A collaborative blog post with Pete Smith.
“We are in a talent war”. Maybe you’ve heard this statement recently. We certainly are hearing it frequently from CEOs and other senior executives of software companies. Yet, in this war, so many of the wounds seem to be self-inflicted or from friendly fire.
To win a war, you need to commit resources, take risks, act with urgency and often invoke a flair for dramatic or brazen acts. Sales professionals will say the same applies to selling. We argue this equally applies to talent acquisition strategy and recruiting so our question to you is: “Would you run your sales process like you run recruiting?”
These days, it’s harder to find great talent than it is to find new customers. Recruitment is a sales process. Yet, while leaders state that talent is a competitive advantage, few companies run their recruitment function with the rigor, foresight, or resources that they devote to their sales function. In other words, if companies are losing at the “war for talent,” then they’re doing so not because of competition or external forces, but because they’re fighting ineffectively: no strategy, old and ineffective tactics, poor messaging, and lack of data or forecasts to guide decisions.
To make our point, we would like to compare and contrast typical sales and recruiting processes.
Talking with sales leaders, we’ve found common sales processes and management techniques across industries. Sales starts with defining the value proposition, which is converted into messaging aimed at a target market of prospects to generate leads. Leads are qualified and scored against their propensity to convert to a sale. Through this process, sales professionals create a lead funnel, measure leads against stages in the sales pipeline, and track conversion rates to create a time-phased sales forecast.
Throughout this process, lead qualification is important to avoid wasting time on deals that have a low probability of closing. Urgency is also prevalent in the actions of sales reps in order to keep leads and prospects warm, and moving towards a closed deal. Prospecting is an ongoing marketing and sales activity and rarely will a sales leader say that they have too many leads.
And in today’s world, how many sales organization operate without CRM technology to manage to sales process? NONE.
Now consider your recruiting process and what of the above is missing.
In our experience, companies start their recruitment process at a disadvantage by not articulating their value proposition, or by neglecting to turn that value proposition into compelling candidate-focused messaging. Most companies post an internally written job description—a boring, text-heavy document that describes the tasks, duties, and responsibilities of the role. Rarely will the job posting be a “marketing” document which describes and sells the benefits that the candidate will get from joining your company, such as skills development, career advancement, culture, or environment.
This is analogous to sending out product specifications fact sheet as sales and marketing material in order to attract prospects. It does not work!
Once the job is posted, applications are received, but often one of two things happens: almost no one applies, or there is a flood of applications. In the first situation, recruiters must scramble to find someone, anyone to put before a hiring manager—with no leads, no prospects, and no line of sight on where to find the right candidates. In the second, recruiters are overwhelmed with the task of sorting through applications from people who are unsuitable for the role. In both cases, the hiring manager ends up frustrated: “Why can’t I just see a few great candidates? No one seems right for the job.”
When it comes to dealing with applications, some companies use a screening process based on University marks to complete the initial sort and discard. As Pete argued in his post, "I don't get it: Why are Employers Fixated on Marks", this is the wrong strategy and potentially eliminates great candidates for no other reason than work efficiency.
Where are these companies going wrong? Consider how many sales organizations rely solely on inbound leads to stumble upon them. The answer is NONE. Instead they invest in tools and techniques to help them be found, nurturing campaigns to develop prospects and outbound prospecting to target potential customers. So why do we expect this ineffective strategy, (often called “Spray and Pray”) in which a company posts a job description on multiple job boards and then hope for the best, to work for recruitment?
Your best candidates are likely passive—not currently looking for a job because they are happy in their current role—and need to be identified, nurtured, and encouraged to consider a role with your company. Just as with sales, this often comes down to building a relationship over time, not desperately reaching out at the last minute in the hope of grabbing a “quick sale”.
For example, a small software company could never find enough qualified developers or professional services candidates to meet their growing needs. We recommended to the CEO that he become the face of recruiting. To build a candidate pipeline, he personally spent a summer reaching out to potential future employees on LinkedIn. Although this sounds daunting, it really meant evenings, when he was in front of the TV, with his laptop searching LinkedIn. His search criteria was competitors or companies selling similar software into his target industries and when he found a profile of the current or former employee that he liked, he personalized an invitation for that person to connect. Most accepted. After building a pool of a few hundred candidates, his normal LinkedIn activity of posting relevant, interesting news about his company nurtured these candidates, built their interest and exposed them to current job openings. The result: No more talent storage.
Just as with sales, prospecting should be an ongoing recruitment activity—and rarely will a great sales leader say that they have too many leads. In recruiting, leads are people—candidates who may come work for your company, if not immediately, then in the next six months to two years.
Yet to be able to effectively build a recruitment pipeline of potential future hires, the recruitment team needs to be baked into your company. This means being kept up to date on upcoming corporate changes and new projects, understanding what roles are likely to need new people through growth or turnover, having a line-of-sight on what makes a successful hire for particular roles, and understanding the unique factors that makes each department “tick.”
Armed with this information, recruitment can build a predictable talent pipeline months in advance: developing targeted messaging aimed to the target candidate group (sales messaging), reaching out to potential candidates (generating leads), screening candidates and conducting preliminary interviews (qualifying leads), and targeting those individuals most suited and most likely to consider a role (convert to sales). Top recruiters say that for many roles it may take up to 100 candidates, researched and contacted, to find that one perfect hire. Lead qualification is critical throughout this process to avoid wasting time and energy on candidates that have a low probability of closing.
Finally, if this really is a talent war, you don’t send your army into battle armed with sticks and clubs. Analogous to the sales CRM system, Google AdWords, marketing automation technology and SEO tools, your team needs modern recruiting technology. It starts with an ATS (Applicant Tracking System). If your job posting says “please email your resume to email@example.com “, the battle is over and you have lost before the first shot was fired. Other tools your team will also need are social recruiting tools such as premium or recruiter subscriptions to LinkedIn, niche job boards and advocacy marketing tools like Techvibes, a strong employer brand message and sourcing technologies like Entelo - just to name a few.
Again and again, leaders ask, “How can I get the people I need to help my company reach its targets?” The answer is simple: look to your sales process and mirror it in recruiting.
Kim Benedict Peter Smith
CEO / Co-Founder, Managing Partner,
TalentMinded The Meaford Group