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Recruiting, Hiring And Retaining Good Salespeople

Furniture World Magazine


Recruiting: a high priority for any company interested in hiring the best!

The August installment in this series on sales management dealt with the issue of creating positive work environments where good quality salespeople and other employees can perform well and reach their personal goals. The idea of leading, as opposed to just managing, centers on this issue.

In today's highly competitive employment marketplace, the first problem is finding quality candidates. Many Fortune 500 companies are taking extraordinary measures to hire some of the same people you are trying to attract and are offering much more in terms of starting salaries, benefits, training and career-path planning.

Define Who you Are Looking For
The first step for furniture retailers is to define for themselves and their employees the kind of people who would make quality members of their store sales team and support teams. You should have a list of attributes and skills that prospective employees must possess. Do this by writing clear, detailed, task-oriented job descriptions for all positions and be sure to spell out the educational, job experience and personal attributes a person must bring to the position.

Fire-Drill Recruiting
Most retailers know that newspaper ads usually don't turn up sufficient responses to create a pool of truly qualified candidates, and they frequently end up choosing the best from very small groups because they need someone immediately. This is due, in large measure, to the "fire-drill" method of recruiting and hiring done by most furniture retailers - as soon as you need someone you start looking. This is like telling a customer that as soon as you got her deposit for her bedroom you planted the trees. Of course, another reason why newspaper ads don't produce enough candidates is that the people you would most want to work for you are already working somewhere else and aren't looking at employment ads. In conditions of low unemployment, the people who aren't working probably can't meet your requirements.

Separate Recruiting From your Hiring
Recruiting and hiring are separate activities. Recruiting should be viewed by owners, managers and every other employee in a high-performance organization as an everyday part of working for your company. Everybody should be looking for opportunities to tell people about the company and what a great place it is to work. Managers should have recruiting activities built into their job descriptions as tasks to be performed by them, not to be delegated to subordinates. Owners and high level managers should hold the organization accountable for recruiting and, in turn, should be held accountable for making it a great place to work so that employees feel proud and confident about encouraging new people to join.

Recruiting can mean that an employee knows someone who knows someone else who might be looking for a change in employment. The employee makes the contact and arranges for an interview with a manager as just an information-gathering and "getting to know you" kind of interview. There does not have to be a job available at this moment, but the results of the interview (a resume or application) will be held on file by the manager and kept "warm" through regular contact with the prospect.

This kind of recruiting should be happening at all times, especially in the sales department where a sudden void can cost tens of thousands of dollars. This should be an integral part of the sales manager's role and one that he should be accountable for to the rest of the management team.

Two in the Drawer
Every department manager should have at least two warm, pre-interviewed resumes or applications sitting in a live file. These people should never be more than a month away from having been contacted by the manager and should be able to come to work for your company within a few weeks or whatever time is required for reasonable notice to their present employers.

In the sales department, this should be two resumes or 10% of the sales staff, whichever is higher. A thirty person sales staff would require three warm resumes on hand at all times. This is more critical in sales than most other departments because the need for additional staff may develop if traffic suddenly increases or the selling methods change to become more customer-driven than product-driven. Of course, if you lost your entire delivery staff all at once you wouldn't be in such great shape either. The point is that in the most sensitive areas of the business it is critical to maintain a recruiting mentality, particularly among the management staff.

Once you stop thinking of hiring as the principle ingredient in the equation and begin to realize that recruiting is where the real work is done, you can start planning for hiring before it becomes a desperate need.

Some Recruiting Ideas
Hold Regular Recruiting Strategy Meetings: The management team should hold quarterly meetings on the specific topic of recruiting to discuss opportunities, problems and results. This group should also review each member's resume file. This is the accountability factor. Planning can be done for future needs and action plans set in place for each department. A work processes review can be done for areas of the business that may be under-performing according to standards to determine if additional help is required.

