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Recruiting: Are Your Salespeople Holding You Hostage?

Furniture World Magazine


An ongoing recruiting program helps you get qualified sales help when you need it and send the right message to salespeople.

In past articles I've discussed many reasons why sales development programs fail. In this article I would like to focus on one of the most significant reasons... human resources.

Failing to recruit qualified candidates on an on-going basis is one of the key reasons stores are unable to expect exceptional performance from their sales people. Recruiting should not be an event driven by circumstances outside of an owner's control, like a sudden departure or the need for additional staff, but rather an on-going part of daily sales management and customer concern. Unfortunately, however, few store owners understand the significance of this sales management activity.

I was in a store a few months back when an owner told me, "we didn't reach our sales goal last month but it wasn't my Sales Manager's fault. We were two people short." Contrary to that retailer's belief, being 2 people short is positively his sales manager's fault. Recruiting and hiring is near the top of every Sales Manager's job description for three reasons.

First, when the number of people we have working on our sales floor drops, our sales drop, regardless of the quality of the sales person who left. It is ideal to fill sales positions as soon as they are vacated so that we don't suffer this consequence. An on-going recruiting policy can ensure that we are able to fill openings quickly with qualified candidates.

Second, a store that is one, two or more people short cannot deliver the same level of customer service as a store that is fully staffed. What makes matters worse is that our stores, due to the weekday/ weekend traffic imbalance discussed in the September 1995 issue of FURNITURE WORLD, are already understaffed during busy periods. Having anything less than the optimum number of people on our floor takes what's already a poor situation and makes it disastrous. It signals a lack of commitment to the customer and can ultimately lead to a decline in customer loyalty. An on-going recruiting policy ensures that all customers receive an equal and specified level of service every time they visit our store.

Third, the struggle to find good people only when we need them gives existing sales people the wrong kind of power. In this situation, sales people feel secure in their jobs because they cannot be readily replaced, even though they may be consistently performing below minimum standards. When the owner makes a decision that may be right for the company but is misunderstood by the staff, they hang this power over his or her head. In doing so, sales people have the ability to block an owner from making key decisions simply by threatening to quit if he or she follows through. On-going recruiting tips the scale back to the owner because sales people know they can be replaced quickly and painlessly at any given time.

Unfortunately, my experience has proven that, regardless of the benefits, owners rarely demand that their sales managers maintain an on-going recruiting policy. They generally rely on fire drill recruiting and hiring. This process encompasses interviewing 5 or 10 people, none of whom we would choose if we had a choice. However, because of the circumstance, we end up taking the 2 or 3 best out of the 10.

Stores continually tell me they can't find good people. When I find out how many people they have actually interviewed over the past year it is almost always in the tens. There are plenty of good people out there. However, it may be necessary to interview hundreds of people rather than tens to expand the pool from which we're choosing. Fire drill ads and jumping into panic hiring mode ensures that we interview fewer people over a very short period of time. This leaves little or no time for reference checks and forces on-the-spot hiring. Consequently, we are prevented from staffing our floors with the great people we could hire if we simply had the time and patience to find them.

There are a number of ways to avoid fire drill recruiting. The first step is to realize that ongoing recruiting is a part of day-to-day sales management, the same as opening the store and putting samples on the floor. Many stores tell me they haven't got sales managers. The fact is, they can't imagine what a sales manager would do, so they avoid investing in this potentially priceless position. At the same time, these owners would never have time to interview people every day. This is a function of sales management which should not be overlooked.

One of the most effective ways of recruiting on an on-going basis is to display one or more recruiting signs in your store. The impact of these signs on your hiring efforts can be substantial. Who better to recruit from than your own customers? They love your store and they match the profile of the rest of your customers.

A recruiting sign should be handsomely painted, with dimensions of at least 24" by 32." Don't bother with the typical "Help Wanted, Apply Within" signs purchased from the local hardware store. They don't express the message you are trying to communicate. You should stand the signs on attractive easels and locate them strategically throughout the store. The copy should read:

"Furniture Showcase, Always Growing. If you are interested in a career in home furnishings and design, then we are interested in you. Please see our manager."

Usually, when we're not in 'hire mode' we generally treat applicants with borderline contempt, as if they are an unwanted interruption. I have a different approach. Picture this scenario. Prompted by in-store signage a prospective applicant asks to see your sales manager. Though not hiring currently, he or she greets the person warmly and with respect and invites the individual to talk. The sales manager shares your company's story with them and conducts a brief interview. The sales manager's goal is one of two things:
  • To find a new sales person to join your sales team, or...
  • To gain a new customer and ambassador for your business in the community.

What better opportunity is there for you to share what a great company your store is to shop than when someone applies for a job. Some of these people will turn out to be great prospective employees. All of them will tell their family and friends what a great store you have and boast about your courtesy and dedication.

This method of recruiting has a profound impact on sales people in a fully staffed operation. Seeing qualified individuals regularly interviewing with the sales manager serves as a constant reminder (not a threat) that your store is not lacking in human resources. This should not be used as a hammer over sales people's heads. Rather, it is to prevent sales people from using the hammer over our heads. If they are constantly reminded that they can be replaced quickly and easily, sales people are much more likely to do the things they don't want to do (e.g. house keeping, clientele development, service delivery, phone calls, etc.).

Another excellent recruiting opportunity lies in the malls, specifically, in ladies and men's apparel stores. People working in these stores are potentially excellent home furnishings sales people because they already understand fashion, accessories and retail sales. Plus they are likely working less desirable hours than they would work in a furniture store and are making less money.

I stress to all of my clients that everyone associated with the business (including wives, husbands and children) should carry the Sales Manager's business cards with them. If they run across bright people working in other retail environments, they should think nothing of handing out that card and telling the person that they might want to consider a job in home furnishings. Many of the most successful sales people I've run across never even considered working in home furnishings until a store owner approached them. There is a great talent pool out there. They just don't know that this industry is an option.

The final area of recruiting is networking. As you probably already know, only 10% of jobs nationwide are filled through want ads. Most are filled through networking. That is, individuals make sure that everyone with whom they come in contact knows that they are looking for a job. The best way to benefit from the network is to be in the network.

Networking is also a wonderful public relations opportunity. We are in social situations every day and we should use them constantly as a venue to promote our company. Let your friends and their friends know that your store is a great place to work and that you are always looking for skilled sales people. This is an excellent way of not only finding quality employees, but of letting people know that your company exists. Many of the most successful operations I have come in contact with are those run by owners who, with missionary zeal, promote their business in every social environment they find themselves. Starting the conversation with "I'm looking for people" is a great way to begin the discussion.

We can use one additional tool to maximize the size of our recruiting pool. As an incentive to motivate people to refer good candidates, many stores offer referring parties a bonus of up to $250 if the candidate gets through a 3 month probationary period. You can use this incentive within your company at first, then, if it works well, expand it to other people within your network.

The result of ongoing recruiting should be a minimum of "ten percent of your floor in your drawer." That is, if you have up to 10 sales people, your Sales Manager should have a minimum of 2 resumes of people who have been interviewed, their references have been checked and they're ready to come on board within 2 weeks. In fact, sales managers should always have at their disposal a list of individuals who:

1. Want to join their team and are ready to start within two weeks.

2. Understand their store, are interested, and could be ready to start within the next two months.

3. Are being cultivated but probably will not be ready to start in the next three months.

The sales manager should place a courtesy call at least once a month to let these candidates know that the company is still interested and that he or she would like to be sure the person is still available. Remember, the goal is to maintain at least two in the first category. If one drops off then the sales manager should actively try to replace them with a candidate from the other two categories.

The most important message here is that effective recruiting is a daily activity. It is a critical component of sales management. Recruiting should never be conducted on a fire drill basis. Fire drill recruiting is a sure sign that the sales management process is not being executed properly. A successful, on-going, competent recruiting strategy that is part of the daily routine promotes your company and prevents you from being held hostage by self serving sales people.

The strategy I have outlined above will ensure that your organization continues to staff the floor with only the cream of the crop. You will no longer give a weak sales person months or years to achieve minimum acceptable standards. Keep in mind that poor performers drag good performers down as well. But, a floor saturated with superstars sizzles with energy.

Ted Shepherd is the founder and CEO of Shepherd Management Group. The company specializes in changing the selling culture of furniture stores from merchandise-driven to customer-driven using an intensive hands-on process of consulting, training, and mentoring. For more information on the topics in this article contact tshepherd@furninfo.com.