The formula you need to build the highest performing recruitment sales team is simple:
- Conduct deep market and candidate research.
- Predict the needs of the future.
- Engage your clients at the highest possible executive level.
- Deliver a “no brainer” value proposition.
Doing it, however, requires hard work, dedication and a commitment to being the best you can be.
And that means you must take that commitment and drive it into the heart of your sales team.
It’s time to get back to building a real, winning sales team that will outperform your competitors and secure relationships with your clients at the highest executive levels.
It has always been hard to find salespeople for every company I have run and recruiting was my main business and where I had the most sales staff and challenges and I still hear from recruitment owners today as to how difficult it is to find recruiters and in a world where people are becoming more reliant on the latest software than simply picking up the phone.
The phone still is the fastest way to generate business in the recruiting industry and going back just ten years, I had recruiters who would rely on email/text and any other means to communicate with their clients and candidates.
It’s time we moved back to some old-school sales values.
I am going to go through the process of building a winning recruitment sales team from scratch in this article, but it serves as a guide for all recruitment salespeople, especially those who are not reaching the standards you, as an owner, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), sales director, manager and even the salesperson themselves demand.
I am outlining the very same methods I used to build my own global recruiting company, which I grew from zero billings to $65m in just 6 years.
And with a team of fifteen fully trained salespeople and a support staff.
You need a certain type of salesperson to be a recruiter and if you want to be the best, you have to learn not just how to hire the best people but to train and develop them, in my opinion anyway.
The industry has firmly moved online and rightly so — but I believe we are still missing the qualities of proper selling and not taking full advantage of the human touch.
The recruitment industry was the first industry I fell in love with.
It was not a hard one to love either — the lure of financial reward, the satisfaction of helping both people and companies to win. And when you look at it in that light, there is absolutely no downside.
I was lucky because when I joined my first proper agency way back in 1987, I was given some excellent sales training, specific to recruitment and we were certainly trained to be the best in our industry and to win every deal and I use the word “proper” because it was hard-core and a real sales environment where only hard work and results were recognized.
My door-to-door sales experience
I had been in sales since I was nineteen, learning the “art” by knocking on doors trying to sell them home improvements, which was commonplace in the UK at that time, but I am sure you can imagine the response you would get when disturbing people in the evenings (we had to make sure the homeowner was there), as they were enjoying their meals or watching their favorite television program.
Still, people bought the service, because many of them wanted to improve their homes, but it was an extremely tough sell and one that developed your character and skin that was thicker than a rhino!
It was not a job I did for passion, but for money, as I was still at college and although I started my first ever business in the same field, It was destined to fail because it was not started for the right reasons, plus I was young, fairly stupid and loved to spend money, especially as it was rolling in!
After the business “spent more than it earned,” I decided to get a proper job and for me, it was going to be in sales, but in commercial and not direct sales.
I had literally jumped “out of the frying pan and into the fryer” with my first commercial sales job as it was back in home improvements, only this time I would be selling to specialist retailers, rather than directly to the public.
My first sales manager taught me about how to sell and he was dynamic, to the point and did deals like they were going out of fashion. I learned a huge amount and unfortunately, he was far too good for the company and moved on.
I would eventually team up with him again later, in another venture that was very similar to my first business venture and it could have been very successful if again we both took it seriously. You see, it was far too easy and we earned too much money, too quickly and got bored.
After another failed sales job I walked into the offices of an Information Technology recruiting company in central London, UK and never looked back!
I talk more about my own journey in this article – “How to become an entrepreneur – the entrepreneurial journey.”
Over my recruiting career I have trained hundreds of successful salespeople around the globe, some who have gone on to become extremely successful in their own right — is it down to me?
Partly, but then my success is down to a lot of others as we are all really plagiarising, but it is how we plagiarise that is important.
I am constantly evolving and refining what I do — what I am sharing with you here is the result of my thirty-five-year recruitment, sales, and business career in terms of a method to train salespeople, build a sales team and get the best results possible.
