Part One: Hiring the million-dollar star: Contractor's Corner - Feb 2018

By Dave Stafford

Here we are: it’s the start of 2018, and you’ve completed your plans for growth but have found that you desperately need help to spread the word and lock up those sales. You need a sales professional who can generate at least a million dollars in sales to break even. So, what’s your first step?

A wise HR professional once told me something I’ll pass along to you: You must be able to succinctly describe the position you’d like to fill, including its key discriminators and duties. It is not enough to have a position title, compensation range and general requirements. What specific personal characteristics will make this person a success? That includes their life experience and education. Tenacity and reasonable intelligence? Of course, but what about personal charm and the ability to deal with upper management? Factor in the makeup of your company, support structure and type of sales involved.

There is a difference between what you’d like, what you can afford and what you absolutely must have in the position. The sooner you distinguish between these, the sooner you’ll be on the way to the stable base upon which to build your search. Once you’ve decided on the parameters of the position you’d like to fill and budgeted the money for the position, then what?

We live in a litigious society, so in the interest of fairness, propriety and self-defense, give some thought to what your HR professional says about how to fill the position. If you don’t have a formal HR department, and you are hiring for multiple departments, consider a paid consultant that can give well reasoned, written (and verbal) advice. I found such help invaluable. They can also help you navigate the minefield of company handbooks, compensation policy, and state and federal regulations. If you haven’t experienced the frustration, stress and expense of being sued for improper promotion, hiring or firing or workplace harassment, then you’ve missed a great deal of learning experience.

Since I am not an attorney or a HR professional, I’ll just give you some guidelines based on my mistakes. Set up a written hiring protocol for each class of position, whether it’s sales, project supervision, installation or office. Once these are set up, advertise the position, evaluate responses, conduct pre-interviews, require an application and personal or skills evaluation, conduct a personal interview, and make final decisions the same way every time. Make sure you maintain a written record for the entire process, as that is your defense if or when you are accused of bias. This does not mean that every person evaluated, interviewed or tested is going to be given the same consideration. It means that they will be given the same opportunity to prove their mettle.

At about this time, you may be thinking: this is a lot of work, where am I going to find the time to do my regular job and still find my sales star? There is some truth to that. This is why some larger companies have evolved into having their own HR staff that will handle many of the routine details and legal requirements, including sifting through résumés to see if basic requirements are met as well as applications and testing completed, eventually yielding a qualified group of candidates from which to select. Even with highly qualified persons, there are a myriad of details before a selection can be made.

Once you know exactly what you’re looking for and the range of compensation you’re willing to pay, start asking around. I always found that trusted suppliers were a good source of leads-people who are unhappy and looking for a home. Sometimes dropping the word to a mill rep that you’re looking for a “heavy hitter and are willing to pay up” will generate a phone call from unlikely but highly qualified people. I once had a recommendation from a mill rep’s associate located several states away. He sent a brief email with news about a sharp commercial salesperson that was moving into my area.

Although you have to be circumspect, look at competitors in your own geographical area. If you have been bested by the same salesperson more than once, maybe it’s time to have a conversation about his plans for the future. All of us hate poaching, but it is done all the time. And the bonus is that they are already working in your area and can likely bring business with them. That can help underwrite the cost of hiring and training, and speed up the dividends from filling the position.

When you are testing the waters, a well-defined employment ad in the trade press or a major newspaper may generate some interest. This applies to certain websites that feature specific sales opportunities. While there can be success with this approach, you are likely to get a blizzard of résumés, and most good candidates will not bother to respond.

Always post any such employment opportunity within your own company, perhaps on a bulletin board. There may be a person you’ve overlooked, or a current employee or installer may know of someone who is looking for just such a position.

Consider paying a recruiting bonus if someone is referred and subsequently hired by the company. Keep the terms simple-the referral must be in writing; the person must have been hired within a certain time period; and he or she must remain an employee for a specified probationary period. The amount can vary according to the value of the position, say from $200 to $1,000. That is still a lot cheaper than a fee-paid employment agency.

However, perhaps you don’t have your own HR staff and have been unsuccessful in finding any or enough qualified candidates. Having been there, especially for sensitive sales positions, I have turned to an employment agency or recruiter that specializes in sales positions. While there are always exceptions, most are the fee-paid type, meaning that the employer, not the person hired, pays a fee after the probationary period. Look at the fine print on any agreement. Some may offer a flat rate, while others offer a percentage of first-year expected compensation or some mixture, including an up-front fee. The best advice I can offer is to get these answers: What is their area of specialization? What geographical areas do they cover? What is their overall track record of success? Check their references, paying particular attention to feedback from paying clients.

I would also add this for you to consider: even though you will be spending thousands of dollars in fees to an agency to land the right candidate, think about the time you’ll be saving in not fumbling around just trying to find qualified candidates to interview! That’s a big advantage in going with a recruiting specialist. They have a list of qualified persons who may be currently employed or who are looking to move on for the right position. You’ll never hear about them or get a chance to present your company and its opportunity without the recruiter.

What is the position, and what are you looking for in a candidate? What kind of first-year compensation can they expect? How soon do you need them? If you hesitate in answering, they will know you are not prepared. Do your homework, especially the range of compensation you’d be willing to pay. If you don’t have a fixed range, ask them what they feel is an acceptable range of first-year compensation to attract a qualified person. I have had the experience of being told by a savvy recruiter, “Dave, buddy, you need to raise your sights. You are about $20,000 low for first-year comp on this job. Not saying I might not find someone for you to interview, just that you wouldn’t hire him or her. We’d both be wasting our time, okay?” I must confess I was a little put off by that candor, but he was right. I tinkered with the numbers and put a little more into the performance side of compensation offered. The end result was several candidates with the requisite experience.

Even with an outside recruiter helping, you still should do multiple interviews, applications and testing to find the highest-quality and most-qualified person. While you will develop your own strategy for the position, here are some specific suggestions that have worked for me: give all the résumés a brief read and make three piles-No Way, Possibly, Absolutely. Of course, there will always be rejections that don’t meet minimum criteria. There will be those who might be worth a follow-up if the Absolutely pile is very thin. To those, add any current company employees who are applicants, and always insist that they also provide a résumé for the job. You need to give them the same chance as any other applicant. You may find after reading résumés that your applicant pool is lacking, at which point, you turn to the employment agency sales recruiter mentioned above. The astute sales recruiter may insist that if you are going to use him, you need to cease your own advertising efforts. “Dave, I don’t want you in competition with me-it will waste both our time and might lead to misunderstandings.”

In Part Two of this series, to be published next month, I will delve into the hiring process from start to finish.

Related Topics:RD Weis, The International Surface Event (TISE)