Print Special Business Cards: Every member of the management team should carry cards that show the company logo, the manager's name and this line: "Great jobs with a great company". For sales, the wording might read "Great sales jobs with a great company." Putting these cards into circulation can work wonders for your recruiting efforts.

Don't Always Recruit the Person You're Talking To: Rather than trying to recruit the person you are facing, try this method: "I'm John Doe with Doe's Furniture. We are in need of several salespeople (or people) to fill great paying jobs at our store on Main Street. Here are several of my cards. If you know of anyone who might be interested in working in a great company and earning lots of money please give them one of these and have them call me at any time."

Do this enough times and you will have a lot of people recruiting for you. If all of your management team did this on a regular basis, everyone in town would soon know that you have jobs available. This is also a great way to get to your competitor's people.

Interview All Applicants On The Spot
This is a good idea for any applicants you get in the store. Don't waste you efforts in recruiting by shoving these people aside to fill out an application and leave it at the office. They're here now, get it over with and interview them now. When you find someone worthwhile, you'll be glad you took the time. Plus, all of these people are prospective customers who deserve to be treated with the utmost respect. Nothing you're doing is more important than people anyway.

Retaining Good People
High quality people want to work in high quality workplaces and will seek them out (For more on this, see the August edition of Furniture World Magazine). If you cannot keep good people, you'd better look at your organization very carefully. Start at the top with the management team. Do not tolerate personalities that drive good people away; nobody is that important. Be sure that there is a clear mission in place that everyone knows, understands and practices. Be sure there are clear principles in effect, principles that reflect the working attitude of your people and that are reflected in the policies, rules and procedures of every department.

Principles should be written down and known to every employee. They begin with the words "We believe." There can be as many as you wish or need, to convey the kind of company you are.

Missions are broader, high-minded statements of organizational purpose relative to your customers. Any mission statement that does not include customers needs to be re-written.

Make the Goal the Thing
Most important, you must understand each person's goals and insist that your mangers always use individual goals to motivate your people and to keep them focused on the job at hand. Helping employees reach their job-related goals is the best way to retain high quality employees.

Case Study-Recruiting: A never ending activity at Art Sample Furniture

Recruiting is one of those never-ending chores that can lead to a crisis if it's neglected, according to Mark Proux, sales manager for Art Sample Furniture in Saginaw, Mich.

"It's tough to stay on top of it, but I have a ready pile that I try to call once a month," says Proux, who learned many of his recruiting techniques from the Shepherd Management Group's sales-management system.

Since most qualified candidates already have jobs and are in no burning hurry to move, Proux says they generally appreciate hearing from him. This regular touch with people in the recruiting file serves to reinforce their interest in possibly working at Art Sample.

At the time of this interview, Art Sample had 16 salespeople on staff, and Proux was planning to add three immediately and a fourth eventually. "When you get to be that big, it's tough to keep everybody happy all the time," he says, explaining why it's critical to keep a ready file of warm prospects. "If I don't, these owners are going to be on me if I don't have people ready to go when we need them."

Proux has tried most of the usual recruiting avenues, but his experience has forced him to rely on two most effective methods. While classified ads are still a prerequisite of all recruiting efforts because newcomers to town will check them, as a rule Proux says they don't work very well. "The people checking the classified don't have a job or are looking to change jobs. In this business, we need people who are already excelling and who want to do better for themselves."

That's why he prefers employee referrals and discreet inquiries with impressive salespeople at clothing stores.

People already working at clothing stores "have worked the hours but don't make the money," Proux says. "When you're looking for clothes, you can tell how well the salesperson is coordinating colors, and you can also tell if the person has the personality to succeed in our business."

To make sure that he's not the only one trying to bring prospects into the store for interviews, Proux has a standing offer to encourage his staff to participate in the recruiting process. Art Sample staff members can earn a bonus of at least $300 for bringing in a prospect who is hired and stays on staff for a minimum of 90 days.