Priming the Sales Applicant Pump

I spend much of my time working with companies to help them identify and hire the right sales talent for their company. One of the biggest frustrations that I hear from my clients is that they struggle to get people to apply for their jobs. Thus, they feel they have to settle for the few candidates they get and make a hiring decision. In essence, they risk hiring the wrong person for the wrong reason. From the client’s perspective, they see no other choice. They have a seat to fill and must select from the small pool of sales candidates.

When I hear this, I ask to see the ad that they are using on the job boards and in print. And, oh my! The root cause of the problem is quickly exposed. Somewhere along the way, a practice has been developed of using a job description as a job advertisement. Sadly, these are not synonyms, nor are they designed for the same purpose. This is the equivalent of trying to hammer a screw into a wall. It’s not the right tool for the job. A job description is the spec sheet for the job. There is no flair, just information. A job advertisement should primarily be flair!

I came across a sales job advertisement that said that accurate forecasting was required. I can appreciate the importance of accurate forecasting, but is that going to entice someone to send in a resume? I highly doubt it. Then, why do I see that in job ads all over the Net? Not only is it superfluous, but it could create a negative impression on a potential sales candidate such as the illusion of there being much sales administrivia, a bugaboo among sales professionals. As a result, they don’t apply for your job.

My favorite non-sense expression in a job ad is “other duties as assigned.” Again, I understand the importance of having that identified in a job description as an all encompassing expression, but in an ad? I know when I’ve looked for a job I couldn’t wait to apply for the ones that offered that as a benefit.

The bottom line is that the sole purpose of a job advertisement is to attract people to apply for the job. I know that seems obvious, but many miss that point. Since that is the sole purpose, then the ad should be structured in a way to accomplish that objective. There is an old expression is sales that says to sell the sizzle, not the steak. In sales, it means to focus the discussion on the benefits, not the features of the product. When designing a job advertisement, it means that the ad should excite, not completely inform.

In sales industries where leads are generated for sales people, the lead is structured to provide just enough information for a prospect to call a sales person. The ad does not include all of the information so that the person can make a buy/no buy decision without making the call. The same holds true for recruiting. The ad should attract candidates to apply. The resume review and interview process screens out the undesired candidates.

In some respects, this issue is about control. Not to belabor the contrast with sales, but sales people are trained to control the buying process. They learn to facilitate buying discussions with potential buyers and control when and how information is shared. When advertizing a job, the more information that is placed in the ad, the more control the candidate has to make an apply/no apply decision without ever talking with your company. Thus, you want enough information in the ad to entice them to apply for the job, nothing more. Once you have the application, you are then in control of the process and get to make the pursue/no pursue decision.

In my mind, there are three types of candidates out there. There are those that apply for every sales job they can find. Chances are these are not your rock stars. They just want a job, not your job. There are those that are what I refer to as “semi-passive.” These are sales people that have their pinky toe in the “new job opportunity waters.” They haven’t made the definitive decision to pursue another opportunity, but would be receptive if they came across one to their liking. The third are the passive candidates, those that are not even thinking about another opportunity at this time.

Thus, the ad should be designed to attract the semi-passive candidates. The passive ones probably won’t see the ad because they aren’t looking for a job. One industry that you can learn much about recruiting semi-passive candidates is supermarket retailers. Man, they have it down to a science! Everything that you see on the shelves has been placed there with the consult of psychologists. They have gotten inside the minds of buyers and structured the store so that they increase their average check out order. For example, milk is almost always in the very back of the store because it is a necessity. You are going to buy it because you need it. Other items are placed strategically around the store so a semi-passive buyer will be enticed to pick it up and put it in their cart. How often do you go to the market and buy only what you intended to buy? Rarely.

With that in mind, where do you start when developing your ad to attract these “semi-passive” sales people to apply to your company? For starters, how about interviewing your current sales team members? Ask them what attracted them to the company and what keeps them there. You will be surprised by the valuable information you will learn.

With that information, visit with your marketing department and ask for their assistance in designing an ad that will attract sales candidates to apply. If you can provide them with the mission of the program and the data learned from the sales organization discussions, I’ll bet that they can develop an ad with super sizzle! Remember, this is a marketing person’s area of expertise so leverage it.

The goal of this exercise is to grow your candidate pool so you don’t have to settle for the wrong candidates just to fill a seat.