to Issue Number 3 of The Dossier.
Since our last issue,
things in the US economy have improved somewhat, following several
interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve Bank and more likely to
follow. Individual corporate forecasts have been mixed. Hardware
vendors like Sun Microsystems have been adjusting expectations downward,
but applications vendors like Oracle Corporation are hitting earnings
targets and remain bullish in the near term.
So what does this mean
to you as a corporate talent scout? That's what we'll be exploring
in this issue.
Before we get into that,
we at Selection Strategies would like to say hello to Ms. Ruth Tan,
Editor of the the Human Resources Journal for Butterworths Asia
in Singapore. Ruth will be reprinting our eZine content in her publication
from time to time. Thanks, Ruth. We're looking forward to meeting
back to business. This issue includes three articles.
The Perils of Pedigree
By Ross Rich, Managing Principal, Selection Strategies, Inc.
Today sales managers face a very different world than they did just
a couple of years ago. We all got accustomed to operating at breakneck
speed, having more deals than we could adequately manage, and too
few, if any, candidates for all the positions we needed to fill.
Today, deals are few and each is a “must win.” And,
given the few people managers need to hire, it seems that each hire
needs to be perfect. These pressures are real but in response to
them they sometimes lead to practices that are counterproductive.
The pressure to hire well should never be dictated by market conditions.
During Y2K and the heyday of the Internet expansion, there was far
less concern about diligent hiring because speed and volume were
the only two factors guiding organizational growth. This should
not have been the case, because sustaining the meteoric growth that
companies were experiencing was predicated on the ability to continuously
hire talent. Now that the market has contracted and deals have slowed
to a trickle, the need for extremely talented sales people is no
less critical but is certainly more acute. The fact is that, up
market or down, the factors that make sales people successful don’t
change. However, current hiring practices often ignore these critical
The characteristics -- Motivation & Drive -- that fundamentally
determine success in sales are…
> Work ethic
The experience suggested by a candidate’s previous companies
& jobs can matter, but is not as critical as people often think.
Experience and domain knowledge may foster shorter ramp up times
and faster productivity, but they don’t ensure success. It’s
easy to find sales managers who tell horror stories about salespeople
they hired that looked great on paper, and should have killer reps,
but failed miserably. Well, the answer lives in the statement itself
-- the rep looked good on paper.
Hiring today seems all about how someone looks on paper, what companies
they worked for and what positions they held, instead of concentrating
on traits with greater predictive value for success. It’s
not wrong to define experiential criteria for hiring, or to express
those criteria in “ideal” terms to guide the search
process. But they should be just that…guidelines.
Our recent work with clients shows that most companies are content
with using candidate “pedigrees” as the only filter
for determining whom to interview & hire. The problem is that
by failing to rigorously investigate the presence of the correct
Motivation & Drive, a sales manager may hire a sales person
who, while they have the target pedigree, turns out to be a mediocre
performer with an acceptable resume.
The biggest falsehood is that pedigree-based hiring ensures “A”
Player talent, and guarantees the hiring manager the highest level
of sales performance. It may ensure awareness and knowledge of the
space and the process, but it doesn’t ensure that the sales
person will produce the desired results. Think about the most successful
sales people you know and ask yourself, “What is it about
them that makes them successful?” Your list will likely identify
traits like drive, determination, tenacity and aggressiveness, but
rarely include factors like previous experience with a direct competitor
or in-depth product knowledge. To use a sports analogy, Michael
Jordan wasn’t considered the greatest college player when
he was drafted. While his experience may have made him a smarter
player, it is his overwhelming competitiveness and unrelenting will
to win that made him a champion.
In software sales, a company seeking a CRM sales candidate may specify
that they want to consider only candidates from Siebel Systems.
While this filter seems to make sense, it is based on premises that
are demonstrably false or flimsy. First is the presumption that
because Siebel is the market leader that people coming from Siebel
will perform better than their peers from other CRM vendors. There
is a strong argument that those who are successful in lesser-known
companies, without the force and presence of market leadership,
are in fact stronger salespeople. There is also the dangerous hiring
myth that Experience = Excellence. This false logic assumes that,
simply because someone did something, they must have done it well.
In this example, it’s important to remember that Siebel regularly
culls its ranks of its moderate to bottom sales performers. You
must consider that those willing to leave may have already been
identified as expendable performers. The exclusive emphasis on pedigree
can lead to a degradation of your company’s talent pool because
of an overreliance on the virtues of the candidate’s resume.
