Oct 2, 2008

After a lengthy screening process, the hiring committee feels it has found the right candidate for the company. Now comes the tricky part: how do you design an offer and go through the offer stage of the process without damaging the relationship with the candidate?

Many companies are not prepared to go through the offer step of the process. As a result, they damage the relationship with the candidate. This leads to one of two unfortunate conclusions. Either they lose the candidate or the candidate comes on board, but with scar tissue. Applying some of the best practices from the sales world into a sales talent screening program helps to avoid that scenario.

The offer stage of the hiring process parallels the proposal phase of sales. Best practices in sales say that you don’t present a proposal until a thorough needs analysis has been completed. If a sales person is presenting a proposal to a prospect, he has acquired the information needed to design a solution, has discussed budget, has a full understanding of their solution requirements, and has set an expectation on pricing. This is certainly the case if the salesperson is going to be successful in winning the account.

Looking at this process in relation to the offer stage of the sales talent screening program, many of the same best practices from sales hold true. During the screening program, information needs to be gathered from the candidate to determine their financial requirements. Unfortunately, many sales talent screening programs focus exclusively on screening the candidate for fit, but do not consider the needs for the offer phase of the process. This leads to a last-minute scurry to mine the information from the candidate, or they design the offer blindly. Neither of those are best practices for the offer stage.

In sales, it is said that if you are going to lose, lose early. This prevents you from making a huge investment in a relationship that will not generate revenue. The parallel to screening sales talent is understanding the financial requirements of the candidate early enough to stop the process before over-investing in the relationship. There is no point in continuing a process with a candidate who requires a compensation level 25% above what you can offer. This probably seems logical, but hiring executives rarely focus on this as a de-selection element early in the process.

Just like discussing pricing with a prospect, the financial-needs discussion requires finesse. The candidate knows that you are asking questions about their financials, just like a prospect knows a sales person is fishing for budget information. The better-skilled salespeople tell their prospects, “I don’t want to waste your time by getting you excited about a solution that will not fit in your budget constraints…”

In much the same way, this discussion can be had with the candidate, “I don’t want to excite you about an opportunity that might not be a match for your financial needs. As you look at making a change in position, what thoughts have you given to your compensation requirements?”

With continued finesse, you can dig further into the mix of salary versus commission. Some candidates may rebuff this discussion as they feel the information will be used against them. In some instances, they are justified for having that concern. Hopefully, that is not the case in your company. We’ll come back to this point later. The bottom line is that the two goals of this phase are to gather information that allow you to formulate an offer and to de-select those candidates whose requirements exceed your financial package.

In sales, the proposal phase should not be like a magic show. The prospect should not be shocked by what is included in the proposal. In essence, the proposal is the documentation of what has already been discussed. No surprises. The same holds true for candidates. The time to review the compensation plan details is not after they are hired, or even at the offer stage. The compensation plan should be reviewed at the point where you have a genuine interest in pursuing the candidate and they have a complete enough understanding of the company that they will be able to comprehend the compensation plan.

One of the core requirements associated with any process is that it is measurable. The offer phase of the sales talent screening program should be measured statistically to determine effectiveness. The key statistic is number of offers made versus ones that are accepted. If the acceptance level is less than 80%, the process should be reviewed by asking the following questions.

  1. At what point of the process are the candidate’s financial requirements reviewed?
  2. When it is known that the candidate’s financial requirements exceed the package, is the candidate removed from the process?
  3. At what step is the compensation plan reviewed with the candidate?
  4. In what level of detail is the compensation plan reviewed with the candidate?
  5. How often is the initial offer to the candidate rejected, and subsequently, negotiated successfully?

The last question in the list above ties back to my opening position about damaging the relationship. Again, this ties back to lessons that can be learned from sales. Many years ago, a procurement training specialist shared a pearl about the counsel he gives to salespeople who ask about pricing strategy. He said, “Provide us with the best pricing that you feel comfortable providing and either way you are happy.” This always puzzled salespeople so he explained further. “If you provide your best pricing and are selected, you are happy because you won the account. If you are not selected because we found lower pricing elsewhere, you are happy because you would not have been happy at that price point. Again, either way you are happy.”

Consider this when making an offer to the sales candidate. Develop an offer based on what was learned from the candidate that represents the best offer you are willing to make. Early in the process, tell the candidate that you don’t negotiate offers, but rather put your best offer on the table upfront. It demonstrates a professional message to the candidate and reduces their fear of attempts to lowball them. When companies negotiate offers, while they may “win” the candidate, they damage the relationship. This person is onboarded with the worst scar tissue of all, a lack of trust. The salesperson will always be on the lookout for the company to try to cheat them.

As with any component of the sales talent screening process, preparation is the key to success. Organize your team and design a process that achieves your desired results. This will allow you to create longlasting, fruitful sales marriages.

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