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Trends in Sales Hiring – 10 Questions for Kathleen Steffey – Founder/CEO of Naviga Business Services

This month, Tony Smith had the opportunity to speak with Kathleen Steffey, owner and founder of Naviga Business Services,  a national sales and marketing recruitment firm, about trends in the sales hiring market. Kathleen also shared her insights about what it takes to make a sales hire a success. Over the last two years, Naviga Business Services has been a strategic partner of The Brooks Group. They are a strong and reputable firm that we have recommended to a number of our clients for assistance with their selection and hiring needs. With the positive feedback we have received, we wanted to share some of their knowledge and insights with you. Here are the key nuggets from our conversation with Kathleen.

Tony Smith: I’m sure our readers will be interested to hear what you’ve experienced over the last year so let’s get rolling. What does the sales hiring marketplace look like currently? What are you hearing from your clients—both employers and candidates?

Kathleen Steffey: The employers I work with are doing better and starting to re-gain a positive financial outlook. We’re also seeing a change in hiring behavior. Six months ago, we had steady business, but our employers wouldn’t move and make decisions. They were paralyzed by the uncertainty of the market. Each month, I’ve seen an increase in hiring decisions and the confidence to pull the trigger with offers. September has been our biggest revenue month of the 2009 year. Keep it coming! Keep it coming!

Tony: What trends are you seeing that sales managers and HR professionals should be aware of?

Kathleen: A consistent trend we are seeing in candidates is “desperate” behavior. Candidates who have been downsized and are unemployed tell us that they are open to a lower base salary, lower commission plan and even less accountability. We view these people as “flight risks” and so do our customers. When the economy turns, so will their confidence, career goals, compensation expectations, etc. In this current climate, they will take whatever feeds their family and pays their mortgage.

Tony: What are you seeing from the perspective of the Candidates/Job Seekers you work with?

Kathleen: We are seeing a significant trend in people who are currently employed and won’t leave their existing employer. They want to remain as stable as possible in these uncharted economic waters. Even if a promotional opportunity, with increased earning potential is offered, fewer candidates are jumping ship.

Tony: For those out looking, what can they expect to find in the marketplace? 

Kathleen: We recently surveyed job-seeking sales professionals and asked them about their current job search experiences. Here’s what we found:

  • Most were let go due to the economy
  • Most have been looking for 4-6 months
  • Most have been on 4 plus interviews
  • Most feel they haven’t been hired because there are too many candidates to choose from by employers
  • Most have not received ANY offers
  • Most feel confused and frustrated and are seeking additional advice on the best way to go about their job search

Tony: There is no doubt that the marketplace is competitive and that there are a number of qualified candidates out there. Is hiring the right person more critical in sales than in other positions? 

Kathleen: I believe that hiring the correct person is critical for all positions, but especially in sales. When a business decides to hire a salesperson that means that they want to grow revenue. Organizations determine additional headcount, product growth, and overall company strategy by sales forecasts and predictions. If an organization hires a salesperson to generate revenue and the salesperson does not perform, the entire organization is affected negatively.

Tony: When a sales hire doesn’t work out, what is the most common reason?

Kathleen: This may shock you! The answer is poor sales leadership. Most people think that the answer is lack of performance or lack of fundamental sales skills. But the truth is, if strong sales leadership is not present, the sales team suffers and cannot perform to his/her potential. 

Tony: How can sales organizations avoid this problem?

Kathleen: If an organization does not have the appropriate sales processes, motivational influences and measurable accountability in place, even the best sales professionals can fail. There must be a strong leadership individual who has experience in sales or has significant sales leadership training to influence results. Consistent accountability checks, sales strategies/solution conference calls, and attainable quotas do the trick. Also, philosophical alignment between the CEO and the sales leadership individual is critical.

Tony: How can working with a search firm help to avoid this problem? 