Research has shown that experience, as reflected in a resume, past
companies and jobs, is the least predictive indicator of future
performance and success. Therefore, current hiring practices often
rely upon the least stable factor in projecting successful success.
The narrow focus on pedigree creates a couple of other problems
that contribute to poor hiring. The economic slowdown and the demise
or downsizing of many software vendors has given rise to the belief
that there is an overabundance of experienced “A” Player
talent available in the market. This belief, which is in fact a
myth, has led companies to adopt very narrow hiring profiles that
begin to make effective hiring a statistical impossibility. Put
another way, some companies have defined their profiles so narrowly
that only a handful of people would be acceptable candidates. Given
today’s high degree of risk aversion and reluctance to change
jobs unless forced to, companies must be willing to be patient or
extremely creative in order to attract these people they specify.
We believe there is a better way. Basing your hiring on a “competency
profile” and not the resume opens up a larger candidate pool
to draw from, while it shifts your company’s recruiting focus
to the true characteristics of success.
The second problem with pedigree hiring is the presumption that
“A” Players are universally understood and identifiable.
“A” Player performance can be quantified in terms of
“Best Practices” (we have done this in our work with
our clients), which can serve as a measuring stick to evaluate candidates.
But it is essential to understand that these best practices identify
key behaviors, and have little to do with factors like where the
person has worked. The designation “A” Player is not
a fixed or ultimate state of being, and it is quite possible for
someone to perform as an “A” Player in one role and
as a “B” Player in another. Careful adherence to assessing
the candidates ability to do the job you’re seeking to fill,
based on strict performance competencies, is the only way to avoid
hiring mistakes caused by making wrong assumptions about performance,
or relying too heavily on past experience. We recently counseled
a prospective client who freely admitted they were willing to hire
“B” Player talent, so long as they had the right pedigree
(direct competitors with specific industry knowledge & experience),
over “A” Players. We candidly informed them we considered
this to be a prescription for disaster.
Seeking to hire “A” Players is a no-brainer. But the
basis for identifying them seems to rely more on intuition and guesswork
than process and hard facts. Hiring managers and recruiters should
take the time to define what an “A” Player is, and ensure
that the profile includes the following three dimensions: Abilities
(Motivation & Drive, Sales Competencies and Self-Management
Skills), Chemistry (Corporate culture and personality fit), and
Experience (Performance track record and knowledge).
Many “A” Player reputations were made when the market
was red-hot, and it is critically important today to thoroughly
investigate a sales person’s deals, activities, actions, skills,
and approach to ensure that their success was the result of authentic
ability, and not simply a highly demand-driven market. In other
words, look at the circumstances of success rather than the outcome
Your hiring process must be measured in terms of increasing your
competitive advantage based on the quality of the people you bring
in. No honest company deliberately sets out to hire badly. But misguided
policies, misplaced priorities, lack of discipline, and arrogance
lead to hiring blunders.
The current market conditions have led many sales managers to say
that selling has returned to the basics. The high technology adoption
and demand-driven market has been replaced by one in which sales
people must make each deal count. Sales people must be on top of
their game, and so must hiring managers. Hiring talent and not resumes
is a call to return to the basics of selection. Here are a few “basics”
to guide your hiring…
> Don’t get lazy and complacent. Effective hiring requires
constant vigilance and discipline.
> Know what you’re looking for. Know what competencies,
skills & characteristics you need to succeed.
> Don’t give in to first impressions. Take at least 30
minutes in an interview before making any decisions.
> Stick to the fundamentals of selection – use a structured
interview and competency-based questioning.
> Assess Motivations and Drives first. Then evaluate Sales Competencies
and validate Experience in-depth.
Looking back, many of the business practices in the period from
the run up to Y2K and through the Internet boom were not particularly
sound, and shouldn’t be repeated even if we soon return to
growth. However, in light of current conditions, we shouldn’t
adopt practices that are equally dysfunctional. Sticking to fundamental
principles that work, regardless of the highs and lows of the market,
is the only sound way to ensure success.
Skills Do I Need in a Recruiter: HR or Sales?
Ross Rich, Managing Principal, Selection Strategies, Inc.
is an old adage in politics; “If you want a real friend, buy
a dog.” Well in the world of sales recruiting the line goes
this way, “If you want a real sales recruiter hire a salesperson.”
