The Dos and Don’ts of Headhunting Next Level Sales Reps

Published on Jan 8, 2021

The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, applies to many aspects of business, including sales rep performance. Under this principle, roughly 80% of salespeople will account for 20% of sales, and the other 20% of salespeople will account for 80% of sales. 

And it’s the latter — the elite, top performers — you want to focus on hiring. One of best ways to find these next level sales reps is with “headhunting” where you proactively target a handful of hyper-qualified individuals who you believe would be major assets to your company. 

Here’s an overview of how headhunting works and actionable tips on how to implement it into your hiring process. 

What’s the Difference Between Regular Recruiting and Headhunting?

“Recruiters advertise jobs and wait to be contacted by potential candidates, or approach a wide network of potential candidates,” explains WikiJob. “Headhunters approach a select few candidates, and only the ones that fit the brief.” 

These are highly skilled sales reps, the exclusive candidates that, if hired, could be potential game-changers for your company. As you might imagine, these salespeople are in high demand and often already employed, which means they have a ton of leverage. 

Therefore, you need to go after them, tailoring your approach to capture their attention and effectively differentiating your brand from the competition. 

What to Do When Headhunting Sales Reps

First, you need to be ultra specific when narrowing down the candidates you want to reach out to. By nature, headhunting goes after the best of the best, so it’s essential that you only contact individuals that meet the right criteria. 

This graphic from SOCO Sales Training serves as a good starting point for traits to look for. 

Also, note that possessing amazing selling skills that are transferable to the position is often better than going after reps with a lot of industry/product experience — something I discussed in detail in this blog post

Next, it’s essential to give a salesperson enough incentive to realistically entertain your offer. And if they’re currently employed, it needs to clear that joining your company would be a legitimate “come up.” Better pay, more benefits, clear cut advancement opportunities, and an amazing company culture are all potential areas to focus on. 

To better understand the reasons why elite sales reps are attracted to new companies, check out this graph from PayScale

Finally, find the right balance between persistence and pushiness. Fittingly, headhunting elite sales reps is a lot like selling where you’ll naturally encounter rejection. 

Therefore, you’ll want to follow-up with these candidates to stay on their radar and remind them of the benefits of joining your team. However, you don’t want to be a pest because that’s going to reflect poorly on your company culture. 

What Not to Do When Headhunting Sales Reps

I think one of the biggest mistakes businesses make when headhunting is making their offer all about the money. Is earning a handsome salary — and for sales reps that are already employed a larger salary — important? 

Sure. Increased pay is the third biggest thing that attracts salespeople to a new organization. 

But it’s not the only thing to focus on. Over a quarter of people (27%) seek the opportunity to do more meaningful work, and 16% seek increased responsibilities — both of which are more important than money. So, you never just want to make it a cash grab. 

Rather, you should look at the big picture and articulate the full range of benefits to make the position more desirable. 

Something else to avoid is reaching out to sales candidates prematurely without doing adequate research on their skills and background. Oftentimes, someone looks great initially and seems to check all of the boxes. Maybe, for instance, they’ve worked for a Fortune 500 company and have over 10 years of experience in your industry. 

But when you dig a little deeper, there are chinks in their armor. Perhaps they’re hyper-aggressive and lack listening skills, or they’re so confident in their skills that they’re unwilling to accept feedback. Or maybe, they have a history of jumping ship and lack loyalty. 

The specifics can vary, but you’ll want to take a close-up look at what they’re like before investing the time and resources into acquiring them. Digging through their LinkedIn account is usually a good place to start.

Besides that, you’ll want to avoid approaching any candidates that have non-compete agreements in place with their current employer. “Because no-poaching agreements eliminate competition, the government generally considers them to violate anti-trust laws,” writes Alison Doyle of The Balance Careers

If you violate one of these agreements, even unknowingly, it can potentially lead to costly litigation. While this won’t be an issue if you’re headhunting someone who isn’t currently employed, it’s definitely something to be aware of if you’re going after a sales rep who is. 

Hiring the Best of the Best

You can’t expect A+ salespeople to come to you. Often, you need to go to them. 

That’s why taking a conventional recruiting approach where you simply put up a job ad can lead to subpar results. At the end of the day, the true rockstars don’t usually need to spend time perusing job boards and applying to positions. They’ve got enough talent that they can pick and choose the companies they want to work for. 

Headhunting, when done correctly, creates a framework that allows you to get in touch with the best of the best and provide them with the right incentive to choose your business over your competitors.  

To learn more about sourcing top talent while filling open positions faster, check out HireDNA. It’s a platform that utilizes cutting-edge technology like science-based assessments and intelligent matching to find ultra qualified sales candidates to fill your talent pipeline. 

HireDNA has been proven to lower hiring mistakes by 96%, and 92% of candidates found through it go on to reach the top half of the salesforce within a year. 

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