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Sales Recruitment Outlook for 2011

Sales Recruitment Outlook for 2011

With companies of all sizes expecting more out of their sales forces than ever before, 2011 looks to be a very challenging year for those looking to hire top sales people.

Yes, the recession has left a long wake of unemployed sales workers — about 1.5 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the market for sales people will likely continue to closely track the broader US labor market. Sales unemployment has declined only very gradually, by about half a percentage point over the 12 months ending October 2010, to 9.1 percent, in the BLS household survey.

But with many firms continuing to reduce headcount in other departments in order to beef up sales, competition for the “best closers” — the only kind of hire many sales VPs will make these days — is fierce.

In response, many employers are sharpening their sales recruitment efforts and reconsidering the harsh stance on employee compensation that has typified negotiations with candidates for the past couple of years.

Hot Industries Are Hiring Sales Folks Fast
Sales hiring varies widely across industry sectors, with the greatest activity in finance and tech, which have recovered more robustly than the overall economy.

“In October, I’ve heard the top sales executives at two of my clients announce plans to grow their sales forces by 15 to 20 percent in 2011,” says Mark Coleman managing director of Compensation Analytics. Coleman’s clients are primarily in technology and financial services.

Some niche recruiters are finding that sales people with deep technical know-how are hard to come by. “We’ve got more work than we can handle,” says Jordan Rayboy, president of Rayboy Insider Search, which specializes in recruiting sales and other professionals for the data storage industry. “We’re looking to hire recruiters on our own staff.”

One difficult dynamic has begun to ease: After hunkering down through the recession, some top sales people are now willing to consider a change of employers. “In 2010 we’ve seen an exodus of good sales candidates who didn’t want to make a move in 2008 or 2009,” says Rayboy.

Perhaps the toughest part for recruiters looking to engage experienced sales people is that their clients are only interested in sales sharks who do it all, from cold-calling to post-sales customer support. “Until the economy turns and sales people can just be order takers, companies will be looking for hunters who can close deals,” says Sara Peiker, director of recruiting business solutions at Manpower.

Employers Get More Sophisticated with Sales Hiring
In order to compete for top performers, recruiters have to focus every dimension of the hiring process on quality. “Companies are a lot smarter today about how they hire,” says Chuck Pappalardo, managing director of Trilogy Search in Burlingame, Calif. “Organizations are tougher, more stringent, more democratic. Most of my clients have a very good staffing person with a bead on what their sales manager or VP is looking for.”

As social media recruitment has enabled hiring managers to learn of every candidate in their universe, recruiters have had to earn their keep by providing a suite of higher-level services. “Now anyone can find names on social media, so recruiters have to do more,” says Rayboy. “You have to manage the hiring process and help negotiate the relationship.”

Sales recruitment, once regarded as a generic service provided to executives who wouldn’t make time for it themselves, is gaining more attention from the C-suite. “Executives in sales are getting much more involved in recruiting,” says Coleman. “They’re appearing in YouTubes and taking a key role in selling their company to the best sales people.”

Compensation Will Be a Tougher Negotiation in 2011
“Take it or leave it” was an easy position for hiring managers to take in making an offer to sales candidates in the worst recession since the Great Depression. “Sales people lost ground in compensation during the recession,” says Rayboy. “But employers know that now they need to bring compensation back up to pre-recession levels. Companies are using more aggressive accelerators to reward above-quota performance, for example.”

With fresh knowledge of how bad a bad economy can get, top sales people are leery of compensation structures that come with outsized risk. “It’s getting harder and harder to recruit people for 100 percent commission jobs,” says Peiker.