My recruiting industry learning experience
My first sales managers and Director were hard taskmasters — they were very capable women who knew the industry inside out and their tough sales methods and standards were hard for some to follow, but an absolute dream for me.
Compared to what I was used to, it was a “breeze” and I took to it like a duck to water.
My entire sales strategy that I am going to reveal to you is rooted in the year 1987, where unbeknown to me at the time, would form the foundation for the sales system I follow and teach to this day — if you read the article above, I talk more about the people concerned.
For me, the only problem was learning the technical terminology to enable me to converse with my new set of clients and my sales Director at the time had a unique method of teaching…
“Don’t worry darling, just pick up the phone, call this company, ask the questions I have written here and I will be sitting here right next to you to help.”
So I did and on my first sales call, I was actually given 6 jobs, or “vacancies” as they were termed and it was like a comedy show — she was even less technical than me and I was talking to the client and listening to her at the same time, trying to be as professional as any newcomer could be in an industry they knew nothing about!
But she could sell and I learned a very valuable lesson on that call — you have to understand the language of your client and the industry. Many of the people I was calling were highly educated individuals who had invested a lot of time and money in their careers.
The recruitment industry is a very lucrative one and this is where it is easy to form a disconnect between your sales team and your clients.
Recruiters are seen as a “necessary evil,” just like say estate agents and more often than not, they can earn more money than their clients and some don’t mind flaunting it.
I was lucky in that first job because I had a lot of technical people working in the company and I could pick their brains.
Now, this brings me to another issue — you can be too knowledgeable, too technically focussed and forget the purpose of why you are in the industry:
Your purpose is to find the right job for your candidate and the right person for the vacancy you have been given from your client. Period.
This was drummed into me daily and we worked in a very sales-oriented environment — in the office early, lunch at your desk and leaving late and the odd Saturday mornings, to make sure you could reach target candidates.
It was also a world without computer systems and everything was done manually, but guess what?
We billed an absolute fortune in fees and there was no such thing as LinkedIn or other flashy tools to make life easier.
I had learned to call companies and persuade them to give me their vacancies, but also how to market candidates into companies, which is what I specialized in and when done correctly, it is the way I would recommend all recruiters to work.
My recruitment sales philosophy
In short, I love them all and anything that makes the life of a salesperson easier, no matter what industry they are in is a bonus…but I do not like the idea of being over-reliant upon tools.
Not yet anyway.
I truly believe that we will enter a cyborg age — I have used AI and know of its potential and all you need to do is watch some futuristic movies and you can see how easily we will move into that age. What is more, every species eventually becomes extinct, so humans, in my opinion, are not going to be the exception.
But I have absolutely no idea as to when this will happen and I know there are many struggles with getting our robotic friends to mimic and understand human emotion and Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
For now, I will concentrate my efforts on maximizing EQ, applying the human touch and largely bucking the trend that most recruiters are following.
LinkedIn, for example, is a powerful tool, just as all Social Media and business platforms are, but you cannot have a reliance on any platform if you are going to build a business in any field, especially recruiting.
Now I will say that implementing my methods is easy if you allow the right amount of time to do so. I gave each of my salespeople three months to learn the basics and to produce their first deal.
The time frame is longer than average because I put a great deal of emphasis on research — this is an area that most recruiters, sales managers, directors, and owners don’t pay enough attention to, because they are “chasing the fees.”
I learned this to my cost early on in my recruiting career and when I started to build sales teams.
Research gives you information and anyone can get informaton — your job is to turn that information into profitable intelligence.
Training blocks — building the foundation
I will outline the main areas of training before covering each one in detail. It is vital to have the correct systems and procedures in place and more importantly to keep evolving, refining and updating them.
I built these systems “on the go” as I was too busy seeing clients and winning deals to sit back and focus on building them which was a big mistake as it then took me more time to build them later and I lost some good salespeople along the way.
Let’s go through the main areas:
- Selection process — you don’t need me to tell you how important this is.
- Sales and commercial training — I recommend you do this first as you can weed out any people who are not suited to the industry.
- Induction — make sure your salespeople are fully familiar with each aspect of the recruitment business and its processes.