Kathleen: An excellent search firm will be able to evaluate the lack of sales infrastructure and leadership during their initial discussions. They will act as a resource not only to recruit top sales talent, but to also provide insight on industry trends and best practices. The best of the best search firms are aligned with influential advisors who can influence their customers in the success of the overall sales organization.
The bottom line; if the recruiting firm isn’t asking a lot of smart questions or isn’t aligned with reputable sales resources, they are likely missing depth and sophistication in their ability to hire top sales talent.

Tony: What advice would you offer for effectively working with a search firm to hire salespeople? What should managers do to ensure they get the results they’re seeking? 

Kathleen: When selecting a recruiting firm look for the following:

  1. Do they specialize in sales recruitment?
  2. Can they recruit for multiple positions at a time?
  3. Who is their CEO and are they a high-integrity individual?
  4. Does the leadership of the recruiting firm understand recruiting?
  5. Ask for endorsements and existing customer references.
  6. What is their evaluation process?
  7. How do they go about recruiting?
  8. Accountability! Hold the recruiting firm accountable. Look for proactive communication from the recruiting firm. If you feel you have to call the firm for an update, something is wrong. Ask for bi-weekly updates to ensure success (this is generally with retained searches).

Tony: How much of a successful sales hire is in the hiring—and how much is in the on-boarding, training, setting expectations, holding salespeople accountable for performance, etc. 

Kathleen: I would say it’s 25% hiring and 75% calibration and leading. Recruiting is the easiest piece of the puzzle. Leading a sales organization and retaining sales professionals is challenging. Coaching, guiding, leading and influencing revenue through people is a very difficult job and it takes a significant skill.

Tony: And the good news is that these are skills that can be developed. While selection and hiring are important, too often we see sales managers not taking the time to provide the needed management and leadership to ensure success. A program like the Sales Management Symposium provides a framework for assessing, developing and reinforcing a winning sales team. Kathleen, we appreciate your insights and assessment of what a sales manager needs to consider when making that next hire. 

This article has been re-printed with the permission of The Brooks Group, an international assessment, sales training and executive coaching firm based in Greensboro, North Carolina. For more information visit

Can Your Reps Recognize Great Sales Opportunities?

It was the worse of times…and it was the worst of times, or at least that’s what some of your sales reps may be whining.

For those seeking a more proactive approach, Lou Schachter, co-author of “The Mind of the Customer,” and head of the global sales practice at BTS, has ideas to pass along. Manage Smarter shares the kinds of tips he has given to clients such as KPMG, UBS, and Procter & Gamble.

Why Is a 90% Failure Rate Okay?

This week’s blog is by Sharon Drew Morgen, the visionary and thought leader behind Buying Facilitation®, the new sales paradigm that focuses on helping buyers manage their buying decision.

As I was doing the final rewrites on my book, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it, I realized how many times I mentioned my frustration with the failure of the sales model. It actually builds in a 90% failure rate – we’ve begun to expect it!

We hire 10 times more sales people than needed to get the results we seek. We get 50% longer sales cycles, face objections because people are responding to the sales model itself, and lose clients we shouldn’t lose.

What a waste – not only for sellers, but for buyers.

This doesn’t need to happen. The sales model is an incomplete one that we’ve accepted as a way to place our products. It works only at the product decision end of the equation (vs. Buying Facilitation, my model that manages the buying decision end of the equation), with no ability to guide buyers through the tangle of information that needs to be figured out before they can make a buying decision.

That tangle is where prospects go when they say, “I’ll call you back.” They have to make sure all of the people and policies that touch the Identified Problem are in agreement, that old vendor issues and relationships are handled, and that historic problems are managed.

Unfortunately for us, the sales model doesn’t help with this aspect of the seller-buyer equation. Buyers need to do this on their own.

Unfortunately for them, buyers don’t initially know the route through all of their decisions. We also meet them far too early in their decision process, leaving us waiting to close and not knowing what’s going on. After all, their need and our solution seem to be a match – but it takes so long for them to decide! What is the problem?

So we sit and wait. And 90% of the prospects don’t come back. Not because our product isn’t good or because our solution doesn’t match their need, but because their internal issues haven’t been resolved. Buyers won’t buy until they are. They can’t; they must maintain the integrity of their environment even if it means they don’t resolve their need.

