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Recruiting Sales Reps in Tough Times

Recruiting Sales Reps in good economic times can be a difficult challenge for small business owners and managers, especially when it’s not a regular practice. When times are tough and unemployment is high, it can be downright daunting. Sales Reps present an added hiring challenge relative to non-sales employees. Reps typically know their product very well (themselves) and they know how to sell it effectively. They can anticipate objections and can hide or even cast weaknesses
in an understandable light. They may sell themselves even if they’re not the right product for you.

Bill Barnett of the Harvard Business Review “Should You Turn Down a Job in This Economy?” cautions on the risks of accepting a job that you know is not right for you. Still, if a Rep is unemployed or on a sinking ship, the temptation is there to jump to something for the sake of money. And, if in a financial squeeze, could you blame him or her?

How Attractive is Your Company and Offering?

For a qualified but unhappily employed Rep, the selling could fall to you to a larger degree. How will you attract a successful career Rep? Do you possess a stronger brand or have a more attractive work environment? Provide a higher level of service? Have greater sales growth and or earnings potential? Qualified, employed Reps tend to be more risk averse in bad economic times and therefore more difficult to lure away. It could be wise to step back and see where your company and offering stands in comparison to similar opportunities. You don’t have to be the best in every category but it is good to understand and leverage your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.

Should You Hire the Unemployed?

Many talented and successful individuals including Sales Reps find themselves on the outside looking in due to reasons beyond their control. Reps can be victims of the economy too. My opinion is – don’t exclude them from your bullpen. Rather, have a recruiting plan, stick to it and lean more heavily on business references.

Your Hiring Plan

  • It is best to recruit when you do not have an immediate need. Make this an on-going management practice
  • Create a thoughtful, concise job description. Don’t waver from it
  • Identify traits and characteristics of Reps who enjoy success with your organization. Duplicate them
  • Cover letters often provide more insight than the resume. No cover letter? Move on
  • Conduct a 20 minute phone interview to screen out unqualified candidates to save your valuable time
  • Utilize a pre-hire assessment tool to screen for the characteristics you desire. It’s worth its weight in gold
  • Follow a three-part interview plan; telephone screening, in person with direct report manager then with the business owner or other department manager such as operations manager or customer service manager
  • Require business references who will converse with you not just verify dates and compensation
  • Do not under any circumstances offer a less attractive compensation plan because the Rep is currently unemployed

Hiring an unemployed Sales Rep is fine. There are diamonds in the rough. Just be sure it is your sales job they want, not just any sales job. Did they ask you thoughtful questions? Are their questions centered on the job, the territory, the company and your culture? Are they curious why the territory is open or why a new territory has been created? Have they asked how they will be evaluated and what your concerns might be about their qualifications? Have they researched your organization? Have they requested to meet others in your organizations to get a better feel for fit?

An early career mentor often told me “make haste slowly” … a good sentiment of recruiting which takes time, patience, diligence and a plan. But what a tremendous upside! Without the right people in place, how much does everything else that follows truly matter?

If recruiting is vital to your business’ continued success and not in your sweet spot of skills and experience, give us a call. We have four decades of practical, game-winning experience. We are your Sales Management specialists.

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