- Technical training — to ensure that your salespeople “speak the industry language.”
- Market, industry, and candidate research — gain the information that you will use to build a profitable recruitment desk.
- Client contacting and candidate marketing — putting it all into action.
- Metrics and analysis — measuring the success and risk analysis.
1. Selecting the right people
In the “power 80s” of selling, we were obsessed with closing the sale and because I refused to follow the sales training that I received because I thought it was total BS, I was fired from a few sales jobs.
But I built my first sales team in 1988 and we went from zero billings in June of that year to £6m in just eighteen months and all from a team of people who had absolutely no recruiting experience.
The video below by the late and legendary boxing trainer of Mike Tyson, Cus D’Amato, explains it beautifully:
I was training in heavily Martial Arts at the time and loved the boxing style of Mike Tyson, so this philosophy hit me right in the heart, as I was following my own version of it.
I had my best ever success throughout my entire recruitment career by looking for and fanning “sparks” to turn them into “flames” and for me, this is still the best strategy.
You are looking for “no fear” risk takers, who are ambitious, determined and willing to listen and learn — make no mistake, finding these people is not easy and managing them even more difficult, because, by nature, they will not conform, they will go against the grain, but they will respect real leaders and treat your business like their own.
I will warn you however that hiring this type of person will test you to the limits and you will have to view hiring them as a short-to-medium-term proposition if you are not prepared to cut them in on some of the action or reward them greatly.
They will be a challenge, but they will bring you huge rewards.
I remember in the early days, hiring people who could barely afford to travel to the office, but they had a true spark and I had to back my judgment — that meant buying them their first business suit in some cases because they had never had a need for one previously.
Now I can hear you say “I want professional, highly educated people who can grow my business steadily and I want to build a nice working culture, etc.
Firstly, you would have to define the word “professional” and also work out the importance of education — we are living in arguably the most volatile and uncertain world we have ever lived in, with the economic factors of the world being so out of sync, that it is impossible to predict the future.
I can teach anyone how to sell, how to conduct research and how to market candidates and place people, but I cannot teach the desire to do it — give me a hard worker over a smart one any day and I can rely on hard work, but the smart part is subjective.
You will find this talent in all walks of life just as I did and my first rule is to look at all industries — I recruited ex financial traders, estate agents, lawyers, builders, military personnel and the unemployed.
A couple of years ago, I met a very high-ranking executive of a huge International corporation who was recruited to develop the sales team for a major global region.
His problem was that his existing team was too comfortable, earning high basic salaries, commissions, car allowances and who spent the majority of their time traveling throughout the region having sales meetings that took up most of the day and to discuss targets that were not being reached.
His philosophy for recruiting was simple:
“Get me people who can sell and I don’t care what they are selling or where they come from, just get me people who can sell.”
A stark contrast from the type of candidate the Human Resources (HR) division was used to recruiting!
So take a look out there and re-work your recruiting strategy a little and start to test the water.
Make sure though that you are a very hands-on leader, as you will have to keep the “reigns” on in the early stages at least!
2. Sales and commercial training
I used to do this personally and it would take a week of intensive daily training, plus a Saturday morning!
I don’t believe anyone needs to be taught how to sell — negotiating and bartering are survival tools that are hardwired in us, what we need is to uncover those natural instincts and connect them with the “spark” that you have found in the salesperson you have selected.
To make the point further, just think of a child and how natural they are — they have imagination, creativity, are fearless and relentless.
But most importantly, they use their instinct — how many times have you seen your own children if you have them, naturally gravitate to some people and run away from others?
I talk about this more in my article “How to become a good salesman.”
I cannot cover my full course here in this article, so I will just outline the main points.
We are in a buying culture
I start by explaining to people that we have become a buying culture and not a selling one. This may seem contradictory, but what I am talking about here is more the fact that power has shifted to the buyer from the salesperson as discussed in this article detailing 4 examples and explaining what sales can do to adapt.
This is critical to understand and along with the next point that people only buy perceived value.
