In Manpower’s Annual Talent Shortage Survey, 34% of employers say that the #1 issue they encounter with open positions is a “lack of available applicants.” This is up significantly from last year when 25% of employers listed this as their primary obstacle. As a national B2B sales search firm recruiting across all of the major metros in North America, we face this challenge daily. With many of our clients, we have exclusive recruiting relationships meaning that failing to find sales talent isn’t an option. To combat this, we’ve built a playbook for sales recruiting in tough markets. Here are four of the main concepts.

Sales Recruiting in Tough Markets – 5 Rules.

1. You can’t treat all markets the same.
Manhattan or Boston, as examples, are intensely competitive for talent and the cost of living is much, much higher than most other metros. To recruit successfully in these markets, your approach and your compensation packages need to align with market realities. It’s also important to note that your competition for talent in these markets move quickly. Very quickly. The two points above also apply when recruiting rare skillsets. Given how exceptionally difficult Bay Area sales recruiting is, we have written a separate blog to cover the topic.

2. One pitch to hit.
In difficult markets, we know from experience that a thorough search might uncover only one strong candidate that Can Do the job, Will Do the job and Fits our client. Failing to hire this candidate can add months to the search. The “I like the candidate a lot but I want to see more” approach isn’t a viable option. Don’t lower your standards or skip interview steps but do move quickly and decisively. The only thing worse than a drawn-out search is having to repeat that search after hiring the wrong candidate. See our blog on the pitfalls of hiring sales reps too quickly.

3. Don’t muddy the waters.
Many companies try to “stack the deck” when recruiting in tough markets by signing on multiple recruiting firms. In tough markets, the key challenge with this approach is that it scares away the best talent. Passive talent, especially top performers with options and something to lose, are skittish. The feedback we hear from A players that have been approached by multiple recruiters for the same opportunity is consistent. “The company must be desperate.” You can read our blog The Sales Recruiting Industry’s Big Secret to learn more about the dangers of muddying the waters.

If you have a limited number of potential candidates, pick a resource that has the experience and know how to consistently make hires in a “one pitch to hit” environment. Alternatively, if you do have an unlimited gene pool of potential candidates, signing up multiple resources can be both practical and prudent.

4. Change a variable.
Sometimes we start a search in a new market or with a new client and find that our response rate is much lower than required. Fixing this requires changing a variable to address the reason for the low response rate (if we get enough responses and feedback to know). Examples of variables to change include: increasing the compensation, reducing the amount of experience required, changing/expanding the geography being searched or broadening the backgrounds that we’re targeting.

5. First impressions matter.
Our data shows that response rates drop dramatically when we try new messaging (increased compensation for example) to previously targeted candidates. Yes, our response rate is still weak even when we dramatically increase the compensation package. In other words, the best chance to attract a potential superstar is during the first touch. Go to market with a competitive offer.

Begin with the end in mind.
In sum, recruiting in tough markets requires the application of Stephen Covey’s 2nd habit – Begin with the end in mind. Anticipate the obstacles and develop a plan to overcome them before starting a search. In our process, we address this through a step we call “front-loading the pain”. We spend the extra time required to develop a crystal clear hiring profile and attractive messaging. The alternative is to use a hope and pray strategy. Although that approach can work, we haven’t found that strategy to be repeatable or scalable. As they say, luck isn’t a strategy.