Updating the sales playbook: Making the right hiring choices

Welcome to the third and final installment in our “updating the sales playbook” blog series. In this post, our recession-savvy sales leaders, Tom Schodorf, Scott Lovett, and John Turner, discuss the importance of making the right hiring choices during an economic downturn.

If you missed our previous articles, you can find them here:

During an economic downturn, our thought leaders make a strong argument for making prudent investments, hiring the right sales representatives, recognizing the changing sales executive profile, and the importance of sales operations. 

Make investments in people and ideas (but test them) 

During a downturn, you should still make prudent investments, but testing those investments becomes more important than ever. While at Splunk, Tom Schodorf strategically tested investments and new sales approaches in New Zealand before launching them elsewhere. At the time, Schodorf identified New Zealand — which has a sophisticated IT infrastructure — as a smaller market with smart, well-educated professionals. He realized it provided a good sample set without much risk. 

It proved to be a smart move. In a downturn, leaders should still test and innovate, but they should concentrate on controlling the size of the testing environment. 

John Turner, chief revenue officer for Google Cloud, is investing in business resiliency by hiring two value management people for his team. These new hires will come into sales cycles and work with the sales team to gather the data, input it, confirm that it’s right, and then present a business case back to the customer. To fund the new positions while remaining lean, Turner is reallocating budget from sales and redeploying it to create this new role.

Hire the right sales reps for today’s environment

Avoid sales leaders and reps who exhibit a sense of entitlement. Instead, Schodorf — who now serves as a consultant and tech board member — advises his clients and companies to focus on agility. 

You need sales professionals who can adapt. They need to be open to trying new things because people are generally more receptive to change right now. The whole world is getting turned upside down and all the things that were sacred before are no longer. A lot of barriers to change are getting broken down, which is presenting an opportunity for companies to reorganize and restructure in a substantial way. 

Sales executives who have already been leveraging collaboration tools into their business are well-positioned for today’s selling environment. Those who have always operated on an in-person basis, however, will have a tougher time. 

To help his team adapt, Scott Lovett, Akami’s senior vice president of global web and security sales, is bringing in a communications expert to talk about how his company can leverage virtual technologies, like Zoom, GoToMeeting, and WebEx so his team can continue developing the kinds of relationships they need. 

Finally, sales reps and account executives must be empathic in an environment like this. They need to be able to understand your customers’ situation, offer support, and demonstrate value. Eventually, we are going to come out of this and right now it’s about being there for your customers. Value proposition is incredibly important; right now, sales reps need to show a different type of value than your competition.

Recognize the changing sales executive profile

During economic downturns, Schodorf encourages his companies to find sales executives who understand that a “company over self” mindset is important. This doesn’t mean that you expect people to lay down on the tracks for the company, but you do want sales executives who will buy into the program and culture you’re creating. 

Just as you need empathetic sales reps during a recession, you also need more empathy in the leaders you hire. Don’t give them a pass on accountability, but they need to be able to listen better than others. If you have a very hard-charging person that doesn’t care about people that much, they’re going to need to soften that right now. You need leaders who can convey your mission and connect the dots between what you are doing and how it benefits the world. 

Our experts believe that if you entered the downturn with the correct profile for your sales executives and top lieutenants, then your hiring profile doesn’t need to change. What they do and the value that they deliver, however, does change.

In our COVID-19 world, you can’t address a customer with the same business-as-usual approach. You’ve got to understand now what really matters through the customers’ lens, not through your lens. 

Understand the importance of sales operations

Sales operations have been on the upswing since the last recession and Schodorf thinks they’ll be incredibly important during this downturn as well. Sales ops specialists help companies make data-informed decisions for hiring, layoffs, new areas of investment, comp-plan adjustments, and how to set territories. 

If you’re looking to create a resilient business model, Schodorf advises sales leaders to bolster their sales ops team by hiring data scientists. 

For Lovett, sales operations gives him the insight he needs to re-goal and assure that his territories are appropriately aligned with his business. If you’re going to restructure some of your territories in an effort to go after the critical markets — which you may have an opportunity to do during the downturn — it will be because of the help and guidance you receive from your sales operations leader. 

Finally, predictive analytics has taken on a new level of importance to sales leaders in this environment. Sales operations use analytics to help teams understand where the money is being spent from an operating standpoint. Sales ops can also use predictive analytics to tell sales leaders what discretionary items should be cut immediately in a downturn. Now, more than ever, sales ops will help oversee the productivity and resources being spent on consultants and how they’re being utilized.  

Looking for more lessons from recession-savvy sales leaders?

Find them here!

Adam Charlson is the managing partner of Focus Search Partners and co-leader of Vaco’s retained executive search division.