Value is something that is real to you at the time and relevant of course, to how much money you have to spend and even if funds are unlimited, whether you can hand those funds over to a product comes down to value, unless you are purely buying for the sake of buying!
I teach people next how to communicate and sell themselves — if you cannot sell yourself, then how are you going to sell a product or service?
I cover personal presentation and how to be “understated” as many people today are forgetting they are in a commercial world and act more like fashion models. Nothing wrong with individuality and identity, but you are there to ultimately create attention for the product and not yourself.
Less is more.
I also ask each person to do a simple PowerPoint presentation on one of their hobbies or interests and it is not important what the subject is, or how good a presenter they are, but more importantly how they think and how confident they are.
I will drill them over and over regarding their presentations, which are done in a group session by the way and each time looking to polish the introduction, middle, and end — remember we are talking to informed buyers, so they are well aware of the dynamics of the industry. “Educational selling” is the way to describe the process.
Slowly but surely and in an intense environment, they are learning the skills required to engage their future customers at the highest executive levels and create a compelling, “no brainer” value proposition, where the customer will want to buy, rather than the salesperson having to sell.
Now I move on to commercial awareness and this is all about understanding global economic factors and how the industry is affected by them, the role of Board Directors, shareholders in companies and other general business issues and topics.
The goal here is to understand how companies are structured, their expectations and the challenges they face in an increasingly competitive world.
I then finish the week with a presentation from each salesperson having to put together a presentation on the industry we operate in, detailing the past, present and future events and expectations, as well as the challenges the industry faces.
Notice by the way, that we have not touched on any recruitment-specific training whatsoever — that comes later.
What I am looking for here is a basic ability to talk and present (on a known subject) and then the same with an unknown one that requires some research and I learn a lot from this as they do as well.
Too many companies throw people into recruitment-led training week, which you would expect and that is why they get the standard recruiter (if they are lucky) at the end of the process.
I want you to think about building superstars — people who will set industry standards and not follow them.
This is an area I wish I had spent a lot more time on and I am not just talking about walking someone through the office and saying “hello” to everyone.
I am talking here about a full-on business, systems and processes induction where I would suggest that each new salesperson sits down with all of the other business functions and I also recommend this the other way round as well regarding other employees learning about sales and the pressures involved.
- Finance — show them how the financial aspects of the business operate, teach them about credit management and the importance of doing the “right deals” to get paid and ultimately their commissions. Explain to them the challenges of running the financial operation of a recruiting business.
- Administration & support — explain the back office routine functions that would cause the company to collapse if they were not performed.
- Technology — it is vital to understand in today’s tech-enabled world. Make sure they are familiar and trained on the platforms to a standard that needs to be signed off on. You must ensure a standard of tech capability.
- Sales and marketing — you know one half of this, but if you have a marketing department which you should have in today’s online world, then explain the process — sales and marketing are usually disconnected.
- Human resources — a vital part of every organization today, especially with increasing employment legislation and make sure your salespeople understand the role they are hired for, their targets and disciplinary issues and procedures.
The more you teach your employees, the better understanding they will have about your business as a whole and the better service they can deliver to your clients.
Plus, you will go a long way to prevent any in-house friction between employees.
In my company, there was a great deal of friction between sales and non-sales employees and this was because the sales employees didn’t appreciate fully the workload and importance of others and non-salespeople, were not familiar with the pressures of working in a sales environment.
4. Technical training
It is essential that your salespeople speak the industry language but here I will give you a word of caution.
My agency was technical and it was essential to understand the technology to a point where you can have a conversation with our clients, to at least understand the job roles that people worked in, or would be recruited for.
One of the biggest client and candidate complaints is that ‘recruiters don’t understand my needs.’
So you must get to understand the basic technology involved, how the company is structured technology-wise and here, think “big picture” and I personally, could draw basic technology diagrams, talk confidently with engineers and C-Level executives, but never once professed to be anything more than someone who understood it at a conceptual level.