While recruiting (or “staffing” if you still refer to
IT as “data processing”) has traditionally been the
domain of Human Resources its location is misplaced especially when
it comes to sales recruiting. Human Resources organizations, because
they are typically charged with administration, cost control &
risk mitigation, tend to treat recruiting as an administrative function
and are more inclined to hire people who simply facilitate the process
rather than drive it. All recruiting IS sales and sales recruiting
is particularly unique.
Our experience shows that the most effective sales recruiters are
those who most closely match the characteristics of an enterprise
technology salesperson. There are several reasons why, which we’ll
discuss in a moment, but the most salient characteristic is what
we call Discernment. Discernment is the ability to assess situations
and people quickly and accurately. Discerners are good problem solvers,
they’re analytical and think strategically. Judging talent
is the single most critical ability an effective recruiter brings
to the game. In this capacity an effective recruiter acts like the
sales organization’s Director of Player Operations…scouting
for talent and building a championship team.
So how do we define what we need to look for in a sales recruiter?
In following our own selection methodology we begin by defining
the nature and requirements of the role and study the operating
environment to construct a relevant profile or competency model.
The model consists of three dimensions: Abilities, Chemistry &
Experience. For the purpose of this discussion we’ll narrow
our focus to the key elements of the Abilities dimension. The Abilities
dimension of the profile defines the traits & skills required
to effectively perform the role of sales recruiter for an Information
The Sales Paradigm
I’ve already stated my belief that the sales recruiter is
essentially a salesperson who sells the company and its’ career
opportunities instead of a product or service. Because I’ve
put a stake in the ground about this paradigm let’s take a
moment to discuss the parallels between sales and recruiting.
The recruiting process corresponds to the major phases of most complex
sales cycles – Planning, Prospecting, Qualifying, Evaluating,
Negotiating and Closing. Recruiters, like their sales counterparts,
must be thoroughly versed on the opportunity and be able to articulate
its’ value; plan how to attack their territory; leverage multiple
lead generation sources; prospect relentlessly for viable candidates;
quickly qualify candidates in or out; engage and thoroughly assess
the candidates suitability while managing & coordinating the
interview process; negotiate the terms of employment and close the
candidate. The analogies to sales dictate a more sales oriented
profile for recruiters because the activities demand essentially
the same behaviors.
The Complex Sale, an Atlanta-based sales force effectiveness and
methodology consultancy, has defined several sales “types”
that offer good insights to the recruiting model we’re discussing
here. These models correspond to different kinds of selling environments
knowledge, demo skills, technology expertise.
skills, probing, linking, customized presentation skills, flexibility,
selling benefits, personality, persuasiveness, objection handling.
management, problem solving, delivery, service, nurturing, responsiveness.
leadership, strategy, getting to executives, strategic literacy,
company knowledge, resourcefulness, goal-driven.
big picture, strategic thinker, industry expert, collaborative
problem solver, team leader, shared goals and rewards, long-term
with permission from The Complex Sale, Inc.©
As I’ll describe later, the “Teller” and “Farmer”
models reflect two of the recruiting styles common to today’s
recruiting world. For our purposes the “Hunter” or “Partner”
models are preferable because of the critical role sales recruiters
play. For them to function as agents for and “trusted advisors”
to hiring managers they must possess the abilities and skills that
effectively make them a peer; therefore, we’re seeking to
raise the bar and the level of sophistication of sales recruiters.
The complex selling environment of Information Technology has many
characteristics that require a more sophisticated and talented form
of salesperson. A commodity or transactional sales person will find
the transition to a more complex selling environment difficult because
the increased complexity requires more skills. Sales recruiting
in Information Technology is no different and is characterized by
several conditions that warrant a different approach and a different
type of recruiter:
> Sales recruiting is fundamentally a relationship-based activity.
Talent trumps experience and
assessing talent is the single most important aspect of recruiting.
Successful recruiting favors
the company (and recruiter) whose process is perpetually in motion.
The demand exceeds the supply
of experienced, talented sales professionals.
Candidate pipeline development
and cultivation requires a dedicated commitment of time.
Is the Ability to Judge Talent So Critical?
A year ago the supply-demand imbalance was so acute that the people
shortage was considered the single greatest obstacle to continued
growth and expansion. Often, due to the diluted pool of experienced
talent, companies were forced to compromise their “Experience”
standards and hire people whose pedigree was far less than desired.
It is a given that adherence to candidate quality is a function
of the size of the candidate pipeline and the pressures to hire.
