Recruiting sales talent: is cloning the right solution?

Recruiting sales reps is a critical exercise.

Assessing a candidate’s ability to close future business can be tricky, so it is tempting to reduce risks by narrowing the scope of the search for new talent.

Therefore, based on the CV only, hunting for candidates from direct competition can look like a good idea; especially when companies seek knowledgeable and immediately operational talent.

To illustrate the lines above, two real-life examples come into my mind:

. A headhunter once told me when sharing his challenges: “I want to introduce candidates, while my clients want CVs”.

. A candidate told me he had not been recruited, despite positive interview rounds, because a doubt still existed at the end of the process (“you do not know our business”). It is worth mentioning that the company in question was the market leader, with only one direct competitor.

The rationale for recruiting from the competition

In summary, the driving thoughts and expectations are the following:

  1. Newly hired talent knows the industry and has demonstrated experience in a similar portfolio.
  2. They are immediately operational (“plug and play”).
  3. And hopefully….they will bring customers along.

It’s not that easy: take the hidden costs into account!

Recruiting new talent is not an exact science. Hidden costs will necessarily appear. 

  1. Every company is different; even if it is limited, expect a ramping-up period before being fully operational.
  2. The new hire has performed in a different environment (structure and culture, business practice); past performance is not a guarantee of success in the new company.
  3. Sales success means a successful match between the individual, the company, and the market; finding a new successful match is far from being certain
  4. Interviewing a candidate who knows your industry inside out might provide a false sense of confidence; don’t forget what matters most: the potential of the candidate!
  5. First contact with previous clients should be easier; however, employment contracts often include a non-competition clause.
  6. Clients have chosen the sales rep as a part of the company they previously worked for; being the ambassador of a new organization might not open the same doors as easily.

Fresh(er) minds can bring numerous benefits

Expand the source of recruitment, think outside the box when describing new profiles.

  1. Fresh minds with transferable skills will challenge the status quo; they will bring fresh ideas, new contacts, and a new ecosystem.
  2. The highest ROI is shown when those new hires come from a more mature industry that has already experienced and solved the challenges you are currently facing.
  3. Recruiting talents from the industries you aspire to resemble to will accelerate your transformation.

No pain, no gain: you will need to invest if you want to reap the benefits!

I’ve met numerous companies mentioning “we tried to recruit outside our specific industry, it never worked”.

This statement, unfortunately, is not explicit enough. It does not explain what made it so challenging.

Answers to these questions need to be provided: What efforts were made to integrate new talent? Was there sufficient time given to succeed? Was there any kind of structured knowledge transfer?

So, prepare to invest:

  1. Targeting those talents, becoming visible to them and attracting them is a necessary and substantial investment.
  2. Once onboard, retaining new talent demands an effort on integrating, and accepting, different cultures.
  3. Current onboarding programs and talent management practices, if too light, can quickly show their limits.

In conclusion

In an ever-changing business climate, companies need to reinvent their business practices, and cloning won’t help.

When recruiting new talent, companies should engage a more innovative, bolder approach to support this ambition.

To greatly broaden the pool of candidates, focus first on the individual potential.

Never forget to weigh the “Can learn” (your industry and your portfolio) versus the “Cannot learn” (candidate’s potential, drive and approach).

Then, similarities, in the candidate’s background, can be found on the level of complexity of the sales cycle, the level of client contacts, and the types of industries.

Finally, keep in mind that recruiting is just the beginning.

Once the new talent has been recruited, companies need to create the conditions for success. It is a necessary step to take if they want to reap the benefits of further expanding their recruitment boundaries.

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