A word of caution:
Some of my staff would take it to the extreme and try to know as much and in some cases more than their clients; they wanted to be experts in their own right and had forgotten rule#1:
Their job was to market candidates to the right companies and find the right candidates for their client vacancies.
They would spend more time learning than selling, so never let your salespeople fall into this trap and it is an easy one to fall into.
5. Market, industry and candidate research
This is the #1 technique for building the highest-performing recruitment sales team and crushing your competition.
The whole idea of conducting deep research is to anticipate client needs before they arise.
You need to think like a hedge fund — constantly planning ahead for every eventuality and designing your products and/or services to meet them.
Hedge funds differ from traditional investment funds for many reasons but one reason is that they can profit in good or bad times — so they are always “hedging ” their options against all market conditions.
Do the same in your industry and one former hedge fund manager I spoke to explained to me that he always took a “view” of the markets that were at least 6 months ahead.
Knowledge is power
And this is far more important than any sales or worse still, “closing technique.”
I will explain this from a personal point of view; how I engaged my own clients over the years and how I still practice and teach it to my coaching and mentoring clients today.
I tried to contact the CEO of a major international technology company at their headquarters in Europe and remember I was selling simple technology staffing services — I never reached him, but I did get a very nice response from his executive assistant, who helped me to refine my proposal to the CEO and then gave me a list and contact details of several key executives, who reported directly into the CEO, from their various locations around the globe.
It led to deals that were worth millions in turnover and they were profitable deals.
Here is how I got to that deal:
I got hold of the companies annual report and trawled through it, noting the chairman’s statement and that of the CEO and looked at the mission, vision and values parts, as well as the financials. The information is old as companies file financials in arrears so to speak, but nevertheless, you can get a good picture.
Googling the company and its executive leaders was not an option back at that time, as the Internet was not as widely adopted, but today it is easy and you can find articles written by people and connect with them far more easily.
Next, I phoned the marketing department of the company and asked them a straight question — “why should I invest in your company rather than your competitors?”
I now received a barrage of answers telling me how they were superior and why. This exercise was extremely useful and helped me to do the same with every major company in the industry.
So now I had a clear picture of what every company believed to be their competitive edge and also how determined they were to beat their competitors into the ground!
So now I needed to make an approach to the company in question and I always start at the top.
Many recruiters will disagree with me here because they will explain that you can talk to the top as much as you want, but the real business is conducted much lower down.
They are wrong and especially in today’s economic climate where every corporate budget has to be signed off by the CEO or Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
Yes, business is conducted at a much lower level, but ultimately approved at the top, so you might as well connect at that level first.
Through my research, I put together a proposal and then I contacted the executive assistant and simply explained that I had a proposal for her boss, that I would like her to review and let me know if she believed it would have been of interest to him.
I further explained that I didn’t want to bother him unnecessarily and that is why I was asking her in the first instance. She was very receptive and asked me to email it over, which I did and she would come back to me in a couple of days.
I called here after two days and she explained that it was a good proposal, that would be of interest, but not to her boss at this stage, but a Senior Vice-President (SVP) who would be able to give it more consideration. she also re-wrote the proposal in the language that was more in line with their internal communications and gave me the name of the assistant to the SVP for me to contact and that was the start I needed and I couldn’t have asked for more.
Now it is important to understand that while I was doing all of this, my competitors were storming all over the current vacancies that the company had and winning loads of business.
Play the “long game”
Take the time to identify all of the dynamics of your industry from financial to government issues — it doesn’t matter what the industry is and then you can work out the key players, their financial statistics, competitive advantages and start to build a picture of where they are going and be there first.
You now need to go through the same process with the candidate that you are going to market to those companies that you have already researched.
A great deal of work has been done by now and the next step is to find candidates who want to work for the top companies in the industry because they want to have the best opportunities to use, develop and challenge their skills.
I deal with the candidate side more in-depth in my article “How to become a lynchpin and the best employee.”
What you are really trying to do in this process is to identify the top twenty percent of talent in the industry and drive that talent to the top companies.
The article covers in-depth, how to become a lynchpin and you can simply use it as a basis to evaluate your candidates and their ability to be in the top twenty percent of talent.