Couple this with a tendency to give greater weight to “Experience”
over “Abilities” or competencies and you have a formula
for disaster. Experience has always been the traditional focus of
recruiters and hiring managers and yet, experience alone, is the
least reliable and predictive of future success.
An historical example can illustrate. In 1940, while the United
States attempted to stay out of the Second World War it was still
preparing itself for the eventuality of fighting. President Franklin
Roosevelt and General George Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff,
began identifying the officers who would lead the Army should the
US enter the war. Marshall had, over the course of his career, kept
a little black book in which he recorded thoughts and observations
about each and every officer he encountered. He returned to that
list in assembling the group of officers who would lead the US Army
in World War II. Interestingly enough he ignored the “resume”
and sheer years of experience and reached down into the ranks of
the officer corps to tap officers who displayed great promise…those
who had impressed him with their drive, intellect, energy and skill.
Had he relied solely on experience soldiers like Dwight Eisenhower
and George Patton would have retired from the Army in the days before
World War II and our armies would have been led by the same generals
that led the Army in World War I, likely to defeat. Marshall’s
discernment of the situation and recognizing who and what was required
to build an army that could fight and win was the key to ultimate
victory. The world may not hang in the balance over a technology
sale but the keys to winning are the same.
While the recruiting situation has changed dramatically in a few
short months the basic problem of hiring hasn’t changed one
bit. Hiring talent is still the key to competitive superiority.
The current “buyer’s market” may lead companies
to believe there is an abundance of talent available and that choosing
talented sales professionals is now an easy task. This belief is
The last five plus years have witnessed a remarkable growth in technology
and almost unchecked capital spending. Given driving factors like
decentralized client-server computing, Y2K, the emergence of the
Internet and unprecedented economic expansion technology sales people
enjoyed a period where selling was certainly easier than today’s
tight-money conditions. Sales people today must be as adept at creating
opportunities as servicing demand, in almost every respect, the
current conditions are requiring sales people to flex muscles they
haven’t used in a long time or never fully developed.
The hazard for recruiters and hiring managers who rely solely on
experience is that factors like “performance track record,”
“over-quota achievement,” “W2 earnings records,”
as well as other measures are not totally reliable indicators of
the candidate’s true ability. Recruiters have to be better
today because they must dig deeper and be more accurate in assessing
sales competence. The “Discerner” trait I referred to
earlier, as well as, a thorough understanding of the industry and
a systematic, methodical approach to evaluating talent are the keys
to winning the competition for talent.
The market conditions may have changed but the basic goal of recruiting
hasn’t…it is still about winning the talent war and
gaining competitive advantage by having better people. The disappearance
of the dot-coms and the shrinking ranks of many technology vendors
has alleviated the critical shortage of people for those companies
that remain but it hasn’t entirely solved the problem nor
has it eliminated the need for talent. In many cases companies are
seeking to upgrade their storehouse of talent and must be able to
sift through the swelling ranks of available candidates to identify
the truly talented. Also, the current sluggish economy has made
top-performing candidates (the classic passive candidate we all
seek) reluctant to leave their current positions and pursue new
opportunities which places greater emphasis on the recruiter’s
sales abilities. It will be even more critical to drill down with
candidates to identify the competencies required for success. The
older paradigms of recruiting can no longer satisfy the demands
of today’s sales recruiting environment.
Companies must create an operating environment that supports the
kind of recruiting we’re describing and attracts and keeps
the kinds of recruiters we’re profiling. Here are some of
the characteristics we compare and contrast between the “old”
and “new” ways to execute recruiting:
||Cycle Times & Value-Per-Hire
||Candidate Profile Focus
The Model Sales Recruiter
It’s important to begin by defining the role because we must
distinguish between types of recruiters. There are myriad of roles
that can be broadly labeled as “recruiter” ranging from
Sourcers to Executive Recruiter. The role we are discussing and
recommending is the most senior incarnation and most closely aligned
to the Executive Recruiter. This internal recruiter works directly
and collaboratively with the line management team and functions
as a surrogate manager.
The image of recruiters that most people think of is either the
classic “headhunter” or the internal “administrative”
variety. Neither one of these adequately addresses the environment
we’ve described. The “headhunter” represents too
much of the “Teller” profile. They possess little consultative
ability and tend to view recruiting purely as a numbers game –
the “throw it against the wall and see what sticks”
approach. This is the kind of recruiter who is always “pitching”
opportunities but never really qualifies the candidate or thoroughly
analyzes the position to assess the best fit.
