How to Take the Cringe Out of Sales Recruiting

January 7, 2019

“When I think about working with a recruiter I cringe.”

These words are straight from the mouth of a dear friend and colleague. And I hate that they exist. But let’s face it… they’re not exactly unfounded, are they?

I’ve spent 20 years working with recruiters and talent leaders in HR Tech sales (plus the last 3 in recruiting here at Avenue Talent Partners) and I want to address the elephant in the room: sales recruiting as an industry is cringe-worthy. Very few other industries evoke the visceral “ugh” from people like this one does.

And it pains me each and every day to see the people who depend on it left with no other choice than to suck it up and try to wade through the muck… because recruiting A+ salespeople is without a doubt one of the most important things a startup will ever invest time and money into!

I know firsthand that it is possible for sales recruiting to be the effective endeavor your business needs it to be. It’s literally what gets me out of bed in the morning.

But it won’t happen using the same approach most resort to today.

It’s time for a change. Here’s how to do it.

Why quality recruiting is irreplaceable for growing startups.

I talk to a lot of startups who build attrition into their recruiting plan because they approach it like a ‘software release.’ This is not a good idea, we’re talking about people here!

Just like a Katana sword’s effectiveness depends on the quality of the steel it is made from, your business will only cut through the noise in the marketplace if your sales team has the right raw talent for you to forge as a leader.

Otherwise, you’re going to spend a lot of time polishing a blade that’s too soft to hold an edge. Or worse… you have to build an entirely new one when it breaks under pressure.

Simply put, quality wins every time in recruiting, just like it does in sales. Getting recruiting right the first time means less effort getting your people to their numbers and more time spent on growth strategies to take you further.

Sadly not every recruiter takes that to heart. Here’s why sales recruiting often falls short and how you can vet those you’re considering working with.

Insist on partnership – it’s critical.

A crazy fact you may not realize…. the traditional contingent-based relationship only gives you an 18% chance at filling your open role.

Yes, 18%.

Many recruiters know this (case in point, I got that stat from a recruiting mastermind I’m part of) and they use it to determine which clients to spend their time and energy with… not to mention which ones they bring their best candidates too as well.

This is where most of the cringe in recruiting originates.

Since the chances of getting paid are so low, recruiters play a numbers game and give you as many resumes as fast as they can – with cursory effort on vetting – hoping something will stick. And because they look at it this way, it doesn’t make business sense for them to do anything else.

So in turn, businesses go out and get a few more recruiters on the search in an effort to increase their chances of finding the person that is the best fit.

And a downward spiral ensues.

This is madness… because if both parties were to commit to an exclusive, mutually-beneficial partnership it takes that chance of filling a role up to 94%+ (again, a stat from our mastermind).

Recruiting A+ salespeople is one of the most important things a startup will ever invest time and money into. @AvenueTP explains how to effectively use a recruiter to reach your goals: Click To Tweet

What a real partnership in recruiting looks like.

The reality is, both sales recruiter and business should want the same thing – to build your team and help your business grow.

That takes two parts… a business that commits to helping a recruiter help them and a recruiter who gives 110% to make sure they deliver the talented people you need on a silver platter.

But I know it’s rarely that simple in reality.

Far too often, recruiters fail to deliver on their end of the partnership – talented people on a silver platter (we’ll get into why this is the case in a bit). And this makes businesses hesitant to commit.

But in order for recruiters to do their job well, they need to be more than order takers. And a big part of that is in your hands.

Your part of the partnership

A VP of a VC I talked to recently mentioned that his portfolio companies often struggle with a few specific things.

They spoke to my soul, because they are all things that make it nearly impossible for recruiters to do their job well for you:

  1. Not knowing what/who you want/need to hire. Not all salespeople are created equal. And it’s really hard for a recruiter to bring you people who are going to be the right fit if you don’t know who you need! A good recruiter can help you think it through…but they can’t decide for you.
  2. Not knowing what to really expect from a recruiter. Recruiters aren’t magic buttons you can push and qualified candidates will pop out. Talented people are almost always happily employed elsewhere already and usually aren’t looking. Getting them excited about your opportunity takes time and energy – it doesn’t happen overnight.
  3. Not having a consistent interview process. Candidate experience is really important when it comes to bringing exceptionally talented people on board. Flying people out a second time, being indecisive, etc. all are surefire ways to signal to the cream of the crop that you don’t have your stuff together – and lose them.

Having these details in place is your part of the partnership. If you’re struggling to finalize these details, it’s okay to ask for help, just make sure you’re open to it.

To make sure all parties are set up for success, make sure there’s an assurance in place to empower your recruiter. If they do a terrific job it will help them to avoid spinning unnecessary wheels (this is where exclusivity comes into play).

