Ask the HR Experts, Part 2: 3 Tips for Hiring Marketing and Sales Teams

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Recruiting the right employees can be difficult, especially when you’re looking for someone to join your sales and marketing teams. It takes a unique set of skills and experience to make a strong candidate, and as most hiring managers can tell you, Recruitingmany just don’t have the expertise or aren’t the right fit. A new study from Gleanster Research and Act-On, focused primarily on mid-sized B2B companies, found that 92% of respondents cited “hiring skilled resources” as their top challenge.

Why is it so hard to find good people? And what can you do to improve your hiring practices in order to find the best candidates for the job? We (“we” are senior writer Lisa Cannon and Marketing Action blog editor Sherry Lamoreaux) recently sat down with Dawn Glockler, Director of Human Resources at Act-On, and Brian Gelfuso, Act-On’s Corporate Recruiter, to talk about best practices for hiring marketers today, and to get insights for building a marketing team that can meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Tip 1: Be Specific About What You Want

SHERRY: Let’s look at this from the perspective of the department manager, division manager, or director – any leader who’s got an opening. What are the best practices for them, what mistakes do they make, and what can they do to help the recruiter find the right slate of candidates?

BRIAN:  I think from my perspective, the managers that help me the most, that help me find the right candidates, start with a very detailed idea of the job description. They put together the details of what they need and expect, from the day-to-day duties to the big picture, outlining specifically the experience that they want that candidate to have, all the way from years of experience, to particular skills, to what are the must-haves. I like to hear, “I don’t want to see any resumes unless they absolutely have this background.” And then, I want to know what the nice-to-haves are. “If they don’t have these experiences, that’s still okay. But if they do, then these are rock-star candidates.”

It’s also important for that hiring manager to provide feedback in a timely manner from when a resume is sent, and give me feedback as to whether they do or don’t like the resume and why. That helps us find the right candidate. If we’re presenting resumes to managers and their responses are, “Nope, not a fit, not a fit, not a fit,” that doesn’t really help me fine-tune my process. I’ll probably still keep presenting them with candidates who have a similar profile because I don’t know why they’re not a fit. The more feedback the manager can provide as to why the candidate is not a fit is very helpful. So then the next time, I’m not going to present them that same profile.

It’s also useful to consider applicants from specific companies. Right now, I’m working with a manager in Boston, and we’re looking to build a sales team out there. This manager provided me with a list of 10 companies in the Boston area, and said that if we got a salesperson who had previously worked at one of those companies, they would fit in great at Act-On because they use the same processes and kinds of sales strategies. And that’s very helpful. If I find somebody with that background, I’ll get them in front of the manager quickly.

InterviewsDAWN: The hardest thing is a manager who doesn’t know what they want. They just know they want someone. [LAUGHTER] At Act-On, it’s really nice because whenever we do have an open position, it’s very specific. If it’s for engineering, the job title may be “software engineer” and there may be 10 skills listed as desirable, but the manager will say, “I really need a person with these five skills. So let’s focus on that right now.” And then for the next opening, the manager will say, “Okay, now we need to focus on these other five skills, even though all 10 skills are still in the job description.” For sales, now that we’re maturing as an organization, we’ve hired a lot of people, we’ve learned how the DNA that works really well, and we know what doesn’t work so well, and we are perfecting that.

It’s never going to be an exact science, of course, but I think we’re getting a lot closer. The feedback loop is extremely important because each time we get better. But we do a lot of repetitive hiring. Marketing’s different because the roles are going to be one of one, not one of 80. So it varies a bit more, it gets a little bit more specific on the marketing side of things.

Tip 2: Use Data to Drive Recruitment Strategies

LISA: For the positions you hire for often, engineers or salespeople, do you think you’ll ever get into a Moneyball kind of situation? Where you’re vetting people – you’re quantifying what makes a good salesperson and then you rate that, and you score it?

BRIAN:  I think we’re starting to evolve into that. I think we’ve gotten to a point where we’ve been around long enough, where we know what types of profiles are typically more successful than others. And there’s actually been a lot of research lately looking at those profiles. We’ve hired people who were coming from different industries who have not really worked out very well. And so we’ve been taking that research and focusing on finding people with those backgrounds who have been successful.

It’s also implemented into our interview process. We’ve added many kinds of layers and steps into the sales interview process. It’s specifically designed to the point where we now know if somebody goes through all the steps of the sales interview process and they pass all those steps, we’ve made a pretty good hiring decision. Where we’ve fallen short before is when we skipped steps in that process to rush a hire. There have been times when they haven’t worked out. And that’s because we didn’t follow the process that we put into place. So yeah, I would definitely say you’re right in terms of the Moneyball approach, it is something that could apply and something we’re refining and utilizing more and more.

DAWN: There are companies that add in a layer of personality assessment on the front end of hiring. We don’t do this, but some companies do. You can’t even submit your application without doing a personality assessment. And if you don’t hit on a certain area, you’re just rejected without even going to the hiring manager. Again, we don’t do that, but there are places that do that kind of thing.

SHERRY: Very interesting. We did a blog post recently about building a team based on personality profiles, and how it’s possible to go too far when relying on personality tests.

DAWN: True.

Tip 3: Find the Right DNA Across Generations

LISA: What do you see changing and where do you think the future is going as far as hiring practices go?Multiple Candidates

DAWN: I think the most interesting thing that we have in this time and place right now is a wide range of generations that are in our workforce. And all the different experiences that each generation has had are really very different. If you look at my mom’s generation, which is the baby boomers, they’re very much in the workforce still. They have probably another 10 or 15 years before retirement.

And then you look at the millennials. They’re just coming out of college. They’re 22, 23. There are huge differences between those generations. I know this happens at every point in time, but I feel like we now have the widest range of technology, experience, perspective. The baby boomers went through the Civil Rights era. And women’s equality; we’re still struggling with all these things. It’s said that the millenials are the most open to diversity; they don’t care about sexual orientation or the color of someone’s skin. Plus, they don’t care about privacy. They put everything online. For Brian and other recruiters, the challenge is, how do you talk to each person from each different perspective? Brian, you’re talking to a huge age range.

BRIAN:  A very wide range, from folks just got a couple years out of school and to people who have been doing sales for 20-plus years.

DAWN: You still want the same DNA, but you also need to think about their life experience, and how it’s going to make them successful or different, and bring something new to the table, which is really exciting. But how do you find that consistency in personality that we know works really well in this role? It’s a challenge. And then they have to work together, the millennials and the baby boomers. [LAUGHTER] At the same level, as peers.

BRIAN: It’s a challenge, on the one hand, but it’s also a great opportunity for a richer working environment.

DAWN: That’s right.

SHERRY: Thanks again to both of you for taking the time to talk to us.

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If you’re a job seeker looking for advice, be sure to check out part one of this conversation: Tips for Marketing and Sales Job Seekers. And check out the Act-On job board to see if the perfect career is waiting there for you.