Sales and Sales Management Blog

July 2, 2008

Guest Article: “Sales Candidate Attributes: Desired or Required,” by Lee Salz

Sales Candidate Attributes: Desired or Required
By Lee B. Salz

Companies spend tons of money trying to attract sales talent through job boards, yet they impair that campaign with what they put in their ad.

Close your eyes. Think of the perfect mate. Are you done? Close your eyes again. Think some more. How long is your list of requirements of the perfect mate? Are there five of them? Ten? Perhaps, you have twenty. Think about your list again. Are each of those really requirements of your ideal mate? Or, are those desired attributes? On which items are you willing to be flexible? For example, some people say the religion of their mate is a requirement while height is only desired. For others, it is the other way around.

People make decisions every based on their desired and required aspects. There are some aspects on which people can compromise and others where they cannot. This challenge hits employers when they are trying to attract sales talent to apply for their open positions. Instead of creating ads on job boards that invite folks to apply, they tightly close the spigot. I regularly look at the job boards to see how companies are attempting to attract great sales talent. What I find is interesting. Companies place an ad listing what attributes are required of the candidate. However, when I speak to companies about their ad, I find that many of the items on their list fall more in the desired category.

I’ve also talked with sales people about their perceptions of a job advertisement that lists requirements. “I look at the list of requirements in the posting and if I don’t have 100% of the background, I don’t submit my resume”, said a sales person actively looking for a new role. When I ask employers about their biggest challenges, finding great candidates ranks high on their list. “It just seems that we place an ad on a job board and we get few candidates to respond,” said one employer.

Here is the disconnect. Employers publish job advertisements to lure sales candidates to apply. Yet, that same tool is choking the entire process. In essence, instead of enticing candidates to apply, they are convincing them that they won’t be considered.

Here is an example of the requirements section from a job board advertisement

The successful candidate must have
BA/BS with a focus on business or life science
An MBA from a well-respected institution
10 years sales management experience
10+ years business to business sales experience to the Fortune 1000
Broad knowledge of principles and methods in a recognized professional field, or working knowledge of multiple fields
Well-versed in using CRM tools
Experience selling in disciplined, formal sales methodology is essential
Must be good at developing and articulating ROI to C-Level Executives
Telecommunications experience is a must

How many people meet this list of criteria? Very, very few. Would this company really not consider a candidate that met the most critical elements of their criteria, but was missing an element or two? Well, by publishing an ad that is so restrictive, those candidates won’t apply. The company misses out on those potential superstars.

I’m a huge proponent of formulating a profile of a company’s ideal sales candidate. Yet, if that profile is so restrictive that only one person in the world matches it, how will this company ever hire anyone? I’m not suggesting that companies reduce their standards or that they hire subpar performers. No one wins in those instances. However, there are two follow-on steps of the process.

Let’s say you have come up with twenty items for your ideal sales candidate profile. The next thing to do is to rank them in importance so that each item is ranked one through twenty. The first one on the list is the one deemed most important. In essence, you are prioritizing the importance of the criteria. Not much different than what people subconsciously do when searching for a mate.

Once that is done, the next step is to categorize each as either required or desired. I won’t insult your intelligence by defining those. Start with number twenty (least important from the prior exercise) and work your way down to number one. If this exercise was done correctly, the lion share of the items become “desired” while the finite few at the top become required. It is the few items that are deemed critical to one’s success in the job that should be listed as required in an ad.

This is a challenging set of exercises, no doubt. That’s the whole point. You want to make sure you encourage the right candidates to apply versus discouraging them. Thinking back to the company who had the laborious list of requirements. Would they really not hire a really bright individual who lacks the MBA component of the profile? If the answer is no, they shouldn’t list that in their ad as it discourages potentially strong candidates from applying. Did they put the requirement of a telecommunications background in the ad because they prefer not to teach the industry? If the answer is yes, then they wouldn’t want to put that in the ad because they could miss out on a superstar sales person who needs a little assistance learning the business.

This issue isn’t limited to candidates and employers. Recruiters are frustrated too. The company provides them with such restrictions that they feel handcuffed in their ability to find the right candidates. “I really want to help my client, but I feel like I’m searching for a needle in a haystack. I don’t dare send any candidates unless I find an exact match to what they’ve given me,” says one recruiter. Continuing on, “I don’t think they intend to be so restrictive, but that’s what they have given me to work with.”

Attracting great talent is very difficult to do. The great ones are typically wedded to their employer. Don’t let the few great ones that are in the market get away. Make sure your communication to attract talent is formulated to truly represent what was intended.

Lee Salz is president of Sales Dodo and author of Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager..  He developed his firm Sales Dodo with the fundamental mission of helping companies, sales managers, and sales people adapt and thrive in the ever changing world of business. He uses the metaphor of the dodo to show what happens when one fails to adapt. Those who adapt, thrive. Those who don’t become extinct like the dodo bird of ages ago. Some laugh at the use of the word “dodo,” but there is nothing funny about a business losing its competitive edge due to unmanaged change.



  1. I’m with Lee on this, 100%.

    For any sales manager that reads his post and complains about how much work it would take to hire someone using Lee’s recommendations, consider the amount of time you’ll spend for just one wrong hire:

    * Interview cycle
    * Offer
    * Negotiate
    * Three months of ramp-up time
    You’ll expend time and energy on the tasks above with every candidate, but it is wasted time for someone whom you’ll be firing within six months…
    * Three more months of no business being generated
    * Time spent worrying as to whether you’ve hired the wrong person
    * Discussions with HR about how to manage the situation
    * Formal meetings with candidate attempting to diagnose problem
    * Time (yours and other important resources) coaching this mis-hire
    * Discussions with recruiter if you used one
    * Keeping the rest of the sales team motivated when they know you hired the wrong person
    * Maintaining your own respect
    * Meetings with your boss to explain the situation
    * Explaining why your competition walked away with two big deals in that rep’s territory
    * More discussions with the rep. More note-taking, as a legal precaution
    * Time spent with your other sales people trying to make up for the revenue shortfall
    * More time spent with HR preparing for termination
    * …etc, etc, etc.

    Comment by Dave Stein — July 2, 2008 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

  2. Lee – my experience really back you up on this one. I often have to stifle a frustrated laugh when I see the many job adverts with ludicrously high expectations – but then a no-better-than-average salary associated.


    Comment by Ian Brodie — July 6, 2008 @ 6:50 pm | Reply

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