The rest of this article is about the recruiter’s end of that partnership… something that often needs a LOT of work.

Don’t accept spaghetti throwing – look for a more intentional process.

Let’s face it, you don’t always get what you pay for with recruiters, do you? Nor is it a sure shot that your business won’t be held back if you enter into an exclusive partnership, is it?

This is the experience far too many people have with recruiters. And it’s because while you may have committed to the partnership, their process isn’t designed to match that commitment.

Usually, it’s not intentional, it’s just the way things have always been done.

Here’s what an intentional recruiting process (one that delivers real, solid candidates you’d actually want to hire) looks like. Use this to vet recruiters you’re considering working with.

What intentional recruiting looks like:

  1. In-depth discovery. Recruiters who can deliver solid profiles you want to hire are much more detailed on their kickoff process. This helps them narrow their search to the people you’d want to spend your time interviewing.
  2. Passive candidates are the priority. The best talent is rarely unemployed (especially with today’s 3.7% unemployment rate). That’s why posting a job description and collecting applications isn’t the best approach. Good recruiters go after talent that is happily winning elsewhere already.
  3. Thorough vetting. It’s one thing to find potential matches, but how do you know if they’re really the right fit? Your time is valuable and an intentional recruiter is going to do the heavy lifting for you to make sure you’re looking at people you actually want to interview.
  4. Transparent communication and collaboration. The market always speaks louder than you or any recruiter ever can. And an intentional recruiter will take the time to explain what they’re seeing while they’re searching, including helping you come up with creative solutions to reach the talent you want to hire.

Points 3 and 4 are the last pieces of the recruiting puzzle that often turn an otherwise solid relationship sour.

Let’s talk about them.

Avoid generalist recruiting – look for a specialist.

We say “no” to more potential business than we say “yes” here at Avenue Talent Partners. And that’s because we know our experience and process are best suited for things like enterprise sales and sales leadership roles.

But not every recruiter thinks like this. In fact, many take just the opposite approach, loading themselves up with as many different types of job reqs as possible, playing the numbers game, and hoping something will stick.

This usually leaves you wondering “Ok so I’ve got all these resumes… but where should I spend my time?”

How specialized recruiters save you time, energy, and money.

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s more often than not the result of a failure of the recruiter to vet and filter the people they bring you properly.

Usually because:

  1. They failed to discover who you needed in the first place.
  2. They can’t tell who actually meets the requirements.

Deep subject matter expertise on the recruiters part can solve all of this.

A recruiter who is truly an expert in their field will know what questions to ask on the front end and how to filter their search results to save you time on the back end.

Not only that, being able to speak the language fluently establishes credibility with tough to engage, highly sought after top performers that rarely respond to a recruiter because they can sniff an imposter out a mile away.

That means you’ll look at less resumes, interview less duds, and hire someone quicker… which saves you a lot of money in opportunity costs and interviewing expenses.

Prioritize transparency and proactive communication.

Far too often I hear stories from clients who worry about their business being held back by recruiters who take a retainer and then proceed to do what seems like nothing at all for quite a while.

No communication, no idea what they’re working on, nothing.

This is unacceptable, and sadly it’s not always intentional – there’s just a lack of understanding around what actually matters to you as someone in charge of a sales organization.

So finding a recruiter who gets your business and your needs (either inherently or through thorough discovery) is critical.

An example of just how powerful transparency is

We’ve been helping one particular client grow their sales team in NYC for over a year now. The searches have been tough due to their tight requirements and the competitiveness of the market.

But the thing that has held it all together is the fact that we’ve both been transparent about what is happening on each of our ends.

I keep them up to speed with what the marketplace is saying and they keep me up to speed with business needs and feedback internally on candidates they interview.

And most importantly, this makes it easy to find solutions that will help us achieve our mutual goal!

Some of the most innovative recruiting tactics we’ve ever come up with were born out of our commitment to solve problems together transparently. And without our commitment to transparent collaboration, the difficulty of the search would have killed our partnership a long time ago.

Key takeaway

A true partnership where you’re lock-in-step is everything in recruiting. Without a mutual commitment from each party to give their absolute best, coupled with a more intentional, expert approach, recruiting ends up feeling icky.

Look for recruiters who rival your commitment to excellence with both their approach and process and you’ll see a different side to recruiting you might have not realized was possible.

Founder and CEO of Avenue Talent Partners

With more than $100MM in revenue sold, a LinkedIn Insider and Top Sales Voice, Founder, Strategic Advisor, and LP at Stage 2 Capital, Amy Volas is a sales fanatic turned entrepreneur. She was bitten by the startup bug many moons ago and couldn't imagine spending her time anywhere else. She created Avenue Talent Partners to help grow early-stage startups through some of their most valuable assets - executive revenue leaders.