Looking for Sales Staff in Times of Uncertainty

BY C. Lee Smith
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Business owners are reeling from the COVID-​19 shutdown and have little desire for recruiting for sales positions. Most owners are in the unfortunate position of having to lay off workers. Other owners may want to position themselves to take advantage of new opportunities. To fully benefit from these opportunities, they might need to increase their efforts in looking for sales staff.

Looking for Sales Staff Now Can Help Your Business

Plenty of talent has poured into the market since early March. Every wise business owner knows that the success of the organization largely rests on looking for sales staff and retaining the best possible people to develop and sell products. And, research shows that employers with a ‘progressive’ approach to managing their business emerge from recessions in better shape than their competitors.

But still, there is likely a lot of red ink on your financial statements right now. You have to worry about paying your existing staff and you may not be sure if you can last another six months. If you’ve mandated a halt to recruiting in order to protect cash flow, it may seem counterintuitive to go after a candidate you really want to hire.

Use Caution as You Increase Recruitment

If you want to expand your business or start a new product line during a downturn, you’re already taking a risk. To increase your odds of success, you should place the right people in key positions. You may need to expand payroll and looking for sales staff, focusing on individuals who you’ve been watching for a while. If they are on the market, it’s worth trying to bring them into your organization.

However, you shouldn’t skip key steps in the hiring process. While a prospective candidate may have impressed you because of a previous sale or presentation they made, there’s no guarantee that the person will deliver the same results for your organization.

Ask them to take a sales hiring test for recruiting. Let them know that you’re measuring for fit. When I hire a salesperson, I look for four types of fit:

Job Fit — This aspect of assessment involves determining whether a candidate can do this job. Do they possess the right behavioral tendencies and motivations to make them a good fit for the job? A well-​designed assessment will give you answers that are not clouded by your personal judgment or the rumors you’ve heard from other people.

Manager Fit — When looking for sales staff, you want to hire a rep who is compatible with their prospective manager. After all, our research shows that a significant number of reps leave their jobs because of issues with their managers. You’ll know if a manager is a good fit with a rep when you review the results of their assessments. A low-​energy rep matched with a low-​energy manager likely won’t generate the level of activity you want. But a rep who’s open to coaching paired with an empathetic sales manager could be just the spark you need.

Company Fit — Unless you’re looking to change your organizational culture, you should consider your candidate through the lens of how people work in your office. Do you encourage a flat hierarchy to allow for agile decision-​making? If so, make sure the person you want to hire enjoys working in that kind of environment. Assessment results will help you make that determination.

Customer Fit — If you’ve been watching a candidate over a period of several months or years, you may have an idea of how they interact with customers and prospects. And it’s even better if they’ve worked in the your industry and have an idea of the kinds of concerns that prospects bring to the table during the buying process. If your candidate doesn’t have industry-​specific experience, think about the kinds of clients they’ve been selling to. Are they similar to the clients you currently sell to? 

In looking for sales staff over several decades, my thinking has evolved. I now know not to formulate a conclusion before looking at the data. Making an emotionally-​fueled hiring decision can eventually lead to an equally emotionally-​fueled termination. At the same time, I recognize that a market downturn can be an advantageous time for a business to find talent that might otherwise not be available.