The internal type is most analogous to the “Farmer”
profile -- pleasant, cooperative, and helpful but passive and often
struggling for access to management and credibility outside of HR.
These recruiters are often facilitators of the process, taking on
many of the administrative and logistical details but generally
not driving the process or proactively prospecting for candidates.
These models don’t represent examples of two extremes as much
as they illustrate common practice. The profile we seek is most
closely aligned with the “Hunter” & “Partner”
models. Why? Because it represents the characteristics that ensure
the recruiter can and will do the following critical things:
> Care about winning – sees the nature
of their role as engaging in a war for talent. Cares passionately
about getting the best people and believes that they are selling
the best opportunity. Simply put…they’re Competitive!
assess talent – can systematically identify, judge,
categorize and attract talent to the company. Can accurately assess
a candidate’s capabilities and is seen as a “good judge
of horse flesh.”
triangulate – can effectively intersect the needs
& interests of the company and the candidate while selling against
competitive opportunities. Is effective at positioning the company
and its opportunities and can credibly articulate its value, culture,
history and differentiation.
the big picture – sees beyond the immediate needs
and their own personal objectives and looks out for the best interest
of the company and the candidate. Doesn’t discard talent but,
thinking strategically, steers candidates better suited for other
roles to other parts of the company or keeps lines of communication
– develops, cultivates and leverages a personal & professional
network that yields candidates, sources, leads and referrals.
It is the combination of competitive motivation, judgment skills
about people and situations and sales skills that distinguish the
profile of the Sales Recruiter. Current recruiters should be evaluated
on their performance and how well it corresponds to these requirements
and future recruiters assessed on their alignment to the profile.
Candidates for sales recruiting roles may be found in several difference
or current salespeople
or current line managers
recruiters who also had business development/sales responsibilities
We have had success with former military officers who were aspiring
sales people. Junior Military Officer who have decided to leave
the service and pursue opportunities in the civilian sector and
were seeking sales positions make good recruiter candidates. Their
assessment skills have been honed in the leadership roles they fulfilled
in the military service and the exposure to a sales oriented role
serves as a good training ground for those aspiring to transition
into a full-fledged sales position.
The current conditions in the marketplace, while they may be favorable
to employers, should not be permitted to lead to complacency. Some
companies may be lulled into thinking that the stream of candidates
will never run dry and that they will always be in the driver’s
seat (didn’t we also think the NASDAQ would hit 5000 and just
keep going up?) but most of us know that these things run in cycles.
Companies committed to market leadership and dominance do the right
things all the time and companies seeking to stay ahead in the war
for talent will continue to adopt practices that give them a competitive
advantage. Hiring a sales recruiter that can provide that edge is
an excellent first step!
Playing the Game to Win
Adjusting Your Recruiting Plan to Economic Conditions and Cyclical
downturns like the one we're in right now offer some provocative
options for finding great performers...
The past two years have
been very interesting ones for us. As the post-Y2K economy slips
and slides along, we have experienced a change in the recruiting
environment that paralleled the overall malaise of the IT industry.
We followed many of our former big company contacts into the world
of start-up corporations, and our active client list became overweighted
with young companies rocketing toward their initial public offerings.
Our start-up clients,
Blue Martini Software, Cybrant Corporation and others, were smart
enough to identify and create real products to answer real market
needs. Blue Martini's Customer Interaction System® remains the
acknowledged masterpiece of customer personalization software. Cybrant's
Business Velocity® and Commerce Velocity® are unique guided
decision making products for online purchasers, with unprecedented
speed of implementation.
In other words, we didn't
have any sock puppets or DrKoop.coms on our roster. There are some
things even a recruiter won't do. Well, this recruiter, anyway.
Our client companies
will survive and prosper, and will most likely do so on their own
terms. But a receding tide grounds all boats, and as their retained
recruiter, the last two years were as much a rollercoaster ride
for us as for them.
The short-term trend
has shifted from big tech companies' inability to compete with dot-coms
for talent, to the dot-com collapse and the emergence of the current
mini-buyer's market for large-cap techs. And with it, we learned
a few important lessons for recruiting.
Advertisers will tell
you that, in a world full of change, human nature stays constant.
If our experience is anything to go by, they're right. Let's explore
how recent trends in information technology are shaping the marketplace
Lesson Number One:
Exploit Corporate Arrogance
Large- and mid-cap information
technology companies had a rough time finding sales talent in the
last part of the 1990's. It was a five punch combination for them.
to the Y2K "problem" caused many customers to curb spending.
