While technology has made many business tasks less onerous in the 21st century, one task that hasn’t become any easier is finding and recruiting new employees, especially new salespeople. Derek Hartsfield, managing partner at Gazillion Office Products, Frisco, Texas, says he goes after hiring new salespeople as aggressively as he goes after acquiring new business for his dealership.
Hartsfield pulls in leads on who to hire to fill sales positions from all comers. Referrals are always welcome or he might come across potential new hires as he goes about his daily business. He also uses online resources such as Monster, Career Builder, Indeed, Craig’s List and any other outlet he can find. “I look for people who are motivated, who are driven and who have a track record of success,” he says. “I throw as much against the wall as I can and see what sticks.”
FriendsOffice, Findlay, Ohio, relied primarily on ZipRecruiter for generating candidates up until recently, when LinkedIn became the preferred recruiting tool. “You have to pay to post your job on LinkedIn, but I found it very worthwhile; you get more quality candidates,” says Betsy Hughes, president of sales and marketing. She also mentions another LinkedIn service called Talent Solutions that helps attract qualified candidates.
Hughes works with local colleges and universities as sources for potential new hires. She consults with their business departments, judges student sales contests and is in the process of finalizing an internship program for underclassmen. Always recruiting new talent is printed on the back of her business cards. “If I meet somebody who is pretty dynamic when I am out, I hand them one of my cards with the back side up,” she says. She also tells them the sort of talent she looks for.
Check email skills
At Storey Kenworthy, Des Moines, Iowa, the human resources department does most of the early work to identify sales candidates. “It’s a mixture of HR, job boards, postings, networking and referrals,” says Lincoln Dix, vice president of sales. Potential candidates are then contacted via email.
Engaging through email is intentional, as the candidates’ replies are checked for responsiveness, professionalism, attention to detail and written communication skills, explains Dix. Often, half of the potential candidate pool will be eliminated in this phase, saving the dealership significant time and energy. Any candidate who looks promising is scheduled for an initial phone screen.
The phone screen is an informal call to allow the candidate to find out more about the company and the position it’s looking to fill. “It’s really a conversation for their benefit,” says Dix. “It gives them the opportunity to ensure that this is a career path that would be a good fit and in line with their goals and capabilities.” At the same time, the phone conversation allows Storey Kenworthy to assess their preparation. “We assume that candidates show us their absolute best in the recruiting process. If their absolute best isn’t good enough, we move on,” says Dix. Generally, the phone screen eliminates a further 50 to 60 percent of the remaining candidate pool.
Recruiting salespeople has gone through a metamorphosis at A. F. Smith, Hamilton, Bermuda. Due to the relatively small local population, Ian Nash, vice president of technology, used to look to the U.S. and Canada to recruit sales personnel. Unfortunately, those hires only tended to stay in the job about two years before they wanted to return home.
Instead, Nash now concentrates on the local population. “The skill set in terms of background may not be here for specialized sales in copier, print and solutions but if someone really loves sales and customer service, we can provide the training needed,” he says. While he was having his car serviced recently, he noticed a young woman at the customer service counter who impressed. “Someone like that I would have a conversation with to see if they had an interest in a role with my company,” he says.
Nash will grant an interview to anyone with an interest in joining the company under the supposition that you never know who might walk through the door next. “You can get a clear understanding of how serious someone is from key indicators such as their resume and their appearance at that first meeting,” he says.
Nash prefers face-to-face meetings early in the process to try to better understand job candidates. “If somebody cares about the job they are applying for, they are going to care about how well put together they appear and how well-spoken they are,” he says. Any serious job candidate should be prepared and as the meeting continues, there is generally enough time to get past obvious questions and get to know the person better.
Hartsfield has prospective sales hires meet with someone on his sales staff. As he puts it, “Pick someone who knows what to do.” The interviewee is instructed to ask whatever questions come to mind while the employee is expected to talk about what it is like to work for Gazillion. After the meeting he debriefs both. “I get good input like that,” he says.
On the lookout for
Sales can be hard positions to fill and that’s why management at VIP Office Furniture and Supply, Hinesville, Georgia, is always on the lookout for new sales talent. “We utilize online job sites, social media and basic networking,” says Tera Anderson, IT and operations manager. VIP also works with the local army post—Fort Stewart—and lists openings on the job board there looking for spouses of activity-duty military personnel. “We start our process with a telephone interview to see how well they communicate,” she adds.
