Doug Blizzard
Put on your sales hat to find great employees

Finding top talent today requires a new approach that’s inspired by successful salespeople.

July 29, 2013
By Doug Blizzard

The economy has picked up and many professional service firms are hiring. If you’re one of them, you’re going to encounter what at first glance seems to be a favorable hirer’s market.

Unemployment is still high. According to Gallup, 70% of employees are disengaged at work. And Right Management found that 86% of workers are considering looking for a new job.

As a result, you should have no trouble finding great people, right? Unfortunately the refrain I hear from many firms is just the opposite—they can’t find any good people!

If you also struggle to find great people, it may be because you are looking in the same places, in the same ways, and at the same time as everyone else. Finding great talent today requires a new approach, particularly for professional service firms where the employees are the company for most clients. Believe it or not, we can learn a lot from the sales profession to help us find great talent. 

Lesson #1: Landing the best “accounts” takes time
We’ve all met desperate salespeople—they’re in a hurry, use high pressure tactics, talk fast, and sell on price. Unfortunately, many hiring managers and recruiters are also desperate. They have an immediate opening, no prospects, and no plans. That’s a recipe that almost guarantees they’ll settle for whatever they can find.

They default to using what has become a “traditional” method by posting the job on an internet board or maybe using Craigslist or LinkedIn. These techniques tend to attract hundreds of applicants, all skilled in interviewing, many running away from something. How many of those candidates turn out to be a great hire?

The best salespeople understand that landing great accounts takes a lot of research, planning, and hard work. Similarly, to find great people, you need to start looking well in advance of an opening. Make it the job of every manager in your company to always be searching for great talent—and include that in their performance review.

I’ve seldom met a business that can’t find a home for a superstar. At the same time, companies seldom find superstars when they are in a hurry. 

Lesson #2: Goals in writing
The top salespeople all have clear goals and a written plan to accomplish those goals. For your critical positions, consider making a list of people you want to hire. These people are your sales targets, your pipeline of talent. If you don’t know who these highly skilled people are, ask your current professionals. They network with great people all the time and have a vested interest in your hiring great co-workers. A final note: I recommend you have good diversity in your targeted applicants list.

Lesson #3: Get known
Great salespeople know that customers buy from people they trust. That means salespeople need to constantly see their prospective clients and get to know them. To get known by top talent, you have to go where they are, which requires getting involved in your industry or profession. Find out what associations your key prospects belong to, what events they attend regularly, what social media groups they participate in, and so on. Make sure you and your professionals are involved in these groups by publishing articles, speaking at events, obtaining board positions, etc. Your goal is to be visible and to be seen as a place where smart people want to work.

Lesson #4: Court your key prospects
Now that you have your prospect names, implement a system of regular contact with them designed to pull them toward your company. Mix up the medium you use (phone call, email, lunch or coffee meetings). Mix up the content you send to include information to help them personally and professionally, fun facts or events you’re having, and maybe some information about you and your company. You want to stand out, so be creative. You’re not trying to sell them at this point, you’re mainly educating them. You should be doing all of these things whether or not you have a current job opening. That’s because you want to be on their radar when they decide to make a move and before they consider other alternatives.

Lesson #5: Clear value proposition
The best salespeople sell on value, and not features, benefits, or price. When meeting prospects, you must be able to clearly articulate why the applicant should come to work for you—and not just in terms of pay and benefits. Uncover their needs and then match that to your environment. Many companies think they have the advantage in the recruiting process simply because they have a job opening. That’s true if the only people you are hiring can’t get a job anywhere else. You’ll have to compete to hire top talent, much as salespeople compete to get business. Just that subtle change in perspective will get you closer to landing great people. 

Try these suggestions and I guarantee you will develop a strong bench of people on fire to come work for you. Once you find key talent, how do you decide who is the best fit for your company? We’ll tackle that topic next time.

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Doug Blizzard is the director of member development for CAI Inc., a human resource management firm with locations in Raleigh, N.C., and Greensboro, N.C., that helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability.