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The War on Talent: Finding and Hiring A-Players in Sales

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

One of the key challenges most if not all of our customers have put to us, is:

“Can you help us find good sales people and sales managers, as we simply cannot find them?”

Regardless of whether this is for New Zealand, Australia, or, say, US-based roles, the hunt for talent is only getting harder.

So here are just some of the initiatives and suggestions that we have put in place with our customers, and we’d love your feedback as to what you’ve found that worked for you and your organisation.

What is a true A-Player?

Firstly, be very clear on what constitutes an “A-Player”; capture the attributes and competencies of what defines an A-Player – create a scorecard and profile with these attributes. You know what behavior or attributes you don’t want in your new hire; you’ve had plenty of these people before…

This then forms the basis for the position description, interview questions, (eventual) role plays for the shortlisted candidates, and onboarding process. It can also serve as the basis for assessing your existing sales talent, as input to specific Learning & Development plans.

Develop a clear Hiring Process – and over-communicate

Make sure you have a clearly articulated hiring process with consistent and regular communication; nothing is worse for an A-player not knowing what is going on or when what will happen. Sales recruitment is also not a one-off event; it’s an ongoing process.

How long is your recruiting cycle?

Shorten your recruiting cycle; A-players do not wait for weeks and weeks to find out whether they are the preferred candidate or not.

What about remuneration?

Make sure your compensation is at least on a par with the market, if not above. Needless to say that A-Players typically (over-)achieve their targets so they should get paid well. Entice them to change, not just through straight base compensation pay but especially also through other types of remuneration, risk/reward, employee share schemes and so on.

Should you use a Search/Recruitment company?

Approach known A-players either directly or through a reputable search firm; A-players are typically not in the market looking for a new job – they need to be approached. The better search firms use the right search methods and systems to identify A-Players, quicker and typically more effective than you can on your own.

How about being pro-active?

Source top talent in advance by creating a “virtual shortlist” of existing A-players in the market, who you can shoulder-tap when a vacancy arises; always be on the lookout for good talent therefore and do not wait until a vacancy comes up in your team.

Ask your customers, your partners, your suppliers, and your current A-players (provide you have any!) for their view on who is considered to be an A-player – add them to your “virtual shortlist”. Enlist existing A-players in sourcing new A-players. Tap into your personal networks and the networks of other employees for candidates.

Get your top executives involved and committed

Engage your top executives in the hiring process; get your CxOs to have informal coffees with A-players, as that elevates the importance of the candidate and the role (who said people in sales have egos..?).

Does your organisation have an Employment Brand?

Create and nurture your “Employment Brand”, e.g. stay active online – personally or your company itself – in LinkedIn groups dedicated to sales, where you can network with lots of contacts — some of whom are potential candidates — and make your company look attractive to A-players. Have existing A-Players share stories within their online networks.

Oh, and please don’t fall into this trap; as it’ll come back to bite!

Target and go to in-person networking events where you are likely to meet promising potential A-player salespeople. Ask contacts to share job listings. In addition to networking, make sure that you spread the word about actual jobs you’re trying to fill right now.

Ensure there is absolute role clarity within your business

Too many times we’ve seen A-Players leave their job because, instead of selling and being in front of customers and prospects, they were spending 60 to 80 percent of their time in “Fulfilment to Cash” as opposed to “Lead to Contract” part of their job.

Ensure therefore that you have a sufficient “back office” support structure in place so that the A-players can focus on what they do best: find and close business. This back office support typically is also less expensive!

And once you have that A-Player on board, look at how you can set them up to succeed, including having a clear 90-day onboarding process.

I am interested in hearing your views and/or suggestions to the above;

What’s working for you in finding and hiring top sales people and top sales leaders?

Oh and a final word of advice… Developing a virtual shortlist with the right A-players takes time and focus; it’s an habitual, non-stop motion. And remember: Hire Slowly, Fire Quickly.


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