Hiring Is Selling. Shouldn’t We Be Good at That?

If people aren’t calling you up and begging you to hire them, you are not alone. With unemployment at lows across many major global markets, filling open sales roles is a challenge, taking, on average, four months. But let’s face it, people aren’t usually calling us up and begging us to buy our products either. That’s why most B2B models include a sales function instead of purely e-commerce.

Yet even organizations that claim to be good at selling acknowledge that they’re not strong at hiring. In fact, less than a quarter (22.6%) of the respondents to our 2018 Sales Talent Study claimed hiring as an organizational strength. That’s because a completely different set of resources and processes is used to “sell” sales jobs than is used to sell products.

But it shouldn’t be that way. Sales executives need to take greater control over their talent strategies with tighter integration to their HR partners. In addition to better alignment, this also allows for better recruiting by applying a sales approach.

Sales best practices that apply to hiring include:

  • Start with an ideal customer profile. Using a data science-based assessment, clarify exactly what traits and attributes are correlated to success in a sales role. Chances are they won’t be the traditional hiring criteria you are using to source and qualify candidates (e.g., industry experience and business degree). Such data derived profiles increasingly include agility, learning propensity, and analytical abilities.
  • Craft your unique value proposition. What is your employee value proposition? Your organizational branding? What is the messaging that resonates with your ideal customer/candidate? Why should they decide to work for you? Collect data from exit interviews to understand what people are looking for. Be able to share an “elevator pitch” that demonstrates how your organization helps sellers be successful.
  • Build a demand gen program. Your marketing team doesn’t stop when you get enough leads to meet quota. Similarly, the best are always recruiting, always filling a pipeline regardless of whether they have an immediate open position. Use social selling and outreach programs to generate awareness of your employee value proposition. Consider that, depending on the traits you identify in your ideal profile, you may find less-contested pools of talent to vie for.
  • Define your sales process. Who should be involved in the hiring process? What specific role does each person have? How much qualification should be done by the recruiter before a handoff occurs to the hiring manager? (Think SDR to AE). How is interview feedback consistently collected? At what point will you use your predictive assessment to validate that the person aligns to your desired profile? To winnow down candidates? To validate or counter interview experiences? Over half (56%) of sales organizations use tools like these. But only those that use them consistently have higher proportions of their sellers making/exceeding goal.
  • Enable sellers with conversational skills. Your recruiters need every sales skill that a quota-carrying seller has: opening a call, asking questions specifically to qualify, asking questions to create awareness of an implicit need (“No, I wasn’t looking to leave my current job, but there are other things I wish to fix, avoid or accomplish”), sharing benefit oriented information, resolving concerns (e.g., more expensive insurance plans) and closing on mutual next steps.
  • Ask for referrals. Keep in mind that your best recruiters may be your own employees. Make sure that newly hired sellers have the materials and messages they need to keep your pool of potential talent full. Install a referral program to encourage new and long-tenured employees across all departments to refer others to the organization.


Economies will certainly ebb and flow and as such the availability of quality labor in the market will shift. Ultimately, we may return to a time when jobs simply have to be posted in the right place in order to get applicants. But even so, will you be maximizing the output of each sales position on your team?  Approaching hiring as a sales activity and measuring and formalizing it accordingly helps sales organizations recruit and engage top talent regardless of economic conditions.


Questions to ask:

  • What is the quantifiable profile of our target seller? How do we know?
  • How recently have we updated the job descriptions, competency models and hiring profiles for our sales positions? On what basis were changes made?
  • How scientific/data-based is our approach to predicting talent?
  • Why would someone want to come work for us?
  • How successful are our new hires? Why is that? How do we know?
  • Which departments do we need to align on a formal hiring process?
  • How effective are our recruiters at selling?
  • What percentage of interviews are coming from referrals? How well are we maximizing our employee network?


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