How To Sell Your Commission-Only Job to Sales Candidates
November 1, 2016 - How To Hire Sales People, Must Read
November 1, 2016 - How To Hire Sales People, Must Read
By: Chad Bronstein
The hiring season has come around once again for your company. In some ways these are exhilarating times, but underneath lies a sense of anxiety. It’s a tough sell to attract premier talent to your company, but the good news is you’ve already recognized the most important fact of all: that what you’re doing – hiring commission based sales reps – is a sale in-of-itself.
In gritty and practical terms, you’re basically communicating to candidates, “Hey, I’d like you to come work for me but I can’t guarantee you’ll make any money.” This is why most commission based salespeople have to be ‘sold’ on the idea of entering this line of business. Depending on the sales structure, most commission opportunities only offer to pay as much as their salespeople accomplish and, knowing this information, many candidates back away from the idea. So how does a hiring manager counter these defections? Over time I’ve learned to apply sales methods to the hiring process, and here are a few I’ve spelled out to get started on selling a job opportunity:
Strategize your hiring approach as if finding the ideal commission based sales candidate is a numbers game. The conversion rate in this business can be brutal, and you may find that after arranging 10 interviews, only three show up and out of those you get one qualified candidate. In a way it’s healthier to lower expectations, as most hiring managers try as hard as they can – even cutting against the grain – to reach good commission based sales candidates, and are left reciprocally discouraged and disappointed.
The best starting point I’ve found when selling a job opportunity is to plan to hire more than one person, and when the opportunities are commission-only then you should hire as many as you can handle, keeping as many good workers as you can but also willing to make necessary cuts. Even when limited to one opening, hiring at least two workers is a healthy way to inspire competition within your company. In due time – about a month, in my experience – it will become apparent that one commission based sales candidate is better than the other(s), but together they may be so productive to justify retaining both. To some this can be overzealous and unappealing, but once the competitive nature kicks-in and begins to drive results, owners quickly realize the favors of a multi-hire process. You want candidates to covet your job opportunity, and there is no better way than to have them perform side-by-side on the battlegrounds!
As the founder of Time to Hire, I connect hiring companies with candidates, but some report back – often during their initial run – that they couldn’t land the ideal commission based sales candidate, or worse that they couldn’t even get candidates to show up for the interviews. This is a problem my employees and I try to communicate as ‘normal’ because one of the most trying aspects of selling a job opportunity is that you’re going to fail, and sometimes there won’t be a clear, definitive answer as to ‘why?’ Success is knowing how to bounce back, namely by continuing to refine your process for selling your job opportunity until you can find some proven methods.
Your pitch, who you have conducting the interviews, whether you interview for your commission based sales job over the phone vs. in-person, what questions you ask: these are all factors that play into a candidate’s psychology of whether they accept you, your company, and your job opportunity. The impression you give to candidates is comparable to how people feel about restaurants – it could be bad service, bad food, or anything else, but once you lose the candidate’s good faith then your chances for success depreciate considerably.
Therein lies the Catch 22: There are so many factors for success that you have a pretty high likelihood for failure simply because you’re not fully aware of what’s going to happen. In fact, some of the most common feedback I receive from hiring businesses is “we’ll just have to be better prepared next time.”
What I try to inform is that failure is an integral part the process. In a competitive market, how else can you expect to better yourself than by getting knocked down a few times? It’s a nuanced skill learned by trial-and-error to convince an industrious individual to come work for you, knowing all the other opportunities available to them. Like a good sales process, you have to be flexible, adaptable, and open-minded, and then willing to lay it on the line with ambitious hiring techniques. Doing this, you may just find a few gems that will staple your company’s hiring process for years to come.
An attractive business has a support system in place – in other words, employees who are willing and able to guide new hires through their early tribulations. This starts up-front when introducing candidates to the job. It’s pivotal during these initial exchanges to paint the job with honesty and candor, and to let them know how intensive the calls, networking, and groundwork will be without a whole lot of compensation off the bat. This embeds trust in your employees from the start and preemptively defends you from the “I’m working too hard without enough money” conversations.
An effective model to establish trust works all the way up through management. The result is management having a stake in the performance of the employees underneath them; while incentivizing managers to groom new hires and position them for success. Common practices include daily training exercises for informing about the product or service, how to sell it, tips and tricks, the approach, and a general array of topics to cycle through with each new stream of new employees. This keeps everyone in the organization sharp on the business, including management.
Another tact that builds a strong support system is to organize new hires with people who seem to be on a similar career arc. Utilize proven employees to lead new hires into the waters by mirroring cold calls, walking through different strategies and approaches, and having them them train and learn together. This stabilizes confidence-levels throughout the early times and gives new hires a tangible vision of their future prospects with the company.
Taking this approach a step further, arrange ‘rah-rah’ meetings to get together and celebrate small and large victories throughout the company. Anyone who’s been in a sales rut knows the associated feeling of despair, but once you get a sale or two behind you and suddenly have a room full of people clapping for your success, the confidence rises. Even if employees sense it’s all a mirage, positive reinforcement has a slew of advantages for your business.
I advise my clients that it’s alright to interview on the phone at first, but to use that time to gain a commitment to an in-person interview. There are just too many factors that are out of a hiring manager’s control when interviewing over the phone: missed calls, easy cancellations, and candidates feeling less of a connection to you and your company than an in-person interview.
To prepare, you need to first know what your goals are for the interview. My goal is one simple objective: to get the candidate to commit to an in-person interview. In my mind this should be the only goal because it’s the necessary next step to a hire, otherwise you won’t land top talent. Over the phone can be effective to drive interest, but keep pitches high-level and use the time to schedule a time to get the candidate in your office.
The person taking calls from candidates needs to have all the answers, or at least be able to improvise well enough to sell the main points for any question. Remember that you’re approaching the hire as a sale, and just like a regular sale, if the salesman spends time embellishing about cup holders or warranties that the customer’s didn’t ask about, then you’re talking your way to a dead-end.
Candidates are in a delicate spot when looking for a new job; they’re as hopeful as they are skeptical. Once tactic I like to use is ‘negative reverse sales,’ which promotes that by making something hard to achieve, you increase its relative worth to the listener. Try implementing selling points that challenge the candidate, for instance you could say,
“I don’t know if you realize, but this job can include working 50 hours a week for two years and making nothing, but we have guys who stuck to it and now pull half a million per year. But you must have the motivation.”
This can be beneficial in two ways: candidates appreciate the honesty, and they’re intrigued by the possibilities, both of which encourage them to interview in-person.
Throughout the process you’ll be asked questions from candidates that may be precarious to your position. You never want to lie, but it’s sometimes wise to not divulge all the information. Find ways, as the interviewer, to reinforce positive aspects of your company without sounding repetitive and to regain control of the conversation. It’s hard to do – really hard to do – but then again, so is sales, and that’s why we do what we do.