has. Some of their traits, if not all, are what the organization should look forward to have in the candidates. Of course, the candidate should have the potential and willingness to develop the remaining traits that are absent in them. Candidates must have multiple profile characteristics such as: high self- motivation, good sales skills, intelligence, empathy, and integrity. Candidates strong in a single characteristic profile or lacking any characteristic profile should be avoided.
  • Having the Correct Selection Method: The HR department that has the primary responsibility of screening candidates should work in perfect tandem with the sales department, which is often not the case. Psychologists Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter have determined in a study about the effectiveness of different employee selection techniques that work sample tests, which simulate important parts of the job are the most accurate predictor of job success. Structured interviews with a predetermined set of questions and a consistent method of scoring candidates is the second best predictor of job success. The sales and HR department should work together to design the tests and questionnaires.
  • Seal the Deal: Once suitable candidates are identified negotiations should be made to get the signed copy of the employment offer. Delay could result in the desired candidate opting to join elsewhere.

Retaining talented and efficient sales staff on a long term basis is a challenge. Sales people have vast contacts and have information about openings in other sales organizations. Dissatisfaction with their current organization would prompt them to explore a new sales opportunity with another company. To avoid this, the following tips will be helpful.

  • Giving the True Picture: While recruiting candidates the HR personnel and the sales manager should give the correct nature of the job and not hide anything that may latter cause disappointment on the part of the new hires. It works against an organization when it tries to drum up the pluses and hides the minuses of working with it. The policy of non-discrimination on the basis of gender, nationality, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or ethnicity should actually be in practice.
  • Adequate Appreciation and Compensation: Achievers in sales should be praised for their efforts by way of appreciative compliments and adequate incentives and perks. When the times are tough achievers may consider forgoing monetary compensation. But what no human being can do without is the recognition of his/her achievements. Give generous doses of positive reinforcements to achievers.
  • Ignoring occasional failures and not being overly critical would help a lot in this direction. Having a Long Term Plan: Having a long term career plan for achievers with the prospect of promotion, employee stock option plans, and possible retirement benefits would encourage sales personnel to stick with the organization for a long time.

Efforts towards hiring the best talent and retaining them should be robust. Financially, it makes a lot of sense and saves precious time as well as energy.

Having good recruitment and employee retaining practices would yield tangible results if they are implemented with the spirit with which they are created. The willingness to implement the practices must come from the top management.

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