Recruitment Tips for the BD/Sales Hiring Manager

Why Sales and Business Development Recruitment is SO Different!

It is the decision making process that makes business development recruitment so unique (and this applies to the sales department as well.) Sit down with a successful BD exec over a beer or a cup of Java and ask her how she happened to make her last career decision. We do this all the time, and it is illuminating.

Life sciences-based organizations hire many different kinds of scientists. If you’re involved in that hiring process you know that most scientists make decisions after an analytical process. When a company is recruiting a scientist, the hiring manager has to respect the candidate’s need to get all the data — and then give him or her the thinking room they need to make an intelligent decision. But salespeople are often emotional decision-makers; this makes the recruitment process much more of a roller-coaster ride.

These special people trust their gut feelings. A good BD/Sales exec has a personal history with success that has come by tapping into an inner reserve of intuition. And when approaching these candidates in the recruitment process, you can’t simply lay all the facts on the table and assume that they will analyze them like a scientist and come back to you as a result. You’ve got to know what the emotional handles are for their interest. In other words, you have to know a heck of a lot more about what makes them “tick” than you do in any other type of professional recruitment!

Scientific recruitment revolves around ensuring that they have all the facts they need to support a positive decision; Business Development and Sales recruitment involves tapping into the emotional side of the equation. If your company or product range requires a person who might come up out of a technical/scientific background, your candidate may use a combination of both styles.

How to Determine the Emotional Decision “Triggers”

Good questioning is your best tool here. In order to understand your recruit, review some typical reasons why a business development or sales prospect might be receptive to the headhunter’s call. Some of this will be unsaid, but you’ll quickly assign one of these to your recruit after you’ve spoken to him or her for a few minutes:

“I want to knock it out of the park and get the personal rewards that comes with this.” While everyone wants to make more money, some candidates will seem to make this the overwhelming goal of a job change. Contrary to sales management lore, it isn’t generally the best candidate who feel this way. We get very uncomfortable when in the first thirty seconds a BD contact asks us over the phone, “What’s the comp package?” Obviously, earnings are very far up the ladder in any good manager’s list of priorities, but when it emerges as #1, it is usually a sign of trouble later on in the process.

“I don’t like my current situation.” – This one can be a gold mine of information about what this person needs to do her current job, and the amount of hand-holding or freedom that she will require from a future boss. Answers to questions in this area will tell you a great deal about how easy or difficult this person will be to work with. It will also clue you in to the emotional decision factors that the candidate will be using to determine whether the new boss fits his or her working style.

“The timing is right – the challenge is gone” – This is a glossy reason that sounds good but may have underlying issues behind it. Although every successful business person has this feeling at some point following a good year, this response is often a cover for some other reason entirely. Keep digging.

“I’m looking for an opportunity to move up into the C-Suite” – This is also one of those responses that candidates sometimes throw out in order to sound like an attractive catch. Many of them don’t realize it but quite often employers are looking for people who can remain satisfied with a hands-on career in business development. These jobs clearly don’t always have a direct track into the corner office. Obviously, if there are senior management opportunities available, use that as a lever to attract these candidates. If there aren’t, than it is better to clarify this as opposed to filling the position again in 12 or 15 months.

“The travel is getting to me” – Pre-COVID, this was a fairly straightforward comment and one that was heard a great deal in this category of recruitment. Sometimes it really was a road warrior who was burned out. Other times it indicated a potential family issue going on behind the scenes; while travel time is reduced in today’s world, there is always a value placed on the ability to be with family, and if that’s the case with your opening, play it to the max.

“Our technology is not challenging enough – I would like into get into a more sophisticated sales process.” – Often a candidate who has an advanced science degree will get bored if their process simply has them opening up a catalog with the customer. This is a very common concern, and a great emotional “hook” for the company who is recruiting for a process that requires a more consultative, technology-forward approach.

Other reasons to be open for the headhunter’s call  – If the company has been acquired, the commission program has been changed, or the company has been downsized, you can bet that headhunter calls will be returned promptly. Although these reasons will certainly open the door for your recruitment effort, the decisions that will be made to accept an offer will in all likelihood still be made on a number of emotional factors.

The Three Golden Rules of Sales/BD Recruitment

Golden Rule #1 – Honor Your Commitments

It may seem like common sense to state that honoring your commitments throughout the recruitment process will increase your chances in landing the best candidates. And yet, it is one of the most common mistakes made by hiring managers. During the recruitment process, candidates are ultra-conscious of each and every comment made to them. I am reminded of a recent situation in which we lost our prime candidate because two or three phone meetings with the prospective new boss had to be rescheduled.

Here are some examples of what I mean by keeping commitments:

  • “We’ll be getting back to you in the next few days” is a common interview closure. When that period of time goes to two or three weeks, it is a serious issue of credibility that negatively influences the decision of the better candidates. It is so easy, particularly when using a headhunter as an outside resource, to keep in touch with all parties involved so that they know where the process stands. The best BD staff will be attracted to situations in which communication is direct instead of vague. (Most good recruiters will have a hard time calling candidates with erroneous information made up only to stall them. Many employers think this ability to BS well comes naturally to a headhunter – it does not).
  • Don’t give a verbal offer and then neglect important pieces of that offer in the formal letter. Despite the fact that decisions are made on emotions, handshake deals only lead to misinterpretations later. Give strong consideration to using a “letter of agreement” instead of a typical offer letter. Getting a verbal agreement and then firming it up with all the facts on paper ensures less waiting time for decisions — and can often stop the “offer letter as counter-offer bait” phenomenon.

Golden Rule #2 – Develop a Mutual Respect

Developing a mutual respect with your candidates is critical. As stated earlier, the process of recruitment is a lot like a romance. Both parties should feel this mutual respect from day one.

  • Don’t use a “recruiter feeding frenzy” approach to filling this kind of role. Find a resource whom you trust — a headhunter who is tapped into your marketplace — and then give him or her the room to do their job. Fostering respect with the best candidates is far easier when they don’t have four or five calls about the same position within the first week. (It is important for your external resource, the headhunter, to have the respect of the people you want to hire as well. They have to earn this, of course, but multiple calls from different sources to the same candidates will not empower them in the least).
  • Foster respect by setting up specific appointment times for your phone interviews and keeping them. Then, agree to specific follow-up points after the initial discussion and keep those as well. Give your candidate a follow-up point of their own and see how they handle it, “Do a little homework and find out how we are perceived in your market, and give me a call to follow up. I’d be happy to keep the discussion going, and will be available next Tuesday at Noon. Would that work for you?” Watch your clock on Tuesday and learn a great deal about how that person feels about being professional.

Golden Rule #3 – Don’t Stop Recruiting Until the New Hire Starts Work

There are too many open positions that get filled and then re-filled; too many “sure things” that don’t end up coming to fruition. Your strategy needs to include more than a Plan A and a Plan B.

  • Because you are dealing with sales professionals, it will be very easy for candidates to sell you and your H/R department on their interest level in the position. It happens all the time that companies don’t find out until the last minute what the real interest level was.
  • When recruiting salespeople or Business Development execs, try to keep conversations going at different levels of dialogue, with 2-3 candidates. A single backup candidate is often too risky. This “rule of three” has been proven over and over again in the recruitment industry, so much so that it has become ingrained into new recruiter training: “Three candidates equals a placement, anything less equals a headache.” Is your outside resource or H/R department providing this contingency plan?

Author: David G. Jensen, CTI Executive Search,