What's the Best Way to Find a Good Salesperson

By David Kahle

Good question! It seems that everyone has a favorite response. Some people only use recruiters, and others swear by networking. But classified ads continue to be the most common choice. Almost everyone who hires salespeople will, at some time, search for prospects via the "help wanted" section.

In order to improve your changes of finding a good salesperson through the use of classified ads, it's important to use them well. Here's how.

Step One. Precisely describe your program.

    Your program is the total package you are offering to your potential salesperson. It includes a detailed description of the territory, your expectations for performance, a task-defining job description, your compensation plan, training program, and description of available selling tools. Add an honest evaluation of the market and your competition, and a straight forward description of the salesperson's long term opportunities with your firm.

    This may sound like a lot of work, and it is. However, it's been my observation that many (if not most) sales hires fail because of a lack of clear focus on the part of management. Since you (management) are unclear about exactly what you expect out of a salesperson, your communication in the interview process leaves a lot of details unresolved. The recruit substitutes his own set of expectations and develops his own assumptions.

    Then, your unarticulated expectations conflict with his/hers, and the hire is a failure with both sides pointing fingers at the other. It's what I call the FUZZY PRINCIPLE. The FUZZY PRINCIPLE is the primary reason for failed sales hires. It states that management is often fuzzy in knowing what it is looking for and offering. This fuzziness of thought leads to unclear communications. And unclear communication leads to poor decisions. Poor decisions lead to inappropriate hires. And inappropriate hires lead to failed situations.

    The cure for THE FUZZY PRINCIPLE is hard work -- a lot of disciplined attention to details. Spend the extra time early in the hiring process to clearly and precisely articulate, in writing, your program and profile, and that alone will increase your percentages of acquiring a winning performer.
Step Two: Clearly describe your profile.
    Once you've described your program, the next step is to describe your ideal salesperson. Think in terms of that person's demographics, psychographics, experience and character traits, and write a word picture of your ideal recruit.

    Keep in mind that you may never hire someone who is a perfect match to your ideal profile. However, if you don't have the ideal clearly in mind, you'll have nothing to which to compare your recruits. And, if you're fuzzy in your conception of who you're looking for, the chances are greatly increased that you'll be impressed by the first person who has some experience in your industry, looks nice and seems pleasant.

    Demographics refers to outwardly describable characteristics such as age, sex, education, social-economic level, etc. And, while you may not discriminate based on those, you can certainly develop a word picture of the person from whom your customers would be most likely to buy.

    Psychographics describes the person's relational and behavior style.

    Character traits are those qualities of character that the recruit has developed: Things like persistence, high energy level, integrity, etc. I believe these qualities are far more important than any product knowledge, specific skills or experience. I counsel my clients to hire someone based on who he is, not what he knows.

    Now that you've done the necessary homework, it's time to craft the ad itself. The single most important concept to work with is this: Think of your classified ad as a direct-response ad. Since you're going to attempt to cause the right people (prospective sales people) to take some action, (respond to your ad) you must follow the principles of direct response advertising.
Step Three: Soberly evaluate the strengths and weakness of your program, and describe the target groups to whom you think your program will appeal.
    In marketing terms, decide "Who is our market?"

    Potential salespeople don't all look the same. They have a wide variety of backgrounds, experience levels, expectations and ambitions -- just like consumers. And, just like consumers, they should be classified into appropriate sub-groups (target markets) in order to target the message directly to those people most likely to respond.

    For example, we can identify groups like entry level sales candidates who have had retail experience, career changers who have had a long standing interest in sales but never an opportunity to develop it, experienced sales pros in the prime of their careers, older men and women who may have been forced out of a position due to management changes, etc. The lists of the types of groups of potential salespeople could take pages.

    The point is that in order to write a good ad, you first must determine the specific market to whom you're targeting the ad.

    Once you've done that, it's time to develop the details of the ad.
Step Four. Write the ad.
    Begin with an attention-attracting headline that describes your strongest attraction to the target group.

    Here's an example. One of my clients sold a big-ticket item to homeowners. Based on our analysis of our program and profile, we determined to target two specific groups: Experienced one-call closers who were looking for a stable, ethical company, and career changers who had sales potential but had never had an opportunity to fully explore their sales ability.

    Since we had two markets, we wrote two ads, each appealing to the market we were trying to attract.

    The first headline read: "Experienced Sales Pros Looking for a Home -- Unlimited Income."

    The second read "Marketing Representative -- Will Train."

    After the headline, the next step is to describe the features and benefits of your program in short phrases and sentences. Here's an example from the same client.

    "Join 50 year old national company, manage local territory. Unlimited commission, all fringes, thorough training with an industry leader."

    And, the same position targeted to the entry level people:

    "Ensure your success at sales by joining our national company. We offer a testing/selection process to help determine your sales potential, an outstanding training program, salary, commission, great fringe package, local territory, and growing industry."

    Next, describe some qualifiers in order to make the job appear somewhat exclusive and thus appealing to those people who feel they are right for the position. Here's that language from the same ad:

    "If you're experienced at one-call selling, have a track record of ethical success..."

    And, from the other market...

    "Must have sales aptitude and be willing and able to learn."

    Next, close by offering multiple ways of responding to the ad.

    "Call Mr. Smith at........or write to us at........."

    Finally, finish with specific identification of the company, listing the company name, address and phone number. To add credibility, use your company's logo.
Step Five: Place the ad correctly.
    That means choosing the best newspaper(s), and making sure the ad appears in the best place in that newspaper.

    Get copies of the Sunday editions of all those available in your area. Compare the "Sales HelpWanted" sections of each, and use the paper with the most entries in that section.

    Generally, it's not effective to run your ad every day of the week. The Sunday edition will be read by most of the people looking for sales positions. However, many papers have a special that combines Sunday with one or two other days, and is worth considering.

    Next, if you're appealing to experienced salespeople, place your ad in the "Sales Help Wanted" section. If you have an entry level position, use the "General Help Wanted" section.

Follow this process and you'll improve both the quantity and the quality of your responses.

Copyright 2000 by Dave Kahle