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Hiring and Retaining Top Sales Talent

Hiring and Retaining Top Sales Talent

By Ken Clark, Hawthorne Executive Search

At the recent ADP conference held in Austin, TX, I had a unique opportunity to address the independent publisher community on a topic that is near and dear to every publisher in this industry - how to hire and retain top sales talent. This article provides a summary of that presentation. If I could pick a couple key points I made to the attendees, they really revolved around these three:
The results of a survey that Hawthorne Executive Search conducted with over 700 sales reps/account executives and selling managers across a wide range of publishers - big and small.

How the recruiting landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years.
And some thoughts behind why the industry, as well as other businesses, are all struggling to attract new sales talent
Survey Says:

We conducted primary research online with a survey that went out to over 700 sales reps and selling managers. The actual survey asked 20 questions and had a comment block.
Sales reps & selling managers only
Gender: 66% Male, 28% Female
Age: 25%: under 30 yrs old, 30%: 31 to 41, 45%: 42+
How long in YP Industry?
45%: 1-5 years
15%: 6-10 years
35%: 11-15 years
5%: 16+ years
How long in your current position? 90% -- 1 to 5 yrs
First, we asked reps/selling managers for their thoughts about their job:
Q: I like the kind of work I do//The work I do is important:
90% Agree/Strongly Agree
Q: My job makes good use of my skills & abilities:
Only 50% Agree/Strongly Agree
Q: I am given real opportunity to improve my skills:
60%: Yes
40%: No
Our read from these results in that folks are generally happy but not feeling like they are full engaged or that their skill sets are being totally utilized. This result is not inconsistent with other industries - a recent Gallup Organization poll showed that 70% of US employees feel they are either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" at work.

We then asked them about their company:
Q: I know how my work relates to company goals/priorities & Company leaders clearly communicate goals/priorities:
80% Agree/Strongly Agree
Q: I would recommend company as good place to work:
75% Agree/Strongly Agree
Q: I would recommend YP industry as good place to work in:
25% Strongly Agree, 70% Agree
Overall people seem happy with the company they work for and the leadership. The only warning flag I saw was that they were not super excited about the Yellow Pages industry. I would have expected sales people to respond more strongly in favor about this question. There were also a few comments that indicated a real uneasiness about the future of the industry since it is so heavily based on the print products right now.

I think it's an early indication that as an industry, we need to do some more public relations work about why this such a great industry to work in. I am not sure the world at large has gotten that message. My concern is that without a stronger public profile, the industry will struggle to continue to attract high quality, college educated, young people into sales in the future.

The Hiring Landscape:

No doubt, the Internet has had a monumental impact on the process of hiring with easy access to job boards such as Monster, Career Builder, and the Ladders. As a result, there is a new way to hire – via the Net. The flip side is that with the advent of the Internet, candidates are also much more aware of what opportunities are out there, what they pay, and what it is like to work for a company. A number of sites such as Vault.com allow employees to post comments about their experiences at the company for other future candidates to look at with comments on areas such as pay, culture, and processes.

What's also different about the landscape is how frequently people change companies. No longer does someone work for a single company for their entire career as my father did. On average, someone stays with a company for about 4 years. That average is not specific to the Yellow Pages industry. It is an overall employment trend. What's behind that trend is that candidates tell us it really isn't so much that they hate their job. I think you saw that in the survey numbers I just showed you. Instead, it is really more about making a change to springboard to that next position, those career opportunities they seek.

What is also clear from the primary research, and from the many discussions we have on a daily basis with potential candidates, when it comes to hiring people, this industry is battling a generation shift that cannot be ignored.

For example, here is a recent ad from the heavy IT oriented Dice.com job board. It is a very different type ad than the one I responded to some 25 years ago when looking for my first job.

Baby Boomers, Generation X (born between 1964 and 1982), and Generation Y (Born in 80's) think differently, want significantly different things out of life than previous generations, and are demanding new business models to give them the kinds of work experiences they seek.

Since about 75% of the audience was from the Baby Boomer generation, I offered them some suggestions on how to work with Gen X and Gen Y based on recent interviews with both groups, and the kinds of feedback our team of 10 recruiters hear from the many people we talk to each day. While it is always a little dangerous talking about genetic stereotypes, these are the suggestions I offered:

  1. Give them the big picture - the mission, the vision, the values you expect/want. Gen Y and Y want to know about the company as much as they do about the position they are being contacted for.
  2. Explain their role, why, and what's in it for them. They want to see a complete job description even if nothing is changed from the last time the company ran it.
  3. Set expectations up front. Clearly define their roles and responsibilities preferably in writing.
  4. Talk to them. Directly interact with them regardless of your reporting structure.
  5. Walk the talk. Model the behaviors you expect from them. They will only respect you if you do what you ask them to do also.
  6. In performance reviews "straight talk", both the good and bad are preferred.
  7. Find situations to reward and publicly acknowledge results. Gen X and Y crave recognition.
  8. Lighten up. Have a sense of humor. Take the time to have fun! These folks want to have some fun. Yes, your work is serious, but have some fun at it.
  9. Many Gen X & Y people say they leave their job not because there is a strong reason to leave, but because there is no real compelling reason to stay. So give them some.

At Hawthorne Executive Search we have worked with our clients on how to be better prepared to interview, how to interview smarter, or even some help in understanding what their true corporate culture is so they can identify the real core competencies they should be looking for when hiring new sales talent.

In next month's issue I will provide you with some insights I shared with the attendees about how to be better at finding and keeping high quality candidates.

About Hawthorne Executive Search

Hawthorne Executive Search, is a full service executive search and consultancy focused strictly on the advertising, publishing and media industries. With decades of experience, Hawthorne Executive Search is an executive search and management firm that has assisted companies of all sizes in the recruitment and selection of top talent across North America and beyond. Every assignment managed by our firm includes the involvement of a principal, experienced in helping clients build high performance management teams.

With contacts on all levels of the organizational chart, from the senior management or "C" level, to field sales representatives and account executives, we have a database of over 5,000 professionals who are either currently or formerly employed in the directory industry.

By focusing strictly on one industry, there isn't a search outside of our comfort zone. We are able to execute most projects within 2-3 weeks from inception.

Some examples of successfully completed searches include:

  • Regional Sales Manager
  • Senior Vice President of Client Services
  • Production Manager
  • National Account Manager
  • Vice President of Sales
  • Vice President of Business Development
  • Account Supervisor
  • Media Planner
  • Managing Director

Our clients include publishers, both independent and incumbent, CMRs, Internet Yellow Pages and Search Engine Optimization firms, and suppliers to the directory industry.

With a commitment to the Yellow Page industry, our specialization enables us to maintain a 95% completion rate for all engaged projects we undertake.

Please feel free to contact us at:
Robert Hawthorne - 910-798-1800
Tina Barden - 910-798-1800
Jenny Ciappa-Ng - 800-622-1416
Ken Clark - 919-557-7502

Hawthorne Executive Search

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