Spoiler Alert: Why Hiring Sales People Won’t Be Easy in 2017

As anyone who runs a startup can tell you, your success as a business often lives and dies based on the talents of your sales team. This isn’t something new, and for many companies, it isn’t something that changes as you expand—a talented sales team becomes even more vital as your company grows.


Not to be a “Debbie Downer”, but it’s time for a major spoiler in terms of how 2017 is going to play out. You see, when it comes to making quality sales hires, the road ahead isn’t going to be easy.


I realize this might sound dramatic, but this isn’t necessarily a doom-and-gloom scenario. By understanding what factors are making sales hiring a challenge in 2017, you can be better equipped to avoid these roadblocks in your own hiring process and create an atmosphere where employees will want to stick around for a while.


So, what’s causing said sales hiring challenges? Let’s take a gander…


Retention Isn’t What It Once Was


Employee retention has become a major sticking point, not just in the sales world, but with almost every type of job imaginable. While it’s easy to use surveys, industry ‘buzz’ and articles to say some of the blame lies with job-hopping Millennials, the truth of the matter is far more complex. Retention goes much deeper than one particular reason or another—a lot of it ties back to the employer and the foundation that’s created.


Employees who exit stage left cite a few key factors as influencing their decision, mainly a lack of growth and opportunity and a poor work-life balance.


It can be tempting to assume that employees who jump ship after only a short time with your company aren’t cut out for the job or are simply looking for a quick pay raise. But you could do yourself a huge favor by taking a hard look at the efforts you make to retain your sales employees.


Do you have a fair and competitive compensation program that doesn’t change every quarter and is rolled out on time while making sense? Do A+ sales performers receive opportunities to advance their career? Do you grow your staff in a way so that nobody has too much—or too little—on their plate? Honestly assessing where you stand could make a huge difference in your retention results.


Candidate Experience is Struggling


As a sales veteran turned sales recruiter, I understand how important it is to find the right people to join your team. After all, few things are costlier than making a bad hire.


But as important as it is to weed out the wrong people for the job, you must be careful that you don’t ultimately create a negative candidate experience. The best sales people want to have a clear understanding of your company’s vision. They want to know how their role will contribute to the company and the value it brings to the client table while being crystal clear on how they get paid. And of course, they want to know that their new job will provide opportunities for growth. Are you communicating these things in your interview, or just grilling candidates to find out if they have what it takes for you to consider them?


More importantly, and I can’t emphasize this enough, people (not just salespeople) DO NOT want to be strung along. It’s estimated that companies now take “an average of 23 days to screen and hire new employees.” The thing is, 23 days is a long time to wait, especially when most candidates feel a decision should be made in two weeks or less.


Some people go for months without hearing back from a potential employer, or are forced to undergo an agonizing series of interviews, skills tests and unnecessary hoops before receiving an offer. Yes, the process is absolutely critical. But if you make your interview methods unnecessarily lengthy, complex or confusing without clear communication, those gems you’d love to hire will likely decide to go elsewhere.


Culture & Leadership Are an Afterthought


Another common challenge, is that companies fail to create a culture where employees feel valued. Worse yet, sales teams may not even receive the necessary leadership that guides, mentors, and advocates on their behalf.


Sure, a competitive compensation package is great, but a forward-thinking culture that invests in their employees and gives them opportunities to grow is what really makes a difference. One study found that “86% of those surveyed …would be more inclined to stay at their current company if they were given access to quality training and development.”


You’d better believe that matters for your sales force, too. They don’t want a fluffy compensation package that will likely change within twelve months or less. They want access to leadership and a culture that truly cares about their professional development along with the ability to positively impact the needs of their customers = a win for all parties involved.


Whether you create cross-functional team building programs that work, company-sponsored access to training, town-hall sessions where people can truly have a voice, demonstrating that you are willing to invest in your employees and giving them access to engaged leadership is what ultimately creates a first-class culture. More importantly, this keeps your employees inspired and loyal to the mission of your business.


My Thoughts on What It Takes to See Success in 2017


So, what does it take to succeed on the sales hiring and retention front in 2017? In addition to the details above, there are a few other things worth mentioning:


  • Loyalty Goes Both Ways: A paycheck alone isn’t going to demonstrate loyalty to your employees. As mentioned earlier, employees want to see that a company is willing to invest in their success. They want a company that understands—and is willing to help with—their unique needs. They certainly don’t want to work in a place where they have to read the tea leaves or live in constant fear of getting fired for some trivial mistake. When you demonstrate true loyalty to your sales team, they’ll be far more likely to stick around and give their best effort to make a big impact.


  • True Knowledge of Products and Services: It doesn’t matter how talented your sales team is—if you don’t have a real understanding of your target customer or the value of your product, it will be impossible for them to succeed. Without conducting proper marketplace research before scaling a sales team, you could very well set unrealistic expectations or market your product in a way that gives your target audience no compelling reason to buy, setting you and the team up for disaster. When this happens, quotas won’t be met, no-one will be happy, and your retention will plummet let alone how your board will react.


  • A Consistent Identity: Some of the very best salespeople are drawn to a company based on its brand identity, values or mission. Maintaining a consistent identity isn’t just important for your internal work environment—it can also directly impact your bottom line. You can’t constantly reinvent yourself in what you offer, why and to whom—this is a recipe for sales disaster, and one that will leave job candidates and customers alike confused and unhappy.


Parting Thoughts


Workplace issues really do stand in the way of a well-oiled sales hiring machine. As you dig deep to recognize the obstacles you face and make appropriate adjustments, you’ll be able to not only find those sales gems, you’ll be able to hire and keep them.


But enough from me—what hurdles have you tackled when it comes to sales hiring? More importantly, how have you been able to work around these issues so you can build/grow a quality sales team?
Lay it on me, I can’t wait to hear your perspective!  Until then, many thanks for reading.