My company, Lockton, is a sales-led company that has a very intriguing setup. Salespeople at Lockton are very well-regarded, and an office can be built around a highly successful one.
Our model is a high-risk, high-reward type of opportunity that offers great financial success once you reach a certain level. Traditionally HR has not been involved at all in the sourcing and recruitment of these individuals. That all changed when in fall 2008 Lockton engaged in a sales recruiting experiment that I was fortunate enough to get involved with.
Senior management selected five markets to target to find successful C-Level B2B salespeople. Basically, we were going to hire some great top-level salespeople and teach them our industry. The types of backgrounds were fairly stringent with regard to minimum amounts of experience, documented exceptional levels of success in sales at the C-level, amounts of revenue produced per deal, community involvement, and other factors. They then partnered with two search firms that varied greatly in their approaches. One of the search firms was very research-based and very selective in who they contacted and targeted and ultimately presented to my company. The other firm was much more industry-specific and took a “smile-and-dial” type of approach that has had some good success with several of our locations. My supervisor got me in front of management as an internal option to see if I could have any success. I was the litmus test and was given the smallest market to try to develop some candidates.
We spent $60,000 with the two firms in four markets that produced one live interview and phone interview. I set up six interviews in my initial market that resulted in one hire and was then quickly put on to two other markets that resulted in four hires out of the eight total hired across the country.
What led to being successful in this initial search, when the firms that do this for a living were not?
There are a variety of reasons for this, and I’m writing about them in more detail in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership, but it boils down to several main ones.
First of all, I know my company very well. I have studied our industry extensively and have asked a lot of questions about the various pieces of it. I am able to effectively communicate what it is that makes our company unique and what type of person it appeals to. Second, I asked a lot of questions on the front end. When I first got involved in this project I met with four of our successful salespeople and asked them why they joined my company, what obstacles they had building up their business, and a whole lot of other questions in order to gain a good understanding of the value proposition. I wanted to know what type of person this opportunity would appeal to and who it would not. I wanted to know the toughest thing about it, as well as the best things about being in sales at Lockton.
Finally, I physically traveled to the office I was working with and got their buy-in by showing I was working with them and in their best interests. This was most likely the biggest reason why this project worked: that I traveled to the office I was working with and got an understanding from them of what would work in their office. It is one thing if senior management wants to do something, but another to get the buy-in from the office that it is actually affecting. By doing this I was able to find out what would work there and what wouldn’t. The senior folks in that office were very candid about who they would (and would not) take a chance on hiring.
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I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t believe search firms can do a good job. They can. It has been my experience from being on both sides of the fence that the right group can be a true partner with a corporate company. If they do many of the same things discussed here, such as getting to know the business very well, than they can and should be successful.
Take Your Time
High achievers want to get results now. If you decide this is something that is worth pursuing and would be of value to you and your company, realize it will take time. You have to think of it as building a search practice within your company. To build any well-regarded practice, you need to start with an initial successful search and build on it. Make sure you have a supervisor who is in your corner and believes in your abilities. If you work with someone like this, they will do their best to get you in front of the decision-makers when the opportunity presents itself. When you do have a chance to get involved with a senior-level search, jump on it with enthusiasm and a well-thought-out plan. Once you are able to show that you can be successful in this role, the word will get out and more people in your company will want your assistance on the next search. And the next one. And we all know you can’t beat a great referral built on a previous success.