Then, the overwhelming
penetration of enterprise software into large-cap companies caused
saturation. Now enterprise software vendors had to focus on mid-cap
companies for the next phase of their expansion.
Next, enterprise software
vendors learned a hard lesson. Software sales cycles for mid-cap
prospects weren't really shorter or easier than those for large-cap
customers. But the typical deal size was much lower. Margins suffered.
At this point, some ERP market leaders began to falter. Not all
Then, customers began
to question the indefinite implementation cycles for enterprise
software and the elusive return on investment against promises made
by their software vendors. It became apparent that, though software
was necessary to streamline business processes, the rewards for
adoption were hard to define in bottom line dollars. More and more,
companies requested cost savings estimates from vendors during the
evaluation phase; if a purchase couldn't be justified in terms of
measurable efficiencies or staff redundancy, the purchase didn't
And finally, as if all
of this wasn't enough, the Internet boom changed everything again.
Suddenly, stable companies with real profits were less attractive
than new companies with vision, venture capital and heavy stock
options. Nowhere was this more true than in apps software sales.
Top guns from the NASDAQ 100 abandoned stable compensation plans
and perceived stagnation for the promise of a fortune from a provocative
niche player in five years or less.
This irritated many
big tech sales managers and recruiters, who had grown accustomed
to choosing from a slate of motivated, talented saleseople who thought
a job at their company would be the pinnacle of their sales careers.
The youthfulness of the industry also meant that many of the executives,
managers and staff in these companies were "failure virgins,"
people who'd never lived through a significant business downturn
After a couple of years
of walking their own career tightropes, these managers and recruiters
often became first relieved and later vindictive when the dot-com
collapse hit full speed.
Have you recently had
a great candidate languish because a recruiter or hiring manager
couldn't be bothered to schedule an interview? How about a client
who will only accept candidates from a direct competitor, no matter
how impressive the sales performance of the candidates you present?
Or perhaps a broad-based reluctance to interview former employees,
irrespective of their performance before leaving the company?
You're seeing examples
of the kind of corporate arrogance we're talking about. Having been
the ugly stepsister for a few years, some hiring managers and in-house
recruiters now want to sit back and cherry pick from only those
candidates that meet the narrowest of criteria. Direct competitors,
for example, or some arbitrary number of years of experience. In
other words, they only want to look at those candidates that they
are least likely to see. In the meantime, sales jobs go unfilled,
prospects go unvisited, quotas go unmet, and the net effect is that
the income statement looks very much like it did before the big
tech companies regained their advantage, often at great cost..
It's the dark side of
esprit de corps. Emotion trumps business.
This can actually become
comedic. What can you say to a manager who only wants to interview
candidates who are blowing out their quota at a direct competitor
whose compensation plan is virtually identical? Why in the world
would someone like that want to take a giant step sideways into
So what should you do
about all this?
First, if you're an
agency recruiter, don't waste your time and your prime candidates
on companies like these. Check back in a year. By then, desperation
will probably restore sanity.
Second, if you're part
of a company like this, clean up your act, grow up and be businesslike
in your recruiting activities. You're probably losing the talent
war to your competitors, and you may not be noticing it.
Third, if you're a competitor,
use the inefficiency of others to your advantage. Talk to your competitive
intelligence people. Work your personal network. When you interview,
ask your best candidates who else they're talking to, and what their
perception is of those companies' attitudes in the hiring process.
When you spot this kind of corporate arrogance in your competitors,
position yourself against it and sell hard.
Leave those companies
who are riding a wave of schadenfreude alone with their smugness.
Keep waging the talent war by our rules, and you'll win.
Lesson Number Two:
Be Prepared to Move Fast
In last quarter's article,
The Soul of a New Recruiting Machine, we provided a checklist
of basic skills and assumptions that drive the success of great
recruiters. Our second lesson reprises two of those skills: knowing
your industry and being prepared to interview without a job requisition.
You may remember that
last fall, eCRM software vendor Vignette talked up major expansion
plans in the trade press less than a month before a massive layoff.
What was to be learned from this? First, that their expansion plans
meant that they weren't letting dead wood go; the tyranny of numbers
was forcing them to do something they didn't want to do. Second,
layoffs often wound the survivors as well. Hunting within the company's
roster might have been as lucrative as scanning the cut list. And
it very likely was, for companies that weren't afraid to source,
interview and hire out of cycle.
