The Power of a Needs Analysis Strategy When Recruiting Sales Candidates

Jul 28, 2009

David walks into Mr. Stevens’ office for a first meeting. He shakes Mr. Stevens’ hand, opens his briefcase, and proceeds to lecture about the greatness of his products. The harangue lasts about 45 minutes. As he continues to talk, David packs up his materials, again shakes Mr. Stevens’ hand, and walks out of the office.

He’s barely out of the building when he calls his sales manager to debrief on the meeting. “I told him about our latest products and all the great colors that it comes in. It was a great meeting … I talked the whole time … We are going to get this deal!”

Anyone who has been in sales for even a minute can see the glaring flaw in this meeting.

The salesperson talked the entire time and presented features and benefits without knowing what his prospect needed. David completely missed the needs analysis part of the meeting, which is the most critical part of any sales process.

The life of a recruiter parallels that of a salesperson. Recruiters need to develop a needs analysis strategy when recruiting sales candidates just like salespeople do when pursuing prospects. Lecturing candidates on how wonderful the company is does not bring about excitement any more than it did with Mr. Stevens. Sales managers often refer to that approach as throwing darts while blindfolded. A candidate recruiting strategy using David’s approach is destined for the same fate.

No such thing as a great salesperson. To develop your needs analysis strategy, you need to start with a foundational question. What is your goal of the sales recruiting process? “It’s obvious … hire great sales people!” Wrong! Folks, there is no such thing as a great salesperson. You read correctly. Don’t believe me? How many of these so-called great salespeople have been hired by your company and failed? How can you explain this rock star failing in your company? If you believe that great salespeople exist, then the explanation for their failure is one of two things. Your company is the absolute worst for which to sell. Or, the salesperson completely forgot how to sell when they arrived on your doorstep. There is no door number three.

A salesperson’s success isn’t just based on their sales skills. Success is based on the synergistic match of needs, wants, and desires between the role and the salesperson. This means that the goal of the process is to serve as a matchmaker between these two entities. In essence, you are formulating a sales marriage between the candidate and the firm.

Who do you want to hire? The first step is to develop a profile of your ideal sales candidate and prioritize the attributes between required and desired ones. Just like the salesperson needs a profile of the ideal client, the recruiter needs a profile of the ideal candidate to develop their needs analysis strategy. This detailed, written description presents a comprehensive picture of the successful candidate for the role. This document serves as the basis for the entire sales talent screening program. Interviews, mock roleplays, and assessments should compare the candidate to this profile. The needs analysis strategy should be geared toward identifying synergies, or lack thereof, between the candidate and the opportunity.

Knowing what to ask and when. In sales, the needs analysis serves a number of purposes, including exposing prospects who are more like suspects. The same goes for the recruiter. Part of the needs analysis strategy is to quickly identify fatal flaws in the candidate that would remove him or her from employment consideration. They say if you are going to lose, lose early.

Ah, but what are those areas for the recruiter to explore? It comes back to the profile of the ideal candidate. Those areas that are deemed “required” attributes of the successful candidate provide the exploration list. For example, if one of the requirements in the profile is that the candidate must have extensive experience selling services in the C-suite, a question asking about the candidate’s prowess in doing so brings this to light.

Getting ready to propose. When a salesperson conducts an effective needs analysis, they gather information that helps them develop the scope for a proposal, including pricing. However, asking intimate questions about the prospect’s current situation cannot be effectively done unless the salesperson has earned the right to do so. It may occur in a first meeting, but it may be a little later in the process. However, the strong seller knows that they can’t develop a winning proposal without knowing as much as possible about the current situation.

The same holds true when you get to the offer stage of the sales talent-screening program. When you reach the time to extend an offer, much like the well-skilled salesperson, the expectation is that it will be accepted. Who has time to waste on prospects who aren’t going to buy? It’s a rather ugly day for the sales rep who gets blind-sided by a competitor who wins the account.

The recruiting experience is much the same. Making a huge investment in a candidate only to lose them to another opportunity is costly and wasteful. A recruiter should never be surprised by a candidate rejecting an offer because it was $20,000 lower than what they were looking for. This requirement should have been uncovered and worked through well-before the offer stage … during the needs analysis.

As part of the needs analysis strategy, the recruiter also needs to know what it will take for a candidate to leave their current employer, if they are looking at other opportunities, and where this opportunity ranks in contrast with the others — just to name a few. Keep in mind that the No. 1 killer of sales pipelines is status quo: the decision to do nothing. The common cause of this affliction is a poor needs analysis strategy. The same holds true when recruiting. If the candidate elects to keep their current position, your needs analysis strategy may be the root cause of status quo keeping the candidate from accepting the position.

The big picture is that every question asked in the needs analysis strategy must have a purpose, which is to identify the matches to the ideal candidate profile. The stronger the match, the stronger your sales marriage. If you would like my tip sheet on developing an effective sales recruiting needs analysis strategy, send me an email.

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