How SMBs Can Find the Best Sales Candidates

BY Kathy Crosett
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With hiring on the rise again, SMBs may find themselves competing hard to recruit employees to work at their organizations. They can find the best sales candidates when they use the right hiring tools. The latest hiring data shows how competitive the job market is getting and we’ve also checked out the latest surveys on the tools SMB employers are using to vet candidates.

Economic Recovery

The signs of economic recovery are growing. ADP’s March jobs report showed a hiring increase of 517,000 new positions. Of those positions, 437,000 were in the services sectors. The biggest gains happened in the leisure and hospital sector (169,000) and professional and business sector (83,000). Small businesses hired on 174,000 new employees in March.

Even more encouraging news came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week. Analysts estimated employers added 916,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate now stands at 6%. In addition, the BLS data also shows that 14.5 million U.S. workers were employed in sales and related positions. The number of unemployed sales professionals grew from 3.4% at the beginning of the pandemic to 7% last fall. However, the situation is improving as the number of unemployed sales professionals is now at 6.3%.  

SMB Hiring

SMBs have little time to waste in today’s job market. But hiring managers shouldn’t rush to hire the wrong candidate. In a small business, a bad or toxic hire can be devastating to employee morale at a time when team members are trying to come together after the pandemic and regain the in-​office culture they had prior to March 2020.

Some business owners are convinced that if they spend enough money on recruitment, they’ll be able to hire who they need. In fact, an SMB survey on LinkedIn found that the most efficient businesses spend $3,000 identifying their next hire.

Hiring managers also believe interviewing candidates is a key part of the recruiting process. It’s definitely the most time-​consuming part of finding a good rep. Interviewers must read the candidates’ resumes, consider their previous work experience and prepare questions. After all of that effort, 75% of SMB owners still aren’t sure if the candidate they like “will succeed in the role.” Part of the problem may be linked to the fact that they interview at the wrong stage in the hiring process.

Hiring the Best Sales Candidates

From an efficiency and workflow perspective, it makes sense to ask your top candidates to take a comprehensive sales skills assessment before you start the interview process. The results of this type of assessment help you gauge which candidates will be a good fit for the position and for the organization. When you review the work and behavioral styles of candidates who take assessments, you’ll also understand how they will fit with your management style.

Once you decide who to interview, you’ll also be able to determine the best questions to ask each candidate. A careful analysis of their profile will reveal areas of opportunity and concern. Interviewing a candidate requires a big investment and hiring managers should only take that step after they have enough information to show that the applicant has the right profile to succeed in the organization.

The Power of Referrals

The LinkedIn survey shows that SMBs rely on the following sources to find the best sales candidates:

  • Employee referral 49%
  • Recruiters 42%
  • Colleges/​trade schools 41%
  • Friend/​Family referral 40%

Similarly, our research shows that sales managers go to their network (56%) and employees (52%) when they are looking to hire someone.

Both SMBs and sales managers likely believe they can trust people they know to refer good candidates to them. This partial vetting of candidates reassures them that the referred individuals know something about the firm and are interested in working there. A referral network can generate a good pipeline of the best sales candidates, especially as the labor market heats up. Hiring managers can eliminate some of the hiring risk by screening applicants with a sales hiring assessment.