If you're quick, there
will probably be a few feasts coming up as the tech shakeout continues.
Look at your competitor's
cash statements. Use their staffing levels to make projections about
run rate versus cash on hand. Anticpate layoffs and launch when
the moment's right. If you are keying on direct competitors,
this is the right way to go about it.
Lesson Number Three:
Check Your Assumptions Before Rejecting a Candidate
We'll be dealing with
the specific problem of candidate experience as a primary selection
criterion in the article that follows. For now, the important thing
to remember is that we've just come through a stock market boom
(and bust) with few historical precedents. It'll probably be years
before the NASDAQ index hits 5,000 again. Plan your future recruiting
efforts with this fact in mind.
How do you do that?
One way is to modify your assumptions about job turbulence. The
historical attitude toward short tenures at companies for salespeople
is to assume that they left one step ahead of the posse. That they
weren't making quota, or that they burned through their entire Rolodex
and had nothing in the pipeline for the next sales year. Well, you
could be right. Or your candidate could be a victim of history.
Many of the folks who
ventured into the dot-com world were primo risk takers, willing
to bet their skill against a king's ransom. Be careful about punishing
them for this. Carefully examine their pre-1998 history for greater
stability and success. If you have doubts, probe carefully during
the qualification phase. If you still have doubts, don't hire. But
don't deprive your compnay of a great prospect simply because you're
applying evaluation rules that are now subject to the influence
of a specific historical anomaly.
Lesson Number Four:
Sell the Right Thing to the Right Person at the Right Time
One of our Ten Principles
of World-Class Recruiting is, "There are no universal incentives."
What compels a person, even a person with a strong cash motivation,
to accept your offer varies from individual to individual. In fact,
if the profit motive is a constant, as it tends to be among salespeople,
real leverage is often gained from the other terms of the deal.
Dump your canned sales
message. Listen carefully to your candidates during interviews.
Use your powers of discernment to identify their buying agenda.
What do dot-com refugees
want? Well, for starters, the shell-shocked set may well want the
security they were willing to trade away in the '90's. That security
may be expressed as a function of your company's current industry
position and vision of the future, a return to the kinds of products
and services that made their career, or it may be the reassurance
provided by friends at the salesperson's former company.
You can sell a bright
future through favorable reviews of your company or products by
industry influencers like Gartner, Meta Group, Forrester, Yankee
Group, et al. You can influence candidate choices by favorably positioning
your company and culture against your competitors. You can sell
strength and stability versus dot-coms.
And within the boundaries
of ethics and honesty, always spin. Play to your strengths and leverage
good news. If your market valuation is down, sell culture and opportunity.
If your market value is up, sell performance, culture and opportunity.
Compare and contrast your environment and jobs available against
your competition, or your prospect's current situation. And never
apologize for problems that are industry-endemic, like, say, a market
Above all, don't assume
facts not in evidence. Like any good salesperson, ask what's important
to your prospects and craft your sales message accordingly. And
if you decide not to hire an individual, do it for sound business
reasons, not to make yourself feel important.
Good recruiting is a blend of art
and science, and as French physiologist Claude Bernard once observed,
"Art is I; science is we." Obviously, as you work to overcome
any biases you may have, you will also want to integrate your sales
team into the candidate evaluation process as always. As you work
through this, keep an eye out for signs of the same counterproductive
attitudes we've disscussed in this article. You don't want to lose
strong prospects because one or two members of the team give off
inappropriate signals. Work to make sure that "we" supports
The lessons we've covered here aren't intended to supplant principles
we've previously introduced. We simply wanted to remind you of the
relative uniqueness of recent business history, and to point out
a few specific observations we've made over the past two years.
We hope you find them useful.
If you think we've missed something
important, or want to ask a question about the information in this
handout, you can reach me here or at 877-389-1250.
Got a question or a comment?
Contact the author here.
The Experience Trap: Getting Past
the Resume and Adding Value to Your Company
Author Michael Kami once said "For every complex
problem, there is a simple answer - and it is wrong."
Speaking of which, say hello to the cardinal sin of sales
Pop Quiz Time, everybody!
for a pre-IPO Sales Force Automation software company. Your product
line is well regarded, your annual revenues are at $200 million,
and you're looking for some regional account executives.
There are three resumes
on your desk.