Job descriptions are an important component of the hiring process at VIP. “When we have an opportunity we tailor the existing job description to better represent the new opportunity,” says Anderson. This makes sure that what’s expected of the candidate lines up with an up-to-date job description.
At Gorilla Stationers, Cypress, California, job descriptions are also taken seriously. “Roles change all the time so we’re very purposeful in our job descriptions,” says Rosemary Czopek, owner. She says when job descriptions are advertised every effort is made to make sure that the description listed actually matches what that job looks like. “In this industry, things change rapidly,” she adds.
Any interesting job candidate is first given a phone interview at Gorilla. If the phone interview holds promise, an in-person interview is scheduled; if that meeting proves interesting the candidate receives some testing. “We’ll do either a DISC test or competency test to get more insight into the candidate,” says Czopek. Tests reveal personality and natural tendencies of the job seeker and help assure that the best candidate is selected.
Gorilla has performed this additional testing for the past year and has found that it helps in hiring more quality people, according to Czopek. Current employees have been appraised using the same testing. “We tested our current staff to confirm they are in the right position,” she adds.
“We use an assessment tool called the Predictive Index,” says Dix. “It really helps us get a feel for who that candidate is on a conscious and subconscious level.” To help establish benchmarks the test was administered to sales leaders at Story Kenworthy. “We found a lot of congruence with what we think we are looking for and what our performance demonstrated. So we know that the assessment tool has a high level of accuracy,” he adds.
Onboarding new hires can be especially sensitive as a dealer is working to present itself in the best light at the same time as a new hire is being shown the ropes. The process can be complex and is practically guaranteed to be entirely different from one dealer to the next.
“We have a set onboarding standard for each department and that is customized per the position as every position is a bit unique,” says VIP’s Anderson. First, new hires are familiarized with the products and services that VIP offers. Each department works from a standard set of documentation to make sure every new hire receives the same information.
“We usually give it three to four weeks to get the daily routine down,” says Anderson. A person should be able to perform their job after three or four weeks and definitely should be proficient after 90 days. “We go back after three months and evaluate and address any issue,” she adds. “We understand that the learning process is ongoing all the time.”
Onboarding salespeople takes on a few different elements at Gazillion. “We’re going to teach them about the industry and about our company,” says Hartsfield. The opportunity is also taken to explain the culture at the dealership—how it differs from other independents and what makes it different from its big box competitors. During the onboarding period new sales hires will interact with virtually every employee and department.
New salespeople at Gazillion will spend a day sitting with the person who answers the phone, another day with an employee in collections and continue this round robin until they have worked in virtually every department. That time includes close to a week riding with one of the delivery drivers to learn how they work and get exposed to various customers. “I want them to know what these jobs are like and what they will need to know to set up new accounts,” Hartsfield says.
Onboarding runs on a 90-day schedule at Storey Kenworthy. “What we’re finding is the higher the quality of the candidate, the more abbreviated the onboarding schedule will be,” says Dix. For part of the onboarding process Storey Kenworthy has partnered with a local training organization to provide two days on the basics. Regardless of the amount of experience they might have all new sales hires are required to attend.
Sales recruits at Storey Kenworthy also do some field rides. “That way they get to see what they will be doing every day,” Dix adds. Feedback is also obtained from the tenured rep who rode with the new hire to see how they interacted with clients and their new team member. “Even though the candidate is hired, we’re still assessing their ability to perform,” Dix adds. “If we’ve made a bad hire, our goal is to fail fast and move forward quickly.”
The culture at Storey Kenworthy comes with its own monetary value. Dix says that people are paid well but not overpaid because the value the dealership brings to the relationship through its culture is part of the compensation package. “There is not a dealership or big box out there that can compete with us on culture and how we treat our employees,” says Dix. He has walked away from candidates who looked good on paper but didn’t share the same values, because hiring them would have introduced conflict into his sales organization.
At FriendsOffice, Hughes has developed a combination recruiting and onboarding program called “Ready S.E.T. Go – Sales Executive Training.” (See sidebar) The program is posted on the FriendsOffice website and in part functions as a recruiting tool. Job postings are listed on the website’s Careers page and on the right-hand side of that page is the Ready S.E.T. Go logo, a picture of Hughes and the statement that college graduates could start a sales career with the program. Hughes has also shared the program with the universities she regularly visits.
