A Guide to Hiring Sales Representatives and Other Sales Pros During a Market Downturn

October 6, 2020

In good times and bad, a company is made by its people. It’s a statement that holds true for every department, whether you’re trying to source a new addition to the C-suite or hiring sales representatives.

Recruitment has felt a pronounced impact since the COVID-19 outbreak. Bringing new hires onboard has understandably fallen down many companies’ priority lists as they look to secure existing clients and stabilize their sales pipelines. However, every day, more companies are beginning to steady the ship. Those that have managed to withstand the early shocks of COVID-19, thanks to a well-suited product, will soon be looking to get fully back on track. Evaluating your hiring strategy is a fundamental part of making sure your company is one of them.

Hiring sales representatives and other sales professionals in a market downturn comes with complications. However, like future-proofing your SEO strategy or putting sales emphasis on expansion revenue, it’s a key aspect of getting a leg up on the competition. Companies that take the plunge and take action now, in spite of market uncertainty, can find themselves with a larger talent pool to recruit from and lower hiring competition. That can translate to a pronounced advantage once normality is restored.

Tips for Hiring Sales Representatives During a Market Downturn #

To give your sales team the right bolster during a market downturn, combine a few tried-and-tested hiring truisms with an astute analysis of your market.

To make the most of hiring during a market downturn, you’ll have to choose between:

  • The usual selection of hungry newly qualified reps
  • Experienced pros who’ve found themselves out of a job
  • Highly qualified freelancers who may be looking for a more secure engagement

Bear this in mind when drawing up your recruitment strategy.

Establish your desired profile #

We’ve consistently encouraged mindfulness of sales psychology to bring the best out of your reps. Sales team management, particularly where reps are concerned, involves bringing the best out of the many personality types that you’d typically find within a sales team. Apply the same wisdom in reverse when hiring sales representatives.

Don’t start advertising and interviewing before you know what your ideal candidate looks like. What the ideal candidate does look like will vary from industry to industry and company to company. But generally speaking, when hiring new sales representatives, highly commission-driven reps are best for bull markets. For downturns, where short-term wins can be smaller and fewer, you will get the most from more team-player-type reps with versatile skillsets.

You need reps who:

  • Are motivated by a close team atmosphere (which you, as manager, will be responsible for building)
  • Thrive on adversity
  • Do not allow their levels to drop after a month or two of lower potential for closing and commission

As we saw in our earlier article, adding to your sales team profile can be decisive in a shaky market. Doing so sometimes necessitates that existing sales personnel step into new roles — at least for a time. In these circumstances, sourcing reps who are also comfortable serving as account executives or as onboarding assistants can be a boon for your team. Using the right tools for tracking time and prioritizing tasks can help make this a workable reality.

Tailor Your Outreach #

If you’re not using recruiters during your hiring drive, then ensure your business’ outward-facing product is tailored in the right way. As well as well-placed job listings, the right kind of content marketing can help your company attract the right candidates. For instance, this article from InsightSquared helps advance its cachet as a thought leader and also publicly establishes the attributes it most loves in sales reps. Getting on track now with your content marketing can serve you beyond the current market downturn period, too.

Once your listings are up, now is the time to mobilize your existing employees’ personal networks. They may know high-quality, out-of-work pros, and you’re more likely to find diamonds-in-the-rough during a bear market than at any other time. Reaching out through your existing team members gives you a vital advantage in getting to the best available personnel first.

This has cultural as well as practical benefits for your operation. Team spirit in your sales team is vital to weathering market downturns. Improving it by getting your existing sales team members to refer/recommend their friends and former colleagues can make for an invaluable asset.

Create the Right Compensation Plan #

When hiring sales representatives, remember that coming into a new company during a market downturn isn’t easy. The pipeline may be in disarray, new business will be a harder nut to crack than ever, and there may be reduced scope for making a lot of commission. That’s why getting compensation plans right is important during good times and vital during lean times. Your marketing department should be looking to advertise a vision of the future with your company outreach; as a sales manager, you should look to do the same for new prospective hires.

Sensible SaaS finance departments will spend the early months of a market downturn creating smaller, bear-market plans that are easier to introduce to your customers. As a sales manager, apply the same logic to your compensation plan when hiring sales representatives. If you have to start with a lower commission or a capped commission, then agree on a ramp-up strategy with new reps. If they’re assured that the sun will shine brighter as you move out of a downturn and the pipeline picks up health, then you can also be assured of their motivation.

Tips for Hiring Throughout Your Sales Team #

So, you’ve weighed up the pros and cons and decided to hire — that’s great! However, during a market downturn, you cannot hire as you would in a bull market and expect to reap the same benefits. Wherever you mean to hire in your sales team, make the following evaluations first.

Ensure You Have the Means to Hire #

First, verify that you can support the number of new hires you’re forecasting. Too many new hires pose a risk to the stability of your payroll, particularly, if you’re hiring sales representatives on a commission-based plan. If your research suggests that there’s business to be had in your field, but your finances suggest that now is not the time to hire new reps required to win that business, then assess where else new hires might first be needed.

