Why Does Your Startup Keep Attracting The WORST Sales Applicants?

attracting talent to your company

Having trouble attracting talent to your company, particularly in the sales department? You’re not alone. Finding top sales talent is a major pain for startups and larger companies alike, especially in 2018.

Without the right people to ideate, build, and sell your product, profit will be less than optimal. In fact, superior talent is up to eight times (800%) more productive than average performers, according to a comprehensive research cited by McKinsey.

relationship between talent and business productivity

That is why the most valuable and successful organizations fiercely compete against each other in a relentless War for Talent just to find, hire, and retain elite professionals. Even then, 82% of Fortune 500 companies still believe they are not successful at hiring highly skilled people, and only two out of ten HR leaders from these big players think their recruitment and retention strategies actually work as planned.

Finding, attracting, and keeping such high performers on your roster will likely be a moonshot, especially if you’re running a fresh startup with bootstrapped resources. In contrast, the likelihood of attracting mediocre, unreliable, and crappy job applicants claiming to be competent sales professionals can go off the scales.

You wouldn’t want to waste time, money, and energy on these shenanigans but if you are sending the wrong signals, hordes of these unwanted sales candidates can swarm your recruitment process like a plague. So make an honest assessment of your brand messagingtalent culture, and recruitment journey. It might be that you are inadvertently drawing the wrong types of talent (e.g., good at making excuses, excellent at being mediocre, highly skilled in job hopping) under your banner.

7 Reasons Why Startups Are Not Attracting Talent (Especially in Tech Sales):

  1. You’re looking for sales talent in the wrong places.
  2. You’re using outdated recruitment practices.
  3. You project a corporate brand that lacks excitement.
  4. Your job ads are horrendous.
  5. Your comp plans do not give reps enough incentive.
  6. You convey a boring, tedious workplace reinforced by a gloomier career path.
  7. You provide a poor recruitment experience for applicants.

1) You’re looking for sales talent in the wrong places.

The job market is in flux. Not only are skills and talent in dire shortage but workplace demographic is also shifting. Baby boomers are retiring in droves while millennials and younger generations are steadily taking over the reins. Moreover, competent sales practitioners are often busy doing what they’re good at — which means they are closing deals or successfully building rapport with clients and not actively looking for jobs. You won’t reach them through traditional job boards or online postings. If you stick with traditional ways employers search for candidates, you’ll be left with the dregs of the job market.

TIP: Establish your company’s ideal sales candidate personas. Study the behavior of these personas and understand where you might reach potential candidates and how best to catch their attention. Use indirect but powerful messaging on social media channels (such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn), during industry events and conferences, and on specialist sites that provide content, training, and other resources for sales professionals.

2) You’re using outdated recruitment practices.

Process is key to efficiency but only when it evolves with emerging market realities. If you were to rely on snail-mailed resumes or on posting job ads on the Sunday paper for example, your competitors would have already on-boarded a few good candidates well before you can set a job interview with the sub-par applicants they’ve already rejected. Implementing a one-size-fits-all recruitment strategy would also short-change your team, especially when you deploy specialized roles in your sales organization.

TIP: The world has gone digital and you’ll lose out if don’t have a catchy, upbeat presence in online job boards and other channels. But even that is just the bare minimum. As mentioned previously, don’t rely solely on conventional postings. There are other tools such as applicant tracking systems (ATS) and cloud-based talent management platforms that you should try out. Build a virtual talent pool on social media channels by publishing thought leadership articles that are relevant to sales practitioners.

3) You project a corporate brand that flat out lacks excitement.

The moment you accept that your niche is unsexy is the moment you doom your team to a mindset of irrelevance. Your brand matters. If you go far afield with a brand and a disposition that shouts “boring,” you’ll repel excellent sales professionals who demand the best from employers in exchange for delivering outstanding performance. These elite sellers simply won’t settle for a timid, lackluster brand that doesn’t seem to care about the people behind it.

TIP: Millennials and younger generations place a high premium on “experience” and online reputation. Your corporate culture and “employer rating” will be at least as important to this subset of professionals as the compensation package you’ll offer them. The first step is to establish an open environment that values people and provides systemic support for their career, health, and happiness. Doing this equips HR or a public relations team with solid authenticity to present a workplace culture worth thriving in. Aim for audience mindshare by which your company comes top-of-mind each time an excellent sales practitioner begins looking for a new employer.

4) Your job ads are horrendous.

Your job posts says a lot about how much you value the role you are advertising for. Avoid using run-of-the-mill templates that don’t differentiate your brand, your needs, and the benefits you offer from those of other recruiters. Ambiguity, long-windedness, ridiculously high qualifications, triteness, grammatical errors, excessively formal tone, and disproportionate focus on the company can dissuade job seekers from further considering your post.

TIP: Be accurate, error-free, and upbeat when creating the copy for your job posts. Focus on what the job entails but fine-tune the message along the vantage point and emotional lens of a job seeker. Clarify both the requirements and the benefits. Don’t use a copy that sounds too formal or demanding. That will just scare half of the job market. But don’t make it sound too easy either because that turns off achievers looking for challenging roles.

5) Your compensation plans do not give reps enough incentive.

This is where the rubber hits the road. Most professionals place compensation near the top of their priorities and any recruiter playing scrooge on compensation risks discouraging good sales candidates from applying. Worse than scrimping is creating the impression that you are offering generous packages but can actually deliver a much smaller paycheck. Doing so causes major candidate frustration when they realize the truth and tarnishes your reputation down the road.

TIP: Be honest when it comes to compensation. If you offer above-market rates, it’s better to mention the package in your post to draw more applicants. Otherwise, hold off disclosing your hand and focus instead on non-monetary benefits such as free training, flexible schedule, and other perks you do offer. The bottomline is to persuade excellent candidates that your company is worth working for without resorting to dirty tricks.

6) You convey a boring, tedious workplace reinforced by a gloomier career path.

Compensation is a major part of the employment agreement but it is not everything. If your organization seems peculiarly like the company parodied in Dilbert and other satirical comic strips/television series, then you have a lot of house-cleaning to do. Tedious labor without the possibility of achieving a healthy work-life balance or getting sensible promotions drains motivation and productivity like a leaky faucet.

TIP: Make working with you both fun and fulfilling. Whenever applicable, send a clear message that salespeople are valued in your organization. Highlight advantages such as company-subsidized professional development programs, travel incentives, generous commissions, job meaning and impact, as well as clear career paths and growth avenues for sellers. If these are still in the wish list, think of other tangible ways you can make your company worth working for.

7) You provide a poor recruitment experience for applicants.

Your hiring process serves as a window to the actual day-to-day conditions in your workplace. A poor experience for applicants during this process portends a poor experience working for your company. If your recruitment process seems disorganized, unnecessarily takes a lot of time, and feels too convoluted, applicants will easily lose the appetite to see the whole thing through.

TIP: Create a clear and effective recruitment plan. Map out each step and set expectations at the onset of the hiring process so candidates are always clear and updated about their application status at any point in the process. Streamline interview questions and bridge any gap in communication across the engagement.

Key Takeaway: Good recruiters attract good candidates

You need competent salespeople to grow your startup. But they are hard to find and rarely come cheap. For highly skilled and motivated sellers to join your team, you have to do your part as a responsible employer that values its people. And it all starts with the applicant journey as sales candidates go through the stages of your recruitment process. To hire the best people, offer the best value you can.


Also published on Medium.