How HR Can Help Sales Attract Top Talent - Beyond the Obvious

August 27, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Attract Top Sales TalentThe most important function an HR leader can perform to support Sales is to help attract and retain top sales talent. Based upon our research interviews conducted with VPs of Human Resources, it is clear that most don’t really understand how to help Sales attract top talent. Some cite the importance of clearly identifying critical competencies to select the right candidates. Others focus on the importance of a rewarding and competitive compensation package.

These are obvious. Let’s go beyond conventional wisdom. This post will reveal the most overlooked essentials that attract top sales talent; along with a free blueprint to make an immediate impact.

Now is a critical time of year for HR and Sales leaders. Elite sales people will soon achieve their full-year quotas and start earning bonuses and accelerated commissions. They are laser-focused on closing every deal before December 31. However, apprehension is also swelling right now. Every top performer has experienced the dreaded year-end “opportunity drop,” which from the rep’s point of view includes:

  • The most rewarding territories are “re-balanced’ (split up)
  • Premier customers are re-assigned to a different rep
  • Achievable quotas inflate beyond reach
  • Favorable commission rates are throttled back
  • Bonus opportunities are off the table (until the 4th quarter of next year)
  • Management changes – another new boss to train

The “opportunity drop” causes top sales people to consider a move. They are comfortable today, so you have a scant 18 weeks to prepare before year-end to persuade these uniquely skilled people to join your team.  (Many of these same actions will enable you to retain your own top talent who are also sensing the onset of “opportunity drop.”)  Before we look at the actions, let’s get a clear understanding of what motivates a top sales rep.

Top sales achievers are certainly looking for the most lucrative compensation they can get. There is no question that this is the #1 stimulus for change. They seek to gain an advantage over what they have today.  However, there are many other motivations besides compensation to make a job change.

Here is the list of the most commonly asked questions and concerns that top performers have shared with us in our research.

  • What opportunity (accounts, industry or geography) does the new territory hold?
  • Does my new manager have the skills to coach me and hone my skills?
  • Will I have a chance to advance my career?  Is this opportunity limited to just Sales?
  • Does the new role offer unique challenges beyond just winning deals?
  • What kind of training and professional development will I receive?
  • What is the culture like? Is this a winning team? Are the sales people respected?
  • Will I earn recognition for outstanding work? How do I qualify for President’s Club trips?
  • Am I joining an elite team; the best of the best?
  • Will senior leadership listen to my ideas?
  • What kinds of tools will I use? Will the infrastructure shackle me or help me win deals?
  • Does my team include top notch presales, inside sales, telesales, and marketing resources?
  • Does the brand and reputation open doors? Are the products respected?
  • Who are the customers? Do they give positive references? Are they irritated or delighted?
  • How will I quickly ramp up during my onboarding period? Is there an adjusted quota or a guarantee?

This is a long list. You will notice that things like vacation, sick leave and retirement are not even mentioned. Top sales people are rare human capital. Employees in other departments would not think to ask these questions. They are satisfied to know about the job, the company and the benefits. However, this information is woefully insufficient to attract top sales people.  But most companies simply provide a list of required competencies and a job description. Like the candidate, you need to be prepared for the interview questions. Top sales people must be 'sold' to make the switch.

Just within the past year we witnessed one top achiever from a competitor who was almost convinced to accept an offer. In the end, he was not sold. He decided to stay and so far has racked up at least $1.2 million dollars’ in competitive deals that we are aware of. Contrast that experience with another top achiever who was ‘sold’ on the benefits of the change. She  is exceeding her quota 7 months into the job and is now teaching other reps how to attack the weaknesses of the competitor she came from. What a difference!

To rise above the noise, you need to accentuate how your sales organization excels in every area. In short, you need to make a sales pitch. So, what advantages can you offer? Your VP of Sales may take these for granted, so this is where HR can make a valuable contribution.

The Talent Attraction Blueprint for Sales (TABS) has specific actions for each of the questions you can expect to hear during the coming recruiting season. You can get the complete blueprint by downloading the tool here.Talent Attraction Blueprint for Sales resized 600

Keep in mind that these solutions are the ideal. No sales organization can offer every advantage, but your candidate is making a comparison with their current state. Showcase what you’ve got. If your sales organization does not have the recommended solution in place, consider that to be a deficiency that you should overcome. This is a rare opportunity for HR to take the lead in the competitive battle for top talent.

Some of the actions are simple and you can implement them quickly with little cost. Others require more expertise and this is an area where SBI can help. First, get the free blueprint and bring some unique HR support to your sales leaders. Then, meet with your VP of Sales and assess any gaps. If you need help, contact Dan, John, Tony or Mark. All are former VPs of Sales who have successfully attracted outstanding talent. They also have the battle scars from losing top performers who were not convinced. With their help, you can make a difference. Don’t miss this brief window of opportunity to upgrade your Sales staff! 

If you enjoyed this post, never miss one again by subscribing your Email Here and/or subscribing to the RSS Here.

Topics: Talent Management, Human Resources

Posted by John Kenney

John Kenney
Find me on:

Get Updates from the SBI Sales & Marketing Effectiveness Blog