The sales model doesn’t offer us the tools to help guide buyers through the route to all of those decisions. It’s difficult for sellers to understand the buyer’s buy-in issues, management decisions and technology factors.

But it’s quite possible to have an understanding of the decision making process – the route that buyers must make through their unique decision criteria – and then recalibrate our jobs to be not only solution providers, but neutral navigators or Buying Facilitators if you will. Much like a buddy to a sight-impaired friend, who knows where they want to go but doesn’t know the exact route to get there.

By focusing on the buying decision end of the equation, sales can be closed in months rather than years, and weeks rather than months. Sellers can stop wasting so much of their time and failing so often. Imagine if doctors or baseball players had the same failure rate!

Imagine if we could lead buyers through all of their unconscious decision criteria, help them discover who needs to buy-in to a new solution, and help them build our product into their solution design. Imagine!

Morgen’s book, “Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it,” goes on sale Oct. 15 and will be featured in the Store.

Sales Reps and Start Ups

Shaun Priest of CloserQ adresses one of the many challenges that small start ups face:

“Shaun, I am part of a three person consulting start-up and we are ready to hire our first sales person. I have run the numbers and I can’t afford a base salary, so what do you recommend for a commission percentage for hiring a straight commission rep?”

Don’t Allow ‘Busy Work’ to Interfere with Selling

Like many salespeople and small business owners, Paul McCord finds staying focused during prime selling hours to be difficult. As a sales trainer, coach, and consultant, his days are filled with activities that try to pull him away from selling. Yet, like every other company, selling is the life blood of his business—its what keeps the doors open and the company healthy and growing.  If you lose those hours, you lose revenue; Losing precious time that no matter how hard you work, you can never regain. Consequently, it is important to keep your focus on true sales activities between 8am and 5pm.

Improve Your Connect Rates

Entrepreneurial sales leader Jim Burns continues to hear from sales people who still try to use email as a prospecting tool. He contends that email is no longer a communication tool — especially when unsolicited — it’s primarily a delivery vehicle. In our business, we seldom send unsolicited emails unless we have the opportunity to make the call and leave the message. Email is the delivery system for our vignette and compelling message, not the primary prospecting tool.

Job seekers point finger at crowded unemployment market

A crowded unemployment market is blamed by the majority of sales and marketing job seekers who have managed to score multiple interviews but no employment offers. Those are the findings of a new survey by Naviga Business Services that gauged where job seekers are in their employment search and the experiences they have had along the way.

According to the survey, the vast majority (66.7%) of respondents had not received any job offers. Most (68.1%) blamed too many candidates in the employer’s pipeline, while nearly 30% had no idea why their efforts had been unsuccessful. Two percent blamed their failure to secure a job offer on not bringing their A-game to the interview.

Most (67%) respondents were seeking employment after losing their jobs due to the economy. Dissatisfaction with how their employer is handling the downturn (16%) and an inability to achieve sales numbers prompting a desire to move to an industry that will provide greater opportunities for success (3%) were also cited as reasons for the search for a new job.

More than 43% of survey respondents had been seeking employment for 4-6 months and 28.3% had been searching for more than a year. Nearly 22% have been on the job market for up to two months, while 6.7% for have been looking 2-4 months. 

A good portion (39%) of respondents have had four or more interviews, while nearly 28% have been on 2-4 interviews and 33% had gone on two or fewer. Most blamed the limited number of interviews on too many candidates on the market (74.1%) or not looking in enough of the right places (13%). Others indicated they did not know how to make themselves stand out (9.3%), while nearly 4 percent blamed a resume in need of tweaking for their failure to secure a substantial number of interviews.

It’s important to note that the numbers are not as grim as they may appear. Twenty five percent of respondents reported receiving at least one job offer, and more than 8 percent received multiple offers. As the economic pendulum swings closer to recovery, those numbers will rise exponentially.

Meanwhile, refining their resume, expanding search channels and seeking expert advice on how to stand out from the crowd can accelerate the successful conclusion of any sales and marketing professional’s job search.