Small Business Hiring: Think Salesmanship

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					Small Business Hiring: Think Salesmanship
By Andy Sack
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

If you, a small-company owner, have recently had trouble hiring qualified job candidates,
you're in good company. Last spring, Abuzz, the software concern I co-founded, was doubling
its staff of ten. We were looking for highly skilled people—the kind who can easily command
the large-company paychecks that we could never hope to offer. We had openings for an office
manager, a controller, an executive vice president of sales, and seven software developers.

So it wasn't too surprising when a candidate we had been recruiting for months wouldn't take
the executive sales job we'd offered. What was unusual, however, was our response. We could
have said, "OK, see you around." Instead, as president and CEO, I placed a telephone call,
and told the candidate, "You gave the wrong answer."

Over breakfast the next morning (at my invitation), I agreed to be flexible about the issue that
was holding him back. He wanted to start at a later date than Abuzz had targeted. When he
finally changed his mind and said he would take the job, I had a gift basket wired
immediately, welcoming him to the company.

Such techniques are part and parcel of an approach Abuzz uses to entice the best people to
our team. In short, when we think about hiring, we think "salesmanship." We've proven that
this approach goes a long way toward leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs trying to
secure top talent. In this article, I'll describe what I believe are the necessary steps for making
salesmanship work.

Recruiting Talent, Thinking Sales
When hiring becomes "salesmanship," component analogies fall neatly into place. The
applicant pool becomes the "target market." The job becomes the "product" we're selling. And
the candidate becomes our "customer."

The "customer" is at the center of this approach: he or she will be your toughest "sale" ever.
Yet viewed from the perspective of the recruit as "customer," job candidates are already cast
in a different light. You'll likely treat them with more care and respect than might otherwise
have been the case.

With this revised attitude—an attitude that leads to personal calls, individual accommodations,
and welcoming gift baskets—providing the backdrop, small companies should then maximize
their job offers. While small companies generally can't outbid major corporations on salaries,
they can—indeed, they must—create the most value out of benefits, responsibilities, and
culture. Here's how:

Most small, young companies can't match such pricey tangible benefits as health and life
insurance that large, established companies can offer. At Abuzz, for example, we don't offer a
dental plan. We can, however, compensate by granting equity. From his or her first day on the
job, every Abuzz employee owns a stake in the business. That's a major draw.

Beyond tangible benefits, small companies can and should provide benefits that don't cost a
lot of money. At Abuzz, for instance, we strive to maintain a "family-friendly" environment.
Our employees have individual freedom to structure the 35-hour work week, and they may
elect to work at home for part of the time. They may also request unpaid leaves of absence.
    At entrepreneurial companies with lean staffs and tight budgets, employees are likely to
    acquire new skills and assume wide-ranging responsibility early in their careers. Use this
    advantage for all it's worth. Job responsibility is what talented people want most of all, but
    they don't necessarily tell that to their employers. Opportunities to learn and advance give
    your company a distinct edge.

    Taken together such factors comprise an intangible called "entrepreneurial culture," a small
    company's most valuable asset. Make the most of people's desire to work for a company that
    is close-knit, exciting, and fun. What's crucial is to "package" your culture, and that brings us
    back to hiring as salesmanship. You want to make sure job candidates get a good glimpse of
    your culture and that they can easily perceive its value.

    Closing Your Toughest "Customer"
    Because job candidates are your toughest customers, closing these sales is as much an art as
    a game plan. You'll succeed if you know what counts, and here's what counts:

     First Impressions Count. When you invite candidates for an interview, start by creating
      an outstanding first impression on the telephone. Offer to reimburse prospects for all travel
      and meal costs. That's a small price to make people feel welcome, wanted, and at ease.
      When they arrive at your company, greet them and let them know you're expecting them.
      Take the extra effort to show them to a comfortable room where they can sit and read prior
      to the meeting.
     Interviewing Skills Count. Often pressed for time, many small-business owners take a
      laissez-faire approach to interviewing. Salesmanship, however, calls for using the interviews
      as much to sell candidates on the company as to determine whether they fit the job you're
      filling. I think it's a good idea to provide candidates with two pieces of paper, an agenda of
      their day and a list of the questions they'll be asked. That tactic puts people at ease, and it
      demonstrates that the company is organized.
     Social Skills Count. Allow candidates to meet with more than one person. Not only does
      this make good social sense, but you also want prospects to meet as many of your people
      as possible, even at this early stage. A person who doesn't "click" with one person might do
      very well with another.
     Courtesy and Flattery Count. The wag who said, "Flattery gets you everywhere," wasn't
      far from the mark. Once you decide you want to hire a candidate and you make an offer,
      it's useful to send a small flower basket or gift box. You're indicating to candidates that you
      realize they have choices and you'd like them to choose your company. It might also be a
      good idea to have the CEO call the candidate personally to discuss the offer. The two of
      them could address last-minute problems or potential glitches, and the CEO's interest would
      make the candidate feel especially welcome.
     Good Beginnings Count. Once you've made your sale, it's just the beginning of the real
      sale. The final step in putting your prospect—now your employee—at ease is to treat the
      person's first day as one would treat the first day at school. For an incoming employee, the
      day might be filled with anxiety. Take an active role: provide an agenda, introduce the
      newcomer to all co-workers, treat him or her to lunch, light the candles on a welcome-to-
      our-company cake, and much for yourself as your new employee.

    I'm happy to report that since last spring, employment at Abuzz has grown to 22 employees.
    During our search for new hires, we found that it was easy to collect resumes but hard to find
    people who could both do the job and fit our culture. At times, it was tempting to hire the first
    warm body that walked through the door, regardless of qualifications.
But we didn't have to do that. We met our hiring goal in what I consider an incredibly brief
span of six weeks. We succeeded because of our philosophy: hiring, and especially hiring in
this job market, needs to be treated like salesmanship.

Your relationships with prospects and new hires are like relationships with customers. Ideally,
they should be long and profitable for both parties. Taking steps to "sell" candidates on your
company helps close the most important sales your company ever makes, and you get each
new employee relationship off to a good start.

This article was provided by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation through its
small business Web site EntreWorld is an online information resource for
entrepreneurs and supporters of entrepreneurship. EntreWorld provides a solution to
information overload on the Web by providing highly filtered information coded by stage of
business development.

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