About the Author

Marie Warner is founder and President of Warner Professional Sales, LLC. Warner Professional Sales helps companies achieve sales force success through people, performance and planning. Warner Professional Sales helps companies get more revenue growth from their sales force by recruiting the right sales staff, 2) training and developing those sales professionals to consistently exceed revenue goals, and helping management to define and implement the best sales "process" and tactics for sales cycle control, territory assignments and quota planning.

Marie brings to client engagements over two-decades of leadership in the sale of technology, consulting and financial products and services to the Fortune 1000 and major financial institutions. This includes nine years of experience as Chief Sales Officer, in both enterprise-level and start-up organizations.

Marie Warner has authored articles in Mass High Tech, SalesResources.com, SalesVantage.com, EyesOnSales.com, Software Sales Journal, SalesDoctors, and Women’s Business  and has been interviewed by Forbes.com on successful sales strategies and tactics. She is a member of NETSEA (New England Technology Sales Executives Association), NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners); The Commonwealth Institute, NAPS (National Association of Personnel Services), and Founder and Director of Boston Women ConnectSM. Marie is also a CustomerCentric Selling® Business Partner, and participates in numerous other entrepreneurial, technology and marketing organizations.

Marie Warner can be reached by email at  mwarner@warnerprosales.com or phone at (617)489-4528.

How Long Can You Hold Your Breath?
Delaying the Sales Hire

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The latest CareerBuilder Survey reports that only 26% of firms have planned to increase hiring in 2013. This percentage is little changed from 2012 and 2011, with expected gains of 23% and 24% respectively.

At the same time, profit and revenue goals increased in 2013, and many sales hiring managers are mandated to meet those targets with the same or fewer sales staff. This cautious approach keeps fixed costs down, but Sales Managers are finding sales velocity slowing, and selling cycles lengthening.

Too-lean sales staffing eventually undermines any firm's ability to grow and sustain new revenue. It also erodes customer satisfaction and retention, leading to cancelled orders and revenue lost "out the back door."

How long can you hold your breath?

It gets worse. After delaying the sales hiring decision, and finally receiving the go-ahead to add or fill headcount, it is now taking over 6 months to recruit and hire a sales professional. Yet only 26% of firms are increasing staffing -- why is it taking so long to hire?

Here are three possible reasons for that lengthy time-to-hire and ideas that you and your firm can use to help rebuild your team.

  1. Confidence that the economy is strengthening has motivated sales talent to explore new opportunities. Firms are now challenged to retain sales professionals who have been "in lock-down" until this turn-around. Salaries and incentive pay at some companies have plateaued at low "recession" levels, making their sales compensation plans non-competitive.

    One of my clients complained that a competitor was poaching field sales - the "coveted" consultative rep with two to five years of sales success. Exit interviews revealed that this competitor was offering a 60% higher base salary, and 70% higher total package. Even the most loyal Sales Rep will find such an opportunity hard to resist.

  2. Solution: Evaluate sales compensation plans to remain competitive in the industry and geographic market. While it's true that most employees do not resign for higher pay, a 60% increase in base is highly seductive to a money-motivated sales professional.

    To counteract smaller pay differentials - 10% to 25% - be creative with non-cash incentives to retain top performers and attract new talent. For example, sales assessment and training boosts the productivity of the current sales and sales management team, and is perceived as a sign of the firm's commitment to the sales by the candidate.

  3. Many firms remain skittish about adding the fixed cost of a new sales hire. Interviewing slows intentionally as the quarter-end approaches, then halts completely while revenue results are tallied, to see if it "makes sense" to add sales staff. Consequently, the promising sales candidate being recruited moves on to accept a job offer at another company - feeling disgruntled with the scuttled interview process.

    As a former Chief Sales Officer who has hired dozens of sales reps, and in my current role leading a Sales Search firm, I have found that the best potential sales candidates are most often sourced in the first three weeks of any search. Starting, stopping - then starting the sales recruitment again dilutes the talent pool -- plus word gets around that the hiring effort may not be really serious.

    Solution: Put together a "Project Plan" for recruiting and hiring sales staff and stick to it. Once a promising candidate enters the interview cycle, make certain that there are milestone activities weekly (more frequently is better) to advance that individual to finalist status. Many Sales Managers are juggling leadership roles plus individual quota assignments. Effective sales hiring does demand significant time. If candidate interviewing and evaluation can't be a top priority, delegate recruitment to a colleague who is able to devote the time commitment -- or seek help. Drawing on 20 years of sales leadership, I have consulted as a "proxy" hiring Sales VP for clients, interviewing, assessment testing and reference checking to qualify a "short list" of the top potential hires. To further streamline hiring the "right" candidate, we deliver written candidate-to-candidate comparisons and suggested interview guidelines.

  4. "Purple Squirrel Syndrome" has crept into sales hiring. The Purple Squirrel Syndrome refers to the tendency for an employer to seek the absolutely "perfect" candidate. This individual - like a purple squirrel - does not exist. Purple Squirrel Syndrome may reflect the fact that the manager fears making a hiring mistake. Or it may be the perception that there are lots of sales people looking for work, so the perfect candidate must be "out there". Whatever the reason, Purple Squirrel Syndrome needlessly increases time-to-hire, and fosters ill-will toward the hiring firm in the candidate pool.

    Solution: Be realistic about the requirements and background needed to succeed as a sales professional at your firm. Implement assessment testing of top performers to develop a Candidate Profile that reflects core characteristics, and be willing to train individuals who meet this profile, but may not meet the full "punch list" of experience.

No one can win the World Series with only seven athletes in the bullpen. As a former VP of Sales in both start-ups and large enterprises, I know that the entire company must support the effort and the upfront investment in rebuilding the sales organization after a downturn. We can't hold our breath any longer. Take action now to meet 2013 goals by training, motivating and rewarding your current team, plus staffing to full strength.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved.

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