Each company will be in a different situation with respect to an uncertain market relative to its size, pipeline, revenue model, and a host of other factors. However, when looking to expand your sales team, you should assess the areas of greatest need by following along the hypothetical sales cycle.

Screen Shot 2020 10 06 at 12 06 52 PM

Follow these steps to determine which area in your revenue organization could most benefit from a new hire.

Hire Based On Your Pipeline #

Your first consideration when hiring should revolve around fortifying your pipeline. Is your pipeline bringing in a reliable inbound flow of high-quality business leads? If not, your first port of call should be hiring the right kind of sales development professional who can help make your pipeline stronger.

If your inbound pipeline of qualified leads is healthy, and you need help turning those leads into prospects and, subsequently, into new customers, then hiring sales representatives should be your main concern. You can’t keep your company afloat without converting leads to customers.

The current market instability may have also created more opportunities for your company.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, your product may have actually gained in value if you are:

  • A company that specializes in grocery or pharmaceutical products
  • A company that produces low-lift software tools, particularly those that make remote work easier
  • A company that produces household goods

If so, hiring sales representatives in a timely fashion could help your company not only survive but also thrive in current conditions.

If both of these areas in your sales cycle are in good health, but your onboarding churn poses a problem, a customer success specialist should then take precedence. We’ve observed before that onboarding churn accounts for 23% of all churn in the best of times. Now, when customers are frantic to ensure they’re getting the maximum value from every purchase, making onboarding a priority counts even more.

Getting new customers over the hump and turning them into established customers is difficult to do in this climate. A well-chosen (and well-enabled) customer success hire can get you there.

Tips for Making the Most of Your New Hires #

Successful sales team hiring during a market downturn is as much a question of how you put those new team members to use as just hiring the right ones.

Your newly hired sales reps should ideally slot into a wider sales team culture focused on harder-to-close deals. The lifetime value (LTV) question haunts businesses of all sizes during a market downturn: “How do we get the most value possible out of our new business so that we aren’t taken down by our customer acquisition cost?“

One of the easiest ways to keep average LTV high is to target large-scale ($100k+) clients, to the extent that these make up your market. While notionally the toughest prospects with the longest deal times, they’re also the most likely to be secure enough to buy during a bear market.

Your newly hired sales reps should take on significant responsibility for vying for these new business prospects while longer-serving sales reps handle the all-important expansion revenue.

Your existing customer base holds tremendous importance in hard times, with accessible value there to be unlocked.

Your old-hand sales reps will be equipped with a greater degree of familiarity and context for these existing customers and should prioritize them accordingly.

Likewise, newly hired sales development representatives (SDRs) should focus on sourcing the highest number of high-LTV prospects available. If you’re also tapping up your sales development departments to focus on the re-engagement of old, inactive prospects, your new SDRs will also have an important part to play. Their fresh perspectives will make it easier to introduce new tactics for re-approaching inactive prospects.

The key to making the most of your new hires, regardless of specifics, is making sure you have a single and easily accessible source of truth as regards your sales cycle. Make sure all of your new hires understand the tool you use to record data from the cycle and all the deals currently unfolding within it. Functioning analytics are more important than ever before.

Tips for a Smoother Hiring Process #

It’s hard enough figuring out your capacity for hiring and who exactly you need to hire to give your sales team a crucial boost. Whoever you hire, there are a few procedural tactics you can take to make the process smoother.

While a market downturn does offer good opportunities to make use of direct outreach, working with the right recruitment companies can make talent nurturing significantly easier. We’re not necessarily talking about agencies — well-chosen recruitment software can eliminate agency spend altogether. If you’re worried about cash flow during a turbulent market, consider this avenue to avoid lengthy gestation times and high agency spend.

Ensure that you have high-functioning video calling software installed, preferably one with an auto-transcription component. When hiring in tough times, time is of the essence, and getting an assured sense of your candidate’s personality is vital when deciding if they’ll fit into your company culture. That’s truer still when, as under COVID-19 restrictions, face-to-face-meetings aren’t possible. Getting everything you need done in a single call, and having a detailed transcript to review, can eliminate unnecessary steps in the hiring process.

Hiring for the Future #

With uncertainty in the market, the line between prosperity and hard times becomes slimmer. What ordinarily constitutes a bad couple of months in regular conditions can suddenly become a much bigger problem.

The trick in these instances is to plan for the future as much as possible. That encompasses your recruitment strategy for hiring new representatives and beyond. Tailor who you hire closely to your business’ individual pipeline, the complexity of your sales process, and average customer LTV.

Above all, bear in mind is that there is always ground to be made, even when times are tough. Putting the right people on your sales team is a key factor in making that new ground.

Want more cutting edge sales insights to beat the post-pandemic downturn? Tune in to Chorus’ Weekly Briefing series for the freshest and best hot-takes from top industry leaders.

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