Technology impacts hiring
Although many aspects of the hiring dance have remained unchanged for decades, like almost everything in our culture, hiring has been impacted by technology. The most obvious intersection is with social media. “A lot of our referrals come through social media,” says Anderson. VIP’s webpage will post job openings and its employees, who are regularly on social media, help spread the word. Many applicants have their own social media pages and these are reviewed as well. “With the age of technology it’s natural to browse to see what their interests are, what kind of connections they have and do we know someone they know,” she adds.
“Before we hire someone I am absolutely going to look at their social media accounts,” says Hartsfield. He will look at social media pages before an interview and search for any commonalities that he might discuss with the job applicant. Social media frequently can provide those sorts of connections. “I just want to know a little about the person,” he says. “Is there something that connects me to this person? Is there something we have in common I could talk about during the interview?”
Along with the upside of social media usage there is also the possibility to learn more than you might ever want to know. More than one dealer reports that certain postings might be problematic and show characteristics that may not be welcome in a dealership.
Before you consider dismissing a job applicant because of something you saw on her Facebook account, though, understand it could get you in hot water. In Iowa, for example, state law forbids this sort of activity. “We are not allowed to look at somebody’s social media page and disqualify them based on what we find,” explains Dix. He points out that laws will vary from state to state but at least in Iowa social media posts can’t legally be considered as part of the hiring process. This is especially true if anything in the candidate’s social media feed touches on any form of protected status criteria such as age, race, religious background or gender identity.
Social media also plays an important role in defining a dealer’s culture. “We can really show who we are and what makes us unique,” says Mayra Austin, operations manager at Gorilla Stationers. The dealership is woman-owned and that in itself serves as a ready signpost for some job prospects. “Social media is a great platform to engage the different kind of company that we are and how we are positioning ourselves for the future,” says Austin. Using social media, an effort is made to portray the dealership as a fun, focused and energized organization.
Video interviewing is another technology that has been accepted almost across the board as standard in the process. Nash suggests that video technology brings an additional component to the interview, as now you don’t just talk with a job prospect, you also get to see them and gauge reactions. “What are their reactions? Are they reading off a script?” he asks. These are signs to watch for.
At VIP, phone interviews are still the standard opening salvo in any hiring activity. “We have tried video interviewing and it has not been extremely successful,” says Anderson. “Everyone has a different comfort level with technology and through a resume you can’t always gauge how comfortable a person might be with technology,” she adds. “As a general rule everyone is familiar enough with the phone interview that we have forgone video.”
The big box connection
When asked about hiring big box salespeople to join their team, almost no one has a better answer than Dix at Storey Kenworthy. Dix came from a big box background himself, and has gone back to that source more than once to hire salespeople. To succeed with former big box employees, though, he says you have to manage expectations.
Dix knows from experience that there is a level of entitlement big box salespeople can bring with them as a result of having worked for one of the mega office products resellers. These individuals, he stresses, have to be trained properly. “They may know products but they won’t know your systems and they can create unnecessary havoc for the rest of your team if they are not onboarded culturally,” says Dix.
They must come to understand the difference between how transactions were handled previously with a big box supplier and how the dealership handles these same activities. Dix suggests that you check in regularly with any big-box graduates to see what they might be missing and identify any areas that may require additional input. “At the end of the day you have to make sure they are prepared properly; otherwise you’re setting them, and the dealership, up for failure,” he adds.
A big mistake dealers often make with hiring is moving too fast because they have an empty position that needs to be filled. At FriendsOffice, Hughes has been searching for a sales director for some time, but says she has yet to hit on the ideal individual to fill that slot. She will not be rushed into making a decision, however. Besides rushing into hiring, she adds that skipping background checks is a huge mistake. “We were going to hire somebody and did a background check where major issues came up,” she says. “In today’s world it’s important. I don’t think dealers do that as much as they should.”
Anderson is in full agreement. As she puts it, you have to be sure applicants can do what their resume suggests they can do. “You need to make sure that skills they have listed on their resume are truly skills they possess,” she says. She adds you need to check references and ascertain that applicants represent themselves truthfully.
Gazillion’s Hartsfield offers one final piece of advice on hiring. As the person conducting the interview you too need to prepare in advance. “I should know something about this person before he walks in the door,” he says. “I should know what questions I am going to ask.” Hartsfield has a list of interview questions he has crafted and honed over decades that he works from to elicit the specific information he wants from applicants.
Hartsfield also makes sure to review the resume and social media posts on an applicant before conducting an interview. “I need to know something about them because if I don’t it will show that I am unprepared,” he adds. “That just sets the wrong tone for everything.”
Michael Chazin is a freelance writer specializing in business topics, who has written about the office supply business for more than 15 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.