Think of the value proposition you have here — keeping companies continually aware of the top talent that is available in their industry, without their recruiters having to scan Social Media platforms to get in C.V’s that are unsuitable and waste valuable management time in the process.
Your research in total will give you a huge competitive edge, provided you conduct it thoroughly!
6. Client contacting and candidate marketing
I explained my own approach to a client when I was explaining the research part of the process and that is really it — you conduct deep research into the market, clients and candidates, then put them together.
It gives you a solid reason to call companies and candidates, rather than simply calling both parties to ask for vacancies and to check if someone is suitable or looking for a job.
Think of the amount of time that recruiters waste — endlessly calling companies and candidates to ask a series of questions based on a sales pitch that is at best outdated.
I always called people for a reason and tried to deliver value and sure, at the beginning when you are talking to candidates (as you should be in the first stages), you will be asking them what their current situation is, but it also gives you an opportunity to explain to them how you work — how you will commit to finding them the right opportunity by targeting the right companies.
With recruiting services, your job is to solve a problem, by providing a person(s) to solve that problem,
To do so efficiently and in an ideal world, you need to go to the source of the problem and that lies with the customer-facing element of your client — it doesn’t matter if it is an internal customer (within the existing organization) or an external one, you need to go directly to the source.
This is why I start at the top and usually unless I am very lucky I get pushed down the chain of command, as in reality, I would expect.
My approach rarely sees me put directly in touch with HR unless they are looking for a specific senior person simply because I am talking about the end-user customer and not just the client.
Equally, I never got the “we operate a preferred supplier policy,” because the people I dealt with were too focussed on the issues with their end-user customers.
More importantly, you are building relationships at the highest levels and also trust — who do you think they will give those vacancies to when they have them and long before anyone else?
7. Metrics and analysis
You want a high-performance sales team and to achieve that, it is necessary to churn the bottom twenty percent of your under-performing salespeople.
This is a sad fact of sales life, unfortunately, but it has to be done.
You need to free up capital to invest in the people who will deliver the results you need and there is no place for emotion.
I have agonized in the past over releasing some very nice, but incapable people, as far as selling goes and equally, I have let go of some very talented people who could have made it.
In reality, people “fire themselves” in the sales environment and provided it is crystal clear what the expectations are.
My suggestion is to look at each twelve-week period throughout the year and devise a minimum performance standard to be met within that period.
Let’s say that the target amount of placements for an experienced recruiter is twelve and within a twelve-week period.
You will probably not be unhappy if the person has achieved 8, but that also depends on the deals that haven’t worked out, especially in the contract or temporary market.
In the contract market, you are dependent on maintaining a “working base” of contractors and that will determine the salesperson’s revenue — be careful here to not focus too much on the number of working contractors or the revenue, as there needs to be a balance.
You ideally want a nice spread of clients, with a good number of working contractors, just as you would want the same for your permanent division and placements.
The bottom line here is that you set the right expectations, monitor and measure and let the process deliver the results.
- Build a high-performance sales team and driven by “old-school” sales values that will secure your relationships at the highest executive levels with your clients.
- Get back to “old school” sales values and use the phone.
- Use software and tools to make life easier, but not to create a dependency.
- Understand the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
- Research is the critical component of everything as it will turn information into profitable intelligence
- Build the foundation blocks of recruitment sales:
- Selection — hire the right people with the “spark” for success.
- Provide overall sales and commercial training to give your salespeople a competitive edge.
- Induction –familiarize them with the operation of each business function.
- Technical training — make sure they “speak the language” of your industry.
- Market, industry and candidate research — they must know the dynamics of the industry and the key influencers.
- Client contacting and candidate marketing — give value and not just a phone call.
- Metrics and analysis – measure everything, churn your bottom performers and let salespeople “fire themselves.”
Building a high-performance recruitment sales team means taking some risk, putting yourself on the line and making sure you are close to the action, leading the team and measuring accordingly.
I would love to talk to you and hear your views, so connect with me!
Last modified: September 5, 2019