Candidate A is a recent
college graduate, a man with three years experience selling eCRM
software to clicks-and-mortar clients, primarily retail. He's
been at 200% of quota each year and was referred to you by a reputable
third-party recruiting agency.
Candidate B is a twelve
year sales veteran who began in mainframe financial applications,
and moved to the market leader in HRMS software in 1992. He made
his quota selling the mainframe finance product, did well over
200% of quota at the HRMS vendor through the mid-1990s, and has
been within spitting distance of quota since then.
Candidate C has a
ten year history of software sales with mid-range ERP vendors.
Over half of his career has been with a software publisher, selling
IBM AS400-based solutions. She averaged about 200% of quota at
that vendor, and has been at or over quota for the remainder of
O.K. Based on what
I've given you, pick one answer below:
can safely select Candidate A based on his experience.
B. I can safely select Candidate B based
on his experience.
C. I can safely select Candidate C based
on her experience.
D. I'd try to hire all three.
E. I can't reach any conclusion based
on this data.
Well, if you read
the title of this article, it wasn't much of a quiz. But we needed
to establish a few experience profiles to illustrate why the reliance
on experience is so dangerous.
Reliance upon the
experience section of resumes as a primary screening tool is problematic,
because it doesn't address many vital questions of candidate qualification.
Resumes are the classic screening tool. Ironically, in a tight
marketplace for talent, companies are often deluged with resumes
from the wrong candidates. To manage the flood, resume databases
and applicant tracking systems are often used to warehouse those
resumes until a keyword search is initiated for specific job skills
Given this method
of handling inbound resumes, the first problem to emerge is that
the applicants that know the most about the system are those most
likely to get interviews. It's up to the skill of the recruiter
to separate those who know the job from those who know job hunting.
Quite often these groups are not the same. In fact, great prospects
are often bad at career searches, prefering to focus their time
and energy on other things. Like becoming great prospects.
And that introduces
the problem of validating experience. Think again about our three
hypothetical candidates. Each is based in part on the backgrounds
of real salespeople.
Would you reject Candidate
A because of his limited software sales experience? Or should
you be looking deeper into his backgound and work history? Was
he a software implementation consultant prior to going into direct
sales? Is his company notoriously noncompetitive against other
vendors? If so, how does he manage to do so well? How does he
manage sales cycles? What are his innate sales competencies?
How about Candidate
B? He did his best work selling for a market leader half a decade
ago, and less well since. What was the competitive landscape like
during his best years? Did he have to sell or was he just an order
taker for a product in high demand? Were his best sales years
a function of membership in strong sales teams? What was he actually
responsible for doing in the sales cycle? Was he the closer? What
about his years selling mainframe apps? Did he sell for a company
like old IBM, where the policy was to set readily achievable quotas
as part of the salesperson's professional development? What's
the basis for his decline in the late 1990s? Is he just a victim
of the factors we described in the article above? These are some
of the issues you'd want to examine in the qualification phase.
And Candidate C? Selling
200% of her number in AS400 solutions in a marketplace transitioning
to client-server applications comes across as a powerful endorsement
of her selling skills. But how much of her number was maintenance
and services? Was she selling into established accounts or developing
a new customer base for her company? Is she sufficiently up to
date technically to continue to excel as the marketplace shifts
to web-enabled and peer-to-peer operating models?
We could flog this
horse until we get burgers, but our intent was simply to point
out that experience alone determines very little. A salesman touting
fifteen years of experience might actually have one year of experience
repeated fifteen times.
We advise our clients
to give a candidate's innate sales competencies and interpersonal
chemistry greater weight than their basic experience, and to drill
down into the experience of a candidate to help discover their
innate sales competencies.
Of course, this is
all common sense, and any recruiter worth their salary does this
kind of in-depth validation as part of their normal screening
There is one other
question you should ask yourself honestly. If we hadn't had this
time together, and the resumes for Candidate's A, B and C crossed
your desk, what would you have done?
Got a question
or a comment? Contact the author here.
The Dossier Mission Statement:
purpose in this e-zine is to share our thoughts and opinions on
the business of recruiting for talent, to help you stay on top
of the thinking in our industry, and to help you deal with the
hiring, evaluating, and sustainment issues that keep your company
from achieving at the highest levels.
Of course, our articles are written from the perspective of an
information technology sales recruiter, though much of what's
here can be applied to technology recruiting in general
write these articles; we are talented recruiters, project managers
and teachers. We hope you enjoy the 'zine, and that you'll share
your comments with us.
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