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Common Questions and Answers
“We only want to target our competitor’s top performing sales ‘A’ players”.
As a recruitment professional, I hear this comment from sales leaders nearly every week. Taken at face value, it’s logical. After all, what self-respecting sales leader would ever admit to wanting to hire anything but top performers? Reality sets in, however, when I respond by asking, “So what makes your sales organization and your company so attractive that your competitors’ ‘Michael Jordans’ will want to join your team and company?”.
Depending on the answer, I can assess whether the client has realistic expectations regarding the type of sales talent that they want, can afford, and can support operationally. Quite often, sales leaders set their expectations way too high and therefore the search for new talent is destined to fail before it even gets underway. That’s why I often counsel sales leaders, whether embarking on large scale sales hiring initiatives or individual contributors, to GET REAL.
The very first step is to define, and then target, an ideal sales candidate profile based upon an absolutely objective assessment of your overall ability to attract and retain the top talent you desire — what’s often referred to as your “Employment Value Proposition” or EVP. With that in mind, start by considering your competition’s EVP and what they do to enable their salespeople to be successful. Ask yourself the essential questions below and you’ll make far more informed decisions regarding recruiting:
1. How is your competitor’s brand viewed within the talent pool you want to recruit? Does your competitor have a more established and recognized corporate, product AND/OR employment brand reputation than you do?
We’ve all encountered salespeople who are successful selling the products or services of a well-established brand, but fail miserably when they must (a) sell a new brand for a startup company (b) open a new market/division for an established company or (c) sell for a company in turnaround mode to re-establish market share. If your company fits into any of these three scenarios, you may be better off targeting sales talent with demonstrable entrepreneurial success, even if they have minimal or nonexistent industry experience. As long as they have proven success selling a similarly priced product or service to similar buyer profiles — ideally with established relationships they can leverage to your benefit (without non-compete conflict) — your chances for mutual success and long term retention are far greater.
2. How are compensation and territory assignments structured? This knowledge is critical to getting the attention of a top performer – no one will be easily persuaded to leave a job in which they are happy, successful AND well compensated.
Top performing sales people, confident in their abilities, are generally less focused on base salary as long as their total compensation package and upside incentive plan have the potential for a significant improvement from their current total compensation, within a reasonable time frame. That said, if you plan to offer a lower base salary because that is what you can afford, be prepared to offer some type of initial guaranteed annual income or bonus for at least as long as it takes to complete an average sales cycle. Plan to offer, for example, a guarantee of at least 15-20% more than the candidate’s current earnings in order to engage the sales candidate in learning more about the opportunity. On the other hand, if you truly have Champagne taste on a beer budget, consider lowering your target a bit and targeting the up and coming “B+” players at your competitors. These B’s may have been mentored by the “A” players or have production that is close, but due to experience level or job tenure, they are just not quite there yet. In other cases, they are simply blocked from becoming “A” players by something beyond their control – whether a bad territory assignment, a capped incentive compensation plan, or a favored “A” player on the exclusive receiving end of leads from management.
3. What operational, sales lead generation and marketing support does your competitor provide to top performers? Are salespeople given qualified leads, ongoing marketing support, and CRM technology? Or provided with help from support staff to assist with proposals, travel arrangements and other administrative tasks?
As we all know, the “bait and switch” game is quite common – and also one of the top causes of poor performance and early turnover among new salespeople. To engage a top performer at a competitor, some employers aggressively recruit and promise whatever it takes to get a salesperson’s commitment to make a move. Once individuals are on board, they quickly realize that the promises are hollow. They may not have some, or all, of the sales support they received at their prior employer, and they end up spending less time on what they were hired to do (networking, existing client-relationship building, cross-selling and closing business) and more time doing the things they’re typically less interesting in doing, whether administrative tasks, reports and, in some cases, cold calling. If your company’s operational/sales support doesn’t align with what your target sales candidate is used to, then you may need to re-consider a different target candidate profile. A former business owner or someone with an entrepreneurial track record in a similar type of sales role and/or parallel industry selling to buyers similar to yours may be a far better choice than a person recruited from a competitor who currently is fully supported in their business development efforts.
4. What aspects of your competitor’s sales and business culture are most appealing to top sales talent? Do they offer flexibility and the ability to work from home, or do they demand a 9-5, in-office presence? Does the organization operate with a matrixed, hands-off management style or does it have a multi-layered, hierarchical and formal structure?
Knowing how your company’s culture and organizational structure compare to your target talent competitors is key to engaging the salespeople you desire, minimizing early turnover and ensuring the new employee’s long term “fit” within your organization. People who are successful in a highly unstructured culture may not do as well in one that is more formal and hierarchical. However, once you know how your culture compares, you can highlight the positives via your recruitment communications by focusing on the aspects that will attract people who work best in an environment similar to yours. A good assessment tool like the Chally Assessment or Profiles International, can map prospective job candidates to your existing top performing sales leaders’ specific competencies and culture fit. According to vendors, using a predictive assessment tool typically improves the likelihood of hiring a top sales performer by up to 90% and can reduce early sales turnover of non-fit hires by up to 25%.
It’s been said that to be strong you need to study the weaknesses of your competition. When it comes to hiring the best salespeople possible for your organization, a thorough understanding of your competitors’, and YOUR company’s EVP is a must. As a result, sometimes, you may need to change your IDEAL target candidate profile, compensation plan and sales support model in order to ensure success in the first step of engaging that top performing salesperson in the recruiting process. Don’t be too quick to rule out a competitor’s “B” players as you may find your company can offer them a platform to quickly become your “A” player by eliminating the barriers to their success that exist at their current employer.
Bottom line, sales leaders who are open to revising their target profile and expectations to better align with your employment value proposition (EVP) and culture fit will ultimately succeed in attracting and hiring their future “Michael Jordans”. Either way, the time you invest in asking these questions upfront will help you determine the best possible recruitment strategy (and target profile) for hiring top performing salespeople who will deliver the bottom line results you desire.
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